Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Yuri Kochiyama Interview
Narrator: Yuri Kochiyama
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Oakland, California
Date: July 21, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-kyuri-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

MA: Okay. So today is Tuesday, July 21, 2009. I'm here with Yuri Kochiyama in Oakland, California. I'm Megan Asaka, the interviewer, and the cameraperson is Dana Hoshide. So Yuri, thank you so much for taking the time...

YK: Oh, thank you.

MA: do this interview. It's a real honor for us to have you here. So I wanted to ask just a couple basic questions. Where were you born?

YK: In San Pedro, California.

MA: And when were you born?

YK: 1921.

MA: And tell me a little bit about your mother and father. Can you tell me about their backgrounds?

YK: Yeah. I mean, they're both Isseis. And my mother came from, I think she said Fukushima, and my father from Iwate. I don't know Japan that well, I think it's sort of in the northern part.

MA: And what were they like as people? Can you tell me a little bit about your mother and father's personalities and what they were like?

YK: Well, my... gosh. My mother, I mean, I thought she was a very pleasant person. I think she taught school in Japan before she got married. And my father, well, after he came over here, he, I think a lot of Japanese picked fruits or something. And then later he went into fishing. Not going out to fish, but he and relatives opened up a fish market in San Pedro. But my mother was a teacher, she taught English in Japan but probably sort of beginning English. Because at home, we were never allowed to speak English, we spoke Japanese. I think most Niseis, that's how it was. Our parents were Isseis and we were Niseis.

MA: And you spoke Japanese in the home?

YK: In the home. Of course, other than that, outside, of course, we were like any other American, I think.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MA: And tell me a little bit about San Pedro and what that was like, what your neighborhood was like growing up.

YK: San Pedro is a seaport town, and there weren't that many Japanese. Most of the Japanese were living in Terminal Island where the Issei went out fishing and the wives worked in the cannery. On the San Pedro side, the Japanese were also in fishing. There were those who were in farming, and then those who were in fishing. And my father and relatives owned a fish market, and they just seemed like, of that time, typical Japanese. Well, to us Niseis, they seemed, you know, quite Japanesey. And, well, we kids, you know, I think we were very, we grew up very American, but at home we had to speak Japanese and learn a few, you know, the cultural things. But I think we were quite American.

MA: What do you mean by "American"? Can you explain that a little bit?

YK: Yeah. Well, that we spoke English, and at least where we compare ourselves with other people of our age, I think we had the same kind of interests as our peers. I mean, thinking back, way back then, I mean, I really didn't know too much about anything, really, you know. We're growing up in a small town. The town was, well, it seemed like San Pedro, many people were in fishing. Most of the people, I think, the majority were Italian and Slavonian, but we think of them as being white. Well, I don't know if we even thought of it that way back then. They were, we thought of more being Slavonian and Italian. Their, those of our peers, our age group, their parents, like our parents, were immigrants, too. They came from Europe. And I think, just like us Japanese, they probably spoke their own language, the parents' language, Italian or Slavonian, but they were just like any Americans. And it was a nice town, people were very nice. I didn't think there was any racism, but years later, as I look back, there were. But, you know, at the time you're growing up, you're not aware of a lot of things.

MA: Was there a divide in San Pedro among the Japanese community, like a class divide? It seems like maybe Terminal Island and...

YK: Oh, in San Pedro?

MA: Right, was there a divide there at all?

YK: Yeah, there probably was. But we kids, I mean, I don't think we felt... but there must have been. I mean, 'cause Japanese people anyway, I think, are sort of that way. You know, they're... what's the word? There's a word for that, you know, where the class thing seems to make a difference. The difference was that, okay, Terminal Island people, the men, as I said, went into fishing, and the women worked in the cannery. I think their lives were a lot more, what's the word? Confined, living on an island, and they're mostly all just Japanese people. We were in San Pedro proper, where there were people all different background, not many Japanese or Chinese. Mostly whites, but they were, but I think there were a lot of similarities because our parents were immigrants and they were mostly in fishing, except the ones in the hills who would be in farming. I'm sorry I'm repeating a lot.

MA: Oh, no, that's okay. So your father then, when you were growing up, was also involved in fishing. You said you were involved with the fishing industry?

YK: No, but first my mother said he was, he worked on the farm picking fruits or something, and then he went back to Japan to pick a wife, and then came back. And when he came back, there were other relatives of his, and they started a fish market. So then they were in fishing after that.

MA: And how many siblings did you have?

YK: I only had two brothers. One was a twin brother, and the other was two and a half years older.

MA: What are their names?

YK: Peter is my twin, I used Mary, now I use Yuri. But, okay, Peter, and then my older brother was Art, Arthur, or just Art.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MA: And so tell me about your high school experience in San Pedro.

YK: Well, I love that hometown, San Pedro, and enjoyed the high school, San Pedro High. Because it's a small town, I think it was only that one high school, San Pedro, one junior high, Dana junior high. I went to Fifteenth Street School, there must have been at least about seven grammar schools in San Pedro. But a lot of the, in Terminal Island, of course, went to grammar school in Terminal Island, and when they went and got to junior high, they came across to San Pedro and went to the same junior high school as the rest of us from San Pedro.

MA: And what was that like for the Terminal Island kids to sort of start mixing --

YK: They had to come across on a ferryboat. And, well, Terminal Island was mostly, I think, or heavily Japanese. And I think, well, I mean... trying to remember that far back. But I think Terminal Island people were confined. I mean, they were all living amongst Japanese people, so their Japanese was very good, I think, they could speak. Maybe their English sometimes may not... well, they were probably same as us. They just, in some ways, seemed different because they were in, you know, living just on an island. But those of us Japanese who lived in San Pedro, yet when we had to go to the dentist, we went to Terminal Island because they had Japanese dentists. And we never went to a white doctor. And you know, back then, I mean, though nobody talked about it that much, it was as if Asians, whether we were not allowed to use... well, we were told that no Japanese was born in a hospital. That a midwife, a Japanese midwife, brought up all the people of Japanese background. So, and yet, I don't know if that made any difference, you know, in our relationships with hakujin kids, it was that way. I mean, there were, I think, a lot of things that Asians could not attend. But all our classmates, they were all very nice. I don't know.

MA: That's interesting, though, that you went to Terminal Island for your dentist and your doctor for the Japanese dentists and doctors. So it seems like maybe there was some unspoken segregation --

YK: Yeah, I think so.

MA: -- there. Things were cordial, but it seems like, you know...

YK: Yeah, I think so, though they didn't tell us, "You can't come to the hospital," you know, I mean, it was... I think Japanese knew where they could go or where they couldn't go. I'm sure the blacks felt the same way. There weren't that many blacks, so I think there was segregation in our town.

MA: What about the Latino population in San Pedro, or Mexican, I'm wondering?

YK: Mexican, there were quite a few.

MA: Do you remember how the relationships were between the different racial groups, the Mexicans and Japanese?

YK: I think among the kids there wasn't that difference. But I don't think Japanese and Mexicans really -- our parents, I mean -- really were that social together, but I think it could have been because of language. You know, I think the Mexicans spoke Spanish and the Japanese and Chinese spoke their own language. So I don't think they interacted that much. But among the kids, I think we all got along very well, yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: So I wanted to jump ahead a little bit and talk about your memories of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, that day that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Can you tell me about your memories of that day, hearing the news about that?

YK: Oh, yeah. I guess that's a day that none of us will forget. But anyway, I was teaching Sunday school, and I was driving a car then. Well, as I was going down to the church, it was a Presbyterian church not that far away, but I saw something that I'd never seen before. I see all these soldiers, sailors, I guess merchant marine or whatever they were, they were all hitchhiking towards San Pedro. San Pedro has a military base, I mean, has a fort. And I see all these guys when I hit Pacific Avenue, main drag, these people hitchhiking. I'd never seen this happen before. I didn't know anything was happening in Pearl Harbor, but I saw a classmate also hitchhiking, so I called him and I said, "Hey, come on over. Can I give you a ride?" And when he got in the car, I said, "What's happening? I've never seen this before." And he said, "You probably didn't listen to the radio this morning." He said, "The Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor, and they're asking all American servicemen to go to their bases." Said, "Those of us in this area, we were all supposed to report to Fort MacArthur. So I took him there, I was sort of shocked. I thought, "Gee, gosh."

And then I went on to my Sunday school class. The kids I had were about thirteen, fourteen years or so. They happened to be all white, because our area was white. And suddenly, for the first time, I felt something different. And I felt, too, that my own Sunday school class looked at me differently. All the time before, I think they just saw me as a Sunday school teacher, nothing about my background being Japanese. But that morning, they did look at me. They probably knew that Pearl Harbor was being bombed. And, well, the Sunday school kids plus myself, we felt sort of funny. We never felt this way before. But even the kids said, "Oh, let's make this short today," and I said, "Yeah, that's a good idea." And then always I used to have all the kids, seven or eight of the kids jump in the car and I'd take each one home. But they knew Pearl Harbor was happening, and I heard from that friend of mine.

So as soon as I took them home, three tall white men were at my door, and my father had just come home from the hospital the day before. And when I opened the door to the white men who were knocking on the door, they asked if a Mr. Nakahara lived there. I said, "Oh, yeah, but he just came home from the hospital, and he's sleeping in the back." Well, these three guys walked in -- I didn't know what they were 'til later, but it was the FBI identification. And they didn't say anything, they just went in the house, went into the back, woke up my father and said, "Put on your bathrobe and slippers," I guess. And they took him away just like that. And so I called my mother, I was the only one home then, and she was just down the street at my aunt's. And I said, "Mom, come home quick. Some guys, some white men came and they took Pop somewhere, I don't know where, and they didn't tell me anything." And so she came home. And I think probably this was happening to a lot of other Japanese, and so we were calling each other up saying, "Did anyone come to your house yet?" Some of the people said yes, some said no, but they said they all had heard over the radio that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. So we said, "Oh my god, I'll bet we're all going to be in trouble, 'cause we're Japanese, and people won't think of us as being American even if we are."

And so, well, so December 7th, I mean, is a date we won't forget either. But of course, to America, it's a date they'll never forget. I mean, President Roosevelt announced that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, and then DeWitt came on -- DeWitt was the General for the Western Command -- and said, "The only good Jap is a dead Jap," and all that kind of thing. And then public officials would say, "We've got to get the Japs out of here," and, "We can't trust them," and this stuff about, what is it? "The slip of a lip will... something a ship." That quotation. "Slip of a lip will something a ship, sink a ship," or something like that. So anyway, the Japanese Americans from December 7th, we all wondered, "What's gonna happen to us?"

MA: Do you think that was, you mentioned being in Sunday school and feeling like there was suddenly this new feeling, like there was this tension that wasn't there before.

YK: Yeah.

MA: Was that the first time you'd really thought about --

YK: Yeah, I don't think --

MA: -- discrimination or your race or ethnicity consciously?

YK: I don't think so. I mean, even from the time from kindergarten, grammar school, and then junior high school and high school... I mean, San Pedro seemed like a wonderful place. But you know, I knew very little at that time. So there were a lot of things that probably were there, but I didn't see it. Because I feel even Japanese were racist, I guess, because they looked down on Mexicans. And there weren't many blacks. If there were, I used to wonder how they would look on blacks if they looked down on Mexicans. And it seemed like the poorer the person, you know, Americans just sort of looked down on them. And yet, in school, things seemed all right. One thing I do try to give credit for, I think the teachers were pretty good.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MA: So you said that your father was taken away by the FBI, you didn't know what happened to him. Can you talk about that time when your father was gone, and did you end up finding out where he was?

YK: Oh, yeah. I mean, soon as I called my mother and she came home, she called a lawyer and asked him to find out where they may have taken him. And in a day or two, I think the lawyer called back and said he found out that my father was taken to the federal prison in Terminal Island. And so then my mother, my mother asked the lawyer if she could visit him, and so to find out where he is and all that. And in a few days, I think... my mother could drive, and so after she found out, she did drive over to Terminal Island because she needed to give my father medicine and stuff. And I heard afterwards that, one of my brothers said, "You know, they wouldn't let Mom give the medicine to Pop?" You know, stuff like that. So I knew that Pop was not being treated well at all. And six weeks later, they let him come home. And we were a little shocked he was so changed. First, he was, he had lost a lot of weight, he looked so thin. And I don't know why, he couldn't seem to talk. And because he couldn't talk, we didn't know if he could hear or see. You know, if he can't answer, then could he see and hear? And almost, only the next day, he died. And so it was quite a shock to our family, to our mother and all.

And then we were told that if anybody comes to the funeral, they're gonna be checked out. So then we said, "Gee, we better tell people not to come to the funeral." But the Japanese people were very nice. They said, "Oh, no, we're not doing anything wrong to go to a funeral." So our Japanese friends were not afraid, and they did come to the funeral. The FBI were right there, as they walked in, they checked. But, I mean, the funeral went off, and then we went to, we found out that we couldn't bury our father in the... there's a beautiful cemetery in San Pedro, but they said, "No blacks, Latinos" -- meaning Mexicans -- "or Asians" -- meaning Chinese and Japanese -- "could be buried in San Pedro." So my family had to find a cemetery where Asians could be buried. And most all the Asians were buried in Evergreen near, in Los Angeles. And slowly, I think we were -- we kids, I mean -- when the war broke out, I think I was nineteen or twenty. So my twin brother and I were the same age, and my brother was two and a half years older. But we were slowly starting to see that there was racism and stuff. Of course, in school, you don't talk about those things. The teachers don't want to bring things like that up. And then I guess at home, the parents, I don't know, maybe they don't want to bring it up. And since all our classmates are so nice, we didn't want to say anything to them about it.

MA: It seems like Pearl Harbor and then the removal of Japanese Americans really brought to the surface a lot of things that had been going on maybe underneath or unspoken for a long time?

YK: Oh, yeah, yeah. It did bring it up to the surface.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MA: So tell me about hearing the news that you were going to be removed to Santa Anita, right, and leaving San Pedro and what that was like for your family.

YK: Well, I remember on that date, it was in April, I think, about April 1st or 2nd. All people of Japanese ancestry were supposed to meet at a certain corner, it was, I don't know, Seventh and near Pacific, which was the main drag. We all went down there, and I think all the Japanese were surprised that there were so many of us. I mean, we didn't know there were that many Japanese in San Pedro proper, but there were, which was interesting. And I don't know, the one thing that worried me was we all had to be there at a certain time, so I think they said that if someone in the family can drive, they could take the car. So my brother drove us down there. And I was so worried about, I don't know what happened to our dog. I loved that dog, it was a collie dog, a real nice dog. And I didn't get to say goodbye to him. And I wonder what was gonna happen to him. We can't, we couldn't tell him, "We have to go away," and I wondered who was going to take care of him. But anyway, I mean, it bothered me. After every, all the Japanese Americans seemed to have gotten to the point of departure, then all the cars lined up and we left for, we didn't know where we were going, but we ended up in Santa Anita.

MA: And how, what were your thoughts when you arrived at Santa Anita? Do you remember what you were thinking when you saw, basically, where your family was going to be imprisoned, I guess, for the next...

YK: Yeah. Well, when we were all lined up, all the cars were all going in the same direction, it was interesting. There were some people on the street who had signs saying, "We're sorry to see you go," you know, "you Japanese go." But there were also people who had signs that said, "Get out Japs," you know. I mean, that was interesting that there were two different feelings of us. I thought it was even surprising that they would come out on the street with signs. And it was good to know that there were some people, I guess, that felt bad we were leaving. Of course, most people probably were glad to get rid of Japanese 'cause they didn't trust Japanese. And the hysteria of war was really high. And so then we ended up in Santa Anita.

MA: And at that time it was your mother and your two brothers and yourself, so the four of you?

YK: My brother, well, both my brothers volunteered, but my older brother had asthma so he wasn't taken. But my twin brother had immediately gone into service, yeah. And he went, well, he first had to take his basic training, and then after that he went into, so many Japanese went into MIS, Military Intelligence Service there. And we were in Santa Anita for about seven months before being transferred to Jerome.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: Okay, so you were in Santa Anita for seven months and then Jerome, which is in Arkansas. Tell me about your time in Jerome and arriving there and being in Arkansas and about that time for you.

YK: Well, in Santa Anita, I mean... well, you know when you first get there, they let you choose -- well, they first told us, "Anyone under eighteen has to go to school. Anyone over eighteen has to work." And at least you have a choice what kind of job you want to do. So in Santa Anita, I volunteered as a nurse's aide. Well, we all got paid eight dollars a month, because nurse's aide was a lower division kind of work, we didn't have to really train. But those who were skilled got twelve dollars a month, and professionals, lawyers and doctors, maybe some teachers, got sixteen to nineteen dollars. Most of us all got eight dollars.

But in Santa Anita, right away what I wanted to do was be a Sunday school teacher because I was a Sunday school teacher in our hometown. In our hometown, all the kids were white, and I always wanted to have Asian kids. And I so I was glad when I had almost the same age, junior high school kids, in Sunday school. And these were really bright Asian kids. I mean, it was wonderful to work with them because we had so much to talk about. What's gonna happen to us because we're Japanese? Is there anything we could even do in camp that could be more of a service to the communities? And that's when, in Sunday school, these kids who were, I don't know, thirteen, fourteen years old, they said, "Why don't we write to our Nisei soldiers?" I had at first only five or six kids. But coincidentally, each one had a brother in service and I had a brother in service. And so they said, "Okay, let's let the people of Santa Anita know that we are going to start writing to all our Nisei soldiers that we are behind them, 'we know it must be tough right now to be in the position you are, but we are going to support you through the war, and we would like to correspond with you.'" And when other kids heard about it, the Sunday school grew quickly. First, thirty, forty kids, fifty, 'til we had about sixty kids. More, not because of the Sunday school, but they all wanted to do something, too. And so they joined just so they could... first we only had a few names, but all the Sunday school kids went out and asked their neighbors, "Do you have a son or a brother or someone, uncle in service?" Got their address, and these kids started to write to them. And so in that seven months, we had, I think, before we left Santa Anita, we had maybe a couple hundred names of, you know, Nisei soldiers. Because a lot of 'em were in training, and it was just '42, so they weren't yet overseas yet, but they were in training. And the kids were getting letters back, and the soldiers were so happy that they're, like these would be their younger sisters, thought of them. And parents got interested in our program. My mother got really into it herself, because she was lonely, she had just lost her husband, and she said, "Oh, I'll write, too." And she would write to the soldiers like they were her sons, you know. And so Santa Anita went by sort of quickly, we thought, and then we were in Jerome.

MA: Is that something you continued in Jerome?

YK: What?

MA: Is that, did you continue that in Jerome, the letter writing?

YK: Yes, uh-huh. But we added one more group. Besides writing to the Nisei soldiers, we found out that there was one group of Japanese who were not sent out of California because they were, they had an illness. They were at Hillcrest Sanitarium.

MA: Tuberculosis?

YK: Yeah. And they didn't want to, I guess, move them. And so when we heard about that, we said, "Look, why don't you" -- the kids, who were thirteen, fourteen, who could write -- "besides the soldiers, write to these patients. They must feel lonely that all the other Japanese have been sent out of California and they're the only ones." How did you know about tuberculosis? You seem to know already.

MA: Well, we, Densho has done interviews where people have mentioned family members who have stayed behind, who had to stay behind in the sanitarium in Seattle and in Los Angeles. Various people have stories about that.

YK: Oh, uh-huh. Because a lot of people didn't know. When we first heard about it, we said, "Oh my goodness." You would think they would send everybody out, but because, I guess, tuberculosis could be contagious, I guess, they kept 'em there. And gee, those people, too, the sanitarium, they were happy to be remembered. And so it was nice, they had the two groups to write to. And then we went on and continued that work in Jerome, and we got Rohwer kids of the same age. Well, from Santa Anita, they were all sent out to different, ten different camps. So then, and they were called Crusaders. The Crusaders then continued the work in all the other camps. Some camps were, were better than others in being able to continue.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MA: So you were in Jerome, which is in Arkansas, and I was wondering if you noticed... Arkansas is in the South and a completely different racial dynamic down there, and if you noticed that when you moved, well, when you were sent to Jerome, if you noticed the, sort of, black-white segregation.

YK: Well, at the beginning, you're only in camp, you can't ever go outside of camp. So we didn't know what was happening outside. Our lives were totally different and isolated from the rest of the people in the town. But it was interesting, when I think that Jerome, a lot of it wasn't built yet, they had to, like the toilets weren't all put in, and there were no doors for the toilets. And the Japanese, who are... Japanese, well, especially the women, not to have any curtains or something. That's why the Japanese said, "Oh, we went to build our own curtains or something to have some privacy." And a lot of work people came into our camp because a lot of things weren't all fixed up yet. And we did notice that all the workers who came in were white, and yet we were in Arkansas. We said, "Gee, this is where blacks would be living, too. Wonder why all the workers were white?" It was really because of racism that these jobs only went to whites. So we didn't know much about racism. After a while we did, because when they start letting the Japanese in camp get four-hour passes or something to go shopping in Little Rock or somewhere, for the first time, they saw the segregation of blacks and all that. But everything took time, I guess, to learn.

But there were, I think, one or two incidences that happened in camp that were sort of shocking. And the camp, the people who run the camp, any time anything like this would happen, I think they tried to not let anyone know. And one was when a Japanese, it was a young guy, too, like twenty-three years old, I think he was a Kibei, he committed suicide by going right outside of the camp where the railroads... and he just lay down there and a train ran over him and killed him. Well, the camp certainly tried to hush that up, but you know how in camp, rumors go around so fast, everybody knows... and it was just shocking. And it shows that how being sent to a camp must have been so... I don't know if you'd say it's horrifying or at least negative, that someone had even felt he would commit suicide.

MA: And you said he was a Kibei?

YK: I think he was a Kibei because rumors were going around so fast that everybody was saying, "Do you know who he is?" And someone said they thought it was a Kibei, we're not sure. And there was another case where a young girl disappeared. Of course, the rumors went wild, but somehow or other, I don't know if the camp ever found out, but one young girl escaped from our camp, but she was found in Rohwer which isn't that far away. And somehow she found that there were, you know, young guys were working in commissary, which is working, you know, loading things on trucks and stuff like that. And she got the idea, I think she had a boyfriend in Rohwer, she wanted to go there. So she got one of those trucks to quietly put her on the truck so that she could go to Rohwer and be with the boyfriend. And I mean, those things always, everybody started talking. But it's interesting how things like that will happen.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MA: I wanted to ask you about the, what they called the "loyalty questionnaire," the so-called "loyalty questionnaire" where they had you answer those questions, "Are you loyal to the United States?" and what you remember about that.

YK: Yeah. But I don't remember how they passed out those questionnaires. I mean, did they just pass them out? But everybody was -- well, questions twenty-seven and twenty-eight, I think, "Would you be loyal to this country?" And the other one is almost like it: "Would you serve in the United States military in whatever division that you're asked?" or something like that. And that's what I think was the beginning of the, dividing the Japanese people. 'Cause especially the Kibeis would say, no, they would never want to serve this country. The Niseis didn't know what to say, and the parents didn't know what to tell the kids. The parents, of course, would not serve the United States, 'cause U.S. wouldn't even let them become citizens. But over that question, I mean, there were... those who were real gung ho Americans and who... that's not a good way to express, but who felt they should fight for U.S., they really let the camp people know. And those who were totally angry at the U.S., they would let the camp know, "No, we would never serve." And so there were fights among the Japanese after that. And it was, it was hard because that's such a political question, but it's such a personal question. And it was, it could be a very divisive... even among one family, there's different feelings. And even families began to fall apart.

MA: Right, it's not just a simple question, yes or no. It has deeper implications than just, yeah, one word answer.

YK: Right. Oh, that questionnaire and those two questions, I mean, it really began to divide the Japanese people. It became very open because I know our block, the young people felt they wanted to show America that they were as American as anyone else. And so a lot of volunteers, it came out there would be volunteers. But then those who hated America, they came to hate the Japanese Americans who were willing to fight. And so it got to be really bad, and a lot of people moved into our block who were also for fighting for America. Because they were, some were even beaten up in their own block, or told to get out. And so there were all kinds of problems there.

MA: How did that impact your own family, do you remember that? With your mother and your -- I mean, your brother was in the service at that time, but your older brother was still in camp.

YK: Well, he tried, but he didn't get in, 'cause he had asthma. But our block was, the young people were stronger for showing America they were as American... they were more maybe, in their hearts, they must have been more American than being Japanese. And a lot of those kind of people moved into our block. And I guess maybe some people moved out of our block who didn't feel comfortable with that. But I think it was sad because, I mean, it really, where we should all be unified, we're going through the same problem, but this... and then things even got worse. As the war went on and more and more families got notice of their son or brother or somebody was killed, I mean, and yet, in one way, I felt this gives us an idea of what's happening outside of camp into the rest of America. That many American families are losing members of their family in the war, that we have to understand and know what they're going through. Because one day we'll be out, and we have to sympathize with those who lost people in the war. And understand that when they show hatred for Japanese, because they may have been killed by Japanese soldiers. And then anyway, our own could have gone through the same thing. But I think that whole experience of internment was a good learning lesson. Though it was also a learning lesson that we should, after a fight, that this will never happen again to any other group. And I think Japanese Americans really did feel that way.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MA: And how did this impact you personally at the time? I mean, I guess when you got out of camp, how did this sort of shift your worldview and the way that you looked at the world and the way you felt about the government?

YK: You know, I was so pro-U.S., I think because I had a good experience growing up in San Pedro. And during my whole young life, as I say, I didn't feel that much prejudice. But I really was ignorant, just ignorant about a lot of things. I didn't even know... well, the war was already going on in Europe, you know, Hitler was moving across Europe and all that. But I didn't even know too much why that was happening. I mean, it's years later, even after we took history in school, I don't think we learned very much of anything. Because the thing that hit me most, though, was I never knew anything about slavery in school. Never. I went all the way through junior college, never heard about slavery. I didn't know what even World War I was about, I didn't really know that much about the Civil War, which I'm sure we must have learned something about in school. And then here now we're into World War II, we're in camp. Well, one thing, you realize how important education is. That when you don't know, you don't even know how to make judgment.

But I was very, I don't know, very American then. I am so different now. [Laughs] But I didn't because... you're taught what a good country America is and it does so much good to the world and all that crap. And I believed it wholeheartedly. Because all your teachers are white, but you don't realize it then. Later on you finally, when there were movements to get more black teachers... but when you're young, there's so many things you don't know and so you don't understand.

MA: When did that shift start happening for you, where you kind of realized things and you...

YK: Let's see. I'm trying to think when it first happened. We were in camp in April of '42, we all started going to camp. We were in camp '42, '43, '44. '45, the war ended. But in '44, I got a job in Mississippi. But not that I went to Mississippi to look for a job, that's not it. Actually, I wanted to get married to this guy I met that I fell in love with. And then I was shocked. Here my mother got a pass to go to Mississippi for the wedding and all. She even got me a nightgown, I never had a nightgown. She said, "Maybe you might need it even though you're going to be with him a few days and he's going overseas." And then right there, almost at the moment we're getting married, the chaplain says, "I'm sorry, I can't marry you," because he said, "I just got a telegram, that your husband-to-be's father sent a telegram saying, 'I will never permit this. I don't even know who she is.'" I was shocked and hurt. At first, I didn't want to tell my mother. But the chaplain said, "Don't worry, I'll tell her." I just didn't know what to do. But then the chaplain said, "You know, all the wives, the Nisei wives are going, have to go back to camp or wherever," and he said, "We need someone to work at the USO office. Would you be willing?" And I thought, "Wow, what an opportunity." I didn't want to go back to camp and everybody saying, "Hey, what happened? You didn't get married? What's the matter, did he turn you down?" So I told them, "Yes, I would like to work here," and I got permission to stay in Mississippi because a letter from a chaplain sounds good. And so the camp said all right.

So I stayed in Mississippi a year and a half. And what was happening during this time I worked there was that this is when all the... you know, the 442 had already left for Europe to fight. And all the new ones to replace the 442, they were coming in from all the different, from Alabama, Texas, Illinois, in small groups. And my job was to find housing for the wives who wanted to stay with their husband a short while. So I really loved that job and met a lot of women, working with women. And I also, because I loved teaching Sunday school, I still, I had a new Sunday school of white kids. And these southern kids had never before seen an Asian, so I didn't know if they would accept me. But I guess the church was very nice, explained that there are Asian soldiers just like white American soldiers, and they're training here and going to fight for America. So the kids were very good to me. So, I mean, it was a different kind of experience there.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: And meanwhile, Bill, your husband, was overseas fighting.

YK: Right.

MA: Okay, with the 442.

YK: Yeah.

MA: And you were working and living in Mississippi?

YK: Yeah.

MA: What was that like? I mean, I guess that was the first time you had lived in the South, right? I mean, outside of camp. And seeing, I guess, at that point, the racial dynamics there? Is that the first time you've really been exposed to that?

YK: I didn't... you know, it may seem strange or not so strange that the USO, this Japanese American USO called Aloha USO was on the main drag, of course. And I kept wondering why no black soldiers came in. Because a USO is to serve any American soldiers. And they were all white, whether they were in the Navy, Army or what. And no blacks. Asians, the Chinese soldiers came, Japanese American soldiers, but no black soldiers. And it wasn't until several years later, when we were living in New York, when I was working... would it be at that... in New York, where would I be? What year would it be?

MA: The late '40s, 1950, the '50s? When you were in New York or Harlem?

YK: Yeah, New York. But I recall that no black soldiers came to the Mississippi USO. Oh, I know. The first place I worked in New York was Chock Full O'Nuts. I don't know if you know what Chock Full O'Nuts is. It's a restaurant, very famous restaurant, one of the cleanest restaurants. It only hired blacks, except for managers. And I got a job as a waitress; I loved that job. And it was the first time I'm working with just black people, mostly the waitresses, so they were women, but there were waiters, too. And I finally, I asked... two of the guys were from the South. And so I mentioned to them that I lived a year and a half in Mississippi, and at a USO which serviced everybody, but no black soldiers came in. And so they said, "What was the address?" I gave the address, I couldn't forget, 222 Pine, he said, "That's the main drag. No black soldiers, even wearing a uniform, can go in anywhere on the main drag." They could not go on Pine Street or Main Street. I was shocked. Then, for the first time, it made me think more what America was about, the segregation. Then I got really interested and wanted to find out everything I could about what black people have gone through. And it made me ashamed when I could think of Asians were just as racist as whites towards blacks, anyway. That changed me.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MA: And you, so going back a little bit, you moved to New York, you and Bill got married, right?

YK: Yeah.

MA: And he was from New York originally. And so you moved with him to New York after the war, right?

YK: Right.

MA: And then you got jobs waitressing there in Manhattan?

YK: What?

MA: You worked in Manhattan and lived there?

YK: Wait, I just want to mention about my husband Bill, because he was different from any of the Nisei I met. He was brought up in an orphanage. He was the only non-white, he was Asian. Everybody else was white. So he grew up, I think, almost thinking he was white. And, well, he was different in a lot of ways. First of all, I don't think he ever went through racism, 'cause he was brought up in a white world until just before the war, yeah. He went to California, and for the first time, he was treated like what Asians are treated like. He couldn't get a job, he couldn't find a place to live, he was lucky he found a Japanese, I mean, where the Japanese all lived, and got a job among Japanese people. But he didn't know anything -- and so I'm so glad, though, that in California, he volunteered for the 442 and they let him go back to New York. And then we went back to New York, his father happens to be a domestic worker, and he found out that he had an American name. Bill always thought his name was Masayoshi, but all the hakujin people, they just called him Masa in the orphanage. And then when he found out from his father he had an American name, William, or Bill, he said, "I want to use Bill from here on. No more Masa or Masayoshi." And so when he went in the army, he went in as Bill Kochiyama, William. So he was so happy. I don't know why his father never told him. But his father had a lot of sad moments in his life. But it was good that Bill got back to New York to see his father, find out about this. He never knew what his mother even looked like, because he said his father, there were pictures where the mother was holding him on her lap, or he was standing next to his mother. But his father cut out the mother's face so he never knew what his mother even looked like. But it's because the father had some very sad experiences, and because his mother divorced his father, which is very unusual in a Japanese family. You know, that just doesn't happen. And then the Japanese who was his wife marries somebody else, I mean, divorces him. So you could see his father went through a lot.

MA: So Bill was pretty unusual then for a Nisei.

YK: Oh, yes. His whole life was different. I don't know any Japanese who was brought up in an orphanage.

MA: Well, in New York, too.

YK: Yeah, just being from New York. I met a few Japanese from New York, but they were, you know, they had a Japanese family and all. But Bill's life was really different.

MA: Did Bill seem like big city to you when you met him? Like real urban?

YK: Yeah, he wasn't like any... well, most Japanese Americans, that time, the guys were very shy and very straight. And he was a guy, you could tell he had been around, nightclubbing and all that kind of stuff. He was different. But what made him, at least countered some of his running around wild like, that his father was a domestic. And that balanced out something. Otherwise, he would not be that easy to get along with, I don't think. 'Cause he knew he was, I think he... well, first of all, he was very good-looking. [Laughs] And he knew that he didn't even have to try. And so many white women would go after him 'cause he was good-looking. I mean, and he may not know, but he was spoiled in a different kind of way. But he was certainly different. So, well, I'm glad I got to meet someone like him.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: Okay, so I wanted to start by asking you about Harlem when you moved to Harlem in 1960. And if you could talk about what Harlem was like at that time when you moved there, and what political activities were going on at the time when you moved.

YK: It was 1960s, it was, the Civil Rights Movement was very... what's the word? It was very active. Some of the issues in Harlem, like one of the things they fought for was for more black teachers. Because in the public school system, there were very few blacks. Not only teachers, but I don't even know if there was any principals. It might have been very few vice-principals. But they wanted also principals and vice-principals, because, well, Harlem is all black, but I mean, throughout Manhattan, there's a lot of black students. And I don't think there were really many black principals. And another issue was... oh, Harlem did not have, it seemed like everywhere from 110th Street down, Harlem was maybe, they call it 110th or 116th North. But any part of Manhattan, they have traffic lights. But in Harlem, after 116th Street all the way to 155th, I don't think they had traffic lights, and kids would be hit on the street. And I know we did a lot of, what do you call, demonstrations to get traffic lights, and Harlem did. And I'm sure it helped, the children wouldn't be hit on the street. Also, Harlem... the subway makes so much noise coming into a station. I know where we lived on 125th and Broadway, because the noise is so loud, the train coming in, that people who live right there on Broadway can't hear themselves in their own apartment. We protested to make the subway trains slow down from like 137th to 125th so that by the time it hit 125th, we would hear each other speak inside the buildings. And we did win that, too.

MA: And this was with the Harlem Parents Committee?

YK: Yeah...

MA: This was your work with HPC, Harlem Parents Committee?

YK: Right.

MA: And tell me about the Freedom School that they ran, and your involvement with that and what you learned through that school.

YK: Well, I think it's good that the Harlem Parents Committee, which are parents who live in Harlem, I think they were mostly black but I think there were a few whites maybe who lived in Harlem, and they were also part of the Harlem Parents Committee. The teachers, I thought, were very good. They were not radical teachers, you know. But most of us knew so little about black history that we did get some of the more beginning history, which we needed. And Harlem Parents Committee, I mean, they, well, anywhere that they felt there was racism, they would bring up the issues. Well, they even felt that the education that Harlem children were getting, there were racism in what they were learning. And that's why they thought if they had black teachers, it might change the situation. But you know, I mean, the teachers, the board of education that chooses teachers, not any group in Harlem I don't think. But Harlem Parents Committee really worked hard and they did bring in more in the educational field, not only teachers but people who worked in the offices in schools. I think all the demonstrations for that did bring about some results of change.

MA: Was this your first involvement with, like, active protesting?

YK: It might have been, but it seemed like we were always fighting for something. and so much of it was because of racism which caused segregation and other problems of inequality and injustices.

MA: And at the time, Harlem was a mostly black community, right?

YK: Uh-huh.

MA: Were you one of the few Asian American families there in Harlem?

YK: I think so. In our project, which was a very big project, Manhattanville, I don't... well, when we first went into Manhattanville in 1960, there were three families that were part Filipino, I think. Within six months or before, they left. So I don't think there were any other Asians. I don't know why, but Asians hardly, there were hardly any Asians in any project. Midtown or wherever, Brooklyn, I mean, I don't think there were many Asians. For some reason, they shied away from. Maybe it's because they saw that most projects were black and Puerto Ricans.

MA: And you think they didn't want to have anything to do with black and Puerto Rican people?

YK: Uh-huh, yeah. I think so.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MA: I wanted to ask you about when you first met Malcolm X. And in your memoirs that you wrote, you said that meeting him was one of the most important --

YK: Oh, definitely.

MA: -- things in your life. Can you tell that story about when you first met him in the courthouse?

YK: I'm trying to think what the date was. I remember it was... maybe you know.

MA: '63?

YK: Was it October?

MA: I don't know the month. I think it was, was it 1963?

YK: Uh-huh. During the summer of '63, the biggest demonstrations were in Brooklyn. It was a fight for jobs for black and Puerto Ricans. They were building, I think, a big hospital in Brooklyn, carpenters and all, and they were hiring only whites. And so the whole summer, we demonstrated. And about seven hundred people were arrested during that whole summer. And then when summer was over, then the hearings began. And even for, with seven hundred arrested, I don't know if there were other Asians who were arrested. I don't know if they were interested in that kind of thing. But you know, I don't know how many each day would get a summons to go to the court, maybe fifty or what, but the hearings started after the summer, so maybe from September on.

And one day, it was such a surprise, Malcolm walked through the door in the Brooklyn courts. And everybody was so surprised to Malcolm come walking in. All the black activists, they were young, like eighteen to twenty-five, they all ran over to Malcolm and circled him. They were shaking hands. Of course, you know, Malcolm was very well-known then. And I see all these black people, I thought, "Gee, I want to shake his hands, too." But I thought, "Gee, maybe it's not right for me 'cause I'm not black and somebody's not going to like that, wondering why an Asian wants to do that." So, but I kept watching all the young blacks, and I said, "Doggone it, I'm gonna somehow, I'm gonna shake his hand." Actually, I thought, "Boy, wait 'til I get home and tell my kids that I shook hands with Malcolm." I mean, my kids were already activists when they were teenagers, but they weren't there. And I thought, "Well, no matter what, I'm going to at least try." I asked one of the people in CORE, that group named CORE, and they said, well, they don't know what he's gonna tell you. "He may not want to shake your hand. It's up to you, you could try and see what happens." So I thought to myself, "I am gonna try." And so I thought, if he ever looks up a little bit towards where I'm standing, I'm gonna yell out to him, "Can I shake your hand?" And when he did, I did do that. I said, " Malcolm, can I shake your hand?" And he looked at me, I think he was surprised it was an Asian woman anyway. And said, "What for?" And I said, gosh, what do I say? I said, "I want to congratulate you." I don't know why I said that. And he said, "For what?" And I said, gee, gosh, what do I want to congratulate him for? And I said, "For what you're doing for your people." And he said, "And what am I doing for my people?" I thought, oh, now what shall I say? And I said, I couldn't think of anything else, but I said, "Giving direction." And then he really changed his attitude and he came out of the circle of people around him and put out his hand. So I ran and I grabbed it. And then I said something very stupid. I mean, I said, "I admire what you're doing, but I don't agree with you about everything." That's stupid. Here I don't know anything, and I have the nerve to tell the greatest black leader, "I don't agree with you." And he said, "What don't you agree with me about?" And I said, "Your harsh stand on..."

MA: Integration?

YK: "Integration," yeah. And he said, "Well, I don't have time to talk to you," but he said, "If you're really interested," he said, "you could call my secretary and make an appointment." But then, right after he said, "You wouldn't know where my office is." And I said, "Oh, yes, I do." I said, "I live in Harlem, too. Your office is on 125th and 7th, and I live at 126th and Broadway. It's only a couple blocks away." He was surprised, he said, "All right, make an appointment." And I knew who his secretary was, James Shabazz, so I said, "Okay." Although that never happened, I don't think. Because I think by November, he made, Malcolm made a statement that angered Elijah Muhammad. What was that statement? What was that, he made Elijah Muhammad angry? What was that statement he made?

MA: "The chickens come home to roost"? Was it that one?

YK: What?

MA: "The chickens come home to roost"?

YK: Oh, right, good. Yeah, when he said that "the chickens come home to roost," that Elijah thought that was very insulting. And so he said he's gonna silence him for three months, or something like that. And then during that time, Malcolm felt very bad. You know, he was one of the chief spokesmen, and to be silenced. But by that time, as the months went on, he felt that there were other things that he disagreed with Elijah. That Elijah was fooling around with women, getting young women pregnant and all that, and he thought he should go ahead and start another group, his own group, OAAU. So he, I think, called a press conference and made a clear break, and then said that he is starting this new group. And those who wanted to join, it's open to them. So, I guess... yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MA: How did your relationship with him evolve, then, during that time, and when was your next meeting with him?

YK: I didn't... let's see. Because he had to start a new group because he was now out of Elijah's group, NOI. And, well, living in Harlem, I was going to a lot of meetings and things. My two oldest kids were like seventeen and fifteen, Billy and Audee, and they were already in the movement. They became really involved, in fact. My daughter was taking dance, and she was in one of the best schools for ballet. She said, "Mom, I don't want to keep taking up dancing, it takes a lot of time." Said, "I want to go to the demonstrations with you." And I said, "Oh, you should try to keep up a little with the dancing. You're lucky you even got into the school." It was a very good school. But she said no. And my other daughter, who was about thirteen or twelve, she wasn't dancing -- well, she was in a way. But she said, "I want to go to all the demonstrations, too." 'Cause the younger ones, the boys, were maybe ten, eight and six. Wherever I went, I took them with me. The older ones I would say, "All of you, just be careful. When we get on subways and stuff, hold hands, and you could go on your own." But the little ones I took with me everywhere. Now, what was the question? I forgot.

MA: Oh, about your relationship with Malcolm X and how that evolved? How you then met up with him again and how that happened.

YK: Now, let's see. I started to go to... wait, what year now are we in?

MA: I think this is end of '63. He had started the OAAU, he had split with the Nation of Islam.

YK: Okay, let me think. '63...

MA: Didn't you have a gathering at your house?

YK: Oh, we had gatherings all the time. We met all the, not just Harlem activists, but I mean, black and white activists who came in from everywhere, not only through New York. But eventually well-known activists, regardless of what color, would be speaking in Manhattan, and often they'd want to go into Harlem. So we had many kind of meetings and we met all the main people. Well, we got to know Malcolm's secretary, James Shabazz, well, and Stokely Carmichael who became Kwame Ture, and James Forman... a whole lot of people, Ella Baker. And it was really an exciting time. Our kids were excited -- not the little ones, but the, Billy, Audee and Aichi. I mean, they went to... and I let them go to even the ones out of town where they get on a bus and go to D.C. and demonstrate. Our family was, my husband couldn't or he would lose his job, but the rest of us, we became very involved.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: And I think what I read was that you had a gathering for the hibakusha, the atomic bomb survivors.

YK: Yeah, oh, yeah. Oh, gosh, you know a lot. Gee, I forgot all about it, yeah. One of the, I think, important things that happened was that the atom bomb survivors, they called themselves the Hiroshima Maidens, came to the U.S. And they were touring in the all the major cities, and they were gonna go all the way, after Manhattan they were gonna go to Europe and all the way to Moscow. But by the time... oh, and so the organizers, which is mostly white groups, the peace movement, they were getting in touch with all the peace movements as they were crossing the country. And it was such a large group to travel. There were forty-five Japanese hibakushas, and you know, to find a place to stay every day for forty-five people, that's not easy. If it was for, like, eight people, that's different, and feeding them. But finding lodging and feeding forty-five people each day was hard. By the time they got to Chicago, the organizers knew they were gonna run out of money. They didn't want to do, they knew they needed to find people to help raise money. And luckily, people offered -- they had to be known to be a fundraiser -- who's one of the best-known black entertainers? Oh, Dick Gregory. And he said he'll do a... you know, he's such a great speaker and he's funny and all that. And so he did some programs that he took over. And he raised some money for Chicago. But we could see that the Japanese, though they were headed by white organizers, they knew that they were in trouble. They didn't have enough money to continue after Manhattan. And so Dick Gregory entertained even at, I don't know how they got to Carnegie Hall, which is an important, well-known hall. He did a show there, raised a lot of money.

And the hibakushas, I mean, it was a big thing when they came into New York because they were invited by Mount Sinai Hospital. Mount Sinai Hospital is one of the best hospitals in Manhattan because they had some of the best plastic surgeons. It's known as a Jewish hospital, they take in everybody. And for a year and a half, they were willing to do surgery on all these women, and they picked twenty-five women from Japan who had been atom bombed, but who did not look too bad. Because if they looked too bad, I mean, American people may not accept them looking like that. And they thought -- and it was smart, I think -- that they would pick women, not men and women. And they had to be in this group to receive free medical care. They have to have, I think, all their limbs, or maybe some had one lost. But most of their limbs, not be too badly scarred, all that kind of stuff. So they handpicked twenty-five between the ages of eighteen to thirty maybe. And our family got really involved. I don't know if I said that, you have to be, the young women did not want anyone to visit them unless they were over forty. They didn't want to see young women of whatever background come and visit them, and they know what they lost. That here, eighteen to thirty, and they're disfigured already, they never went though the kind of experience of enjoying going to dances and meeting guys and all that. And here, just the fact that people, a lot of people in Japan -- Japan is a funny country -- they didn't even, they didn't seem very sympathetic even to the people who were burned so bad or scarred.

MA: Right, I think they were marginalized in Japan.

YK: Yes, oh, they did. And in fact, I think that when those twenty-five Hiroshima Maidens, I think they were surprised that Americans accepted them and really wanted to help them. They wanted to know what happened, what did the bombing do to Japan? And America really became interested. Here they're the ones who dropped the bomb, didn't even seem to care what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all the deaths and stuff, and America welcomed them. And our whole family would take turns -- my husband and I. Luckily we were over forty, 'cause it just wouldn't be fair for the young girls to see young people. And it was just such a wonderful experience to know what they went through, the suffering, and all the people they knew, their friends who were killed and others who died slowly, painfully. And we made it a point in our family that my husband and I would visit every week, a couple times a week, and the kids just, the kids take care of themselves, the little one, 'cause we couldn't take him with us. And they were on television, but because they still felt a little funny, felt embarrassed about their scars, when they were shown on television, they were behind a white screen that you could see their shadow, but you couldn't see what they looked like.

MA: So did Malcolm X then take an interest in the hibakusha cause?

YK: Yes.

MA: Is that how they came together at your house?

YK: Yes, uh-huh. Oh, he became interested. Right away he was very sympathetic. And he told them that black people were hit by a bomb, too. The bomb that hit them was racism. And so he said, "Maybe you cannot physically see how it affected them, but they were affected by a bomb just as a real bomb affected you." And I think the Japanese even got it, understood what he was talking about. In fact, before Malcolm spoke, the white organizers wanted to be the interpreters. But the Japanese said no, they didn't want to stop Malcolm every time he says a sentence, then somebody has to interpret, then he has to remember where he was and speak. So the Japanese said no translation, that they think they could understand. And so that's how it was. And it was wonderful how Malcolm and the audience, the audience we let anybody come in, black, white, Latino, Puerto Ricans, or Chinese, Japanese group. And all the people were amazed at Malcolm's... I mean, the kind of person he really was. Newspapers made him sound like he was a racist and he hated whites. We watched carefully as people -- when he walked in, Malcolm walked in, the people were already there in our house. And Malcolm shook hands with everybody. He never showed any difference, whether he was shaking hands with a white person, black person. And people were really surprised 'cause the white people said, "Gee, maybe he won't shake hands with us." He did. It didn't make any difference. And he treated everybody so respectfully. And for most people, even the blacks who came, they never met Malcolm before. And so it was a good experience for everyone.

And the only thing I feel bad was I don't know why our kids weren't there. Because years later, our kids even said, "Why didn't you let us stay when Malcolm was there?" And then, I don't know how it happened, but some guy said, it was a black guy who came and said, "I'll take your kids off your hands so you don't have to worry about them." But afterwards, the kids were angry. They said, "Why didn't you let us stay? We want to meet Malcolm, too." But anyway, somebody took them to see, what was it? Mary Poppins or something. And years later they bring it back to us, that, "Here you wouldn't let us see Malcolm and we had to go see that film." So it was... and I mean, I think it was good for all these people to see Malcolm so close up. Not on TV or read about him in the newspaper, there they were only a few feet away from him and listening.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

MA: Can you talk about his influence on you politically, on your political consciousness and development, the influence of Malcolm X?

YK: Yeah. Well, I had never heard anyone so knowledgeable about his own history or who was such an awesome speaker, who was really such a powerful person. I mean, from that moment, I wanted to learn everything I could about what black people have gone through, that I never heard, I don't remember, anyway, hearing in class about slavery. Maybe you heard the word "slavery" but nothing of what slavery was about. And where he sort of opened the door to let us know that there's so much about American history we knew nothing about. And I think everyone who was there, black or white, who listened to Malcolm, also realized what little they knew of American history. They all thought the same way I did, that we must learn. I mean, learn, too, that not everything is taught to us in school. It's up to us to find out.

MA: Did he make you think about your own history, Japanese American history as well?

YK: Oh, yes. And he knew a lot about Asian American history. He said to the whole group, he said, "You know, Japan is lucky that it had never been colonized" -- until World War II -- "like all the other Asian countries." Like Vietnam and all those small countries, even China was colonized. Korea and all the Asian countries, even Okinawa. He said, "The reason Japan was not colonized was because Japan had nothing, nothing to really give in resources. So Japan was lucky that other countries left Japan alone." Japan just had nothing there. And in fact, that's how come Japan started to go to other countries and do the wrong thing, attacking other countries for resources just as Europeans were doing. And Malcolm really knew a lot about Asian history. He loved Mao because here a leader of such a huge country as China, that Mao, the most important thing in Mao was the workers. Because just to feed that big country, I mean, that was the most important thing for Mao. And Malcolm, knowing that, said he could see what a good leader Mao was. Because feeding a country is an important thing. And that many, many countries with whatever resources they have in their own country, they can't even feed their own. And then he said, "Look at a country like United States. They have a lot of resources, but they act like they don't and they go into all of the other countries and take their resources." And how important resources are. I mean, Malcolm was a great teacher.

And then after he asked me, would I like to attend his classes regularly, and so I did. And oh my god. I mean, you learn so much. Every time you go, you learn. And, I mean, he was such a wonderful person. He came to know our little kids, and oh, our kids just loved him. And I remember once our kids said they wanted to get him a present or something. And they said, "Can we get him something as a gift?" And I said, "Well, I don't know what, but let's look in the stores and see." And one day we saw... it's the perfect gift. The kids said, "Let's get this" -- this was in a five and dime, I think. It was a, I don't know if it was made out of rubber or what. It was a whale, and it said, "To a whale of a man." Isn't that great? [Laughs] "To a whale of a man." And the kids said, "Let's get that, let's get that." And so that's what we had the kids give. They wanted to give it to him, actually give it. But that day that we saw him, his guards were in the car, and he was already in the car and we couldn't get near the car. And they didn't want the kids to come to the car. They said, "As a mother, you give it to us." I couldn't even give it to Malcolm. So I felt... but I'd like to have seen his face when it said, "To a whale of a man." But I had to just take it to one of his guards and give it to him, and I'm sure they gave it to him.

MA: So it sounds like he had quite an impact on you and your family.

YK: Oh, yes.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

MA: And you were also present when he was assassinated.

YK: What?

MA: You were also there when he was, he was killed. Can you tell me about that?

YK: Yeah. Well, you know, okay, that date was February 21, 1965. About that time, there were a lot of rumors that Malcolm was going to be killed, and he knew, I'm sure. I don't know how they got his phone number, but he would get phone calls saying, "It's coming soon, Malcolm." He knew. And everybody was so worried in Harlem knowing that something terrible was going to happen, but no one knew, of course, what day and how it was gonna happen. And I'm sure his family were worried. His... by that time, he wasn't a part of that NOI, he had his new group. He had to be careful -- well, with him, he thought if and when something happened to him, he didn't want anyone else to get hurt. So he was very careful. He didn't even want to have guards because he didn't want guards to get hurt. But of course he didn't want his family, anything to happen. And everyone knew something was going to happen. And when it happened it was such a shock and surprise.

It was at the Audubon Ballroom, where we went every week to his meetings. And it was... it happened in the afternoon, early afternoon. About four hundred people they said were in the Audubon. And we were sitting about in the tenth row. If the stage was up there, we were about tenth row on this side. And in the middle where most of the people were, all of a sudden, someone got up. I mean, two people got up and one said, "Take your hands out of my pocket," and they started fighting and everybody looked. And even the guards who were supposed to be guarding Malcolm, they were standing right in front of the stage and Malcolm was behind the podium. But they got sucked in like everybody. And those who were near, they were jumping up trying to catch the two people. And everybody's attention was on the two. And those guys had guns, so they were firing, and then up front there was three people and they had these shotguns. But Malcolm's guards were sucked in, you know, coming right into the what-do-you-call-it. And so when they were sucked in, and Malcolm, I don't know if he even thought about it, he came from behind the podium right out front where he was such a target. Three people got up with shotguns and started shooting at him. He was shot many times.

And a guy came right beside me, and he seemed to know where to go, he was going to the stage. And I thought, "Oh, I hope he's one of Malcolm's guards." I mean, the guards would be all over, not just in front. So I thought, "I'm going to follow him, he probably knows how to get to the stage." But here were, all this is happening, and then these three guys shot Malcolm and he went straight back. I followed him to the stage, and the guy I followed, I thought he was good. The first thing he did, he did not go to Malcolm, he went to the back of stage and he opened the what-you-call-it.

MA: Curtain?

YK: The curtain to see if anyone was back there. I thought that was smart, yeah, 'cause there could have been. But it was total pandemonium. I mean, people were screaming and running, trying to catch one of the three guys who did the shooting or the other two who did the what-do-you-call-it. What do you call it? To take the attention, what do you call that?

MA: Distraction?

YK: Distraction, who did the distraction. And, I mean, at least... well, five people had guns, and the two who ran out and the three who did the shooting and all. And I guess some people overheard, I don't think anyone was hurt badly. And everybody fell to the floor. In fact, parents threw their children to the floor and a lot of the mothers were on top of the kids, hoping that no bullets would hit the kids. And it was crazy. Oh, I had my sixteen year old son with me, but when I went up to, I said, "Billy, stay here." And so he waited for me. And this Audubon Hall is just across the street from Presbyterian Hospital, so almost immediately the hospital sent with a stretcher. And then they told everybody to get out. But before that, I first was with, I had Malcolm's head on my lap, and then someone tapped me and said, "No, you hold onto the baby and feed the baby," gave me the bottle for the baby, so I was doing that until they gave the order for, "Everybody get out." And so then we all got out.

I tell you, people were so stunned, so shocked, so much in grief. And yet that afternoon, I knew I had to go to my job, I worked in a Japanese restaurant. I didn't know what to do, 'cause I was in no mood to go to the restaurant, yet I wouldn't know what to do. I mean... and other people looked the same way. But anyway, then I got on the subway. I did go to work, but my boss was very nice and said they heard over the radio that Malcolm was killed, "And we know you were part of his group." Said, "Look, if you want to go home, you can." I thought, "Maybe I better stay here to take my mind off of what happened," so I stayed at work.

But it was immediately announced everywhere, all the subways it was announced. I mean, within, I don't know, a short time, I think Manhattan, I mean, New York City, knew this had happened. And you could imagine black people especially, the grief that, "How could anyone kill Malcolm X?" I mean, it was... and you can imagine, for the next few days. But a lot of crazy things happened. It seemed like at first they weren't sure who was doing it. But it seemed like there were some groups that had some power who were hoping that Malcolm's group and the NOI would start shooting each other. But it's good that both sides, the leaders, knew that this was happening. It was the police department, CIA, FBI, they were hoping to see the two black groups go to war. But they, right away they stopped that kind of thing. So I think that was good, and it was just, everybody was in grief.

MA: I imagine, Harlem, too, it must have been a, sort of, outpouring of emotion.

YK: People couldn't believe it. I mean, the grief, the sorrow, just, it was a shock.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

MA: So after his assassination, you became involved with a number of different groups in the Black Liberation movement like the Republic of New Africa and different groups. And I was wondering, you, as an Asian American woman, what did you see as your role in the Black Liberation movement?

YK: Well, actually, I didn't know anything. And I felt my role, I should learn, that's it. Just to learn. 'Cause I didn't know anything. I mean, I was learning a little by going to these groups, and I had, I think, some of the best teachers. I'm trying to think, you would probably even know. I had teachers like... how could I forget? He's written one of the best-known books by a black writer. (Narr. note: It was Harold Cruse, who wrote The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual.)

MA: Oh, I can't think of it off the top of my head.

YK: I got to think of that name, because I began taking classes with him. Oh, I got to tell you afterwards.

MA: Yeah, we can add it in after.

YK: And I also had, Jim Campbell was another great teacher. He was the teacher for the... not Nation of Islam, OAA... Organization of African American Unity.


YK: Yeah. Also, my kids had this guy named Peter Bailey, who was just out here. My two oldest kids had Peter Bailey. I mean, we had top teachers. But I wanted to tell you the teacher I had first, who is famous, and at one point he was almost infamous. Because, well, he taught the truth, I'm sure, because this guy is well-known. And his, what do you call it? Research was so good. But when this guy's book came out, even some black people put it down, I don't know why. Well, I think because this guy, every single black and white leader that had anything to do with the black struggle, he criticized. And this guy is really... I have to let you know. Because he's historically well-known because he was not... exactly an enigma, but he's famous. He's famous in a way because he knew black history, but he was not what you call educated through schools. His education came from his own research work. And he had, and he happened to be a poor guy who became famous when his book... oh, I know you would know the book if I could think of the name of the book. And I could even remember he lived on Fourteenth Street. 'Cause I took extra classes from him because he asked me if I would be his typist. And so I typed -- this guy wrote another book that I don't know why people don't know called Rebellion or Revolution?. And that should be known, but that book is not as well-known.

MA: Well, we can find his name.

YK: Yeah, I'm sure.

MA: I was wondering what all this learning, you know, you were learning about the black struggle in the United States, you were learning about black history, what impact did that have on you and your identity as an Asian American woman?

YK: Well, there's a difference in what Asians went through, what blacks went through. But that racism is something that it seemed like all people of color -- if not people of color, it would be poor people -- have gone through. That this country is not only race-conscious, but class conscious. And I felt that I must learn more about American history in its reality. All the negative things it has done, and why America has been in so many wars from the, of course, from the 1800s, but by late 1890s and through World War I and through the years up to World War II or the Vietnam War. There were many wars that America did not have to go into. But she had a pattern of doing things, and it was always to be the most powerful country in the world. And I think even today, she does have a lot of power. Not what she had before, because I think too many countries do not really trust her. Lot of countries, they're not strong enough to oppose United States, but they don't look on United States as such a great country. I'm just sorry that Japan, it seems, will always side with United States because she is also a capitalist nation.

MA: And imperialist as well.

YK: Yes, imperialist. So yeah, I don't think Japan will change either.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

MA: What do you think living in Harlem, like, what impact did that have on your political development? Do you think that if you hadn't lived in Harlem, you would have been as involved with the Black Power movement?

YK: Uh-uh.

MA: Or at all, I guess?

YK: No. Because even though we live... you know, before we lived in Harlem, which was a low-income project, we lived in a low-income project in Mid-Manhattan. If we lived in Mid-Manhattan all the time, never went to Harlem, uh-uh. Because I wouldn't know all the kind of things that were happening in Harlem, what kind of organizations and who were the key leaders and speakers. No, I would only know what's happening in Midtown. And although New York had wonderful, I think, activists and leaders, it was a great place, I thought, to raise children, yeah.

MA: And your children also got involved in a lot of different things.

YK: Oh, they got involved so young. They were teenagers and were really involved. And that's why both my kids, while they were still teenagers, they went on their own to Mississippi different times and with different groups. But, I mean, and so it was natural that then the third child, I wouldn't let her go to those, she was too young. But she was so active. But I did let her go to, you know, the big demonstrations like in Washington, D.C. and stuff like that. And then later, our little ones started going. And I was surprised that our little ones, when I was reading some of their schoolwork when they were in grammar school, one of them wrote on Vietnam when they were very young. And another one wrote on... what was the other country they wrote on? Oh, Puerto Rico. Maybe because we had a lot of Puerto Rican neighbors and they were interested. And I was really amazed, and I was so happy that... I don't know where they got all their information, I don't know if some of it -- you know, their friends were Puerto Rican, or because, well, because so many Puerto Ricans lived in the project, too, that they were able to hear from their friends' parents. Because Puerto Ricans felt they were looked down upon, and they felt the racism. So I'm sort of glad that we happened to be, I thought, just in the right places.

MA: Why do you think more Niseis did not get involved?

YK: What?

MA: Why do you think more Niseis didn't get involved in the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power movement? Why do think there was, Niseis didn't tend to get involved to protest, especially in black movements? Why do think there was that --

YK: Especially in what?

MA: In black movements. Why do you think there was that divide? Because I think that you're very unusual yourself.

YK: Luckily we lived in Harlem. And living in projects from the '50s. And like, you know when so many blacks were being killed in the South? What's the most biggest case in the South? When we heard about, you know, the kid, fourteen years old, he was from Chicago...

MA: Emmett Till.

YK: Yes, right. And he just whistled at a white woman. And I think they even showed a picture in the paper what he looked like. It was shocking, it was so horrendous. And yet, I think it was smart that his mother wanted everybody to see what was done to her son. And that really inflamed all the blacks, 'cause it was happening to so many blacks. And I'm just so glad that my kids learned real young that, to be black -- it is a white country. Even though all kinds of people live in America, the power is mostly in white hands. I think so. We were lucky that maybe our kids had some good teachers, regardless of their background.

MA: Well, and they also attended the Freedom School, and they also had education outside of the public government education system.

YK: Right, oh, yeah.

MA: So that probably had an impact.

YK: Oh, our kids were lucky. And so, I mean, by the time Audee was fifteen and Billy was seventeen and they said, "We want to go to Mississippi." Well, Audee was only fifteen, we didn't know... except that SNCC, high school, SNCC said they'll pay the way. So we didn't have to worry, we wouldn't have to get the money. But we told Billy, "Look, we don't have any extra money." My husband, I don't know if he was still going to college or what, but if he was working, he was not making much. He was working for some Christian organization. And so what Billy did, his high school friends would go to Central Park on weekends with a guitar, and they would sing freedom songs, high school kids, and people would come from all over and drop nickels and dimes and maybe some people, well, quarters and even, I don't know about dollars. But his friends raised enough money that he could get not just a one-way ticket to Mississippi, he has to get back, but they made enough money so he could go back and get a two-way ticket. So he was really lucky.

MA: Yes.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

MA: I wanted to jump ahead a little bit and ask about the Asian American movement and your involvement in the Asian American movement. And was this the first time you had worked with a big number of Asian American activists?

YK: Yeah, I think so, yeah. But the Asian American, the first group, the Asian Americans for Action, they did start... I think it was 1968, so they weren't that far behind. And the people that were in that group were really well-oriented. Like Kazu Iijima had been in the movement since the 1930s. And I think several, her friend, Minnie... oh, what's the last name? I can't think of it. But they were maybe four or five years older than me. They had been active in California. And then the Asian American movement, we had Thais, Vietnamese, Koreans, we had all kind of Asians. But at first, when we had the young Asian Americans like our kids, all the young people, when they saw that most of the leadership were old, the parents, they didn't want to be under their parents. They all left AAA and they went to Chinatown and they started, they started their own group. We were Asian Americans for Action, AAA, and the young people were...

MA: Was this in New York?

YK: What?

MA: Is this in New York?

YK: Yeah. They went to Chinatown. I don't know what the name was, Third World something, or Chinese...

MA: Third World, was it Third World Liberation Front?

YK: Maybe something like that.

MA: So the young people, then, started their own organization.

YK: Their own, yeah. Oh, of course that would happen. I'm sure if I were them, I wouldn't want to be with elderly people who looked more like, not just parents but grandparents.

MA: And was there an effort during that time to do coalition building between, for example, Asians and blacks, Asians and Puerto Ricans?

YK: Not that much. But there were, in fact, several Asian groups, and the ideologies were a little different. But we tried more to, what do you call it, unite with Asian Americans, that we would be protesting the same things and supporting the same things. And we were as interested in what was happening even in, like, Japan. In Japan there was that big thing where Japanese farmers were losing their jobs because the Japanese government wanted to build an airport or something like that. And we were meeting even people from Japan, and we would ask them to be speakers to speak to the Asian Americans, what the issues were in Japan. And also we realized that there were Japanese in Japan who were anti-Japanese government, anti-capitalist, and who were pro-, what do you call it, socialism. And there were Japanese who had connections with some Chinese socialist groups and all that. And so we thought that was important to know.

MA: So you had, it seems, a more international outlook.

YK: Yes. And we had people, there was an Indian guy, he was brilliant. He was quite well-known, I think. And we didn't know anything about what Indians went through, especially against colonialism, being colonized by Britain and all that.

MA: What about the influence of the Black Liberation movement on the Asian American movement?

YK: Well, I think the Black Liberation movement had an influence on every movement. Because they were really more advanced. And I think all the other movements sort of followed suit, knowing what racism has done to this country and the ceiling of white superiority that has spread all over the world. Oh, yeah, I mean, the black movement really... and then, the black movement had such well-known leaders like Malcolm X. But there were no well-known Asian leaders. There were Puerto Rican leaders because that was a national liberation struggle there. But I think the Asian movements were good because they wanted to have some connection with Puerto Ricans and blacks. And we knew the Puerto Ricans and blacks were having a hard time because the U.S. government saw that both those two groups were much more advanced and much more radical and much more threatening, yeah.

MA: And I think that's, from what I've read, at least, the FBI infiltration of a lot of those groups started happening because they were so threatening and it was so devastating to those movements.

YK: All the movements were. Probably the Asian movement, too, must have been. Because the blacks were targeted, and I think a lot of those who... what's the word?

MA: Infiltrate?

YK: Infiltrated. I think a lot of those people, they were never sure which ones... but I think the black movement was really... I mean, because it seemed like whenever they planned a big thing, the police knew and they would already be at those places, yeah.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MA: Well, and that's how... from what I read in your memoirs, you got interested in political prisoners and supporting political prisoners.

YK: Yeah, because so many blacks were being arrested. I mean, right from '67, '68, yeah. Actually, by the time it was like early '70s, I think like already hundreds of Black Panthers were arrested. So then we said, "We need to begin an organization and just work on political prisoners." And so quite a good group got together. We called ourselves NCDPP, National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners. And every black or Puerto Rican political prisoner who became incarcerated, we would immediately try to find out what prison, start writing, and start visiting them. And to make sure that they were not being abused and beaten up for whatever.

MA: And that's something that you've continued all these years, right, is supporting political prisoners, even today.

YK: Yeah. Oh, yes, because there's thousands now. And there are, in fact, even maybe not quite a thousand, but over five hundred who have been in prison thirty, forty, and now almost fifty years. I mean, when you think of Ruchell Magee, forty-nine years, Hugo Pinell, forty-five years, and Fitzgerald, forty-three years or so. And even the MOVE 9, thirty-five years and Sundiata Acoli and his group, they were all from thirty-seven to forty-years in prison, they're spread out all over the country. And so the prison support group is, I think, very, very strong. They're all over, we're all trying to do the same thing, and trying to make sure that we could get commissary money to prisoners from time to time, because they need it.

MA: What is your relationship between fighting for political prisoners' rights, and then I know there are some groups who are calling for all prisons to be abolished.

YK: What?

MA: I know there are some groups that are calling for all prisons to be abolished. So what do you think the difference is between a political prisoner and someone who's incarcerated because of their race?

YK: You know, there's such a, there's a different definition. At first, all of us, I think we said that political prisoners had to be political activists before they were captured and became prisoners. The other prisoners we called social prisoners. But a lot of social prisoners, after they went into prison, became politicized. Then we started to support them. But at first it was only political activists.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

MA: I wanted to move ahead a little bit and ask you about the redress movement for redress and reparations for the internment. And what were your feelings at the time of the redress movement?

YK: Well, let's see. I know a lot of things changed, but because at first I didn't know it was going to be that successful, redress. Because you figure that redress means, really, to give reparations, and would that be possible? And then when you think redress, we had to realize that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, so naturally the American government was angry and also didn't know if they could really trust Japanese, and they did what they did. But the more we learn, I think, about the U.S. government, we should absolutely... we have to expose this government. At the same time, we have to expose Japan. Japan, I don't think, had any business going into... where was it in China?

MA: The Nanking massacre?

YK: Nanking...

MA: Manchuria?

YK: What?

MA: Manchuria?

YK: Yes, Manchuria, you know. And then we realized how much we have to know the difference between countries that are imperialists or capitalists and those who are trying to become socialists, and why America was so much against socialism. Of course, afterwards, a lot of people as they studied more, they felt there was not a real cut and dry where you could say this country is true socialism. Because socialist countries were becoming sort of capitalist. You know, China, Russia, you know. That's why in the movement, I guess it'll always be, there's going to be not just two sides, but maybe three or four different sides. And it shows that we have to do a lot of good research. Because we could all go into the same mistakes. And right now, I think around the world, people don't quite agree. I mean, so many countries have changed quite a bit. Some people consider Russia as almost like a capitalist nation. Well, China is something she's done, it seems like. But what's sad is that there is not a good feeling among so many countries. But I think the real culprit or the main culprit is United States.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

MA: Can you talk about the Manzanar pilgrimage of 1971 and the influence it had on you?

YK: I remember when people were talking about going to Manzanar, which was something very new, the idea. And I thought, "How wonderful to actually go back to one of the camps, and to reflect on what Japanese people had gone through." And I think people were really excited. And I remember my husband and I, we were in California then, and we signed up to go. And as we went, as we got way out there into the, after you pass all the cities and towns and all that, and then you go into like a, it seemed like you go through a desert to get to Manzanar. And it made us think, "Gee, to think they made these camps way out in nowhere." I said, "Gee, the U.S. government certainly thinks of everything." That if it's way out like this, if you ever escape, you could die before you could find your way back. And, too, since all the camps were in very forlorn places, if it wasn't a swamp it was a salt flat or a forest or what, they really knew where to put these camps. And as we got closer, and especially Manzanar, you go through all that desert-like areas and you think, "My gosh." You're thinking, wow, we didn't realize when we were in camp that we were out so far where people really couldn't reach us. And to think they would pick out places that they're not gonna do much building and stuff there, it's because it's too far out. And yet I thought, anywhere you make a, even if it's sort of like an artificial town or camp, you have to have certain things. You have to have water, you have to have electricity, you have to have minimum accommodations or be able to do things, the technological kind of things to set up a camp. And so I remember as we went into Manzanar, I think all of us had the same kind of feelings, that gee, I guess they really wanted to punish Japanese Americans. Why way out here where no one could know what kind of a life we were going to live? And I think the only thing that might have been left in Manzanar, I think there was a tombstone, or I think it was the only thing, there was tombstone. We went to the... 'cause I took a picture of this... was there, I'm trying to think, was there graves? I think there were graves, but I remember seeing the tombstone. And I think the only thing that was left was a graveyard. And someone said probably that's the only thing that's left in all the camps. Because there were no barracks, it didn't look like the camps as remember them, because nothing was there. They were, I think, all torn down. But I think it was, in a way, nice to go back just to see what kind of place we had spent several years.

And there were people who brought, I think, grandchildren, 'cause they were young. And the grandparents were telling their grandchildren, "This is where we Japanese people had to go during the war." And I think they wanted the little ones to ask questions because they didn't know anything. And this was the first time, and maybe it might be the last time that they would be in one of these camps. And I'm sure the little ones who were old enough must have thought to themselves, "Oh, my gosh. It must have been tough back then."

It was, I think, very well-organized. I think it was organized in Los Angeles. We were lucky that I think we had come out to California to visit our families, and it was just by luck that we heard about this Manzanar trip and we were able to go. I think we were all on a bus. 'Cause I don't think we were in a car, I think it was a bus. And there were people of all ages. And there was only one family, I still remember, because I took a picture. I guess they were the grandparents, but I thought they were the same age as my husband and I. But I remember the woman was white, the guy was Japanese, and this one kid who was, I think he told me he was six years old only, he looked sort of Chicano. And I wondered, I wonder what this six-year-old kid would think. That I guess his grandparents must have wanted him to see what Manzanar is. And I got interested in this little kid, and I wrote to him for several years, until he was... he was very young. I was surprised that he could write. I think he was only, he was under eight, so he had to be seven, maybe. But I was surprised he could write, and even asked, you know, reasonable questions. And, in fact, I've kept his picture and I took a picture of the grandparents. I've never, I've never run into them, but I said I'm going to keep the picture. Because one day, I hope I run into them, that I could give them the picture, especially to the little kid. And to see what he remembers, 'cause he must now be in this twenties, maybe, and it would be interesting. But I think the Manzanar... what do they call it?

MA: The pilgrimage.

YK: Pilgrimages, yes. These Manzanar pilgrimages were really good for the Japanese Americans, and I think a lot of non-Japanese whether out of curiosity or sympathy or what. They went, too, and I think they got something out of it that I'll bet you they didn't know what Japanese went through.

MA: So it seems like a good way to educate a community and also outside, people outside of the communities.

YK: Right. I wish some of the non-Japanese, hakujins from our hometown, would have gone. I'm sure they don't know. I remember when we came back, they just said, "Where did Japanese go?" In fact, though, actually, the first ones we met, my older brother was a -- and these Americans who came over, 'cause we hadn't been home for years -- they asked us, "Where did," -- they used the word "Japs" I remember -- "Where'd you Japs go?" And my brother looked at me right away as if to say, "Don't get upset. Let's make it a friendly visit." So I didn't say anything. I was going to tell them, "Did you say the word 'Japs'? I don't think that's a nice word." But I didn't say anything 'cause my brother didn't want an argument to start when they had finally gotten back to California. But I hope Californians have changed and maybe feel bad that that happened to the Japanese.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

MA: So I had kind of one last question. I wondered what you thought about President Obama, the election of Obama and what you think that signifies for race in this country.

YK: Okay. Well, I can realize that for black people, it must have been quite a... what do you call it? Something to celebrate. The first black president of the United States. And I'm sure that President Obama, even to have run for president, had to have a pretty good political record. But I think Obama was in a position where he knew he had to be careful. He's the first black. He cannot be too radical, he had to satisfy a lot of people, he is going to try to be as progressive as he could without scaring American people. So that American people would not think that he is a president who could be threatening to the American ways. And he's going to, he knew he's going to be watched closely. And how he performs is going to, I think, decide whether white America will want other people of color as the head of their country. There are many Americans who are not too keen about "colored people" advancing as they are. But, of course, there are also people of color who feel that America must start changing some of her history. And so it's going to be very interesting, but I do not think Obama is going to do anything that progressive. He won't be able to. And I think one of the biggest mistakes that he chose was to favor Israel instead of Palestine. I think that's gonna be his biggest, his Waterloo, that from here on, any subject matter about, whether it's the Middle East or just the combination of U.S. and Israel, is gonna cause him a lot of trouble.

But I feel that his wife will probably do more as an American president's wife than any other president's wife has done. Not just because she's black, but just the person she is. I think she's interested in trying to better conditions in America, and she wants to do the right thing. But I wonder, did you see that terrible, terrible article about a Republican who saw her picture and made a remark? He said to the newspaper -- I don't know what newspaper it was in, it could have been in the South, I think it was -- said, he was looking at a picture of Michelle, you know how lovely she is. And this stupid racist said, "Oh, she's a gorilla." And the, what do you call it, the reporter said, "What do you mean, she's a gorilla?" He said, "Can't you see? She's black." I mean, she's black so she, what, that she looks like a gorilla? Can you imagine? And when the guy said, "I don't think that was a very nice thing to say," he said, "Why? Do you think it would hurt anyone's feelings?" How could anyone -- I mean, it was such a horrible thing to say. I hope Michelle never saw that, or no one called her attention to it. And he said, "Oh, I didn't say that to hurt anyone." How can you... imagine saying something like that and saying, "I didn't say it to hurt anyone." Oh my gosh. I mean, it shows, my gosh, that racism certainly is not dead, and Obama is going to have a lot of problems with that issue. It'll be interesting to see how he's going to deal with it.

MA: He's almost in an impossible position, right?

YK: Yeah.

MA: I can't imagine. Because on one hand, his election did signify an advance, right? I mean, to have a black president, but on the other hand, racism is still clearly present and a problem. And so I'm fearful that people will see a black president and say, "Oh, there's no racism anymore," when that's not true.

YK: Yeah. Imagine some blacks even think that kind of thing, "There's a black president." Oh no, it's not going to wipe out racism. But I hope they will see that racism has not been wiped out, and neither have all the things that racism does. But I think that a lot of good things have been happening through the years, and intermarriage is one. I think that's one of the most positive things that's happened. And I don't think anything's gonna stop that. So that's a good sign.

MA: So there has been some progress.

YK: Yes. And I just hope, though, I think the one thing that I don't know if it's possible, but wars have to be banned. We just cannot have these wars go on and on. I mean, the Iraq war has been going on six years. When it first began, I think people thought, "Oh, maybe a year and it'll be over with." But six years, and they said a million Iraqis have been killed. I mean, I don't know how this country could keep up, you know, they're sending more troops to Afghanistan, they don't know what might happen in Iran or Pakistan. And anyway, U.S. even has troops in Africa because of resources, like the Congo diamonds and stuff. I don't know, but Obama has his hands full. And I don't know what his immediate staff is like, but I don't know if his immediate staff is all that progressive.

MA: Well, is there anything else you'd like to share?

YK: What?

MA: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

YK: There was before... I know I'm so much against wars. I mean, the damage it does to land, to people, and the kind of, today, the kind of ammunitions they use or what. I mean, the chemicals, they're poisoning the air, they're poisoning water, the land, I mean, and people keep wondering why more people are getting cancer and newer diseases. I mean, in order to stop that... wars have to be stopped because it's from these chemicals that they're using. Of course, they may be using chemicals even for projects that could be good for the people, but I don't know. Chemicals are very dangerous.

MA: Well, it seems like war, present-day war is rooted in what it always has been, which is racism, imperialism, capitalism. Those things are still the root of a lot of this. And what you've been saying throughout this interview is how important it is for people to know that history, for people to know about racism, the origins of racism and where it comes from. And that's why I think this interview is so important, because I hope people can hear this and hear what you're saying and learn.

YK: Well, I think of course there have been progress, and I do say again that I think intermarriage -- and you're a good example. Okay, I guess that's it.

MA: Well, thank you so much. This has been a real honor, again, to have you here and to talk with you. Thank you.

YK: Thank you. And thank you, Dana.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.