<Begin Segment 1>
TI: So today is Tuesday, July 7, 2009, and we're in Torrance, California, at the Holiday Inn in a hotel suite. And on camera we have Dana Hoshide, and the interviewer, I'm Tom Ikeda. And so, Aiko, I'm going to just start at the very beginning. Can you tell me when you were born?
AH: I was born August 5, 1924, in Sacramento, California.
TI: And were you born in a health facility or with a midwife, do you know?
AH: I believe it was a midwife, because my birth certificate says midwife -- I think it's a midwife -- Ai Miyazaki. So I didn't see a doctor's name.
TI: Okay, good. And when you were born, what was the name given to you at birth?
AH: Aiko Yoshinaga.
TI: Any middle names or anything like that?
AH: No, not at that time.
TI: Good. Before we talk about your father and mother, can you tell me your siblings kind of in birth order so we can have that?
AH: Yes. I had a couple of half sisters who I never met, because they passed away before I was born. But I had, the chonan, the oldest brother, was Frank Nobukazu, and then two sisters, Aya, next sister Ei, E-I. She didn't have an "Eiko," it was just "Ei."
TI: Oh, interesting.
AH: Another brother Johnny, and I was told that there was a sister between Johnny and me who died at birth. Then I came next, then I had a younger sister, Amy. She had an American name. Actually, Johnny's name was Tsugio, I think that means "second son."
TI: And generally between Frank and Aya, Ei, Johnny, what was the age difference between everyone?
AH: Oh, it was quite a bit. I think I remember figuring out the difference in age between my youngest sister and my oldest brother was, like, twenty-four years. So it was, the space between my second sister and Johnny was bigger because that's the time my father brought the oldest three siblings from Japan. They had been separated for several years, and then my brother was born after my mother and the rest of the family came to California.
<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 2>
TI: So let's talk about your father next. Can you tell me his name and where in Japan he was from?
AH: His name was Sanji Yoshinaga, and he was born in Kumamoto.
TI: And do you know anything about his family, what they did?
AH: I think he was the second son, which meant that he would not inherit anything. And he was always scholarly. He wanted to pursue education. Apparently he was a math teacher in Japan, but... and I'm not sure when he converted or if the whole family had been Christians, but he came, actually, as I understand it from my older sister, he came to try to become a Christian minister here. So he wanted to go to a seminary, but, for I don't know what reason, economic or what, he was never able to do that. But he became active in the Christian church, especially at that time, the Baptist church. He was always reading and seeking spiritual information.
TI: Oh, that's interesting. You mentioned, sort of, half sisters. So was your father married in Japan and had children?
AH: He was married in Japan, and then his, that wife passed away, then he married my mother after the other wife passed away.
TI: And your mother, did he marry her in Japan or...
AH: In Japan.
TI: Okay, in Japan.
AH: That's right. That's why Frank and Aya and Ei were already, like, eight years, eleven years, fourteen years old when they came from Japan to California.
TI: Okay, so Frank, Aya and Ei were Japanese nationals.
AH: Yes, uh-huh, Japanese nationals. So the three of us were Nisei and the other three of us were Issei.
TI: Got it, okay. Good.
<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 3>
TI: Your mother, what was her name and where was she from?
AH: Oh, she had an unusual name. During those days, even women were given men's name, maybe in anticipation by the parents that a boy would be born. Her name was Shigeru Kinuwaki. And my mother was very happy to be able to say, "I come from a line of samurai retainers." There was a well-known daimyo in Kumamoto called Hosokawa, and apparently, my mother's grandfather was a retainer for the Hosokawa daimyo. And I know that to be a fact because when I visited Japan, oh, 1992, I think, I went to the gravesite of that Kinuwaki family, and the gravestones had the Hosokawa crest, the mon. So apparently, that was not one of the stories a lot of people like to say, "We come from a samurai warrior clan," but in my mother's case, it apparently was true.
TI: Well, and so how did your mother and father meet?
AH: I never knew that. I asked my father one time, and he said, "I called over the mountain and she came." [Laughs] That's the only thing I know. And it was, my mother apparently had been married before. And it was probably hard for a woman who had been married once before to be remarried. But it was interesting that when I was divorced, my mother chastised me for bringing embarrassment to the family. And then, many years later, I found out she too had been married before. So I confronted my mother, who was a sweet, gentle soul, one of the sweetest women I ever knew. And I said, "How come you got on my case for having been divorced?" And as little Japanese as I understood, I was able to understand this much from her. She said, "Well, in those days, way back in the end of the 19th century, we didn't have things called divorce. So my then-husband didn't get along with my mother. And so he just walked off into the sunset and I never saw him again. That's the same as a divorce, but we didn't have to go through this messy court stuff. So it's not the same as you divorcing." [Laughs] "Okay, okay, Mom, I got it." That was so funny.
TI: That's interesting that you didn't know, and I'm guessing the community didn't know that she had a previous husband?
AH: I think they didn't. I don't think anybody did. 'Cause apparently, that marriage didn't last very long. There were no children. And I guess my mother's mother was pretty tough. It was a yoshi case, what is it, when a man comes and marries into the woman's family instead of vice-versa and takes the family name, that woman's family name and drops his own last name, right?
TI: Right, and that was the second husband or the first husband that was yoshi?
AH: My mother's first husband.
TI: First husband.
AH: Right, yeah.
TI: And what was... oh, that's right. Going back to your mother's family, what kind of work did her family do?
AH: I think they had a tea farm. I don't know what my father's side was doing, but I recall my mother said something about having a tea farm. She loved working with the earth, 'cause I know she liked growing things when we were living in Los Angeles.
<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 4>
TI: Okay. So this is interesting. So your father had three children, and he's recently married to your mother. And at that point, they decide to come to the United States?
AH: My father came first, I guess trying to find out what the land was like and what the possibilities were like. And I'm not sure how long he was here before he came back, went back to Japan to bring my mother and the three, my three siblings over. So it was the turn of the century, like 1905 or something like that.
TI: And do you know what he found in America, where he settled?
AH: Just struggles. [Laughs] He was never a businessman. I think he tried several different businesses, but just never succeeded in it. And so he never did get to the seminary to study to become a minister, but he was always active in the Christian church. He ended up having, managing hotels in Los Angeles. And I think in Sacramento he was doing that, too. He tried a little business like tofu-ya, making tofu or something like that, and that didn't go, didn't take. But when we came to Los Angeles, he was managing a hotel. And then he ended up having a small vegetable and fruit stand on Western Avenue, I remember that. And the funny, main thing I remember about that experience was that instead of the cash register, he used to use the soroban, the abacus, to calculate purchase and change that he had to give the customer. And it just fascinated me that he preferred to use the abacus rather than the cash register. [Laughs]
TI: He must have been pretty good at it, really fast.
AH: Oh, yeah, he was a math teacher, apparently, so he was pretty good at that.
TI: Yeah, I remember my grandfather used to do it, too. He used to run a hotel and he'd use it, and it'd be so fast, it was like a little calculator.
AH: Yes, yes. And I understand that many of the young folks in Japan now are being taught the abacus. Because I don't know who made the decision, the educators or the parents, said that the computer and the calculator doesn't allow the children to use their own brains to figure out things. But with an abacus, you have to know some of your numbers and not let the machine do the thinking for you. I thought that was a good idea.
TI: Yeah, no, it's a very tactile, visual way of numbers and learning math.
AH: We might introduce that here in the educational system in America. [Laughs]
TI: Yeah, that's a good idea. So when you were born, you mentioned earlier you were born in Sacramento. So your father was doing different things, and I wanted to ask, what was your father like? I mean, he's doing these different things, you described him as sort of scholarly. What kind of personality did your father have?
AH: Well, he looked stern, but he wasn't. He just had that "I'm the boss" kind of look, but he was not. And never laid a hand on us, and just his demeanor, if he was displeased, would be very sharp and stern. But (...) I think I was spoiled. I'm pretty sure I was. But he, unfortunately, because of the language barrier, I didn't communicate with him too much. He knew English, he spoke some English, he read a lot of English, but he didn't communicate in English very much. And my mother didn't -- so busy taking care of all of us kids that she had no time to go like women often do now. She was... and of course because the economic situation being so poor in the '30s, early '30s and all, she didn't make time or take time to learn English. So, of course, that's one of my biggest regrets, that my relationship with my mother was so brief in terms of our being able to communicate. I fault myself a great deal for not appreciating my mother more by not embracing the opportunity to learn Japanese. So I keep thinking now, even this late day when I'm pushing eighty-five years old, how was I able to communicate and develop any kind of relationship with my mother when we hardly talked? We did the best we could with her poor English, with my poor Japanese. But she was a devoted mother. And so, always so kind, sweet and gentle. Loved music, she was a good shamisen player, she played the koto, she loved to dance the odori, mostly Bon Odori during the summer months. And it was a joy to see her do that because she worked so hard all the time.
TI: And how about her relationship with her husband, your father and mother? How would you describe that?
AH: Sort of what I figured was typical of Issei parents, that Papa was the boss, Mama did all the work, and he had the last word. But my father was not stern that way, so I think she might have had it a little easier. He was not a bossy type. I think... isn't that strange? I don't remember a lot of the communication between the two of 'em, they must have had their own private moments.
<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 5>
TI: So you were born in Sacramento, but you grew up in Los Angeles. Do you know when you moved from Sacramento to...
AH: Yes, 1933. When I was nine years old, my dad decided the pickings weren't good in Sacramento, so he wanted to try Los Angeles. When we first moved down, we lived for three months in Downey, California, where a cousin of my mother's had a strawberry farm. That was a delight for my mother, because she just loved picking the strawberries and getting in touch with the earth, she liked it. And then my father found this house in the uptown area near Pico and Western, so we moved there. And we lived there until the time that we were ordered to move out to go into the camps. So it was about almost ten years.
TI: Okay. So you were quite young, but do you recall kind of the differences between Sacramento and Los Angeles when you went? Was it quite a bit different or about the same?
AH: No, it wasn't. Because in Sacramento, apparently, where we lived, was populated by a lot of Japanese American families. And so when we moved to Los Angeles, we also were in the middle of an area called, we called it the uptown area then, where there was the St. Mary's Episcopal Church run by Reverend John Yamasaki, and the Buddhist church there, and then there was a Japanese school, Daini Gakuen. There were a lot of Japanese American families there. So I didn't feel that great a difference in terms of discomfort. It's just making new friends, you know how kids are. I had a lot of neighbors who were Japanese Americans. So it was all right, transition.
TI: And how about things like school? Was that about the same, from Sacramento to Los Angeles?
AH: Yeah, and I don't remember much at all about school in Sacramento. But I was, I think we were something like third grade or thereabouts when I moved to Los Angeles. And because at that time we stuck with our own kind, I still, I think didn't feel racial animosity until I got more in high school, junior high and high school, when I started to feel the difference between us Asians, Asian Americans, and the white community. That's when I started to feel -- I think that's when most of us young folks feel that when we start thinking about maybe dating or "going steady," you know, that's when usually the parents of the white girl or boy might object. Because I think racial discrimination was pretty prevalent, rampant at that time.
TI: When you look at your school, so elementary, junior high and high school, what were, like, the percentage of Japanese Americans in your schools or your class? Do you remember?
AH: Because of the fact that there was a pretty good-sized Japanese American community, I can't tell you percentage-wise, in grammar school or junior high school. But when I went to high school, out of the class of about three hundred in my high school graduating class in 1942, I believe there were, in my class alone, were fifteen Japanese Americans out of the three hundred graduating students.
TI: So only about five percent, one in twenty was Japanese.
AH: Yeah. But I think ours was sort of unusual. It was, my school was predominately white. The only other Asians around at the time were a couple of Korean kids. Very few blacks, very few Hispanics, it was primarily white. Whereas at the same time, in Roosevelt High School in east Los Angeles, it was a huge percentage, as I understand, of Japanese American kids. So it sort of depended on where the high school was located.
TI: Okay, good.
<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 6>
TI: I wanted to ask you about community events when you were growing up. Did you participate in Japanese community events in Los Angeles?
AH: Yeah. During those days, many of the young folks, say, high school age and college age, had established little cliques and clubs. And there were clubs with, oh, anywhere from, say, ten or a dozen, or maybe fifteen young girls or young boys who developed these little clubs. And then we would have a lot of baseball games, competing with other girls' teams, or once in a while, maybe competing against boys' teams. And they were scattered. I'm sure there were groups like that in San Pedro. I know there were several different groups in Los Angeles. I belonged to a group called the Junior Misses, and there were about a dozen of us. And we would, quote, "sponsor" dances just as an excuse to be able to meet the boys or have little bake sales. Any excuse to try to reach out and meet other people. Our group was concentrated in the uptown area. There was another group, young girls, called, I think, Debutantes, that was in the Crenshaw/Senshin area. And then there were boys' groups called Mustangs, Cougars, the Knights, K-N-I-G-H-T-S, and they would compete mostly baseball, sometimes basketball, volleyball. So that was... and then in the church, we would have Japanese language school, that was another occasion for us to be able to have co-ed activities. I belonged to the St. Mary's Episcopal Church, and as I recall, on Saturdays, we had Japanese language school, which I resisted terribly. Because during those days, not like today... today, you walk down the street, you can hear all kinds of languages, and people don't, you know, don't think twice about it. But during those days, you open your mouth and you spoke Japanese, you got dirty looks. So we tried to be so "American," two hundred percent American, that there was reluctance on my part, anyway, and resistance to learn Japanese was a detriment to my development, especially my relationship with my parents.
TI: I wanted to go back to those clubs, and especially the boys. When you had all these different clubs, did they ever get into fights or anything like that? Was there that kind of competition?
AH: I didn't keep up too much with that, but I remember hearing that there was. And regionally, I think that the young boys' clubs in Los Angeles didn't get along with the San Pedro group, or the Terminal Island group. As a matter of fact, I think when we went into the camps, they would refer to each other as yogores. I'm not sure how you translate that in English, it means... yogore, of course, means "dirty boys." But anyway, there was not too much love lost, I heard. I had never, and I heard that even in Los Angeles, there were little competitive teams or groups that didn't get along. I guess they called them "gangs" instead of clubs.
TI: How about the girls' clubs? Did they ever compete against each other in different ways?
AH: I don't recall any feeling of competition. There must have been, it's natural, when you think that young girls are competing for attention with each other and with boys particularly. I guess they existed, but I somehow didn't get that sense of real hostility or animosity. We were so busy doing our own thing that I don't recall that too much.
TI: Now, in your club, the Junior Misses, did they have, like, different positions of authority? Like a president of the club and things like that? What was your -- the question, I guess, what was your role in the Junior Misses? Did you take a leadership role? Were you like a leader of the Junior Misses?
AH: Isn't that strange? I can't even think whether we had a chairman or a president. We just all met periodically, maybe once or twice a month, and planned to maybe support a church activity or to try to sponsor some kind of sport event and make plans for dances. But I... you know, isn't that strange? I think there were a few girls who always sort of had the leadership quality, but I do not recall ever saying, "Oh, she's the president of the club," or, "She's treasurer of the club," and things like that. I think, I'm not sure if this is standard, but as I recall... I'll have to ask one of my, the few of us who are left to see if they recall.
<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 7>
TI: In my notes, I have listed that you also spent a lot of time dancing. Can you describe your dancing, what kind of dancing you did?
AH: Oh. Well, of course, there was always the jitterbugging, which was the rage at that time. I loved to do that. But I started to study more formal dancing, ballet, tap dancing, Spanish dancing, starting about the age of nine, ten. My father knew that I just loved music. My family was rather musical starting with my mother. And I don't know how they ever managed to pay for those classes. Because as I recall, we were always very poor, and I'm not sure how easy it was for my father to even come up with the rent for the house. And so when I think back, and they allowed me to take piano lessons and all these dance (classes), I wondered how much sacrifice they made to enable me to do that. I thought, well, during those days, dreaming, maybe I'll be the next Japanese Betty Grable or Eleanor Powell, or Ann Miller. And then I got into singing, which I enjoyed a lot, so I was able to start to learn to play the piano, accompany myself singing, but only at home.
TI: Well, did your other siblings get the same opportunities to do music lessons or dancing lessons?
AH: Yeah. I think my older sisters, they all played the piano. And my, Ei, the second daughter, she had a wonderful voice. And she also, I don't know where she learned it, but she started me on tap dancing. And she loved to do, during those days -- you're too young to know this -- the Charleston, there was a dance step that was very popular. She used to do that. She was very good at it. My brother played, my oldest brother played the violin very well. Aya did the piano, she always played Christian hymns, and Johnny was a good musician. Oh, my sister Ei also played a mean ukulele. She was good. And Johnny, he played the harmonica. [Laughs] And Amy was pretty (...) musical, she took some piano lessons, too. So we were offered the opportunity to enjoy the music. And my father was not musical, but he enjoyed it, and my mother was so, she loved it.
TI: As a family, did you ever play together, music, like around the piano and sing together?
AH: Oh, definitely. Especially we all used to get together, even in New York after the camps. We'd get together for the holidays, especially Christmas and Easter, Thanksgiving. And invariably, we all got around the piano. And because my sisters were good musically, they were able to harmonize. We made a pretty good team. We should have become... during those days, of course, we didn't cut any records, except very amateur things. But we were pretty good.
TI: Now, when you would go to your friends' homes, or other relatives, and they had, on holidays, did you hear the same kind of singing that was in your home, or was your house maybe a little different?
AH: You know, I don't recall ever going to somebody else's home, (...) my relatives' homes, where they did that. And we still do that whenever we do get together. We're still able to relive some of those musical moments in the family.
TI: It sounds like a rich, a rich experience, then.
AH: Yeah. Fortunately, my daughter, Lisa, has married into a family of musicians, so I have not been deprived of the musical background in my life.
TI: Earlier, you mentioned you attended the St. Mary's Episcopal Church.
TI: How large was the church in your growing up experience? I mean, how important was church to you?
AH: Well, I don't know how much it added to my spiritual life, but it was certainly a social gathering place. And I think it provided a place for Japanese Americans to feel comfortable with each other, and we had a good minister, Yamasaki, who was, John Yamasaki was, followed in the footsteps by his son. John, Jr. followed in his father's footsteps. And then I think they called him Father John, but that was after the camps. So I never got to get to know the younger minister. But it provided a sanctuary for the community, and a place for the Japanese community to meet regularly on Sunday. So I think it was a good thing to have for all of us in the Japanese American community to be able to know that here was one place that was good for us, comfortable for us, where we could keep in touch.
<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 8>
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.
<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 9>
TI: Do you recall your parents ever, or other relatives talking about Japanese and what that meant in a prideful way about being Japanese?
AH: Gee, I don't think... because of my language barrier that we experienced, I don't think we ever talked about that. It might have helped.
TI: Or maybe certain expectations that because you're Japanese, you should act a certain way?
AH: Oh, definitely. That was, that was understood. First, you don't bring shame to your family, next, you don't bring shame to the relatives, and then to the community, Japanese American community. Because it's hard enough as it is, so you got to be the best you can in whatever field you like in school, or sport or whatever it is. You've got to be the best you can so you won't be made fun of.
TI: And how did those values come through? How do you find out that you're supposed to be the best you can be, you don't bring shame? How does that happen?
AH: Well, a little thing like a report card. Fortunately, I always got pretty good grades, so my father would be very pleased. And in terms of, say, citizenship, which is one of the subjects -- not subjects, but one of the characteristics of a student that shows up on a report card. All the Japanese Americans almost always had 'A's, because they toed the line. We were taught instinctively to respect authority, which meant teachers, doctors, policemen. And so... especially teachers. And my father was an education nut. He just felt that this country had so much to offer in terms of education, whether or not you're going to get a good job afterwards, but still, you had the opportunity to get educated. So he prized the school and educational system very strongly. So he was on top of us when it came to schoolwork. But just by not having conversations, but through a process of osmosis, we got these feelings of, "Don't bring shame," "Be good in what you do." Never said, "Be proud you're Japanese." I don't think that was ever pushed in my family. I think he just said, "You have to endure whatever it is," just unspoken.
TI: Okay, good.
<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 10>
TI: During this sort of growing up in Los Angeles time period, were there any individuals that you viewed as role models, or really helped you out in terms of advice that you can recall? Someone you looked up to during this time period?
AH: Somebody that I looked up to... in the Japanese community?
TI: No, it could be a teacher, it could be anyone, an adult that you thought... or maybe some even older, a little bit older, that perhaps mentored you or helped you in any way?
AH: I think I got something from a lot of different people. Nothing particularly... like I was also, in high school, what they call a schoolgirl. After high school classes, I'd go to a home and help the woman of the house, lady of the house wash dishes, make beds, vacuum the floor, help her prepare for dinner, something like that. I did that for a couple of years in high school. And I had a couple of very interesting women for whom I worked. One was a very strict German lady, and I thought, "Oh, she was very strict." But I learned a lot of little things from her. The proper way to set the table, the proper way to peel a tomato. And I used to wear a little apron with a little hat, lace hat, to serve. And I'd be waiting at the door of the kitchen while she would get a bell and ring it. "Okay, bring the soup." Then when the soup is finished, she'd ring the bell. I'd go in and pick up the soup and bring the entree or something. I learned little things that was helpful to me, as strict as she was. And then another lady I worked for was my French teacher, and she was very different. She was very friendly, and this was her way of helping me to learn a little bit of what French people do. So things like that. In terms of the Japanese Americans, I'm not sure I had looked up to anybody in particular. I think I got something from a lot of different people, whether they were my schoolmates or whether they were older. Isn't that, I'm glad you asked me that. I'll have to think about my past to see who was influential in my life.
TI: No, as you say, I think it's probably lots of people, lots of things that you did.
AH: Yeah, lots of little things from a lot of people.
<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 11>
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.
<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 12>
TI: During, when you find out that the families, the Japanese American families are going to start being removed, what did you do during this time period? In particular, I'm thinking that you had a boyfriend during this time period. Can you tell me what kind of things were going on for you?
AH: Oh, yeah. Well, we were all looking for specific instructions and facts. And, of course, the army, government, really didn't know what it was going to do at that time, making decisions on the fly. And with General DeWitt and all those details we didn't know about until we started doing the research, of course, forty or fifty years later. But most of us just spent our time worrying about what's going to happen. At first, I thought only our parents, as aliens, would be affected. I never dreamed at the very beginning that, oh, we're American citizens, this is not gonna bother us, even though we had some social pressures on us. But eventually, of course, it turned out that all of us would be affected in some ways, and we spent our time worrying about, "Well, what are we gonna do?" In my particular case, we didn't know until quite a bit later, probably in February or March, that in Los Angeles, where there was such a large community of Nikkei, that we would be divided into certain areas and be sent somewhere. None of us were told where. I really felt that maybe they're going to take us out someplace in the desolate area and shoot us all. I really thought that they might do that. So there was a lot of fear. Maybe other people didn't feel that, but I thought, "Why would they be sending us away unless they're going to do something bad?" So there was this kind of fear, at least on my part.
And then I had the personal thing. At that time, my boyfriend was living on the east side of Los Angeles, and here I was on the west side. And when we were told that we'd all be sent to different places, I panicked. And I thought, "Oh, my gosh, I'll never see this boyfriend again." And so when it came time, pretty close to time to go, as a matter of fact, only a few days before, we ran away and got, we eloped. I falsified my age, I was seventeen but I said I was eighteen. He was already nineteen, I guess, then, couple years older than I was. So that way I was able to go with his family wherever they were gonna go. Of course, that devastated my family terribly because they, my father did not, I think, did not want me to hook up with this young man. Because my father -- oh, he had a thing about every time I got a new boyfriend, he would say, "Is he going to go to college?" [Laughs] And I had no idea whether or not Jake was going to go to college, I said, "I don't know." "Well, you'd better pick somebody who's going to go to college." [Laughs] So when the time came, and the community in that particular area of Los Angeles, the Boyle Heights area, had to go to the train station, I joined, the night before, joined Jake and went with the family to Manzanar.
TI: Going back, before we go to Manzanar, so your parents must have been upset about the, about you marrying Jake and eloping. And how about your brothers and sisters? What was their reaction?
AH: Oh, I think they were pissed off -- excuse me, bleep that out -- I think they were upset at my selfish motive to do this. By that time, my oldest sister had been married, my oldest sister, and my other sister was living in New York. Frank, the oldest, the chonan and I, we never got along anyway. So I said, and he was angry with me, of course. I think my brother Johnny and I were close, and Amy, they were real upset with me for doing that, and, of course, my parents were.
TI: Now, would this, going back to that date, would this have been sort of out of character for you to have done something like this?
AH: No, I was always self-centered, and it was "me, me, me," all that time. So I think, I'm not sure if they were that surprised. [Laughs] Because I was sort of not in the mold that they had hoped I'd be in terms of family. I was always sticking out. I guess, I think they were unhappy, but I'm not sure that they were that surprised.
TI: Now, in retrospect, do you feel like, perhaps, this was, for you, a rushed decision? Something that if it weren't for the war and the camps, that this wouldn't have happened?
AH: Oh, I'm definitely sure of that. If we didn't have to make this rash decision, I don't think I would have gotten married, because that would have given me a chance to develop the relationship more before I ran off, and then later found that it wasn't gonna work.
TI: So, actually, you didn't really know the person you married as well as, perhaps, you would have.
AH: No, I had been only going with him for about a year or so. And it was always on dates, and you're always on your best behavior, everybody is when you're on dates, right? Maybe that's the reason I'm not that much against, even though we used to raise eyebrows for young couples to start living together before they were married. Remember? That was, oh, a no-no. But nowadays, it sort of makes sense to me. You find out what, does he snore too much? Does she, is she a good cook? You find out a lot of those things, and then you can make your decision, "Yeah, I think I could tolerate and live with this person." But during those days, of course, that was never the thing to do. So I sort of don't raise my eyebrows on that kind of living arrangements these days. It's nice to be.. abstinent, it's nice, but just to get to know somebody better, it's hard to do unless you live together.
<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 13>
TI: Okay. So you joined your husband's family, and you go to Manzanar. So why don't you describe what Manzanar was like for you?
AH: Oh, well, when we got there, as you know, it was such a desolate area so far from civilization, I thought, that I said, "Oh, this is where they're gonna shoot us. Nobody would know the difference." That was my immediate reaction when I got there. But then, there were so many of us, that we just took comfort in the fact that there were a lot of (us) in the same situation. And just seeing the living arrangement was, it was a real bummer. Thinking that, wow, this room has one light bulb. [Laughs] And there were seven of us in one small room. I think it was sixteen by twenty feet: me, my husband, his brother and his wife, newly married, too, Jake's older sister, her husband, and a little baby. So there were six and a half of us in this one tiny room. Of course, they gave us our little separate spaces later on, but it was several months before that took place, maybe, not quite a year. But it was not very comfortable for newlyweds, especially, or any family, to live that close, not have the privacy. Which is the thing... I think liberty and privacy is what I miss the most. Not being able to just walk out to the corner drugstore, get an ice cream soda, or the privacy, not being able to change your clothes when you wanted to. Of course, we all put up little partitions later, as you know. (...) We had three different families in one room. The guys put up slats and then put a blanket, nailed a blanket to separate our living quarters. And since it didn't take me long to get pregnant, it was difficult because the bathroom was in another building, no running water. So it was hard; it was hard. And at that time, I was aware that my mother was not well then, so how was she going to manage and how where they going to manage her food? No cooking facility, how are they going to manage toilet? Yeah, it was a hard life, especially for the ill and the infirm and the old.
TI: Yeah, as you're talking, I'm just trying to imagine how, all the things that were happening. So here you were, you had just left your family, you're a newlywed, you're in these cramped quarters with no privacy, you know you're mother's not doing well but she's at a different camp in Jerome, and you become pregnant with all the things like morning sickness and all that. It really was a difficult time for you to have to cope. I mean, in some ways, I imagine you grew up a lot during that time.
AH: Yeah, I sure did. Here I was still a child myself, and never knew how to change diapers or how to take care of a child. And having been so self-centered all my life, all of a sudden I had to share what little knowledge I have, and this hardship with the whole family. It was a hard time. It was a difficult time under trying circumstances. Under the best of circumstances, it would have been hard.
TI: And so you mentioned being pregnant and delivering. What were the medical facilities like for a woman going through pregnancy and giving birth to a child?
AH: Because we lacked the kind of nutrition that we know about today that would be best for a pregnant woman, I guess, in retrospect, I think we lacked the kinds of foods, particularly, that would have been helpful to produce a healthy child. Not just that, but the fact that if there's no running water, little things like rinsing out diapers, soiled diapers, was a big problem. Washing three dozen diapers a day in a tub with a washboard, like there's no washing machine. For the pregnant woman like me, the food was not the best, I think. So I think most of the children who were born in camps like my daughter, had, at least the first growing up period, they were not really healthy. They didn't have the immune system developed that worked in if we had had better food. The hospital was run by a doctor, who I heard later on, not at that time, but later, from people who worked in the hospital, that the white doctor was an alcoholic. And most of the work was done by Nisei nurses or some Nisei doctors, who, as you know, were paid the highest wage. Was it nineteen dollars a month? Oh, boy. Teachers, doctors, nineteen dollars a month, to do the kind of hard, hard work that was required. And I don't know, not having associated myself with hospital facilities, if they were, had the kind of equipment or supplies that a normal outside hospital would have had. I know in the case of my father, in Jerome, when I went to, transferred to Jerome, there (weren't) enough flashlights. For example, the night before he died, Christmas Eve of 1943, he had an oxygen tank to keep him alive, and we were not permitted to light candles or something because of the danger of explosion, and the electricity was out. There was a... what is the word for it when the electricity was...
TI: A blackout?
AH: Blackout for some reason that night. And so it was very difficult. I was with him that night before he died, Christmas Eve, and there were not enough flashlights to pass around, so he would (ask for), "Water..." and I was looking for the water to try to feed him, to get him into... it was a real tough night. So in terms of that hospital, they didn't have enough equipment, so I suppose most of the hospitals were the same. As for the care, I think when I gave birth to my daughter, it was, we didn't have separate rooms. It was like a regular barrack, we all slept next to each other. And I guess I must have just thought, well, I'm lucky to have a hospital in which the baby was born. Nowadays, I think that women who give birth are asked to leave the hospital two or three days after birth. At that time, it was standard procedure that the new mother stayed in the hospital for a week, and that was what it was. And at that time, I was not aware of a lot of the things that, of course, I became more cognizant of in my later years. So we made do, youth.
TI: And do you have a sense, was there like a, very many other mothers giving birth about the same time? Were there quite a few births happening?
AH: Yeah. As I recall, there were at least half a dozen women. I guess I was about the youngest one there, I was eighteen or something like that, eighteen, nineteen. I think it's just that old Japanese thing. You shikata ga nai, you do the best you can under the circumstances. I think that pulled a lot of us through. That is the kind of thing that is passed on, I think, from our parents to us. Because they tolerated so much hardship, and we sort of grew under the understanding that this is the way it is, and you don't bitch about it, you make do, make do the best you can.
TI: But how was it for you? Because you're seventeen, eighteen years old, you're pregnant and delivering a baby. Most of your friends, same age, didn't have that life. I mean, they were maybe finishing high school or going to the camp dances, things like that. How did you deal with that? Were you frustrated about it or what did you think about that time period?
AH: I think I was more concerned about what I did to my family at the time. I was, yeah, I was sort of miserable thinking about, I didn't do right by my family, and more concerned about the baby. Somehow I didn't miss all the camp dances and stuff, even though I knew that my girlfriends were all going to dances and having a good time. I don't recall really missing that. I was trying to integrate and assimilate into the new family, all the members of whom were just great to me. I really appreciate the fact that they were very good to me.
<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 14>
TI: In terms of your family in Jerome, did they correspond? Did you write letters back and forth?
AH: Yeah, we eventually did. And then when I found out my father was really deathly sick, I asked for a transfer to Jerome. They were in Santa Anita first, and then they were moved to Jerome. So I asked for a transfer, and I was permitted to transfer with my baby and I said I wanted my husband to go, too, Jake. They said, "Oh, no, he's not your father, so he can't go." So he was not allowed to come with me. So it was a long, hard five-day train ride across country, and I didn't have a seat.
TI: So that seems unusual or somewhat harsh that they wouldn't let your husband go with you. Here you're a family unit, husband, wife, child, asking to be transferred, and they separated you. They treated you more like, still, your previous family, there's this kind of division. Do you know why the government did that?
AH: No. I don't know why, they just said, "He's not, he's your father, not his father, so he can't go out." I don't know why. And there was no chance to appeal it because they said my father was really critically sick. So, but he finally was able to join me months later, quite a number of months later. But then he got drafted to go into the army, so we didn't have too much time together. It was a very cruel decision, and I just never could understand it. Was never given a reason except that he was not his father.
TI: So, Aiko, where we left off from the first section was you had just returned to Jerome because your father was deathly ill. And you arrived with your newborn child and you. I'm curious, what was the family reunion like when you got to Jerome?
AH: Well, it was traumatic. When I first got, when we first arrived in Jerome, I was getting off the bus and my, they were taking my father on a gurney into the hospital ambulance. And so I was coming in and he was going out, but I grabbed my daughter to run over to him and that was the one and only time he got to see her, because he was (sent to) the hospital. That was the tenth of December, 1943. So that was the one and only time. I couldn't take her to the hospital, they wouldn't let the baby in the hospital at the time. But I went every day to see him. But it was, that was a very traumatic moment. Of course, we had no idea he would be dying, so I thought, well, get a chance to see her once and then maybe when he came back, we would be, chance to get together. Because I was able to get one of those apartments in the barracks across from where my mother and father were. But it was not to be, because Christmas Eve, ten days later, my father passed away.
TI: And what did he die of?
AH: Well, he had complicated conditions, but mostly heart, yeah. I think that he had a failure of other vital organs, but it was primarily his heart. He was only sixty-nine years old. At that time, I thought he was very old, but of course, now that I'm almost eighty-five, "Hey, he died young." [Laughs]
TI: And what about the rest of the family? What was the reception for your mother, your sisters, your brothers?
AH: Oh, they were okay, you know. They were glad to have me there. They were glad to see the baby, because that was one of the few grandchildren my mother had. At that time, there were three grandsons (who) were my sister's kids, and my daughter was the fourth grandchild. Of course, since then, there have been more, but it was okay. They forgave me my transgressions.
TI: And how did you know they forgave you? What happened?
AH: Because they were just, they acted like they always did. They didn't chastise me or put me in a corner with a dunce cap on. They treated me fine.
TI: How about discussion? Was it ever discussed what you had done?
AH: No. As I recall, no. Even my oldest brother, with whom I didn't get along too well, he never got on my case, and he didn't say, "Why did you do that?" or all that. Come to think of it, I never thought about the fact that when Jake finally joined me, what was their attitude about him? Isn't that funny? I hadn't even thought about that. I must try and reflect to see if I can reconstruct what the family's reaction was. I guess they thought we were just misguided kids, and they were right. [Laughs]
<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 15>
TI: I was going to ask, in terms of comparisons between Manzanar and Jerome, what were some of the differences between the two camps?
AH: Well, first, it was the weather. Jerome did not have the storm, the dust storms that Manzanar had. And it was sweaty, it was muggy -- Jerome. But I think, I felt pretty comfortable because it was my own family. And by the time I got there, things had pretty much settled down. Whereas when we first went to Manzanar, everything was in a state of flux, we're trying to get used to our own environment, jobs were not available for people who just had nothing to do. By the time we got to Jerome, things were pretty much (like) the experience of Manzanar and other camps that were opened earlier, (which) taught the Jerome administration what to do, what not to do. So I think it was working pretty smoothly. And there were the regular Buddhist or church services, so that the residents of the camps felt more at ease than the first group of people like in Manzanar when I first went there. It was such a new environment, and the people in Jerome had come from other assembly centers like my parents were in Santa Anita first. So they already had a feeling of what it's like to live communally, lack of privacy. Anyway, it was a transfer for me just from one camp to another.
TI: And do you have a sense in terms of just the... what's the right word? In terms of the tension -- I know Manzanar, especially in those early days, there was some unrest, I mean, there was some, they call them the "Manzanar riots" for instance, and things like that. And I didn't hear as much about Jerome in terms of unrest, and I was just wondering in terms of just the community attitudes, if you had a sense of any difference between Manzanar and Jerome.
AH: Yeah. I never got involved very much with the so-called politics of either of the camps, but I did sense a better feeling of less unrest in Jerome. And, of course, I was still there when the so-called "riot" in Manzanar happened. And, of course, many, many years later, I became very friendly with Harry Ueno, who was supposed to be the catalyst for that particular disturbance. But in Jerome, I think, to show the difference, Jerome had only one dissident camp resister, Joe Yamakido, whereas Manzanar had more, and, of course, Heart Mountain had a lot, and Granada had more. But I think the fact that you had just one draft resisters shows sort of the tenor of the atmosphere and environment of Jerome as compared to, say, Heart Mountain. So I guess it was a little quieter.
<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 16>
TI: You mentioned how your husband Jake eventually joined you, but then you said he went into the army from there?
AH: Yeah, he was drafted.
TI: Okay. And so what service did go to?
AH: Well, he went to Camp Blanding, and then he was sent to Germany. But he never talked about it, so I don't know if it was part of the 442 or where did the Nisei who were trained in Camp Blanding; were they integrated into the 442? Do you know? I'm not sure.
TI: No, I'm not sure.
AH: Because I know there were several who were drafted in 1944 and went to Camp Blanding instead of Camp Shelby.
TI: Yeah, I think there were men who trained in Camp Blanding and joined the 442.
AH: Oh, okay.
TI: So that was, that might have been the case.
TI: But now I'm thinking about your relationship. I mean, here you got married, you eloped right before you went to Manzanar, then once you got to Manzanar, there was no privacy, and then you became pregnant and had a child. And then you were separated from your husband because you went to Jerome to be with your sick father for several months. And then he comes just for a short time and then goes to the army. So what happened to the relationship? It seemed like it never really had much of a chance.
AH: Yeah. It was only during the period we were in Manzanar that we had a steady time together. And it became apparent after a while that the chemistry wasn't right. But at that time, in Manzanar, I had no idea that we would separate. But because of the long separation and because of all the little personal circumstances that happened later, after he came back from Germany, it just didn't go well, so we decided to split. So at that point, after we got divorced, I joined my family in New York, because most of my family went to New York because my sister was living there already. And my brother still lives in New York, my younger sister still lives in New York, so a good part of my family had relocated out of the camps to the East Coast, so I went there. So I lived in New York for thirty years, less five years when I was in Japan.
TI: And when were you in Japan?
AH: From the end of 1949 to the end of '54, so it's five years.
<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 17>
TI: So let me see if I can summarize this. So from Jerome, you went directly to New York?
AH: No, from Jerome I went to, while Jake was still in Germany, I went to Denver, Colorado for several months, because part of the Miyazaki family, my in-laws, were living there. They said, "Come out here, 'cause it's nice in Denver." So I went to Denver, but I just didn't dig it. I just wasn't comfortable, I didn't care for it. And so I said, "No, I think I'll just pick up, go back to California." And without any, it just shows how stupid and non-thinking, and didn't consider the future. I just picked up with Geri and a few suitcases and went to, came to Los Angeles without even knowing, when I left, where I was gonna sleep when I got here. [Laughs] And by sheer coincidence, when I reached here and I checked into a hotel, Geri. (...) I decided to go to the Relocation (office of) the War Relocation Authority relocation office, to see what available facilities I could look into, apartment or something like that. And on the way, I met one of my in-laws, and he said, "Hey, what you doing here?" I said, "Well, I decided to move from Denver to here." He said, "Where are you going to stay?" I said, "I don't know, I'm just going to find out." "Then come home with me, and we'll put you up." Holy Moses, what luck. I had, born with a silver spoon in my mouth, I thought. Well, they were so kind to me and they took me in, and I was one of, I think, twenty-one in a three-bedroom house. We took turns, as I recall, sleeping, eating. But this family was so generous and wanted to help way beyond the call of duty. This sister-in-law of mine and her husband had three kids. They had Ted's father, mother, brother, and a daughter, and two brothers and me and Geri. I think there were about twenty, twenty-one of us. And we just made do. I don't know how we did it, but they were amenable, friendly, respectful of each other. Imagine. All one related family. Such generosity. He said, "Come home with me." [Laughs] I'll never forget that.
TI: And what did you do in Los Angeles during this time?
AH: Oh, I first went to, with the blessing of my sister-in-law and her husband, they said, "Okay." I said I wanted to go to a stenotype institute. At that time, before tape recorders became the easy way to record things, the stenotype institute taught people how to use this very condensed, abbreviated typewriter-like (instrument), where you had to learn the combination of keys for the missing keys to take dictation or to take speeches at conventions, which I learned to do. And I was working to take speeches at conventions, or get hired out from this institute to a letter shop, where I would be rehired by, say, lawyers who worked in that building to take dictation and do temporary work. That was the first time I had direct experience with a guy. I went with my stenotype instrument, walked into his office, and he looked at me and he said, "Are you the temporary secretary?" I said, "Yeah." "Are you Japanese?" "Yeah, my parents are from Japan." "I don't want you. Tell your boss to send me someone else, not Japanese." I was shocked. I had never had somebody tell me right to face, because I'm Japanese, "I'm not going to use you." Didn't know what I could do, what I couldn't do. I was really devastated at that. Well, I took this course and I graduated, so I got some work as a court reporter, but I never had to go to court. I went to conventions (like) Veterans of Foreign Wars conventions, (or taking) dictation and things like that, and then transcribing them. So I did that for a while until Jake came back from Germany, and then we split. So I moved to New York, back to my family again with Geri.
<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 18>
TI: And then so you're in New York for about how long before you go to Japan?
AH: Oh, well, I was in New York from '47 until...
TI: To '49?
AH: But then from '49 to '54, I had remarried and I went to Japan with my Nisei husband who was in counterintelligence, MIS, counterintelligence. So I lived in Japan for five years in Fukui, Kobe... yeah, between Kobe and Osaka is a town called Shukugawa. And then Otsu for three years, and then Nagoya. So I moved around four different places in Japan, because that's where my then-husband was sent, stationed.
TI: Boy, I'm guessing that was a big shift for you, to live in Japan?
AH: Oh, yeah, definitely. Definitely.
TI: And what are some memories from Japan?
AH: Oh, I wish I had taken advantage of my being there a little more, but in some ways, I think the nature of my then-husband's work, which was counterintelligence, and ferreting out Communist infiltrators in Japan, we were advised that the family should not fraternize too much with the population because of the nature of his work. So my actual contact with the Japanese people was pretty limited mostly to my housemaids, the gardener, and just a few Japanese friends. Because of the restrictions, I didn't get a chance to really, I didn't take advantage of it. Maybe I could have done more, to even learn the language. It seemed like it slipped out of my hands, but I think now I should have somehow taken advantage of being there much more. I liked it very much, although I know I was treated like a gaijin, because they could tell by the way I talked, or walked, or the way I dressed, I was not a Japanese-Japanese. But it was nice to be there in the land of my parents. I didn't get a chance at that time, because of the restriction, to visit my own parents' families, but I did go back in 1992, I guess it was, for the first time, to visit Kumamoto and Hiroshima at the time. That was a good trip.
TI: How about other Japanese Americans? Were there very many other Japanese Americans that you got to know?
AH: In Japan?
TI: In Japan.
AH: Oh, yeah, a few couples, because they were all in the same kind of work. They were all the MIS, CIC, counterintelligence corps people. And we had a nice relationship with a few of those families. Well, we all, most of us lived in American compounds where we were walled off from the population. So that prohibited us from being, getting to know the Japanese people, but we had the relationships with the armed forces people, whether they were Marines or Army people. A few Japanese, Nisei couples.
TI: And so how were these years for you? It was like four or five years you're in Japan, was this a good time for you?
AH: Yeah. Well, it was sad in a lot of ways because it was sad to see the country and its people deprived of so much. By the time, when we first went there, it was still, the country was still reeling from the aftereffects of the devastation, and there were little kids with no shoes walking hadashi, barefoot, (...) and people with not enough food or clothing. But by the time we left, 1954, it was just amazing to see how much the Japanese had picked themselves up and took advantage of the opportunities (arose) whenever it appeared. And they really pulled themselves up so fast from the bootstraps. I compare that with the European countries that were so negatively affected by World War II, how long it took them to come up from all this devastation, and how quickly the Japanese did. They became one of the economic powers, right, in twenty years, thirty years? While Germany and all those other countries were having to struggle. That made me very proud, you know, when I think back. It was... I enjoyed that, certain parts of it. I didn't like some of the Americans who went into Japan as conquerors, and they let the Japanese people know we're here because "we beat you." And that kind of attitude really bothered me. There were a few Nisei who were like that, and I didn't like that very much.
TI: So I'm curious, when you saw like a Nisei or someone else act that way, did you ever say anything to them?
AH: Oh, no, I never did. I was chicken. But I thought about it a lot and said, "Gee, why did he have to talk like that to this houseboy or this salesperson or something like that?" as if he was the almighty. And it just made me unhappy. I tried to avoid people like that, because it made me just uncomfortable to be with people like that. But I didn't learn that the best thing to do is to speak your mind right away until much later, and I decided, be more honest and upfront with people, yet try to be tactful. [Laughs] It's a fine line, I think.
TI: Now, earlier, you mentioned how quickly Japan sort of recovered. Why do you think Japan was able to recover so quickly compared to the European countries?
AH: There's some kind of pride in being Japanese and the willingness and the will to improve one's own condition. I think it starts with, it must start with an individual, but nationally, there's some kind of strength in the Japanese character that makes them want to be tops. I don't know if it's competition or just pride in being of a race that believes in their own skill, intelligence, to be best. And it's been a source of real pride for me to see how Japan has, took this tragedy and became such a power later, to the benefit of its people.
TI: And you really saw that in those five years that you were in Japan?
AH: No, I could see the improvement.
AH: Yeah, improvement, where the kids were dressed better by the time I left, and people were starting to get jobs, and there was just an attitude that just made me feel good.
TI: And so any other ways that you were changed by being in Japan those five years?
AH: Yeah. Little by little, I became much more proud of my ancestry. It took a while for me to understand the political part of our country that led to my feeling the way I was as I was growing up, but then to see myself in Japan and to see our people, the people of my father's country, mother's country, do such a good job eventually over the few decades after the war, it really made me understand why I'm proud to be a Nihonjin.
<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 19>
TI: So then why did you come back to New York after five years?
AH: Oh, because by that time, my then-husband and I said, "It ain't going so well." [Laughs] "Maybe we should try being apart for a while." And the longer we were apart, the more we were convinced, it's better this way. So I moved to, I went to New York. We were at Fort Lewis, that's where he was stationed, in Washington.
AH: Yeah, because his family is from Seattle.
TI: Now, what was your second husband's name?
AH: Davis Abe.
TI: Okay. And when you're married to Davis Abe, did you have children with...
AH: Yes, I had Lisa and David.
TI: Okay, so Geri was in Manzanar, and then Lisa and David...
AH: David, they were both born in Kyoto.
AH: They were born in Kyoto, but they were born in a U.S. Army hospital, so they're American citizens, children of Nisei.
TI: That's interesting. So they're Japanese Americans born in Japan. [Laughs] So that's good. But U.S. citizens. So this is about 1954...
AH: When I came back to the United States.
TI: To New York.
TI: And then New York, and then you have three children, and you're now back in New York. And so what do you do in New York?
AH: Let's see. Before I went, oh, after I went to New York the first time, I went to night school and got my high school diploma which was denied me in 1942. So I think I got my first high school diploma in 1947, in '47 or '48. I'm going to George Washington High School in New York. I subsequently got a couple more high school diplomas, because there was a movement here to give all high school, California, southern California high school graduates of 1942 who were denied their diplomas from their respective high school, there was a big ceremony last year or two years ago, they gave one. And then of course I got one in 1989 when Warren Furutani arranged for our class to get, in L.A. high school to get our diploma. So I had three high school diplomas. [Laughs] From New York, L.A. High School, and then California.
<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 20>
TI: Okay, and so, and coming back to New York, and then it sounded like you went back to school or something? I guess maybe that was where...
AH: That was before I married.
TI: Yeah, '54 now, what happened?
AH: Oh, I went, when I went to New York, I got a job back that I had held before I went to Japan. I worked in a nonprofit health organization. I started out as a clerk, typist clerk, and I moved up until I became an assistant director of the international division for this health organization, which was called American Social Health Association. And they used the word "social health" because they thought it would turn off the public if they use what actually we were involved in, which was education (about) venereal diseases. As ASHA, American Social Health Association, we were part of a larger group called the International Union Against Venereal Diseases and Treponematosis. [Laughs] IUVDT, yeah, that's right. And I became part of that organization and I represented the (IUVDT's regional office for the) Americas at the United Nations on this particular subject. So I represented ASHA, which was an (instrumentality), part of IUVDT at the United Nations. So that was what I did until I decided I wanted a change. During that time, I also had a second job at night working for a industrial production company, private, small private company, that helped industry promote its goods, and I was secretary/office manager. Did everything required of a small, one-person, small, three or four-person operation to put on these shows, whether it was a video or a stage show or recording, getting the actors together, helping write the script -- type the script, I didn't do the writing -- getting all the equipment ready for shipment if it had to be in Florida or Chicago or someplace. And it was very taxing, but I did that as a second job. And eventually, I quit my health organization job and went full-time to this other job. It was getting, two jobs was too much for me, nine to five and then eight to twelve, so it was a little hard.
TI: And how was it that you could, what were the children doing during this period?
AH: I had hired a nanny who lived nearby, an Irish lady who helped take care of the kids while I worked. And then my family lived close by, too, so if necessary, I had to call on them. I usually didn't have to.
TI: But during this time, you were working two jobs, a single mother raising three children. So again, that seems like a difficult time or a busy time, I guess.
AH: Yeah. Difficult and busy. I think my regret there is that I didn't have enough time with the kids at that time. But then it was a little bit better, (when) I quit that job and I became office manager for a black organization in Harlem called Jazzmobile. And Jazzmobile was begun by the well-known pianist, Billy Taylor. It was a wonderful idea that he had. He wanted to make sure jazz wouldn't die, (and) so he wanted to continue to perpetuate the love for jazz, and started by offering inner-city black kids a chance to learn from the greats. He got Milt Jackson, the bass fiddle, I guess, and Max Roach on the drums, Frank Foster on the sax, Herbie Hancock, Monty Alexander on the piano, Jimmy Owens on the trumpet, Jimmy Heath, all those big musicians, he encouraged them to come and help instill the love and continue the love for jazz. So these great names, you know, Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry, they would donate their time for minimum wage, minimum honorarium, to teach the inner city kids these wonderful instruments. And Billy Taylor was successful in getting some of these greats to come down to Harlem once or twice every month to teach on Saturdays. And also, he got these small groups to play concerts for free on the streets on top of a, what (you) do call it, flatbed, open flatbed truck, (...) just parking themselves someplace in Harlem to play jazz for free, instead of having to pay sums of money to go to Carnegie Hall or someplace, for the people, and to arrange for some of these concerts that Jazzmobile put in the summertime, on the streets of Harlem. Also went to Boston, Baltimore, and different venues on the East Coast, and I was in charge of some of the arrangements to make. I didn't get to meet everybody, but I made out the paychecks for some of these famous people.
TI: And about what years were these? What year was this?
AH: This was in... let's see. End of the '60s, early '70s, beginning of the '70s, I think.
TI: So it was a pretty turbulent time, too. This was after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
AH: When was that?
TI: That was '68.
AH: Yeah, it was just about right after that time, I think, just about that time.
TI: So it was kind of a, so a pretty turbulent time, I would classify.
AH: Yes, it was. And it was the first time I had such close contacts with blacks. It was only, the office where I worked was only a block or two from where Mary Yuri Kochiyama lived. And, of course, we were involved anyway, starting with AAA then. But it was such a wonderful experience for me to be able to relate to the blacks, and to understand what they meant when they said, "I wake up in the morning and think, 'What kind of shit am I gonna face today?'" You know, just to be, understand their feeling. Whereas it was a good experience for me to get to live among them for so many hours a day.
TI: And so how, I'm curious how you got this job. Because here you're kind of in your early forties, you're a Japanese American, and this is right after a lot of racial unrest in places like Harlem, and you're now right in the middle of that. I mean, how did you get that job?
AH: Well, when I was working for this industrial production company, there was a photographer, a white guy, who used to do our photography and things like that for the company. He had a good friend who was black, who was a musician. And this black friend, at that time, had just become executive director of Jazzmobile. And he, David Bailey, had been the drummer for many groups, many famous groups like Dave... not Brubeck, Mulligan, Gerry Mulligan. Gerry Mulligan, he was mostly known as the drummer for Gerry Mulligan's band, but he also played for lots of other bands. But he was tapped by Billy Taylor, who organized Jazzmobile, to become executive director. Okay. Now, the photographer for the industrial production show was a friend of David Bailey's, and through that (job), I met David. And when David found out I was gonna leave this other company, he asked me if I would become the manager, office manager for Jazzmobile. That's how I got roped into that. Roped into, I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it a lot. And after that, let's see, I was there for a few years. Then the last job I had before I married Jack Herzig was with a church board. Sort of jumped from Jazzmobile to the United Church of Christ. [Laughs] United Church Board for Homeland Ministry, I was the clerk of the board of directors of that organization for a few years before I remarried and moved down to the Washington, D.C. area.
<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 21>
TI: And during this time in New York with these jobs, you were also involved with the AAA, the Asian Americans for Action.
TI: And so it feels like... what's the right word? It feels like you're awakening to something new?
TI: Can you talk a little bit about that? What's awakening in you?
AH: Well, I had been pretty, I don't think I was ever a conservative, but I was not as progressive as I thought I was until I met, became a member of AAA. And those people just opened my eyes, the members of AAA, Kazu, Tak, Chris Ijima, Min Matsuda, all these people were just wonderful persons. And I started to learn about, I think we started, I started to wonder more about why the camps happened. I was too busy sort of rebuilding the life, my life to put much thought to it. But then the black movement and Martin Luther King and Kennedys and all those things started happening, I started to think more about it. And when I was invited to join the AAA, come listen to what they had to say, just a meeting, informal meeting, I was really struck by my ignorance about political systems, about racism, things I hadn't given much thought to, really deep thought to. And being a member of AAA at that particular time was, to me, the door that opened me for the future and how I would live. It was very influential. AAA was very influential in my life.
TI: And would you say that that was the core, or the main reason that really got you more aware of these things, AAA?
AH: Definitely. There's no question. If I had not been there, I would still be the same old, "Don't make waves, just stay in the background, be part of the wallflower group." That would have been... they were so effective in changing how I thought, and facing reality.
TI: Okay. I have a lot more questions about the AAA, but in a previous interview we asked you more questions about this, so I'm going to move on.
TI: And if people who are either reading this transcript or listening want to know more about the AAA, we have another interview that goes into this in more depth.
AH: Okay, fine.
<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 22>
TI: And so you mentioned how you met Jack Herzig.
TI: And then married and went down to D.C. But I guess the first question is how did you meet Jack?
AH: Well, actually, I met him in Japan. It's interesting that you ask that. [Laughs] Because he, Jack happened to belong to the same CIC unit, the Counterintelligence Corps unit that my then-husband belonged to, which was headquartered in Kyoto, but the sub-branch was in Otsu, where we lived. And so we used to see a lot of each other during that time, and we were all friendly. We used to join each other at the officer's club and have dinner at each other's homes. Then when Jack and his family left Japan in the summer of '54, and just at that time, we were transferred from the Kyoto area to Nagoya. So we were in Nagoya from early spring or summer to the end of '54, December, when we came back to the United States. And we had exchanged, our families stayed in touch, we exchanged Christmas greetings and things like that. But, and then all of a sudden, in 1976, when I was in New York, living in Manhattan, I get this call from Jack saying, "Hi, this is Jack. I'm downstairs." [Laughs] So how many years? Twenty years or... '54, '64... yeah, twenty-something years had gone by. "Oh, Jack. Okay." So it turned out that he had separated from his wife, and eventually his wife passed away anyway, she was very sick. But it was twenty-something years, and we picked up the... there was something right about, there's, nothing happened in Japan, but all those years, we just sort of stayed in touch. And it was, so it seemed like, "Oh, haven't seen you since yesterday," kind of feeling. I think when the chemistry is right, that kind of feeling prevails. So it was that many years. [Laughs] We decided to get married. 'Cause I'd been, by that time, I'd been separated for fifteen more years or so, longer than that, when Davis said he wanted to get remarried, so can we be divorced? We had been separated the umpteen years. I said, "Sure."
TI: And so when you got married to Jack, how old were your children at that time?
AH: How old were they?
AH: This is '76, okay, 1978 is when we got married. Lisa was born in '51, so what does that make her?
TI: So she's twenty-seven.
AH: Yeah, twenty-seven. Oh, maybe... and Geri was already married and she had a son.
TI: And David?
AH: David was two years younger than Lisa.
TI: So about twenty-five.
AH: Yeah. So they were okay with it, okay with it.
TI: That's sweet.
<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 23>
TI: And so the two of you moved down to Washington, D.C., or that's where he was living.
AH: He was already working here in Washington. He had been discharged from the army, and so he was working in private industry.
TI: Right. And you're, at this time, fifty-three years old, about fifty-three?
AH: I was born '24, '78, fifty-four, yeah.
TI: Or fifty-four? Fifty-four. And so what do you do in D.C.?
AH: Oh, well, I didn't do anything for a while, but then I decided I'd like to know what kind of information the FBI had on me for having marched in the streets in New York, anti-Vietnam War demonstration and all that. So I wondered if the FBI had anything on me, so I went down and they said, "No, we don't have anything. Maybe New York office has, but nothing." And I decided, "Well, I want to find out what they have in terms of the camp life on my family." So that started me out. And by that time, I had already met Michi Weglyn and got to know her pretty well in New York for the last two years or so before I moved down there. So I told her I was gonna find out about my family. She said, "Well, yeah, look at some of my footnotes, and if you're interested, follow." So after that, I found out about my family, the information they had, 'cause it's quite extensive. And then I started looking into the camp situation, because the archivists were all so helpful. They said, "We have such wonderful stuff here, nobody's looking at it. Not enough people." They knew Michi and Roger Daniels were looking at it, but very few (other writers, scholars and researchers).
TI: So just a handful of you were looking at these key documents.
AH: At that time, yeah. That's what got me started.
TI: So, Aiko, another interview that we have at Densho is that the Omori sisters did, and so they really go into your archive work. And so I'm going to kind of move on. The one thing that hasn't been talked very much about, because we talk about your role, but I want you to talk about Jack's role, especially during the redress, coram nobis, the role that Jack played during this period.
AH: Oh, right, okay. Well, Jack was still working when I first started doing archival work, but then he did retire, so he wanted something to do. So I asked him if he would pick up on the archival work searching for information for the Commission on Wartime Relocation. And so, oh, he was very happy to do it. And the more he learned about it, the more incensed he got at his own country. And he got -- I might have mentioned this in a previous interview, but he became incensed at the idea that here he was in his paratroop role, paratrooper role, fighting the enemy, Japan, for our constitutional guarantees, the freedom, liberty, equal opportunity, equality under the law, and at the same time, we were being mistreated, we American citizens. And the more he thought about it, the more he thought, "Gee, we were fighting for principles, and I lost so many good friends, fighting for principles that we were not living up to ourselves." And it just made him so mad that he got into this archival research of an injustice against the Japanese American community like a bulldog. So he helped me dig out things. I would ask him to look at certain records that I didn't have a chance (to see). He would look it up, and we would Xerox these copies to give to the Commission, so that they could come up with their recommendations (to) Congress. Then we were asked by the National Council for Japanese American Redress, William Hohri's group, to do research for them because they were planning to file a class action lawsuit. So Jack helped me on that, because I was tied up with the Commission office a lot. So he helped me to pull together the things that would be helpful to the class action lawsuit. Then the coram nobis lawyers said they could use some help, too. So Jack helped me, and we tried to help the coram nobis cases do the research. And just about the same time, the Smithsonian was planning to open up its exhibition on Japanese Americans. What was it? "A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the United States Constitution," and they asked me and Jack to be consultants on the content of the exhibition. So we were busy helping the curator on that. Then after the bill was passed for Civil Liberties Act of 1988, the Justice Department asked Jack and me to be the consultant on locating all eligible people for redress. So we were involved with that, to especially locate (and verify names) of people who applied for redress but (whose) names weren't on official records. We were able to direct the Justice Department to the master list, which was the most useful one, listed everybody who was in the ten camps, and those who were in the internment camps, which was different, of course. So we were able to locate rosters and names of those who were in the internment camps. And especially for people who applied, but whose name didn't appear, they asked us to find. So Jack was involved with me every step of the way.
TI: That's good. And another piece that I've come across is work around the "magic cables," which is where his counterintelligence background, I think, helped in interpretation of that.
AH: Right. He was very convinced that those who said the magic cables justified the actions taken against the West Coast Japanese Americans, he said that's not true. Because those magic cables were not verified or... what is the word in cryptology they use? Confirmed and... we discussed this at great length with Michi, because she had collected a lot of the magic cables. And we were fortunate enough to have access to additional cables that became public, that became declassified. So I shared that with Michi, and together we were going to write something about the falsehood of magic cables -- of Pearl Harbor being a sneak attack, through the magic cables. Well, Jack studied this a lot, and with his background on intelligence, he decided he'd like to write a piece, which he did, and I think you might have seen it, in the Amerasia Journal in 1984, to try to debunk the fact that the magic cables was one of the main reasons to show that it, (the government), was justified to incarcerate, expel and incarcerate the West Coast Japanese. His background prepared him well for that.
<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 24>
TI: I'm now going to switch gears. I'm not going to ask you questions about your archival work because it's well-documented in other places, especially the, I think what you call were the nuggets that you found as a researcher like the first edition of DeWitt's Final Report would be an example of that. But it's been pretty well-documented that your, the work that you did was really important to not only the coram nobis and also the redress, but just in terms of uncovering lots of information that was really helpful to scholars about what really happened during World War II. And I'm just curious in terms of your role and how you, when you look back at it, you had such a pivotal role. What do you attribute that to? I mean, why were you the person who was so key in finding so much?
AH: Well, I have to say, I was, I guess my training and my experience made me look at a lot of the little trees, not just the forest, but the details, and to try to connect dots. But in many cases, if it were not for the input of other people like in the coram nobis case, for example, since I don't have a legal background, I could only trust my intuition that a particular document was important, and that I had to count on those good minds, Dale Minami, Don Tamaki, who comprised the coram nobis law teams, to connect the dots for me. So without the help of those people, and like in William Hohri's case, Ellen Carson, the lawyer, for whom we, Jack and I, dug up information, and Angus Macbeth, the special counsel, for him to recognize that certain memos or certain reports were key to creating the report to convince the President and Congress, that this group of people were mistreated. For all these people, not myself alone. It took a lot of people who knew more than I did, or who had the wisdom and the training to be able to attach the importance and connect the facts that made it possible for me to get too much credit, really. If it weren't for all these people who did the thinking, a lot of the thinking.
TI: But let me, let me make sure I understand this. 'Cause when I talked to some of these others, they said in terms of constructing the story, but it wasn't like they were trying to construct the story, and then they called you, Aiko, and said, "So, Aiko, can you find this document or this document?" it was more of a matter that you uncovered things that were really powerful, and then had enough knowledge to say, "Oh, this is probably important," and you then gave it to them. And it was this really rich source of materials that they said, "Oh my gosh, with this material, we can now construct the story." I think, wouldn't you say that that was the case, more?
AH: I have to say, I think it took more -- I think I was fortunate enough to have come across certain documents that brought light to a particular subject, but it took somebody else with a different mind to interpret it in such a way as to be beneficial to either the coram nobis case, or to the Commission report, or to the class action lawsuit. So I don't want too much credit given to me. Just the fact that I did find, for example, the first version of the DeWitt report, that, I must say, it was good that I recalled certain things that pointed to the fact that there was a first version. And so what is it that the Supreme Court in 1944 relied upon in order to convict Korematsu, for example? I said maybe this is it. It was intuitive. But legally, I didn't know, and it took, it took the coram nobis people and Angus Macbeth to say, "Ah, racism, this proves injustice on the part of a general in the army, plus falsehoods of facts." So it took other minds to bring out the importance of what I did find, but I must say, I was glad I had remembered certain facts that called my attention to the possible importance of this thing.
<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 25>
TI: But when you think of the work you did in terms of the... I look through the reports and things, and the enormity. I mean, I've been in archives before, and it's not a nice and tidy type of work. I mean, it's opening boxes, looking through things, and it's so easy to miss something or not look at something, and realize the importance of it. It is almost like looking and finding the needle in a haystack sometimes in terms of looking at this. And I'm wondering, in terms of what happened especially in the '80s, with the coram nobis or redress, I mean, it's pretty clear to me, without some of these key documents, it would have been very difficult to have made the case. How, as a community, how close were we not to finding some of these documents? I mean, how, I mean, when I listen, I talk to Peter Irons sometimes, he says, he'll call it outright luck sometimes.
AH: Oh, yes.
TI: That when he met you and his example of getting lucky, and how lucky were we as a community that all these pieces came together?
AH: That's right. I consider it lucky, too. And if it weren't for the fact that I had met Peter, and the fact that Peter had discovered many documents, and especially a few key documents that connected what I found to what he found. So it took, it took us as a team to do that, and it was luck of the Irish, luck of the Japanese, I guess, that I saw this one report sitting on this archivist's desk. Ah, you know, I didn't recognize it right away, but as soon as I opened, it, wow. I said, "Pow, this is it." And it was luck, it was luck. If I hadn't walked in that day, it might not have been there. And if I hadn't happened to know about the first version having taken place, just a few weeks before I think I happened to read the file on it, I would not have recognized it. So it was a coming together of all these fortunate instances that made it possible.
TI: Yeah, because I feel so fortunate, in some ways, coming after the work that you and others did. Because the grassroots effort during redress was so important in getting the community energized. But the fact that the case was just so well-documented made it so much easier. It wasn't like we were, the community was just going to these places and just raising their voices, it was raising their voices with a well-documented sort of case. Which I think really made a huge difference.
AH: I think so. I agree with you, and that was why I took it upon myself to do what some people call unnecessary extra work. But I documented everything I got exactly where it, what file, what box, what record group and everything else, so that when the Commission wrote its report, people couldn't say, "How can that be?" Here's proof officially written by top government, top government, here's proof. So it took a lot of extra time on my part, and I know people were saying, "Oh, you're just so piddly about details." But that helped to augment and strengthen the report so people couldn't deny it.
TI: I mean, was there ever times when you thought that this work would have been part of an effort to, I guess, in some ways, recover over a billion dollars in redress payments, overturn Hirabayashi, Yasui, Korematsu? I mean, were those things kind of going through your mind when you were doing this kind of research?
AH: Not when I first started, no. Later on, when I was asked to help the coram nobis and class-action suit and all that, I thought, "Gee, maybe some of this stuff will help vacate the convictions or help get more for redress. But at the very beginning, I didn't. All I was interested, I was being very selfish. I wanted to find out more myself, you know, about all of this. So it turned out to be a plus, even though I think that the compensation was inadequate for the number of incidents and suffering the people went through. But it was an acknowledgement of some sort that this country had not done right.
TI: When you think back to your contribution, is there anything else, is there any one or two things that really comes to mind in terms of, where you feel really good about what you did?
AH: You mean any particular action?
TI: Yeah, action, anything.
AH: Well, I think the only thing is that I think about, this was sort of like a second career for me. I had not trained to do this. But that things happened to fall my way, and so I was glad, because of the political awakening that I experienced in New York through the AAA, that I was really, I think, happy to have had that kind of experience with AAA that opened my mind to all the possibilities of the historical importance, and that I was able to unearth some of this with the help of Michi Weglyn, of course, and her initial opening of the doors, as to the importance of proving the government misconduct. So I'm very, I'm happy about that, and I'm happy that I had the opportunity. Getting married and going down there, "Oh, what am I gonna do now? Okay, I'll look at the archives." And then in my amateurish way, starting to collect some of these and saying, "Oh, this sounds very interesting and important. I think I'll save a copy." And having that small notebook accumulate to a total of 154 boxes that I sent, that UCLA has, I still have a few more boxes to go through, but it was, I think, (152) boxes that we donated, mostly documents. So I feel good about, if there is, whatever can be called contribution, that I had a little part in it.
<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 26>
TI: When I interview people who were involved, in particular, with redress or coram nobis, they got involved because they wanted to right a wrong, to sort of do it so that similar things wouldn't happen in the future, that they use terms like "never again." And in the '80s, Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 apologizing and sort of authorizing payment to Japanese Americans. The coram nobis cases, where, as you mentioned earlier, they vacated the convictions of Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Min Yasui. So did we accomplish that? Are we, did we make... I guess the question is, is that enough? I mean, did we accomplish, did you and others accomplish what they were after?
AH: Not totally. I think just the fact that some of the story will be now included in our history books in school is a good step forward. But -- and this goes back to 1984 or so, or '85, maybe -- when to prove a point that, how much have we accomplished or was it worth it? I was on a television show with, I think Norman Mineta was one of the panel members. But there was a congressman, Norman Shumway from California, who was on the screen. He couldn't appear at the studio, but they got him on the screen. We were talking about the redress bill that was being debated, and he said, what comes back to me all the time to show how the, at least Congress was viewing the redress bill. He said, "If you think for one moment that this bill, redress bill, which calls for 1.2 billion dollars, (...) is going to make any difference in the way the government will react in times of emergency such as after Pearl Harbor, that we have to take action against a potential enemy, you think it's going to make any difference that the government will not pick up a group of, say, misfits or ethnic group, then you're barking up the wrong tree. Don't kid yourself." He says, "We spend more than a billion dollars every day, every minute, every hour," he said. "So this isn't going to make a dent." I was furious with him when he said that, but it turned out to be the truth. When the war broke out after 9/11 and this country started picking on Arab Americans just because they were Arab Americans, ooh, shades of deja vu. We didn't learn anything. And what made me think was, okay, if Hohri vs. U.S., the class-action lawsuit that would cost the government, the treasury, 27 billion dollars, if we had passed that, would this country have remembered? I'm wondering whether or not the bottom line on this in this country is always the almighty dollar. Yes, we got an apology, a letter of apology from Bush and Clinton, and twenty thousand dollars per survivor. But Congress, even the new members of Congress (today) don't know anything about it. We didn't make a dent, we didn't affect how this country was looking at Arab Americans after 9/11. So I'm thinking, what do we have to do to make Americans aware? The only thing I see, the plus in our experience, is that now some of the stories of the 442 Regimental Combat Team, our exclusion, incarceration, will be in the history books. Maybe that's a start. But, well, jiminy, it's how many years since this happened, and we still, you know, don't know enough, and we repeated the same mistake when 9/11 happened. What do we have to do to awaken this country? I have questions about that.
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TI: So let me ask you, so going forward -- it was a little ironic, because you sort of started this work when you were about fifty-three, fifty-four, this second career. And it just so happens, I'm fifty-three years old. And so I'm thinking, well, going forward, what advice would you give me, thinking, okay, how would, what's still, like, unfinished business, or what can be done so that there is a difference? Or do you think it's possible?
AH: I don't think it's really possible, but I really would like to see an international tribunal putting the United States on this, charging the United States, charging the United States for not living up to its democratic principles. Not just 9/11 and the aftermath of Guantanamo and all, but going back to our situation. Even though we have had the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, compensation and apology, just the fact that it happened again in terms of Arab Americans who were deprived of the same kind of rights that we were. I really don't think it's... I don't know if it's not possible, but I would like to see an international tribunal put the United States government on trial and go over some of these misbehavior that the government has been involved in, to see what the international court would say about what the United States has done in terms of its minority groups. I wish that this were a possibility. I think that they've been talking about it after the Iraq situation, they've been talking about an international court in terms of Guantanamo alone, I think, but not the administration's actions. But I think I would like to see if there is a possibility to have an international court look at the situation that the United States has prostituted its principles for other self-aggrandizement goals of either individuals or groups in the United States. Think that's a dream?
TI: I think it starts with dreams. I think you start with visions and dreams, and then you have something to work towards. In the same way, I think what you're saying, to me, seems a little difficult to make happen. In the same way, when you first started this work, probably back with Michi Weglyn back in New York, the idea of the government apologizing and redress payments, overturning some of these or vacating some of these Supreme Court cases probably was a dream.
AH: Oh, yeah. I didn't even think about that at that time. You're right. That was not, there was no goal there, just gathering facts so that we could study it, decide what to do. There was not a goal, in the same way with this international court thing. But that one is a goal. Right now, I have a strong hope that there is such a possibility. That might wake up this country a little bit.
TI: Good. So, Aiko, I'm at the end of my questions, and wanted to know if there's anything else that you wanted to talk about, kind of in this vein?
AH: There's a lot of unsung heroes in this whole movement for Japanese Americans, I think, and I would like, I mentioned to you informally before that there are people who have really worked hard to get justice, and who have not really been recognized. I've been overwhelmed with a lot of honors, which I felt were not, would not have been possible without the help of other people. But I'm thinking in terms of the man who was responsible for writing the report to Congress, Angus Macbeth, who was the Special Counsel on the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, and Bob Bratt, Robert Bratt, who was the first administrator for the Office of Redress Administration of the Justice Department, and Ellen Carson and the firm of Landis, Cohen, Rao, Asalanco, who pressed for a judicial response, not just congressional, legislative, (but) for judicial response on the constitutionality of what happened in the wartime period to Japanese Americans. And the coram nobis lawyers... well, the coram nobis lawyers had been recognized quite well, but those other people... and individuals like Rita Takahashi, who was the JACL representative in Washington, D.C. during the very active redress period. She was (such) a rock and did so much, and I don't know if anybody knows about all the work she did. There's so many people who should be recognized for their strength and continued work and support that they had given. There's Tom Crouch, who was the curator in the Smithsonian of the Japanese American exhibition. He was fantastic, and he just got to the crux and the heart of the issues very quickly, and displayed whatever artifacts he had in a stunning manner. He had the world in his heart, he was very good. So I would like some of these unsung heroes to be sung about. [Laughs]
TI: Well, you just did. [Laughs] On the record. Well, good. So, Aiko, thank you so much for your time.
AH: Oh, you're welcome. If I missed out on other people, forgive me. I know that they deserve to be mentioned and honored. I haven't been able to cover all the bases, but I appreciate the opportunity to give my twenty-five cents' worth.
TI: Much more than the two cents. [Laughs] Thank you very much, Aiko.
AH: Thank you.
<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.