Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Donald K. Tamaki Interview
Narrator: Donald K. Tamaki
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Lorraine Bannai (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 17, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-tdonald-01-0017

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LB: Tell me about working with Fred on this case. At the beginning we talked before about the fact that he didn't want to talk to the media, was rather overwhelming. Did you see him change over the course of the case?

DT: Yeah, I think... and I've talked to Karen about this. I think he was, as anybody would be, he was damaged and traumatized by what had happened. I'm talking about the original, the internment, his decision to evade internment and be alienated from his family, not go with them. The fact that he chose to have his case heard in court all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. I think the JACL and other groups... JACL, I don't know about other groups, but had taken a stand of not wanting to challenge any of these cases, because that was their way of showing that they were loyal to this country and they would do anything for this country. So Fred was probably seen as a troublemaker, persona non grata, in the internment camp. And then after, and then he loses, and the argument is, "You made it worse." And I'm speculating, because I wasn't there, but it was like, "See? I told you. This was not going to lead to anything good." And then to be unable to get jobs because of his criminal record, to really not tell this to his children, and to have his own daughter, Karen, learn about his case in a high school civics class and not from him, I think there was a lot of pain involved. A tremendous amount of pain. And then he built a very happy life in San Leandro. He was very active in the Lion's Club, he was respected in the community.

And you know, the day before the press conference, or a couple days, I got a sense that the coverage on this was going to be big. Because I talked to, we were cultivating our contacts, we were feeding 'em information, we were helping them build the story, we were giving them facts about the internment, we were educating them, and they were getting excited about this. And so I said to Fred, "It's going to be all over the front page, Fred, and maybe you ought to talk to your employer and let them know that this is happening." And so he did. And his boss said, "Why are you bringing this up now? Why do this now?" Meaning, "It's over, this is past history, you're successful," again, "You're causing trouble." So for Fred to put himself at risk again, put himself in jeopardy, I think, took tremendous courage.

And, you know, that was one public sentiment that he was fighting. So the impact on Fred was transformational. I mean, he had all this baggage, and then suddenly the outcast becomes the hero, and he just assumed his place. I think people began to -- and you were there at the court thing. I mean, all these people who probably didn't think much of him for the previous four years, they all went over to him in court to shake his hand. I mean, he was mobbed. And it was a good story, it was a really good story. And so he opened up, but the best part about the story is that it sort of opened up and liberated, psychologically, I think, a lot of Japanese Americans. Because this whole thing about, you know, they were guilty, all this guilt about a wrong that they... I mean, they were the victims, and they felt guilty about the internment. Go figure. And I think they realized that they had no reason to feel that way. And they had a lesson to teach America. Not a bitter one, not an angry one, but basically said, "We persevered. And oh, by the way, the Constitution needs to be honored and protected." And they had a major role in that. And so I think it was a very liberating experience, an Americanizing experience, for lack of a better word.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.