Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Lillian Nakano Interview
Narrator: Lillian Nakano
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Torrance, California
Date: July 8, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-nlillian-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

MA: Today is Wednesday, July 8, 2009, and Densho is here in Torrance, California. I'm Megan Asaka, and I will be interviewing Lillian Nakano today, and Dana Hoshide is the cameraperson. So, Lillian, thank you so much for doing this interview.

LN: Oh, not at all.

MA: I wanted to start by asking just a few basic questions.

LN: Okay.

MA: Where were you born?

LN: Honolulu, Hawaii.

MA: And when were you born?

LN: 1928.

MA: And what was the name given to you at birth?

LN: I believe it was the same, Lillian Reiko.

MA: Lillian Reiko.

LN: Uh-huh. Because my parents were Nisei, so I guess they will do that. They started out with the English and the Japanese name.

MA: And what's your maiden name?

LN: Sugita.

MA: Sugita, okay. And how many siblings did you have?

LN: There were four of us girls and one brother.

MA: And were you the oldest girl?

LN: Yes, uh-huh.

MA: And I wanted to ask a little bit about your father. What was his name and where was he born and what was his background?

LN: Oh, his name is Saburo, Saburo Sugita. And he's an older Nisei in Hawaii. The Niseis start much sooner than on the mainland. So, and he was always a very enterprising... he eventually, when they left from Kauai to Honolulu, eventually he became a businessman, and he's been that ever since.

MA: Do you know what his parents, the work they did in Kauai?

LN: Oh, they were plantation. They had to work on the plantation, his parents. And he did a little bit, too, but he was very young.

MA: And then he moved to Oahu?

LN: Yes, he was glad to go to Honolulu, because he wanted to see all the possibilities there. He was always very... he always looked forward to what else he could do. So he was very excited about leaving Kauai.

MA: And what about your mother? What was her name?

LN: My mother is also a Nisei, Shizuno Sugita. And she was, well, her maiden name was Nakamura. She was a Nisei, and, in a way, born at the wrong time, there were a lot of Niseis. She wanted to go to, she wanted to be, go into education and become a doctor of something. But in those days, you don't do that. So I think she was somewhat frustrated, the whole women's question. It was a kind of underlying thing. But other than that, yeah, she was very quiet, very intelligent woman. And she stayed in the background because that was the custom then. My father was a businessman, he was very active, so she pretty much just supported him.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MA: And tell me about your father's business, or your family business.

LN: Oh, yeah. My father, well, they started out in Kauai, and that's the other island, it's really country. And then his grandfather -- his father, my grandfather -- his father was also pretty progressive. And he said, "Yeah, I think we should go to Honolulu. There are probably a lot of things for you to do there, instead of being in the country like this in the rural area." And he was a businessman, too, his father. I think his first business, I understand, was where they were importing goods from the mainland, and they would bring it to Hawaii and start a business, a retail business with that. But in those days, I guess there's no such thing as insurance, ocean insurance. The ships used to get wrecked a lot, you know. And so he never made it somehow. He was very frustrated because of all that. No guarantee if it's going to come over safely. So, but my grandfather continued, and eventually my father was that way, too. So when they went to Honolulu, it didn't take them very long to get started in business. Let's see, what did they do in Honolulu? They started out very small, just doing this and that, just feeling their way out, because they were not natives of Honolulu. And they had to start exploring all the different, different possibilities as well as trying to expand their network of friends and supporters. But my dad and my grandfather were both entrepreneurs, so interesting, though. I was too little, and I remember my grandfather being there, but I never knew that he was. And my dad said, "Oh, yeah, he was always thinking, thinking."

And eventually they started doing... I remember we had a -- oh, I know. The bakery business, how it started was someone was going bankrupt or something. And so he thought, "Hey, this is a good opportunity to get into it, then." And so I think that's how he started. And when he did -- he just has a good touch with business. Somehow, he just... and my grandfather, too, was kind of that way. You know like Midas, the Midas touch? But anyway, from what they told us, yeah, they were, it didn't take them very long. They were very successful once they bought a bakery and started to grow and expand. And my grandfather had many ideas, too, about... it's not a retail bakery, they're talking about wholesale bakery where you would really start expanding your network and getting into all the stores, retail. Doing it wholesale to get into all the retailers. So they did that, and oh, in no time, he said unfortunately, another Japanese bakery, who had a head start, went bankrupt. He said, yeah, it was too bad, but that's the way business goes. Somehow, he says, oh, he just lacked that whatever, that little something. So he said from there on, they kept growing. They were doing very well. He had so many trucks, and they were distributing bread all over the island, and it was very well-known. Everyone knew what... the name of the bread was -- I don't know why, don't ask me -- Eagle bread. And for some reason, I mean, everyone knew Eagle bread. At the store or whatever, everyone recognized it. It was one of those things.

And so they did very well until, oh, the war. And that just -- in the meantime, my grandfather had gone to Japan to retire, and my father was still doing business with the, running the business with his brothers. But when the war came, the government, because my grandfather was an alien, but he was still the president of the company. I guess that was a mistake. They... how would you call it? They froze the business.

MA: Froze the assets of the business?

LN: Right, right. They did that throughout the early part of the war. And my father was very discouraged. He thought, gee, they can't be doing that. He's a very feisty man. But they could. There was nothing they could do to stop them. So eventually, eventually he was taken to the camp, Sand Island.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MA: Before we talk about that, I'd like to ask you a little bit more about your childhood and some of your memories growing up, and your neighborhood that you lived in, your house, and some memories you have of that.

LN: Okay. As we were growing up, we had a pretty carefree life, I guess you might say, lower-middle class or whatever. So we didn't worry about anything, and we were rambunctious. There were four girls and one boy. We were, it was a fun time, really. And we were doing all kinds of things like odori, and that's when I started shamisen, too. I was eight, but I was fascinated with the instrument, with the music more than the dancing. So I said to the teacher, "Gee, I'd like to do the music part rather than the dancing." So she said, "Okay, we'll try." And I just took to it, 'cause I always liked music. So that's... in no time I was really into music. The dancing, okay, I still continued it because it's all connected, the music and dance and everything. And my sisters, too, we were all dancing. Then the war started, and everything changed. So until then, we were just very carefree, happy-go-lucky, having a lot of fun and that sort of thing. But suddenly, my dad was taken to a place called Sand Island where they interned them for the duration, I mean, for about a year.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: I wanted to ask you about the trip to Japan that you took right before the war.

LN: Oh, yes, that's right.

MA: And can you talk a little bit about your experiences there and why you went?

LN: Okay. I went along with my father, I don't know why. Oh, maybe because I'm the oldest girl, so they picked me, I mean, I had the choice. [Laughs] So that was fortunate. I think... I know why they took me instead of my brother. Because they later told me that -- at that time, I was already, I had been taking Japanese dance and instrument, right, some years. And my father thought that if I could go out there and try it out. 'Cause many people would study in Japan and then come back to teach or whatever. But I was still very young, so I wasn't really that interested in staying there or even studying dancing or instruments. How old was I anyway? Gosh... must have been like ten or eleven. But you know, in those days, at ten and eleven, we were very young, naive. Not like nowadays where they're much more sophisticated. So eventually all of that changed when the war started.

MA: When you were in Japan, did you notice, I mean, I think you were there right before...

LN: Oh, in Japan, yes.

MA: Did you notice any... did you sense that there was kind of, were people talking about war in Japan, did you sense any of that?

LN: You know, I was so young. I mean, I would say, not young in years, but so naive and not concerned about anything that was going on. It was just so much fun there with my cousins and all that. But I could hear my parents, I mean, my father talking about it, and the concern was to try to get a boat going back as soon as possible, because things were getting pretty hairy with transportation and all that. I guess there were a limited number of boats, they were already making arrangements with Japan and the U.S. So we thought, "Oh, gosh, this is" -- I mean, that's when I heard, and I thought, "Oh, don't tell me we're going to be stuck here." But fortunately, my dad knew... well, one thing was that my grandfather was really strange. He was going back and forth from Hawaii to Japan almost every other year. He'd go there and he'll say, "Oh, I've decided to come back after all. Can you come and pick me up?" So he would be doing that, and he was constantly doing that. And so because of that, my dad and those guys were very familiar with the immigration people, the hotel people and all that. So they said, "Oh, don't worry about it, we'll get you back. We'll find the first ship so you can get back to Hawaii." So I guess it was... I think there were only about three or four ships that was in agreement to sail back to Hawaii. So it was kind of worrisome. But I didn't really worry about it except I could hear my dad and my aunts talking about it. So I thought, wow. But... so what was your question? [Laughs]

MA: [Laughs] Well, I was just wondering about... I mean, you definitely answered it. But also, when you were in Japan, how did you, I guess, fit in with the other Japanese kids? I mean, you were American, but you were of Japanese ancestry. Do you remember that feeling?

LN: It was difficult because... well, as a kid, though, among the kids, there's no, how would you say it? There isn't a barrier really, except for the language. And after a while, I got to know it. But yeah, we used to, I used to play with the neighbor kids, and my cousins lived there, too. They had this big old house, and the neighbor was right next, the adjoining, you know, on the same street. So I thought that was fun, just playing with Japanese kids, it's so different. And I got to learn to speak Japanese more, and they wanted, they wanted to learn English. So it was really a very fun time. Because I was too young to worry about anything else.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MA: And then when you returned back to Hawaii shortly thereafter, I think Pearl Harbor happened.

LN: That's right.

MA: And what are your memories of that day?

LN: Well, I tell you, even at that, I was so naive. We were very naive. Not like today's eleven years, thirteen years old. Yeah, I must have been about thirteen. You wouldn't know it, I mean, we were just so dense, you know? We were more frightened from what everyone around you is talking about. "This is war," and whatever, that kind of thing. But I think the very thing that we remembered was that some of our neighbors were non-Japanese. So they started to, they had some hostile feelings coming out because of that. Because it's like the Japanese are attacking, you know, and that kind of thing. So it was pretty traumatic. But after a while, when things settled down more, it became, it wasn't as bad.

MA: What about, like, the martial law? The Hawaiian government declared martial law. Do you remember the blackouts and the things that they implemented?

LN: That's right. Things were so funny, when you think about it, they had blackouts and stuff, and we would have all the windows sealed so that... and we would have a little light. All that, I mean, gosh, when it really comes down to it, it was just a lot of whatyoucall for nothing. Because they couldn't even... I mean, if there's a plane overhead, they wouldn't notice just one little, one little light coming out of a house, a big house or whatever. But anyway, for a while it was, yeah, very traumatizing to think that, oh, boy, there's gonna be an air raid at any time and all that. But as you know, nothing happened in Hawaii since then. So things got a little bit more lax. In fact, after a while, it became almost normal. [Laughs] Except we were young, so we were still going carefree. But then we didn't notice a lot of things, but like servicemen started to be transferred to Hawaii, right, from the mainland. The white population. So sailors and the army, military people. So the whole culture was different during the war because of the war.

MA: Yeah, I imagine the influx of the white servicemen really changed a lot of the dynamics on the islands.

LN: Uh-huh, I think so. I think so. I still remember where the... see, in Hawaii, the native indigenous people, Hawaiians, they had a very, very sad tragedy that happened. The white servicemen, this is way before the war, the white servicemen lynched a Hawaiian boy. Because, see, the white people had this thing about "colored" people, right? And so the Hawaiians were, as far as they're concerned, they were "colored." So they did that to this one boy. And of course, the Hawaiians, native Hawaiians, all the Hawaiians never forgot that. So when the servicemen came, they were transferred and the military became bigger in Hawaii. Oh, there was so much trouble. The Hawaiians, every time they got a hold of them, they would beat them up. It was like life or death for them to go out on passes and all that. It was very bad because of that, that whole tragedy that happened before.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MA: It seems like there's also the history of Hawaii itself, and the role of the military in that, sort of suppressing the native Hawaiians.

LN: That's right. It was terrible.

MA: How was the relationship between the native Hawaiian population and the Japanese and Chinese?

LN: You know, it was very good. In fact, when -- although it got worse, I think -- but when my dad was growing up, they all, they were so bilingual, they spoke Filipino, they spoke Hawaiian and Chinese, whatever. Because people were just, it was a melting pot at that time. However, things changed a little bit, especially when the war came. You know how the war does things like that. There begins to be economic competition, things like that, into the... and native Hawaiians always felt that they were left out, and they were. They didn't really get an equal share of the pie, you know. And it's always been that way. I understand now, though, that in Hawaii they were having a movement for the Hawaiians...

MA: Sovereignty, Hawaiian sovereignty?

LN: Yes, yes. I was asking Grace about that. But there aren't too many literature on that. So I guess everything is not very clear. But anyway, it's always been a problem in a way, because the native Hawaiians were kind of like the Native Americans. Sad.

MA: Yeah, it was their islands, their land before anyone...

LN: That's right. But simply because the Chinese and then the Japanese and the whites, they were all so much more educated. So eventually there was all this very unequal...

MA: Was there like a, in Hawaii, a sort of racial hierarchy? You know, it seemed like, just what I know or what I've heard, like there's the Japanese and then Chinese and Filipino and native Hawaiian. It seems like there was this sort of racial hierarchy in a way.

LN: I think so, uh-huh. You hate to admit it, but I think there is. Because, see, bankers were all Chinese, okay, and the Japanese were the mercantile group. So naturally, the economy is controlled by the two groups. And so you have the Hawaiians kind of left out of all that because of lack of education and so forth. It's, I don't know, it's sad when you think about it.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: I was wondering if you could talk about your memories of when your father was taken by the authorities and sent to Sand Island.

LN: Uh-huh. When he was sent to Sand Island, it was kind of a stigma. Because they took so many thousand from the entire island. Now, that's only a handful. So in the neighborhood, he'd be the only one. So then people would be wondering, "What's going on? Is he a spy?" [Laughs] And things like that. So there was a certain amount of stigma attached to it. And, of course, we were worried about him. But my mother took care of everything, and she was always the type that, "Don't worry about it. There's nothing you can do about it." She was one of those. "I'll do the worrying." So we got used to it.

MA: Were you able to communicate with him at all?

LN: No. I think she was able to, she could. They would have, like, visitations. Not the whole family, but between the spouses. So she was able to see him. And then finally, after about a year, it became more liberal where they said that, "If you want to go to the mainland, to the camp, then you can go as a family and he'll join you guys." So we said, "Of course, by all means." So that's how we left for the mainland.

MA: So they said your family could be together, but you have to go to camp on the mainland.

LN: Right, right.

MA: And leaving for the mainland, what were you, can you talk about that and how you prepared to leave and what you were thinking? You must have been a teenager at that point, and what that was like for you.

LN: Yeah. I can only say there was superficial concern on our part. We were terrible. My mother did all, she was too efficient, and the rest of us were just so carefree, and we didn't worry about a thing. And she always would say, anyway, "Don't worry about it, I'll do it. I'm doing whatyoucall, so don't worry about anything." So there was some trauma, I guess, but not that much because of, you know, she being so efficient. [Laughs] Everything was kind of... yeah, to a certain extent, there was apprehension, especially with the younger ones. Because my younger sister Elizabeth, Liz, she said -- she wasn't quite, Grace was much more outgoing, but Liz was a little bit introverted or something, and sensitive. So the whole experience, she said, was terrible. She thought it was awful, what we had to go through. But none of us thought it was that bad. So we used to say, "Why do you keep saying that?" I don't know. She was very sensitive. She thought it was a horrible experience. Isn't that funny?

MA: It's interesting how even in a family, different people remember different things in a different way.

LN: That's right.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MA: So what about that sort of journey across the Pacific and then arriving on the mainland?

LN: Yeah. Well, for us, I'm sure, for my mother -- I mean, for my parents, a lot of it was, a lot of it was like, full of apprehension and everything. But for us, we were just having fun on a ship with our friends, making all these new friends, people from the other islands all came together, to get us out there. And so it was just a lot of newness, and just a lot of excitement. [Laughs]

MA: And then when you, I guess, probably arrived in San Francisco and then took a train to, eventually to Jerome.

LN: Uh-huh. Yeah, that was not too good. We thought that... I thought for the older kids, see, at that time, we were still like fourteen, thirteen, fourteen, around there. But I noticed that the older kids like eighteen and so forth, they had a lot more freedom and they were, they were enjoying it. They got together with friends, they would be singing Hawaiian songs and things like that. So I think, depending on your age, we were still more, somewhat attached to the parents yet. So we thought it was no fun, you know.

MA: And then when you arrived at Jerome, I guess, what were you expecting? I mean, what were you expecting, and then to see that you were kind of going to be imprisoned, basically, with guards and barbed wire? Do you remember that initial impression?

LN: Yeah, the initial impression was... how would you say it? It's more like you're totally mystified. You're completely in the dark about what's going on, and you're just, as you come upon it, like the first thing, we got off the train, then we were in a truck, and they were going to take us right into camp and all that. So it's like, okay, what's next? It was just that way. Every step of the way it was a total mystery. But I guess as long as you're together with your family, you feel pretty secure. So my parents kept saying, "Don't worry about anything. We're right here." So, yeah, that's how it was.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MA: And then tell me about your time in Jerome. Can you describe your living conditions?

LN: Oh, yeah. Jerome was... Jerome was a camp that was very underdeveloped yet. So in the winter, the rain would come, and oh, it would be all flooded. And then you would be deep in mud, and things like that. It was, Jerome was very raw and crude. So with the elements like that, like rain, and sometimes a little bit snow, it became difficult, especially for my parents. I think for us, we kids, you just manage. Nothing bothers you. I think it's very difficult for parents. They had to, the weather, the cold and everything. Because it's a community bathroom, that's the only thing we didn't like. And so my mother, she used to, she would, I think she developed asthma out there in that period. It was so cold, and having to go in and out, in and out all the time like that to the bathroom, you had to walk. I think all of that was very hard on her. She started to cough a lot more. Yeah. But for us, it was, we were kids, so kids are very flexible and open about all that. You just... I mean, you don't even think about it, you know. You just take what's coming. So when you think about it, it's the best time to be kids, when you have to get through all that. It was much harder for adults, especially those with infants, and for my parents and things like that.

MA: What was the relationship like between people from, Japanese people from Hawaii and then from the mainland in Jerome?

LN: Oh, I think at first it was kind of hostile. Because they thought we were strange, Hawaiians were strange, because they didn't, they talked funny. And then they had... how would you say it? They would be walking barefoot and stuff like that. Just these different customs, they just thought that was weird. And then, of course, the Hawaiians would get very defensive. The Hawaiians were very... how would you say it, feisty people. So there were a lot of fights going on. But eventually, though, eventually you get to know each other. And when you come down to it, there isn't that much of a barrier or difference. Except at first, the cultural differences, I think kind of shocking to them, especially. [Laughs]

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MA: And what about high school? So you, probably your education was interrupted by the war. And then did you resume high school in Jerome?

LN: Uh-huh, yes. Jerome, and then we went to Heart Mountain, we moved to Heart Mountain, and that's where I graduated. Well, actually, I got out a year before. Because we left camp in 1945. But they had summer school. It's so funny, they had summer school, so they said, "Oh, you can skip one grade by going to summer school." So I said, "Okay, I'll do that." And when I did, what did I take? Art and all that, all the things I liked. And that was my credit for that whole grade that I skipped.

MA: And this was summer school in camp?

LN: Yeah, summer school in camp. It was nice. [Laughs] Because I remember it was all art class. In fact, one of the teachers, she was into ceramics, and she said, "Oh, good, you're the only student that I have, so we'll work on ceramics." So I said, "Oh, that's good, because I don't know anything about ceramics." The drawing and painting part is okay. So anyway, I enjoyed summer school, going to summer school. At that time, I didn't have any friends, because we had just moved to Heart Mountain. So it was nice that way. But I met this one student, I never forgot her. She was Hawaiian, I mean, she came -- we called each other Hawaiian and all that, although we're not Hawaiians. But anyway, that's how they were, they could differentiate people. Either you're from the mainland, or you're from Hawaii. Well, I remember going to school, summer school, right. And in between summer classes, I thought, "Gee, what am I gonna do? I don't know anybody here." And there aren't too many people going to summer school.

But there was this one girl in the library, and she was, she was a tomboy. Either she was lesbian or whatever, but anyway, she was different. [Laughs] But she was, she said, "Aren't you Hawaiian?" And I said, "Yeah, how can you tell?" She goes, "Course I can tell." She said, "You talk funny." And she was so funny, she was interesting person. And I said... because she was a girl, really, but she had a boy cut, and she never wore dresses. In fact, one day she took me to her house because she had to pick up something, this was on the way to school. And her sister came out and she said, "Oh, good, I'm so glad she has a friend who wears dresses." She said, "I want you to talk to Butch" -- her name was Butch, too, she refuses to have a regular English name. She said, "I want you to talk to Butch as much as you can, okay? Try to get her out of this thing about being a guy and all that." So I said, "Oh, I don't know if I can do that." But she said, she was so worried about her. I understand she became a lesbian later, many, many years later I saw her in Chicago.

MA: Really?

LN: Uh-huh. So I guess she had leaning towards that. But anyway, it was nice. She was my first friend, and she was funny, too. 'Cause she'd always say, "You talk funny." She said, "Say 'girl,'" and I would say it. She said, "See? It sounds so funny." She says, "Boy, you Hawaiians don't even speak English." She used to say stuff like that. But actually, she is from Hawaii, but long, long ago, they moved to the mainland and she started becoming a tomboy. And never, I don't know what happened, but her sister was so concerned, because they didn't have a family, it was just her and her sister. I think her parents were in Japan.

MA: Well, it must have been hard for your friend at a time when everyone was so conforming to these gender norms.

LN: I know, it must have been really hard for her, and the sister, too, right?

MA: Right.

LN: But Butch was carefree as ever. [Laughs] In fact, she was a total guy. And I was very naive, I didn't know about all those kind of things. So she used to come over to our house to pick me up to go to school, and then when we went to those high school dances, she would say, "Why do you want to go to those dances for?" And I said, "No, it's fun. I do want to go." She said, "Okay. But I'm going to dance with you, okay?" she'll say. And so she was a regular guy. And then my mother, I remember my mother had some concern. 'Cause she asked me one time, she said, "Do you have other friends? Do you have other friends besides Butch?" And I said, "Yeah, but she's my best friend." And she said, "Oh," she said, "well, you should try to spread yourself around." She didn't say too much, but I thought, "Gee, I wonder why she was so concerned." But I guess now, I can see where... because she has, she had this strong lesbian tendency. Because I met her, you know, later, many, many years later in Chicago.

MA: And did you talk about, did you sort of reminisce at all?

LN: No, I didn't, she wouldn't talk to me, I think because she was with this group of people. And she was definitely a les, and she didn't... I don't know why, but she didn't want to have anything to do with me. We had a restaurant at that time, so they came as the customer and I wanted to talk to her. And my sister said, "That's Butch, huh?" And I said, "Yeah." I said, "I don't know, she's very aloof." So I couldn't understand it. But then, in a way, I can. Because I think maybe she was already, she had already decided what she was, and she wasn't sure how I was going to maybe...

MA: Yeah, maybe it was like a defense mechanism or something.

LN: I think so, I know. So it was so sad, because I thought, "Gee, I didn't really get a chance to know her."

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: So you left from Jerome, and I assume it was when Jerome closed. And how did you end up in Heart Mountain?

LN: Oh, because people were asked to select the other camps, unless you were going to go out. But we were all so young yet, so my dad thought, yeah, he'd better go to another camp.

MA: And then from Heart Mountain, you ended up going to Minnesota, St. Paul.

LN: Uh-huh. 'Cause by that time, we were much older. We were, like, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen.

MA: And what was that like for you, living in Minnesota?

LN: Well, not... there isn't, you don't have a Japanese community and all that, so it was pretty traumatic. But on the other hand, my dad opened up a restaurant. He says, "I notice there's a lot of..." oh, there was Fort Snelling, anyway, there were these two military camps, and there were a lot of Hawaiian, the soldiers were Hawaiians. So he said he's gonna start a restaurant and they can come and eat Japanese food. So it was a big hit because of that, for that reason. So it wasn't like we were wanting Asian friends, 'cause they were all Japanese. So it was nice, it was nice. But we weren't there for very long, maybe a year and a half or something. And the government said they would give us an allowance to get on a ship and go back. So that's what happened.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MA: And you went back to Hawaii at that point?

LN: Uh-huh.

MA: And when you returned, how did people treat you? Did people ask you where you had been, did people know what had happened?

LN: Well, you know, when I think about it -- see, because I had already, remember, I went to summer school so I could graduate. So I didn't go to high school when I went back. Now, my sisters went to high school, so I think they would experience some of that. I just went to work. So no, I didn't notice that there was... the transition wasn't difficult.

MA: And it was in Hawaii where you married Bert, right, your husband?

LN: Uh-huh.

MA: Can you tell me about how you met?

LN: Oh, we were classmates. They were in camp, also.

MA: The Nakano family?

LN: Yes, uh-huh. In fact, most of the business, the people who were taken, we always say "taken," the people who were interned, the father, oh, the head of the household that they interned were either businessmen, were from the businessman group, or schoolteachers, Japanese schoolteachers, or Buddhist ministers and so forth. So what was I saying now?

MA: Oh, about the Nakano family and meeting Bert?

LN: Oh, yeah, that's right. So his parents were in business, too, his father was a businessman. So they were, they were taken. But he was, his father was Issei, whereas my father was Nisei. So the second generation, the Niseis were pulled in later. They took all the Isseis first, and then they started rounding up the Niseis. And when they did that, by that time, they decided they're going to send us to the camps. So we all went. But, see, Bert was already there, because they were, his parents were Issei. So they were taken immediately.

MA: So he was in the first group of people from Hawaii that went.

LN: That's right, uh-huh. And the second group was Niseis like us. So we were the later.

MA: And so you and Bert met in Jerome then, in high school?

LN: Right, right, because we were classmates and all that, yeah. So we just knew each other, but I didn't really, we weren't dating or anything. In fact, I was going with another guy. [Laughs] Because Bert was living in another camp, a neighboring camp.

MA: And then when you were back in Hawaii, how did you finally reconnect?

LN: Yeah, he called me, and because there were a few of us that went back to Hawaii. So people were in touch with each other, they knew so-and-so was back. And so he called me, and we started dating. And one thing led to another... we were just dating, and next thing you know, his parents, I mean, this is the truth. We were only twenty-one, both of us, and his parents said, "I think you have to get married." Married? Oh, my goodness. My parents said, "What is going on?" Well, because his... they had a very complicated situation at home. His mother had died, and his father remarried. And she was a Nisei, he was Issei, so she was Nisei. And she would say, "You know, I married this man. I'll take the little girl." 'Cause she was only about five or six. She said, "I'm taking the, I'll take care of the little girl, but I'm not taking the rest of the family." She said, "I'm not here to become a mother to the rest of the boys." She said, "Are you?" She was really a women's lib feminist or something. From the very beginning, she used to talk to me really strange. She used to say, "Do you see yourself doing all this?" She says, "That's ridiculous."

MA: "All this" meaning family and getting married?

LN: Uh-huh, getting married and being stuck with all the boys. 'Cause Bert had a lot of brothers. So I said, "Well, this is not so bad. They're kind of fun, in fact." [Laughs] That's when I learned how to smoke and all that. I really thought it was fun. But she said, "No thank you," she said, "I'm not doing any of that. So I'll take the little girl and you take the rest of 'em." His father was a contractor, so he had two homes, one up on the hill and one on the other side. So that's what happened. And that's when they said, "You better get married."

MA: And so you got married?

LN: Yeah. So I thought, "Oh, my. Marriage?" My parents thought, "Are you sure you know what you're doing? You know what you're getting into?" I said, "Yeah, I think so. They seem nice." I was so naive, god, I didn't think about anything, when you really think about it, you know? Then we started to think about, oh, my brother was going to Chicago to go to school. So then at that time, we decided that, okay, Bert said, "Let's go to Chicago, too," he said, "I really would like to go to school, get some education and all that." So he went there, we went there with, we followed my parents, and we went to school. He went to school, then he went to junior college. See, he even had to go to a regular English school because he was a dropout in camp. [Laughs] So he had to go, really struggle through it. But he said, "I want to get educated. I want to get some education." So he went through all that, then he went to junior college and then he went to college. He graduated in Chicago. And he really came a long way from all that. He says, "I'm tired of being a bum." [Laughs]

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: And when you moved to Chicago, what were your impressions of the city?

LN: Oh, I thought it was pretty dreary-looking, especially going from Honolulu, yeah. It was hard at first. But there were a lot of people in Chicago, so it wasn't so bad.

MA: What about the racial dynamics in Chicago? There was a large black population, there were more and more Japanese Americans moving there, and then whites, and I was wondering what that was like.

LN: Yeah, you know, when we first went out to Minneapolis, that was our first outside, the outside world. People in Minneapolis were extremely nice, open. Now, Chicago was less so because it's a big city, but people in Chicago were nice, too. I mean, they just, you know, no big thing as far as, it's no big deal. So wherever you went to work, applied for work, they kind of looked at you and they wanted to know about you. I used to hate that, but I guess for them, it's like, that's the first time they've encountered Asians. So they want to know what it's like.

MA: This is, like, white people would ask you about yourself?

LN: That's right, when you're working in an office. But after a while you get so used to it.

MA: How about like finding housing or apartments? Did you ever encounter people who wouldn't rent to Japanese?

LN: Oh, yeah. At first it was, we didn't know enough, we didn't know better. And they would say, "Oh, it's taken," and they would put the sign down. But the next day, you see the sign up again, so you knew that was their way of saying. So eventually, there was this, people who were in, I guess, kind of a business... yeah, they were in an employment business. But they were also, they would screen out all these apartments and everything, they'll tell you where to go. So people always went to them. And even for work, you'd go to them because they'd send you the offices that were already open.

MA: This was Japanese American people who...

LN: That's right. So the jobs that you got were usually where they were already... of course, you were exploited, I think. Like this insurance company, traveler's insurance, they hired all the Japanese. That was my first job. And I went there and I thought, "Hmm." They were nice enough, you know. Then I knew this other Japanese girl, she was in another department. So I went there, I went to the supervisor and I said, "I'd like to be transferred, 'cause I have a friend there." And she said, "Well, I don't know about that. You better go see the manager." And when I went to see him, boy, that was when I first found out. He said, "What are you talking about?" He said, "You want to transfer because your girlfriend is in that department?" He said, "You know, you're lucky we even hired you." That's when he really came out and said things like that. So he said, and I was shocked. I didn't know that there was this, all this kind of thing going on. So I says, "Oh," I says, "well, in that case," I said, "I'm going to look for another job." Because he was giving me a big old lecture, travelers being really good to Japanese, they were open and they were hiring Japanese, blah, blah, blah. I didn't want to hear any of that, so I told him, "Well, I think I'll just look for another job." And he says, "Well, you're very welcome to do that." But he was hinting at something about, "It's not out there what you think it is. It's going to be very hard." I said, "Well, I'll just go back to the agency." So I went back to the agency, 'cause I thought, "Yeah, it is hard." But things got better year after year, as the years went on.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

MA: And you stayed in Chicago for a number of years, right?

LN: Uh-huh. And then my parents opened up a restaurant, they started a restaurant business.

MA: And this was a Japanese restaurant?

LN: Uh-huh, Japanese restaurant. And then, oh, yeah, my sister worked there, I didn't. So I stayed, I worked at different places, all kinds of places. I got used to it. At first, it was very hard to be a real minority like Japanese going to a white company. And I thought, "Oh, gosh, I hate this." But you get used to anything.

MA: I imagine, too, going from Hawaii, where it was a lot, predominately Japanese, to then going to Chicago where... racial dynamics must have been so different. It seems like it was white and black, and then Japanese were there, too.

LN: Right, on top of that. But then they say it was worse in California, you see. Many people didn't even want to, people who came from California didn't go back to California immediately. They all moved to the east, Chicago. 'Cause somehow... well for one thing, there was work. They needed the labor force. And somehow people out that way were less inclined to be racist.

MA: In the Midwest and East Coast versus, like, California?

LN: That's right. Because a lot of people who came from California were still in Chicago.

MA: Right, they stayed and never went back.

MA: Well, they said eventually they're going back. They said they all had plans to go back, but they didn't want to go back from hearing about it from their friends. "Don't rush back here. People are still not that open to Japanese." So it must have been very hard.

MA: That's interesting. I always wonder why in somewhere like California, especially after the war, there was such, still, anti-Japanese sentiment. And you don't get that as much in places like Chicago.

LN: Yeah. Well, for one thing, all that came from the fact that the Japanese were, well, agriculture and the fishing industry was mainly Japanese, right, until the war. And so when the Japanese went back to California, a lot of people felt threatened by them. That you have this "horde" of Japanese coming back, and they're gonna take over again. They controlled it pretty well before the war. But when you go east and all that, we're not a threat to them. In fact, it's a labor force that they needed. So it was much nicer, very good. [Laughs]


MA: I was wondering if you could talk about living in Chicago, and the Japanese American community there, if there was a Japantown, and what that was like.

LN: Oh, you know, what did we do in Chicago? We had a restaurant, right? So we didn't really become that entrenched in the community at that time. 'Cause you know how it is when you're in business, you're there all the time from morning to night and all that sort of thing. So that was about it. And I had no idea what was going on. But the one thing I did was... you know, I was always a musician, shamisen. So then I heard there's this woman who's teaching shamisen in Chicago. So I said, "Oh, I think I'll go and see what it's like." She was on the south side. I found out about it from my girlfriend who I worked with in the insurance company. So she said, "Yeah, my mother-in-law teaches," but she said, "I don't think, I don't know how much you play, but you could probably teach her." [Laughs] So I says, "Well, no, I don't know." So I went, but yeah, sure enough, she said, "Oh, I just teach obachans," you know, all these obachans. "I can't teach you," she said. She said, "But you could go to Seattle, because that's where my teacher is." And she said, "You should probably go for your masterclass over there with her, 'cause she's very good." So I said, "Okay." So I went to Seattle for, like an apprentice, Japanese-style. I stayed there about three or four months. You have to clean the studio and do all that kind of thing. [Laughs] Yeah, she's very Japanese. 'Cause even in Japan, if you go as an apprentice, that's what you have to go through. So, but she's very good, and I had a lot of respect for her. So we got started, and she said, "Yeah," she said, "in about three or four months," she said, "I'll give you your master's certificate," she said. So I said, "Oh, great." I was very excited about that, yeah. So that's why I was in Seattle.

MA: And you ended up getting your master's certificate in shamisen?

LN: Uh-huh, that's right.

MA: Did you ever teach?

LN: Uh-huh. And when I went back to Chicago, then I taught all the way until I moved.

MA: Tell me about your son. When was he born and what is his name?

LN: Eric, and he was born in... it's terrible. '57? No, it can't be. Yeah, it must be. If he was '57, how old would he be now?

MA: Fifty-two?

LN: Okay, then it must be '57.

MA: 1957.

LN: [Laughs] Oh, it's awful. I can't even remember when he was born.

MA: Oh, no, that's okay.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

MA: And I wanted to kind of ask you, then, about how you got involved with the redress movement and your activism that you became so involved with later on.

LN: Yeah, really. It was when we, when we moved to L.A., that's right, when we moved to L.A. And I didn't start teaching in L.A. at all. Because there were so many teachers here, and there was so much fraction and so much politics.

MA: In the community?

LN: Yeah.

MA: Or in the, like, music community?

LN: In culture community, yeah. Music community. Oh, it was terrible. They were all like so competitive with each other, you know. So if you're gonna get started, you don't want to get started with any particular group, because I don't know what the dynamics are yet. So I was just feeling my way around, and then my son, who was already living in L.A., said, "Oh, forget that shamisen for a while." He said, "You know what? There's all these different movements going on here." Because there was the anti-redevelopment movement in Little Tokyo. And then he said, "The Japanese hotels are taking over, and they're gonna start evicting all the small businesses." He gave me the whole history and I thought, "Wow, you know a lot about it, huh?" And he goes, "Yeah. So I'm gonna tell you that before you do anything, I want you to join this group called LTPRO."

MA: The Little Tokyo People's Rights Organization.

LN: People's Rights Organization. [Laughs] So I said, "Oh, no, I know nothing about politics." I said, "I'm apolitical, and so I'm gonna feel very uncomfortable. I don't know what I can do to help." He said, "Don't worry about that. Sanseis are very, very supportive, and they need Niseis out there. Because Niseis are the ones that are getting evicted, they are the ones that are hurting. But the Niseis, they don't want to come out. They're hesitant about going out there and protesting and all that." So I said, "Yeah, I can understand that, because I don't feel very comfortable doing it either." He said, "Well, you will after you get used to it." He was so persistent, I tell you. And Bert was, my husband, Bert, was a lot better than I. Because he is... how would you say it? He's more outgoing, and he has, he's not shy at all. So he says, so Eric said, "Dad's going to be there, so you don't have to worry. Both of you can..." so Bert says, "Yeah, what are you worried about? Let's go." And that's how we got involved.

MA: And how did you first get involved? What is, like, something that you worked on your first time kind of being active? So you started with LTPRO, and what...

LN: Just shortly after LTPRO... LTPRO was into the housing, redevelopment, anti-redevelopment, all that. So we were into that. There was already some movement in the community around redress. And JACL had started a little bit. They were talking about, oh, yeah, we should really try and get the government to reimburse all the victims and this and that, this and that was going on. So we said... so let's see. We were in LTPRO then, but Alan Nishio, they said, "Oh, Alan, you go out there and start this new group, this coalition." We called it LACCRR. [Laughs] It was like Los Angeles Community Coalition of Redress and Reparations. Okay, so we started that. Alan was the leadership, and we went out there. Bert said, "Yeah, great, okay." So that was the offshoot of LTPRO, but we hardly had any connection with LTPRO after that because we were too busy with NCRR -- I mean not NRCC, LACCRR. There was so much to do.

MA: And what was, you said the JACL was starting something of its own. I mean, what was the relationship of your organization, because it was started for people who did not want to be involved with JACL, is that right?

LN: Kind of that way, yeah. As far as we were concerned, it was okay. But we said, "No, well, anyway, we're not part of JACL. We're independent, we want to become independent." So we were okay as far as not working with, I mean, not really getting too close to them, or even collaborating. Later on we did, though. But at first, it's kind of like push and pull. A lot of people would say, "If you guys are going to have anything to do with them, I'm not having any part of this group." It was so bad.

MA: I was going to say, because JACL probably wasn't the most open to everyone. I don't know if everyone would have been comfortable being part of JACL, even if they were for redress.

LN: I know. That's why it's a shame, because that's how it was in the beginning. JACL was very closed and very, what is that word? Sectarian or whatever. So we said, "That's okay, we're just going to do our thing," which was a lot to do.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: How do you start something like that? I mean, it seems almost overwhelming.

LN: It was, because first of all, we said, well, education, we're just going to do education. Education in our own community. For instance, Niseis, we had to set up tables in J-town. Where did we do it now? Right on First Street. [Laughs] Oh, I tell you, it was hard. Because we had these tables, and these Nisei ladies would say, "What's going on? What is this?" And we would say, okay, we have all this literature. Alan was, Alan was... what was he now, what school? He was at Long Beach, Cal State Long Beach, and he was an educator. And anyway, he was very articulate. So he helped us with all the literature, what to put out on the literature.

MA: And what was an example of something you were educating the community about? What you were fighting for?

LN: Yeah, about why we need to fight. We're going back to the, we just went all the way back to the history of the Japanese. When they came here from Japan, they couldn't own land, they couldn't buy property. They were, you know, they were oppressed in a racist community for years and years and years. Then we were sent to camp. And so what this is -- so what is this telling us? We have to go out there now and assert ourselves. And the government did this to us. We have to ask the government the we need, we have to be reimbursed for all the losses that we suffered, and all this. We had to write up a whole history like that. And I tell you, it was very hard, because the Niseis would look at the papers. They'd say, "Oh, no. Don't start this. We don't want to get hassled again by the government. We had enough of that, they put us in camp and everything. And now you guys are talking about redress? Oh, god, give me a break." And they would be just totally hostile. But we just kept at it, every weekend we would have the tables out there and we'd be talking to more Niseis. "Come one, come on out and sit here with us. Talk to other Niseis." We just wanted Niseis to talk it out, talk about it, talk about it. And you know what? The more they did, the more angry they got. And pretty soon, they're saying, "Really, how true. What are we? There's nothing to be ashamed of. We don't have to be embarrassed, we don't have to be intimidated. And we worried about our kids." So what? If the kids don't like it, they have to know where they're coming from, where they came from. If they don't like what we're doing, they'll come around to it. We used to say that.

And it's so true because we used to go to college campus and everything. In those days, it was just organized in our own community. So we would go to college, I mean, we would go to all the campuses, the nearby ones, and talk to the students. And they would say, "Wow, how come our parents never told us anything about it then? They should have said something." We said, "Well, you can imagine what the parents, your parents are going through. Because they were trying to protect you, and they didn't want you go to through all this, they didn't want to... they wanted to protect you from all this and just kind of like pretend that things are just perfectly normal. There's nothing wrong with where you're coming from, and nothing to worry about, and you shouldn't have to deal with this and that." So they said, oh. Well, a lot of the students, we talked and talked and talked more to students, and they would say, "Yeah, I didn't realize that this is what our parents went through. Oh, man, you know. I mean, that's terrible." And the more they became open to it, the more the parents became open to going out and doing it more aggressively. So I tell you, it took time, you know. We had to go to all the different communities, community meetings, and talk about it. It was okay, it was okay after a while, but in the beginning, it was like, "Don't even talk about it. I want nothing to do with it." [Laughs]

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MA: Yeah, and it seems like there were factions within the Japanese American community that you had to...

LN: Uh-huh, you had to win them over.

MA: them over and build a united front in some ways before you even went out and started dealing with the public and the government.

LN: Uh-huh, that's right. And we were the ones that were always, we became NCRR later, right? Uh-huh, yeah.

MA: NCRR, so then National Coalition for Redress and Reparations.

LN: And Reparations, uh-huh. Because we decided that, yeah, we should form a national coalition. This way we'll be in touch with all the West Coast communities, and we'd be coordinating, and we'll be stronger that way. And this way we can fight with JACL if they want to, you know. So the history was that in the beginning we were very small, and we were called LACCRR. But as we communicated with all the other grassroots groups in Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, then we formed that coalition. We had a conference, a conference. And, oh, we had about three hundred people there, everywhere. They all came and they said, oh, yeah, we're very interested. So they were all, everybody was really open to that, everybody was pretty excited about it. And that's how the National Coalition was formed. Because we knew what we wanted to do, the principles were all laid out. The main thing is we wanted to fight the government, and we want to demand redress and apology, and an apology for what they did to the JAs.

And as we were doing all that, JACL started to become very, how would you say, paranoid. They were kind of intimidated, 'cause they thought they were it. [Laughs] And then they, so they were always grumbling about this or that. First they would say that, "No, no, the way you people are going about it is terrible. I mean, you're going to make..." oh, okay. The big thing was the hearings that was coming, the hearings from Washington. So then we said, oh, that's just perfect. We're gonna have all the people testify, and let them know how they feel about this. "No, no, no, we don't want you guys to have anything to do with the hearings, because you guys are going to get rowdy, and you're gonna be protesting and you're gonna let out all this anger. That's not how we want it. We want it to be a very well..." how did they say it? They described it as we have to have professionals out there. People from the community, upstanding people from the community representing the community. Not like we were, we're always grassroots. We want the people to be able to testify. They said, "No, no. You guys are going to rabble-rouse and all that. It's not going to go anywhere." And they were very against it, JACL was saying, "My goodness, these people are just a bunch of rowdies." [Laughs] So we said, "No, that's not true, but we have to speak out. We've got to speak out at this time. This is the only opportunity."

MA: It seems like the JACL wanted such control over the image, right, of the community?

LN: Yes, definitely, they did. So they had this idea about who should be out there. It's got to be very, it's got to be a community, made up of community leaders. The testifiers should not be grassroots. I mean, you're not going to have every Tom, Dick and Harry out there like that, the way you guys are talking about it. Anyway, they just had this whole image of the hearings to be led by so-called community leaders. So we says, "Community leaders? Fine, but not the way you're looking at it. This should be testifiers coming from the community. The real people, people who suffered, people who have something to say, and they should be able to say it. They shouldn't be..." anyway, we had to fight JACL for that, fight tooth and nail. But we said, "Of course we're not going to do anything rowdy, that's going to hurt the whole movement. We're not that reckless." We had to talk it out all the time with them. Bert was out there, too, talking. Finally, they agreed. They agreed to, "Okay, we're going to be separate. You guys can do what you want, and we will do what we want. But let's try to cooperate." So we said, "Of course."

MA: So what happened, then, with the hearings? Were you able to have community grassroots people testifying?

LN: Oh, yes. Yes, we did. In fact, we were very aggressive. We said, "Let's talk to the coordinator," Joan Bernstein was her name. She was the coordinator to L.A., to the Japanese community. She was the liaison from Washington. So we said, "Let's get to meet her." So we used to call her on the phone, and she was very open. Fortunately for us, she was a very, very warm, open person, and very sympathetic to our cause. So she said, "Okay," she said, "I'll tell you what." She said, "I'll make a trip out there." Oh, we were so happy. And we said, "Oh, we'd really like that. Maybe we could reimburse you for the..." she said, "Oh, no, no." She said, "This is all part of the committee." And she said, "I'll arrange something." Anyway, she was so nice. So we met her, and then she would help us a lot. "This is what it's best to do. It's best to do this." Because she was liaison between Washington and the community.

MA: So she helped you think about lobbying or how to deal with the government?

LN: Yes, she helped us in all that aspect. I mean, she did more than what was... what was expected of her. But she was so nice, and she said that she was very inspired, she said, by all the women, "women leadership in your group," she said. Because JACL is usually men. So she said, "I'm very impressed." She said, "You guys are different..." what did she say? I forgot. Anyway, she said, "You guys are a different breed. But," she said, "you get a lot done, and you're very efficient, very organized." She said, "I'll be glad to help you." So she became our, yeah, advisor and liaison to Washington. It was terrific.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

MA: So NCRR, like in comparison with JACL, you said had much more female involvement and leadership?

LN: I think so, yes.

MA: So NCRR, there was Nisei women involved as well?

LN: Yes.

MA: So I'm assuming Sansei women, but also Nisei?

LN: Yes. Because in the beginning, like I said, Niseis were, they didn't want to... even when we used to go out and protest, or we would march in Little Tokyo, they said, "No, no, no. That's out for me. Don't ask us to do that." And said, "No, don't feel like that. Because you'd be surprised, when you go up and down First Street, all those shop owners will just be cheering you on. Because they're happy to see Niseis out there. After all, you were the victims," you know, we were the victims of camp and everything. So we used to have to talk to them a lot to convince them that they should be out there. Because they were the ones that suffered most. So when they first went out, we used to march, they used to... oh, this is just, it was so hard for them. But after that, they completely changed. Said, "Hey, this is great." We just, I feel like they felt strong and they felt like we were asserting ourselves, letting the broader community know that we're not going to be just meek, intimidated, all that kind of thing. So people became very strong. It was something. It's just a growth, it developed.

MA: So what was driving you this whole time? I mean, you got involved because your son asked you to, but what was motivating you?

LN: Well, I tell you, that was the motivation. It's like the motivation was to get the Niseis out there. Because I'm a Sansei, but I'm really, by virtue of age, I should be a Nisei. So that was my motivation. I didn't want to get out there too much and make speeches and things like that. I didn't care about that. Mainly it was to get the Niseis out there, 'cause I wanted them to feel empowered. And it did happen. The sense of empowerment slowly took on, and it was something. Besides, I was also a... I used to belong to a left organization, too, "left organization," you know what that means.

MA: A leftist organization?

LN: Yeah.

MA: Which one?

LN: Which one was it now? [Laughs] Boy, I can't even remember the name.

MA: What were they fighting for? What was their stance?

LN: Oh, well, their stand was very good. And they were, yeah, 'cause there were several, there were several groups. But this group, we thought, was really good, because they were very involved in community. Not just... you know, I don't know how to explain it. It's been so long ago. But you know how some groups were just kind of like out there in left field. But no, this left group was... oh, gosh, I can't think of it. Maybe it'll come to me after a while. They were more involved in all these community activities like redress and reparations. They were very, they were working. They were really working in it. So people had a lot of respect for them.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

MA: How do you feel that the hearings, what impact did that have on the redress movement? It seems like people were publicly talking about camp for the first time.

LN: Yes.

MA: What impact did that have on the movement and also on the community?

LN: Oh, it, again, it was this thing about empowerment. It was really something, because once, like they say, once you got them talking, you couldn't stop them. [Laughs] They were so, all that anger came out, all that year of pent-up anger and everything else. So it wasn't just the redress, the reparations that we were fighting for. It was just the satisfaction, I think, of getting out there and letting the government, having a medium by which we can let the government know how we felt. So a sense of empowerment, as I say. And for the women, this whole movement meant a lot of, made a big difference. Because in our group, we used to encourage the women to come out. In fact, in the community meetings, in the big community meetings, like you have some people who are chauvinists, male chauvinism. We used to really come down hard on them, because we would say that all these women, they were coming out, and we don't want any intimidation so they won't be able to speak out. So more and more, that became the norm, and women felt very comfortable and more women started coming out. In fact, it's amazing because when you really come down to it, if this was a revolution or something, women, I tell you, once they get going, it's, they are just terrific. So that's kind of how, where a lot of the women came out. Yeah, it was an exciting time.

MA: And then when, I guess when the Civil Liberties Act passed in the late '80s, how did you feel? What was that like for you, someone who had worked so hard fighting for redress? When it finally passed, what did you think?

LN: Oh, just very excited, of course. [Laughs] I don't know. I can't even, I really can't... I just don't remember. But I know we were very, very happy about that, yeah. I think it was more... again, I think it was the question of empowerment, you know, how Niseis came out, totally different after the hearings, after the whatchacall, and the positive things that came out of it. What was that you said? I forgot, what is that? What was that that came down, you said?

MA: Oh, the Civil Liberties Act?

LN: Oh, yeah, yeah, and things of that nature, which was so good for the people, and especially for the women. Because they came out so strong after all these years of being kind of like oppressed.

MA: Well, it seems like the redress was great, and when that passed and everything. But I think what you're saying, too, is the important thing is what happened along the way, the movement building and the coalition building and the empowerment that happened to get redress.

LN: That's right, yeah. All that was really exciting time, yes.

MA: And what do you see, I guess, is the historical importance of redress, I mean, for other communities, too? It seems like it's just, it's something that other communities can look to or use to fight for their own struggles. What do you think about the historical importance of what you all were fighting for?

LN: Yes. You know, in those days, we used to go out to other communities, to the broader community, the Chicano community, African American community. Not only to share what we were doing, and not only to ask for their support, but also to encourage them to go out there and fight for what was needed in their community. We wanted to encourage them, because it's so important to do that. So we would always try to do that, too.

MA: Yeah, I think redress is important because of the broader ramifications it has on other communities as well.

LN: That's right. Because then again, you're coming down to the empowerment thing, you know. That different communities should have more, should be able to get more and have more of a say, and get more respect from the U.S. government and all that.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

MA: So after the redress movement and everything, how did you, what did you do after that? How did you stay involved in the community struggles?

LN: After the redress... oh, boy. Unless I look at my, all my old notes, I can't really remember now what we did after that. It was more what to do, what to do now. And it was... yeah.

MA: Did you -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

LN: No, it's okay, go ahead.

MA: Oh, I was just wondering if you started up shamisen, your music.

LN: Yes, I did. I did. I started teaching again, but I think more that we were thinking, "Gee, there must be something we should be doing," in terms of organizing. We felt like it just shouldn't stop like that. So I think NCRR... I think now it's called National Coalition for... I think the name slightly changed because they wanted to change with the time. It's not a reparations, redress and reparations period anymore. But those were some of the kind of things that we wanted to think of, community empowerment, community whatyoucall has to continue. Because there's always something. There's always new issues. But somehow, I don't know what they're doing because I retired. I used to just drive from South Bay to downtown all the time, at night, meetings and this and that, weekends, all weekends we used to be out there. It's funny because my mother, my parents used to live in the front house. We bought a two-owner property so they can live in front. And my mother used to look out the window and say, "Going out again?" I said, "Yeah, we're going to have to go out to a meeting." And she used to say, "Oh, drive carefully now." [Laughs] But it was like we were constantly doing that, right? But after the redress, things quieted down a bit. But then we were afraid that NCRR -- you know how sometimes it dies out? We didn't want that to happen. And I think right now they're in pretty good shape. There's some people, I mean, they're new leadership and all that, but I think they're... I don't know what the issues are now, really. I haven't kept up, except if I see Alan Nishio, because he lives in Gardena, too. So if I see him, then I'll always ask him.

MA: But your son is still involved in organizing, right? In the Little Tokyo Service...

LN: Oh, Service Center?

MA: ...Center?

LN: But they're not doing... I don't know. It's pretty limited, I think, in terms of organizing. He was always an activist, so I think it must be kind of hard for him not to. [Laughs] But I think there are limitations now.

MA: To being an activist, you mean?

LN: Yeah, and then maybe the issues, too, depending on what the issues are. I don't know if there are any. There was never the issue like redress.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.