Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Eric K. Yamamoto Interview
Narrator: Eric K. Yamamoto
Interviewer: Lorraine Bannai
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 17, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-yeric-01-0002

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LB: Tell me about your father's family history, his name and background.

EY: Well, my father was born Katsuichi Yamamoto, later adopted George as his first name. And same family background, coming from poor farming stock, and then coming to Hawaii, trying to get a better life. But we don't know the whole story about my dad's father for a number of reasons. But I think, as I understand it, I can understand a little bit about who I am from that. He came to work on the plantations, we know he went to the Big Island and was working on the plantations there. And that was the time of the first big strike where the, especially the Japanese immigrant workers were organizing, trying to form a union to deal with very harsh working conditions imposed by the plantation owners. And even though it was now illegal to imprison an immigrant worker who violated the work contract, they were still doing it. So there were a lot of things going on. And there was violence as part of that strike. The plantation owners came down and actually killed a number of the strikers. It was a very sore point in Hawaii history and plantation owner history, and shaped the resistance of a lot of Japanese Americans for generations to come. We're not sure, but we think my grandfather was part of that. Because as best we can tell, shortly after the strike, it appears that he fled with another person to another island and changed his name to Yamaoka. So we know he was trying to not be discovered. And ultimately made his way to Oahu, Maunawili, which is on the windward side of the island, very lush, and they're growing sugar there.

So my dad -- and it looks like my grandmother was also a "picture bride," I don't know exactly when she came. And so my dad was actually born in a shack in the middle of a plantation, sugar cane field. And what he remembers is that at a very young age, it was probably him and one of his sisters, his parents taking them in the dead of night with all their belongings on their back and leaving their home, walking down to the, hiking down to the bay and being met by a man in a rowboat, which apparently they had rented. In the dead of night, being rowed across the bay, which is a long way, to this little tiny fishing village in Hau'ula. And at this fishing village, they unloaded, and that became their new home. So it really looks like, for some reason, my grandfather was still on the run. But again, I haven't pieced together all the pieces, but my father and his family were then Yamaoka and not Yamamoto. And so they settle in this little fishing village, four children, very poor, but everyone was sort of poor then. And in this fishing village there was no running water, so my dad remembers going to the stream to brush his teeth. But they all kind of took care of each other.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.