Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga Interview II
Narrator: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Torrance, California
Date: July 7, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-haiko-03-0008

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TI: So during this time, you were doing things like dancing. And I'm just thinking of popular culture, which was very sort of white dominated. And the kind of movie stars and dancers you mentioned were white, and you wanted to be a dancer. And it seemed to be, perhaps, a very conflicted or confusing time for you to be in this larger popular culture, but yet being Japanese. Can you talk a little bit about that, sort of how that felt for you?

AH: Oh, yeah. Of course, living in a dream world, thinking I'd be the next Japanese well-known dancer or singer, it was a dream world. And it took me a long time to realize that it'll never be because of the atmosphere of that time, which was not open to non-whites to become famous in the entertainment world. And it was disheartening for me to continue. I dropped it in high school, all this dance class and all that, because I faced reality. "It ain't gonna happen in my time, in my lifetime." It's like my friend who was studying, who wanted to become a conductor of a symphony orchestra, and he was told, "You're Japanese American. Forget it, do something else." His heart was broken. Just because of what we look like. Even if I changed my name to "Johnson" or "Smith," it wouldn't have done any good because of the way I look. And I finally came to that realization when I was in my high school, and it was heartbreaking. But I understood that that was -- I didn't understand it then, I was just resentful -- that that was the tenor of the time.

TI: And when you say "resentful," who were you resentful towards?

AH: I resent the whole white society for not accepting us as individuals with certain gifts or certain faults. But that we were considered so different that we would not be eligible to reach the heights that we wanted to individually. And it was a time of very strong racial prejudice against Asians, especially after World War II started, especially (against) Japanese Americans. But included prejudice against blacks, other Asians, Chicanos.

TI: Yeah, so in this kind of climate, how did you, what did you feel about being Japanese? Was it something that you viewed as a positive, a negative? I mean, how would you view being Japanese?

AH: Oh, I think I was denying my heritage, which is the reason I wanted to pursue my music career so much, that I think I secretly had hoped, "I wish I were not Japanese." And was made to feel that way, perhaps because of the societal pressures on us. I don't think all Japanese Nisei felt that way, but I had felt very strongly. Maybe it's because the particular line of career I wanted to pursue made me feel more that way. And it took many years before I... because I was in denial of my ethnic heritage, but it took many years before I learned to actually be proud of being of Japanese ancestry.

TI: That's interesting.

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