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Title: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga Interview II
Narrator: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Torrance, California
Date: July 7, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-haiko-03-0011

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TI: So I'm going to switch gears here now and go to December 7, 1941. And at this point, you were still a high school student. But can you describe that day for me in terms of how you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor?

AH: My best recollection of it was that we had, I had just been at a party, and we were going home in one kid's car, and the radio announced it. We just couldn't believe it; we were sort of in a state of shock, and thought, "Well, this must be a farce." But when we got home, my... I think it was my father, my brother said, "Did you hear?" And then my neighbor, who was Japanese, we got together and said, "Just can't believe it." It was such a shock. And at that point, it was just shocking. Didn't think until a day or two later, the effect of it, what this meant for us as Nihonjin. Of course, that came soon enough afterwards. But it was unbelievable. We knew that there was a connection between what happened and us, simply because we were Japanese, but we had no idea the extent of the damage that would be done to us as a community.

TI: And so, for instance, like the next day, when you go to school, did anything happen that indicated that, "Oh, this is going to be different"?

AH: Yeah, I think so. From then on, until we went into the camps, I did notice that some of our friends, some of our friends, didn't seem to make any difference to them. But there were those who we thought were friends, were wary of being close to us. I guess they were afraid of being considered "Jap lovers," and the longer the period went after the war, that gap was, got bigger, and more people would react like they would rather not be close to us, if they were non-Japanese. But the neighbors, my close neighbors, were Japanese or they were blacks. And to them, it was, grateful, I was gratified. They didn't seem to consider us as enemies. And it was sort of refreshing that here, the black people were also being stigmatized for being black. Commiserated with us. But I felt that as the time went by, many of these folks were keeping their distance from us only because of fear for themselves.

TI: Well, like at school, did the administration or teachers do anything either positive or negative to influence how the community looked at Japanese Americans?

AH: Gee, I don't know how they influenced the community, but I know that our, the principal of our high school told us, those of us in our graduating class, that we're not going to get our diplomas even though we were supposed to graduate in a few months, because, quote, "Your people bombed Pearl Harbor." That was a blow, a big blow. He already made up his mind that we didn't deserve, even though we struggled for twelve years with good grades, model citizens, and then here this one guy, principal of our high school tells us, puts the responsibility of Pearl Harbor on our shoulders. It was devastating.

TI: Now, how did the principal tell the Nikkei or Japanese American student that they were not going to get, they were not going to graduate?

AH: I think, first of all, he called one of our fellows, a Nisei guy, into the office. And the Nisei guy told us, "This is what Principal Webb," I think was his name, Paul Webb, "told me." That we're not going to get our diplomas, 'cause our people bombed Pearl Harbor. And, of course, we didn't get our diplomas, which is the reason we arranged for that 1989 ceremony, a special ceremony when we were all grandparents. [Laughs]

TI: But going back to that principal, earlier you mentioned how you were brought up to really respect authority. So the principal of a high school would be an authority figure. And for this kind of feeling to come from this authority figure, it must have been pretty difficult for you and the other Japanese American students.

AH: It was. And at that point, I was mad at Japan. [Laughs] "Why did you put us in this position?" you know. "I didn't choose to be born Japanese, but here I am now because of what you did, Japan. Look what's happening to us." So I was really angry at Japan for a long time because of that. But I figured, I didn't know at that time. Of course, now that I know more about the causes and effects of Pearl Harbor, I fault this country more.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.