Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Rose Matsui Ochi Interview I
Narrator: Rose Matsui Ochi
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 28, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-otakayo-02

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

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Okay. Today is February 28, 2010, we're at Cal State Los Angeles, Tani Ikeda is on video, we have Tommy Ochi in the room. We'll be interviewing Rose Ochi, and I will be interviewing her, and I am Martha Nakagawa. Okay, Rose, let's start with, what is your father's name?

RO: My father's name is Roy Yoshiaki Matsui.

MN: And you were talking about how, before he came to the United States, how high did he go in his education?

RO: I believe he began at Waseda University. And the reason I know this is that my father's uncle was a classmate, and he's the one that recommended my dad for her spouse.

MN: Your mother?

RO: Yeah.

MN: And, you know, a lot of people during that era were not able to go to university. So number one, that tells me your father was very bright, and number two, he probably came from a well-to-do family. Is that, my assumption correct?

RO: My sense is, yes, definitely he was bright, but I don't think that they were particularly wealthy in the scheme of things. I think my mother's side, I think she married down when she married my dad. [Laughs] Can I talk about that a bit? I believe that my mother was betrothed to an even more prominent family's first son. But my grandmother did not want her to marry him because it would be very hard for my mother to live with this particular mother-in-law. And so I think they decided that she would marry someone else, and then Uncle knew my father from the university and said, "He's a nice man."

MN: And so that's... the uncle, your mother's uncle arranged the marriage together?

RO: Or recommended, yeah, somehow.

MN: But prior to that, did your father come to the United States before he got married, or was he already married when he came to the United States?

RO: Yes, he came to the U.S. before. I believe his father and his brother came, and they worked in the roundhouses. I don't know exactly where, but I believe in Nevada and Utah. And then my dad came to the U.S. to join them, but I don't believe he worked, he was, he didn't do manual labor.

MN: Did he go to school here?

RO: He came here and he studied somewhere, and somehow I think it was a business school.

MN: And then he returned to get married.

RO: And returned.

MN: And did your mother return with him at the same time?

RO: Yes.

MN: And did they, where did they land when they came back together?

RO: San Francisco. Actually, I have pictures of them from the ship, and landing in the Bay Area.

MN: Oh, and your mother, what prefecture was she from and what prefecture was your dad from?

RO: They're both from Kumamoto. But actually, my mother's side was not from Kumamoto. Earlier, I understand that... I learned this when I went to Japan and I met my mother's older sister, and they said that the family's lineage is on the back of a temple. And I can't remember the prefecture, but that Jirozaemon Mizuno was a retainer for the Hosokawas from Kumamoto, but somehow, after some major battle and all, the Hosokawas got a lot of land at Kumamoto. And so then Jirozaemon and their family joined them in Kumamoto. So our history in Kumamoto was shorter.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RO: Can I jump out there and say something out of order?

MN: Sure.

RO: Do you know, when I returned from a trip to Japan, it was a part of a JACL leadership program. At that time it was organized by the Himinto, the ruling party at the time. And so JACL selected a number of leaders, and I was included. 'Cause at the time, I was one of the vice-presidents at the national level. And I think that was a surprise to the Japanese hosts, because they were expecting all males. But part of the trip involved visiting our home prefectures. And so I visited Kumamoto, and at the time, the governor was Hosokawa. And later he became prime minister, and actually, I got a chance to meet him when he visited Los Angeles at the time I was at the mayor's office, to come full circle.

MN: Let me ask you, Rose, you know, this group, was it all male except you?

RO: It turns out, no. This is American style, and we sent, there were two other women, one of 'em is Jeanette, she's from central Cal, from a farming family. Do you know her?

MN: No, I don't know her. But because you folks were female, were you treated differently when you got to Japan?

RO: It was kind of disconcerting, I think, from some of our hosts. They're really not used to, especially back then, talking to women. Actually, when I did a lot of work with Japanese business executives working in Mayor Tom Bradley's office. And typically, they would call me Och-san because they don't, they wouldn't think about talking to a female, so I was fine with that, Och. Yeah, I've had some interesting experiences with Japanese business executives. One time, he said, "You know, you're a woman, you're an American, and this should be kind of different. And yet," he says, "I feel very comfortable with you, I don't know why." And I told him, "Because there's a time warp. I represent Meiji values from my parents. And so while we are negotiating and talking about some difficult political situations and all, I bring those values and those thoughts to the conversation, and that's, probably that provides that comfort."

MN: So although you're female, which may be kind of a disadvantage, and yet, because you have these values and you understand them, it seems like it was an advantage.

RO: Well, I think so. I remember one time, I was meeting with a very top executive, a very political gentleman, and we were going to go in and meet with dignitaries in New York. And so they were deciding who was gonna go into this meeting. And some middle-level executive looked at me and said, "No, Och." And I was fine with that. Now the big shot comes in and he says, "Och, who should go in?" So I said, "Well, you, and myself," and I pointed out a couple of others. And then, finally, I point out the guy that zinged me. After the meeting, he came over and he says, "Ochi-san," he said, "thank you." He says, "I think you're Japanese." He says, "You understand." I said, "If you understand, you should go commit hara kiri right now." And we had a good laugh about that.

MN: But in a sense, it's kind of true.

RO: Well, part of it is going to samurai movies.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: Wait, hold on. Before we go back to your childhood -- let's talk about your mother.

RO: My mother.

MN: Well, let's go back to your early, the early years, and your parents arrive in the United States. Do you know what year they arrived?

RO: It would be in the '30s. And he was working for a Japanese importing company. But I think the Depression hit, and that while my mother didn't intend to work, I think she did take in some sewing or did something to help.

MN: And this is when they're still in San Francisco?

RO: San Francisco.

MN: Okay. And can you tell me the names of your siblings and the order they were born?

RO: At that time, it would be my sister Frances, she was born in San Francisco, and then my brother George, and myself. There was another child that, I don't know his name, that died in infancy, and then I had another brother during internment.

MN: And so this other brother who died in infancy, was he older?

RO: Older than my sister.

MN: Older than Frances.

RO: Yes.

MN: And Frances was born... Frances, is it Michiko?

RO: Hmm?

MN: Michiko?

RO: Michiko.

MN: She was born in San Francisco. George, where was he born?

RO: I don't know whether it was San Francisco or Los Angeles.

MN: And how about yourself?

RO: I was born in Los Angeles.

MN: And where in Los Angeles were you born?

RO: At the, I believe the Japanese hospital.

MN: In Boyle Heights, East L.A.?

RO: Uh-huh, Boyle Heights.


MN: You know, not a lot of people were born in hospitals at that time.

RO: Is that right?

MN: Most of them, they were delivered by a sanba-san.

RO: I didn't know that, but I have a birth certificate, I think, that has some signatures, I think, including the doctor. But how I refer to where I was born is I was born in East L.A. And it's an identity that I've embraced.

MN: What was your birth name?

RO: Birth name was Takayo.

MN: And what does it mean?

RO: Hmm?

MN: What is the translation of that?

RO: I would, the way I understood my mother was that I was named Takayo as a "child with high ideals."

MN: Do you know where they got that name? Is it a grandparent's name?

RO: I don't know. If I know them, they probably made it up.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: Now, I'm gonna jump to Pearl Harbor, and you were only three years old when Pearl Harbor happened, but do you remember Pearl Harbor at all, or how your family changed?

RO: No. I'm sure as a child I could sense the fear and all the calamity and all. But I don't know, there's something about, my parents also probably tried to insulate us and make us feel comfortable as best we could.

MN: Did they tell you you were going to some sort of camp? Do you remember them getting luggage ready?

RO: It's interesting. Maybe lot of this you just kind of absorb and remember subliminally, but the whole idea of trying to decide what you're gonna take. I have a little bit of idiosyncrasy. I'm sort of gone over the top, and gathering Japanese Imari plates and tea sets and tansus. My house can't hold it. When I get these postcards, you know, new ship came in, and I just feel like I have to get... and, I mean, all these things, I have my name on 'em. And I mean, I go over here regularly when there's a warehouse sale. I mean, I'm serious. I'm on a bed with no makeup on, just be there the first in line. And there's something to be said, somehow, I think certain pieces, like, belonged to me. There's going to be a limit, there's no place to put the stuff. But it's not a piece of art or a Sara plate somehow... I don't know why. I don't know why.

MN: But somehow it might have been the effects of the camp, or having to go to camp, or having to leave...

RO: Dispossess yourself. And my parents had nice things, 'cause they were in importing, and people gave, Japanese, gifts is very important, so they always had lot of wonderful, nice things. There was one Imari plate, and I don't know where it is, but I've been running around trying to find it. [Laughs]


MN: I know you were really young, but do you have any idea how your family got to Santa Anita?

RO: No. I imagine we were just loaded up in buses. I believe that you, everybody had to go line up at Nishi, and that was my parents' church.

MN: And at that time, Nishi Hongwanji is the current center where the museum is. That's where you lined up from?

RO: That's where we were lined up.

MN: What do you recall of your six-month stay at Santa Anita? Do you recall anything?

RO: I don't think I can remember any particular event or thing, but it's another way of remembering. You know George Yoshinaga has these Santa Anita reunions? I mean, he and Mike Antonovich were very instrumental in dedicating Santa Anita as a relocation center, what is it, an assembly area. And so I went to one of the events, and it was going to be an event with a tour, luncheon, and horse racing, all a part of the package. And I remember, after the program and during a tour of the assembly center, I was just really overcome with emotion. I didn't know whether it was allergy, reacting to the hay and the seasonal allergies, but I just was overcome with tears and all. And I decided not to, to stay that day. And when I give speeches and I talk about being, living in horse stables, I talk about it was horse stables that were not actually cleaned out, they just whitewashed the manure. And so the stench and all the hay, the pollens, whatever, it's all a very visible part of my memories. And so I think that day that I was there, it just triggered all that. And so it's a funny thing about being subliminal. Do you know that I've been a part of the Manzanar Committee for many years, and in the past, we used to put together a big buffet, a picnic. And I went into town to just buy whatever, cookies, crackers, to put out. And I ate some ginger snaps and I became very nauseous. And when I came home, I told my mother, I said, "You know, I ate ginger snaps and I loved them, remember? Didn't I like ginger snaps?" She said, "You ate them on the train ride all the way to Rohwer from Los Angeles," and that, "you were throwing up." So there's something to be said about, you know, what kind of memories that reside in different places.

MN: Thank you for sharing that. So, and just to be, to clarify, when you went to George Yoshinaga's event, was that the day the plaque was being dedicated?

RO: I think it was the next, the next event he had.

MN: Okay, got it, okay.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: So now we're at Rohwer. Can you share with us how you got your name, your name "Rose" at Rohwer?

RO: Let's see. I was going to go to school, and we were all told to line up and we were gonna be given American names. And as you know, my parents named me Takayo, and it was supposed to be "a child of high ideals." So they decided to name me Rose. Do you know, again -- and this is now in my adult life, trying to think about what kind of castrating effect psychologically this could have, be for a young girl. And I've given it a lot of thought, and I felt initially that you're made to feel that you're not a real American, and what you are is not good enough. But over time, I've kind of come to understand that it was very empowering. Because I don't have to belong. To the extent that I have been very successful as an advocate in the community and in my work, I tend to be fearless. And it didn't matter whether you blessed my positions, and I have many stories to tell. [Laughs]

MN: I'm trying to imagine this, being lined up, and they just, did they just go down the line with the children, and did they just give out random names, or were you able to choose?

RO: I think they just went through a book. But also, when I've given talks before, I've said, "Hey, I consider myself lucky. What if I got 'Petunia'?"

MN: And after that, did you go by Rose at home, or was it still...

RO: No, Ta-chan.

MN: Ta-chan. So your parents called you Ta-chan.

RO: Ta-chan. We spoke Japanese at home.

MN: Now, at Rohwer, I know Mary Nakahara, also known as Yuri Kochiyama, I've been told that she used to take the girls out hiking outside the camp. Were you too young to be involved in those kind of activities?

RO: I don't know. I definitely know and admire her, but I don't recall whether I participated with her. But I do know that initially, there were guards with rifles in the guard towers. But as, towards the end of our, what, almost three years there, they were liberalizing the policies. And the young kids, I know, we snuck off and went fishing or catching frogs or whatever. And I remember the people in the area are, nobody was ugly. They were all pretty much economically challenged people living there in this cotton-filled area and swamp.

MN: What do you recall about those people?

RO: Hmm?

MN: What do you recall about the people out in Arkansas area?

RO: The one thing that I can recall is a Christmas party. So we all were given a gift, and I got these little, not even plastic, like little plastic little charms. And it was such a special, special gift from Santa Claus. And now, as an adult at Christmastime, I make sure that I make a contribution to the gift, because for us, our parents had, they had no way to get us any gifts, and it was very important.

MN: So these are the people from the local area that donated?

RO: Local people.

MN: George Takei tells a story quite a lot how --

RO: I tell him to stop doing it. [Laughs]

MN: -- how he shared a bed with you. Can you tell us that story?

RO: Yeah. George's mother and my mother were friends, probably from sewing. But George and I both had our tonsils out. Now, I will say this: it's possible that they were using us children for advancing medicine and trying new techniques, 'cause I don't know necessarily whether we needed to have our tonsils taken out. I have to say something. [Laughs] But George and I ended up sharing a bed. We were probably around, what, five or six years old, and so our parents visited, and I was jumping up and down, and George was moaning and groaning, "Ohhh." So George's mother said to my mother, "Oh, your daughter's so genki, would you..." I don't know the term, but, "could you betroth your daughter for my son George?" And so one time when I was in the City of Los Angeles and there was an event, and we were talking about redress and internment, I told that story, and George was in the audience. And the next thing I know, he's telling it all over the place. [Laughs] So we kind of joke around, yeah, we've been in bed together.

MN: That's a great story. Now, in Rohwer, your mother was pregnant with Takeshi Donald. Can you share a little bit about what happened to him?

RO: Well, you know, again, I was a young girl. But from what I understand, that people don't know what the future holds, and they have no ability to change their circumstances. So a lot of women, there were a lot of mental health challenges, but a lot of women tried to terminate their pregnancies. And my mother had told me at some point that she tried, using whatever kind of home remedies that the women were using. But she didn't go through with it entirely, and anyway, he was affected. He was smart in many ways, but he had some shortcomings in other ways. He didn't live long after we were released. He was in his early teens, I'd say, ten, twelve, or something like that.

MN: Are there other recollections of Rohwer that you have?

RO: Well, you know, I don't know. A lot of it is I'm sure there was a lot of depression, and there was just a lot of challenges in families because parents are not in authority. But our family was a little different. We didn't have, like, teenage boys. Now, my sister... my sister graduated high school at Rohwer, and I'm sure there was special challenges for the girls. Lot of these women, the men went off to join the army, and so there's probably a big generation of spinsters also, you know, that artificial kind of barriers. But my father, I don't know why, because he's not a strong, dominant personality, but for whatever, people seemed to look up to him. So he was a block manager, and then because I guess he spoke English, he somehow was called in to probably be involved in a lot of conversations with camp administrators and all. I think that, to the extent that we could have our needs taken care of, it was satisfying. But for my brother and I, you know there's a lot of anger, sadness and everything around, but there was time for us to chase butterflies or catch frogs or whatever. It was probably a good time.

MN: Now, the "loyalty questionnaire," was that ever an issue in the family?

RO: No, I don't recall that at all. Maybe my father, I don't know, he was probably too old to go to the army.

MN: But they never, you never overheard them say, "Well, you know, we're going to go back to Japan, let's go to Tule Lake"?

RO: No. You know, my father didn't immigrate here. He came over on kind of a treaty, trader kind of a visa, so perhaps it didn't apply somehow.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: Let's talk about the visa, because once your family were gonna be released from Rohwer, what happened, what did your parents receive?

RO: The U.S. government sought to deport 'em.

MN: And can you explain --

RO: And so my mother and both of 'em, they were on some visa connected to trading. And since they're not in the business, they need to leave the country. So they had to go to San Francisco for the deportation hearings, and the kids were sent to stay in Elko, Nevada, which is a train stop in the northeast corner of Nevada. Bing Crosby had a sheep ranch there, but it's essentially a train stop. And I guess that my father's uncle worked on the railroad roundhouse with his dad, which would have been my father's, my grandfather's brother. And anyway, they bought this laundry, and they took in laundry, Bing Crosby's laundry. So we stayed right there in Elko. It's actually just a train stop.

MN: So Elko -- I don't know where that is, but it was outside of the military zones and they did not go to camp?

RO: Yes, yes. It's, I don't know, the military zone is... I don't know whether it goes to Nevada, whether it went to Nevada. But they were already there.

MN: Do you know how your family got to Elko?

RO: I think that his, my father's uncle... would it be uncle? Yeah, my father's uncle probably worked in the roundhouses somewhere in Nevada, Utah, wherever. The trains.

MN: Yeah, how did you, I don't know if you still recall how you got to Elko, your family, after you were released from Rohwer.

RO: Probably on a train somehow.

MN: Is that just not... you don't recall that.

RO: Yeah, not there, not there. But I do, but the most prominent place in town is the tracks and the railroad. And so you have all these soldiers coming through, coming home, especially in the winter, Elko's pretty much covered with snow, and the soldiers would make snowballs and throw 'em at people, but at me. "You dirty Jap." And I'm talking about now, how old am I? Like six, seven years old, and I might have gone to the bakery and walking. And so you're exposed to a lot of hatred and anger at a very young age.

MN: And, you know, as a child, how did that make you feel?

RO: I don't know. I don't, I don't ever think that I felt bad in the sense like I was less. Somehow, my parents managed to make you feel very good about who you were. My mother was someone that always liked to discuss and talk about something that I would raise, after something happened in school or whatever. And she would always try to kind of scope it out and help me understand that, I think the word is imi, or the significance. And she'd do that all the time. There was always, she talked a lot of little Japanese parables. So I didn't have a Japanese education, I didn't have Japanese language, and we were, frowned upon us doing much Japanese things. But at home, she'd tell me stories or share philosophies, whatever. So in many ways, I feel like I became very Japanese.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: How high did your mother get in her education? Do you know how much education she had in Japan?

RO: You know, I really don't know how much, but I do know -- she liked to tell me stories. And her mother was an unusual woman. That she described her as "being in the room when the men are talking." And her father's friends, whatever, I may not have this historically correct, but they would represent Japan in international matters. So when people were talking about such business, my grandmother was the kind of woman that would want to be in the room.

MN: That's very unusual, that they would allow a female in the room. Do you know how she was able to manage that?

RO: I don't know. But I'm sure she was very strong and smart. My mother, my mother was not interested in those kinds of issues, but my mother used to always say, "You're just like Grandma," where I want to talk about something or fight something or whatever. So it was a nice positive reinforcement.

MN: Let's go back to Elko.

RO: Elko.

MN: You went to school in Elko. Can you share with us some of your experience at Elko?

RO: We weren't there long. This was right after the war, so basically, the people are nice people, but, you know, at school you were called "Japs." And I can recall a day where the teacher gave me soap and told me to wash my mouth out because I had mistakenly uttered a Japanese word. We were talking Japanese at home. And so I definitely was now integrated in a very white situation and felt different. Behind the school, there was an Indian school. And I used to go look at them and wanted to be there, because they looked like me. And in different, different ways over the years, I've always had sense of, an affinity with Native Americans and their experience, and their jewelry. [Laughs]

MN: Is that why, is that where you started to get that affinity for Native American jewelry? 'Cause I know you wear a lot of Native American jewelry.

RO: No, then I must have been, what, seven years old? No, that started in law school. I have a dear friend, a Yaqui Indian, first to graduate from college, and she graduated law school. And she came over to me one day and she said, "I want to be your sister." I said, "I have a sister. I don't want another sister." Any event, we become fast friends. I'll tell you how we met. There was a class called Race, Racism and American Law. And the professor was Judge Terry Hatter. And the students would challenge him on some of his lectures on racial equality. So Rosa and I, there's a limit to what a professor can do, and Rosa and I would jump up and attack back. But these students, my classmates, you know, they are sons of judges and very prominent people. And I was one of the legal educational opportunity students. I had not planned to become a lawyer, but I had been teaching in East Los Angeles.

MN: Can we get to that -- let's talk about Elko still.

RO: About what?

MN: Elko.

RO: Elko. [Laughs]

MN: I still had a question. I had a question on the soap incident, because you know, for a child it's very traumatic. Because you had to wash your mouth with soap, is that a point where you didn't want to talk Japanese anymore?

RO: We didn't. We didn't, we were, even at home, they told us, "If you want your children to succeed, they're gonna have to speak English, so you let the children speak to one another in English." It was very much discouraged use of Japanese. So my generation, their little group, then there's no Japanese dancing, Japanese language schools. Before camp, after camp, some time later, but not right after.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: And how long were you at Elko? Do you recall that?

RO: Well, fortunately, some ACLU lawyers represented my parents, and they prevailed, and they were not subject to deportation. So they were allowed to remain in the country, they had four children. So I don't know how he got back to Elko. [Laughs] But in order to go back to L.A., he went and bought an old, dilapidated car. And he loaded up the whole family, and we were gonna make it across the Mojave Desert. And what happens? We get a flat, and there's my dad with his four kids in the middle of the desert. The first car that came by stopped, took the inner tube, which was all patches, you couldn't even see any tire, and took it into town. And sometime later, somebody else came and brought us a new inner tube. And so we were able to make it. We recently went through Mojave, 'cause we went up to Manzanar for the Block 14 dedication. And I always, I always think, "Oh, my god. We had kids in the desert, flat tire." But that period that people, even with the war and even an "enemy," "face of the enemy," that there's this pioneer spirit of taking care of one another out there, and I'm very appreciative. We were fortunate.

MN: And so somehow from that you managed to get to Los Angeles?

RO: East L.A.

MN: So you returned to East L.A. Do you have any idea how your parents were able to find a place to stay?

RO: I get the feeling we were on our own. We had, my father had a nice home. They had their own home. And he found a place in East Los Angeles. We shared a house with two other families.

MN: These other families, were they relatives of yours?

RO: One, one family was this man we called "Uncle," and he's just a co-worker of my dad at Mutual. And the other is my father's cousin -- actually, her family. So there were three, and they had two daughters.

MN: Sounds like it was very crowded.

RO: Very crowded, but very supportive. And my, our cousin's husband got a pickup truck and he'd go try to get gardening. My father, every day he wore a white shirt, dress pants and a panama hat, a tie, and he'd go out looking for day work. And he was just a very dignified-looking guy.

MN: That's very unusual.

RO: But he had, you know, went to university and he had worked in an importing business before, so this is very unusual for him to have to go out and do hard labor. But fortunately, he was hired by Capitol... is that Capitol Records?

MN: Is it Capitol or Columbia?

RO: Columbia Records. Columbia Records. And there were a lot of lessons from his good fortune. He said that some of the workers were very hostile that a "Jap" should be hired with so many people looking for jobs. And I was a young girl, but somehow I know that he explained to me that the black employees protected him. And black employees... my father is the same size I am, 5'7", about the same weight. And it was the black employees that taught him how to press records. He said it was, required a lot of skill and strength. And so he said to me very, on many times, "Be nice to black people." They were very helpful to him. And the other benefit was we'd get all these defective records, most of 'em were classical. So there we are, in the middle of East L.A. with the front door open playing Chopin or whatever, Tchaikovsky. [Laughs] Probably our neighbors thought we were nuts. But I do have enjoyment of classical music from that.

MN: Now, your father eventually left Columbia and he went back to the trading business.

RO: Yeah. I guess some of them then, some of the former friends and business associates got organized, and so he went back and pretty much the rest of his life, he remained with different successive owners and all, he had been in importing, Japanese importing. And the last, last boss was Noritoshi Kanai, and he's quite a leader in Little Tokyo Mutual Trading.

MN: So your father, last place was with Mutual Trading?

RO: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: How about your mother after the war? Did she have to work?

RO: Well, she never, after the war, went out to work. Remember, she's pretty high born, but she's very resourceful. And she'd make a victory garden, and we had very little money, but with all three families pulling together and all, we always had food. And, but she'd like to take in some sewing. She learned in camp how to sew and become a tailor, so she would take in some sewing or tailoring jobs. So these ladies would come from, we would say Wilshire area, Beverly Hills, and my mother would make outfits for them. So she'd turn around and she'd make herself the same dress. And this is, this is the glamorous time where the women wore their hair up like Yvonne De Carlo, Esther Williams, you know, all up in the big up-dos, and the shoulder pads and the draping and all. I have pictures of my mother, you know. You would never believe that here's this lady taking in sewing in East Los Angeles. She's just very glamorous looking. And what I appreciate about her was, I was this funny-looking ragamuffin, you know, little tomboy, and I didn't like put on pretty dresses. I don't like to even get dressed because they wanted me to wear my sister's clothes because she was older. And I didn't want to wear her clothes, I'd rather wear jeans and t-shirts, wear my brother's clothes. [Laughs] And somehow, I like clothes now, today, but my bane. But it comes from her. She really liked to glam up. And so, somehow, it's a way of not really buying into their circumstances. But there's parts of that experience that probably affect me today. We have a neighbor, two old maid women next door, and they had chickens and roosters and other little animals. And at this poultry shop, they would give us little chickies at Easter time, or little bunnies and all. And after we finished playing with them, you know, then we'd give 'em to our neighbor and all. And then maybe one day, my mom was serving dinner, and they don't tell me, and then I'll find out. [Laughs] "Is that Pipi?" And then I felt really betrayed and angry, and somehow I think that subliminally, I don't want to eat animals.

MN: So your mother, did she do the cooking for all the family?

RO: They sort of, like, the cousin's auntie, the Tsukidas, I think they used to pool together at some points, but for the most part, they all have their own little kitchen, yeah.

MN: So you didn't have to eat in shifts.

RO: No. But now, we had six at our table, which is a lot.

MN: That is a lot. Now, at this time, were your parents in communication with relatives, family in Japan?

RO: Well, you know, I have to tell you, that was a big part of our life. We're struggling, and yet, whatever, whatever money they could have set aside to buy coffee and sugar, and I don't remember what, because we had a regular ritual where my dad would pack these care packages with coffee candy. I remember they put that in. And some other rice, which is just the basics. And my dad, it was a struggle for the family, but he was very dutiful. He's the only son, and he sent a care package. My mother, it was about her last month, and I visited her at a convalescent hospital, and she said, "There's something I need to tell you." And I said, "Okay." She said, "I told Papa I wanted you to go dance class." My cousins, June Sukita became a famous dancer, probably still dancing, and her sister and all the other girls, the other one is, she's a dancer, what's her name? She was in West Side Story. Yeah, anyway...

MN: Kim Miyori?

RO: No, younger, older.

MN: Nobuko?

RO: Hmm?

MN: Noboku Miyamoto?

RO: Yeah, Nori. They all went to dance class, and I wanted to go dance class. And now, here, my mother, this is, she's failing, and she says, "There's something I need for you to know. I fought with Papa to tell him you should go dancing." But he needed to send the money to Japan so they could build a new house for his mother, so somebody would take care of it. And so I told my mother, "That's good." Because I didn't dance, I played football, I wrestled, I was out there with the boys, and you know what? I became a better job, doing a better job at Justice Department and at the White House. 'Cause most all my employees have been males, and I've been able to adopt some of their values.

MN: And your mother passed away in 1982?

RO: Uh-huh. But her heart was clear. I said, "Is that what you want to tell me?" Don't matter.

MN: But it stayed with her.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RO: Yeah, I have an older sister, and she had very distinct tastes. And so there was an expectation that I wear hand-me-down, and I hated it. So I prefer to just wear t-shirts and jeans and pants. I'd rather wear my brother's, two years older, his clothes versus my sister's. And to this day, I like tailored things. But wow, our family circumstances were such that I'm supposed to help out in that way. It didn't matter what. If it's my junior high school graduation or party, dance, or some special occasion, my mother would stay up all night and make certain that I have a new dress. In fact, when I was Miss Emerald Ball, my mother made me a glamorous, wonderful, regal dress, and that was my first date with my husband. I saw him running around playing basketball, and he actually came across a dance floor to ask me to dance. So when I needed a good-looking, tall armpiece to go to the Emerald Ball, I asked him, and he escorted me. One hitch is that I had my hair in the style of the day, which was a beehive, and here comes Tommy driving a Jaguar roadster with the top down, and there was no way we'd get to the ball. [Laughs] Yeah, we just had a birthday party for Tommy, and one of my high school girlfriends said she was in my bedroom peeking, watching this date, and I come back, marching back into my bedroom to get a scarf, and she let out a screech, she was busted. But from that first day, we've been married since 1963. And to the extent that I've been able to do a lot of good things in my life, both in the community and in my work, it's because I've had a very supportive and helpful spouse, Tom Ochi.

MN: I do have to say, Tom, not a lot of husbands would "allow" their wives to go out of the house. I'm talking about your generation, because you came of age before the women's liberation movement. And it's very, very unusual how you and Tommy have had this arrangement.

RO: Well, I think it's because Tom has high self-esteem. You know, when he was growing up, he's smart, good-looking, athletic, held office. And so I'll tell you a story. When I said that I was gonna go to law school, some people heard about it, and one of Tommy's friends called him and said, "You're not gonna let Rose go to law school are you?" Tom said, "Why?" And he says, "Well, maybe she's not smart enough." And Tom says, "Oh, don't worry about that." Then they said, "Well, how would that make you look?" And Tommy said, "Don't worry about that." But, you know, he's a partner. He doesn't see me as a competitor, I don't take anything away, and we were each other's best friend.

MN: Now, going back to the Emerald Ball, can you tell me what the Emerald Ball is?

RO: Oh, Emerald Ball is the East L.A. chapter's queens contest for the Nisei Week. I didn't want to run for Nisei Week, but my mother wanted me to do that because then there would be a trip to Japan, and she had not been to Japan. I did not win. I think the princesses don't marry doctors. Many of the queens marry doctors, the princesses sort of pursue their own ambition and pursue it. But I did get a chance after I became a schoolteacher to send my mama to Japan.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: Let's go back to your childhood. Now, you attended Lorena Street Elementary School. How different was that from the school at Rohwer?

RO: Lorena is in the middle of East L.A., and a lot of immigrant children, Mexican, predominate Mexican children, but there's quite a few Anglo students as well. So when we first returned, there was a lot of hostility towards "Japs." And this is also a part of my education because I would tell 'em, "Meet me in the alley," "Meet me in the tunnel." And I didn't... I'm not that strong in that I didn't always win, but there's something about East L.A., if I'm willing to take a punch, I get a lot of respect. And I never ever had to threaten anybody all the way through junior high school, and I always had the protection of all the gangs.

MN: So even at that time you had to act, but you still had to defend yourself?

RO: [Nods].

MN: Was it very hard to make friends?

RO: No, no. I think after the initial hostility, no. And as I said, most of the students, you have people from Russia, Armenia, just everywhere.

MN: So all these different ethnic groups are there, and yet, they're still calling you "Japs"?

RO: Oh, that was initially, after we returned, yeah. But by the time I went to junior high school, I mean, it's just a melting pot. We had all these groups, and they came together for social and sports programs and all. And then the challenge at Stevenson junior high school were all the Mexican gangs, but they fought one another, and they really did not bother the others.

MN: Your elementary school, were you the only Japanese American in your class, or what was it like?

RO: Maybe, maybe, you know, while we were there, two or three families moved in. One of 'em was, I think, the Yoshitakes. Lilly, and she had five brothers. There were a few others.

MN: So there wasn't a lot of Japanese Americans.

RO: Not at Lorena, but there were several other elementary schools nearby. Hollenbeck junior high school, where they ended up, was, there were a lot of Japanese Americans, but I didn't go there. I went to Stevenson, which was more in East L.A.

MN: Before we get to Stevenson, tell me about, there was a director at the Laguna playground, Mrs. Langdendorf. Tell me about her.

RO: Well, I used to hang out at Laguna playground. Today, it's called the Ruben Salazar Park. And I was just getting into stuff. I mean, I was the ring champion, and yet I was involved in everything. And she felt that I could become a juvenile delinquent, so she selected me to go to UniCamp, which was the UCLA underprivileged children's camp. And so I went, and I ran around and said, "Uni will shine," you know, and I decided -- I didn't even know what "ucala" was, but, "Ucala, ucala, I'm going to UCLA." And I actually did go to UCLA. There were some barriers. And while I was there, I did become a camp counselor at UniCamp.

MN: And this is later in your life?

RO: Yeah, at UCLA. But some of my barriers, barriers are... you know, at Roosevelt, had a lot of Japanese Americans in Boyle Heights. And my older sister, she was a group, she's eight years older, pretty much they went into clerical. So when I met with the counselor, she said, "Your people make good secretaries." And I looked at her and I said, "Me, sit still? Me, take orders?" I says, "I'm going to UCLA. I'm going to become a gym teacher." Why gym teacher, is that junior high school, gym teacher said, "You have leadership potential." And Mrs. Langendorf in the camp, "You have leadership potential." I got it, so I figured, "I'm going for it."

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: Since we're talking about this, you had to also take extra classes because Roosevelt didn't have the required classes to go to college. Am I correct on that?

RO: Well, that's a sad thing. Is that here I'm in my senior year, and you have senior problems, P.E., and maybe that's it. You know, it probably, it wasn't anything of an academic sort. So in order to be able to qualify, I had to go to junior college to pick up the prerequisites.

MN: So how long did you have to go to junior college?

RO: I went to East L.A. for, I think, the summer, and then I went to City College. And actually, it's finances, you know, for the family. So I went to City College for two years, and I transferred to UCLA.

MN: You know, some people might get discouraged having to overcome these barriers. You know, you have to take, you got to go to junior college, that's a financial strain, before you can even get to UCLA. Some people might not even, most kids might just say, "Forget it." What kept you going?

RO: Well, the thing is, it was definitely self-motivation because my parents supported whatever because we had all the conversations before about, "Nobody's gonna marry you," "Why don't you want to be something that doesn't require college?" Not because they don't think that you can do it at all, but they internalized their fears: "In this whitest society, there will be no place after you make that investment."

MN: And yet, you kept going.

RO: Hmm?

MN: Yet you kept going.

RO: Oh, because, again, there were teachers who looked up to you and felt that you can do whatever, and you believe that they should know. And they were all, happened to be gym teachers. So I could have probably studied something else, I was in the science honorary and did very well and all. In fact, the teacher said, "Why don't you want to go to medical school?" I said, "Because I want to be a gym teacher." You know, UCLA at that time, Stella Nakadate, she was a Nisei Week queen, Jane Ishi, June Sukida, her little sister Mayumi Sukida, they all became gym teachers. Lot of it is the leadership development was happening at Roosevelt on one hand. On the other hand, there was Mrs. Eagle. Mrs. Eagle was a new gym teacher in my senior year, that came from New York, and for whatever reason, she was challenged by my rapport with my classmates. I had pretty much kind of a dominant role in terms of my classmates. And I'm about ready to graduate, and I thought I was going to get an Ephebian award. I had all the class points and the, whatever, scholastic, everything. The senior advisor called me in and told me that, "You have been blackballed." And I said, "Yes, Mrs. Eagle?" And he said, he said, "Well, I want you to know that you got the majority of the class votes." And I said, "Well, that's more important to me than this little trophy." But a few years ago, I was inducted into the Roosevelt High School Hall of Fame, and there was a nice luncheon, and I recalled this story. And in a very undignified way, I said to the young people there, I said, "Don't you let anybody define or limit your potential." And whether it's a counselor or the Ms. Eagles. And I said, "To you, Mrs. Eagle..." [blows a raspberry]. It's terrible, but I felt good. [Laughs]

MN: But you know, when you were in high school and you learned this, I mean, were you --

RO: A brat?

MN: -- angry?

RO: What?

MN: Were you angry when you learned, back in high school when this happened to you?

RO: I don't know.

MN: It's so unfair.

RO: I don't know whether I'd describe... I have to tell you, I can't say that I'm angry. It's sort of like a badge of honor, almost. [Laughs] No, because if your class supports you, and then you know that there's something wrong with this person. She should not be teaching at East L.A. if she's threatened by student leadership.

MN: That's a very mature, I mean, you must have been very mature to be able to think through that way.

RO: No, I don't know... feisty. [Laughs]

MN: And you also skipped some grades?

RO: Yeah, a couple of 'em, yeah.

MN: Is it in high school that you skipped grades?

RO: In junior high and in high school, yes. So I was, I was sixteen when I graduated, but that was in June and my birthday's in December. I was the youngest.

MN: Were you ever in class with your older brother?

RO: He went to Garfield, our rival. He wanted me to go to Garfield, he thought that I'd be better off not being with all the Japanese Americans. He did not want me to join the club. He thought that they all, they lose their individuality and they... I went to Roosevelt, but I didn't join the club. I was very active, but in all these varied groups, but not the Japanese American girls' club. I was friendly with them, so what I did is I competed basketball on Japanese American teams.

MN: Like, at that time, was there an NAU?

RO: We were the Double-A All Stars, yes. Yamato Employment. Basketball is a very important part of my life because after playing at Belmont High School, eating four hamburgers, then we'd go over to City College to check out the guys. And I spotted one that's kind of cute, and that's Tom Ochi.

MN: Tell me -- since we're talking about basketball right now -- what position you played.

RO: Well, I'm really gonna date myself. It's when they had a line in the middle so you'd either be a forward or a guard. So we defended, we set them up, but we never shot. But that's okay. My, I'm happy in that role. And I think because of that, a lot of my efforts in the community were made possible because I could play a shadow role sometimes, if need be. And don't worry about glory, 'cause in different ways, it comes.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: Any recollections about Stevenson junior high school? Is this when you had a influential gym teacher?

RO: I think it was the teachers who just said, "You're a leader," or, "You got potential." If they think so, then you definitely embrace that. But I loved Stevenson junior high school. When I graduated UCLA, I had student taught at Uni High, which was a very fine high school. And I was offered Paul Revere, Brentwood junior high school as a demonstration school for UCLA.

MN: What is a demonstration school?

RO: It's a place where you could test different techniques, bringing the best teachers to become building models. And I turned it down, and I wanted to go back to Stevenson junior high where I attended. But there were no openings, so I went temporarily to Montebello for about four years. And then when there was an opening, I had to compete and take all the tests in order to get selected for Stevenson. And I wasn't a tremendous all-around athlete, but for whatever reason, you have to dance, swim and do everything, I came out number one in the city. So when Stevenson had an opening, I got it. And Stevenson is right there in Indiana, and your, many of our students are first-generation or second. But my favorite teaching experiences come from Stevenson junior high. I had this one class, the third period, where they bring all the students and they put 'em in the gym. And the teachers, they take their registration card. And in front of the students, they say, "A, B, B, C, C, C, D, D, D, D." And then when they were done, they gave me the D and F pile. The new teacher, they gave me the F pile. And those students saw what was going on. They're not D because they're not athletes or in any way impaired, it's because maybe they don't like gym. Maybe they don't like to get dressed. Maybe, whatever. And they saw what happened, and on top of that, they gave me locker room duty. So those students, to this day, I don't want to know what they did to their classmates, but they were hundred percent dressed, they're all lined up, they did their exercises before I even get out. And then they had this little tradition that if you were hundred percent dressed, you would yell, "Gold star." So this group, I come wandering out, and there's the A group and the B group and the C group, and my group would say, "Gold star." And they did this every day. And those teachers, they didn't... they would give me no softballs, no basketball courts, no space, no gym. So now I got thirty, forty, fifty students, I have nowhere to go. So I just decided I'm gonna teach them marching and some dance steps. And we would just go around the edges. And I'd teach 'em little dance steps where there were some songs, you know, "I left my wife in New Orleans with twenty-four kids and a can of beans." So now, they make up -- this is before rap -- they're making their own songs. Now, the steps aren't good enough for them. They're going, cha-cha-cha, and step and kick and whatever else and all. And now the A's and the B's and the C's, they all want to be in my class. But I'll never forget that. Because there's something about East L.A., it's team spirit, pride, loyalty, and those are things that I really admire and value, and so that was my favorite class.

MN: And how did you get your class to go out there, get dressed?

RO: I don't have to -- they decided. They saw what was happening, I didn't have to do a thing. They were insulted personally for themselves and for this new teacher. They don't like unfairness, and they could smell it a mile away.

MN: And then earlier, you said Uni High, and I just want to make sure, it was University High School you were talking about?

RO: Yes.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: I'm gonna come back to this later on, because from there on, you went to, you were still going to school at this time, getting your master's. But I wanted to go back a little bit and talk about your father, how he took you to the samurai movies.

RO: Say that again?

MN: How he took you to the samurai movies when you were young?


MN: -- the movies to go watch Miyamoto Musashi.

RO: Let me guess. It would probably be before high school. No, no, that's not true. Because I first went to Japanese movies with my best friend Margie's parents. They would go down, you know, on Main Street, 'cause they had a restaurant on Main Street, so then we go see, they're not necessarily samurai movies, just different movies. And then when the samurai movie came out, this one was -- what's the name of the theater over there on Wilshire Boulevard? Huh? No, not Toho, Wilshire. It's over there by those parks. You know where the art center was? What's the name of that theater? Okay. That's where I saw the samurai movie, but it was an arts theater versus... you know what I'm talking about? I'm glad you didn't remember. Anyway, so the question is, when did I go with my dad to the movie is, probably, yeah, it'd be in high school.

MN: And this movie, Miyamoto Musashi, did it influence you quite a lot?

RO: Hmm?

MN: Did it influence you after watching Miyamoto Musashi?

RO: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. He's sorry that he took me because I made him go buy me some Kleenex and see it twice.

MN: Now, what was the, what was it about Miyamoto Musashi's life that grabbed you?

RO: That grabbed me? Well, there was romance in it, too, you know, because there's that gal that came back and waited, looked for him at the bridge. He was a ruffian kind of a guy, but he wanted, he wanted to become a samurai, he wanted to learn the art and the craft and the skill. He was stubborn, very strong, but he was very principled. What resonates is, I don't know, the things that the parents talk about, you know. It's the first time I see something about things that they talked about. I mean, I could see that was different. I love cowboy movies. During that time I'd go to see a lot of -- I love old cowboy movies, you know, but I like honor. And so there were some good guys, and the white hair, white hat guys. But I don't know. I guess it was, he's just a ragamuffin, and he wanted to aspire, and he believed in himself. And then he was cute. [Laughs] He was cute.

MN: So after you watched this, is this when you --

RO: You weren't filming that part, were you? Oh, my gosh. I thought you were just asking me, all right.

MN: Is this when you asked your father, you want to learn kendo?

RO: No, no. And it's, my father, I think, actually, when we were in Rohwer, carved a sword out of some tree. So he had a katana, yeah. And so he used to, to do these little exercises with my brother, and we would just roll up newspapers and try to do this number with him. And I said, "Me, too. What about me?" "You're a girl, no." And me, you know, "What about me?" Anyway, he'll let me do it. And I mean, a paper, newspaper's not gonna hurt you, but that's not what you have on your mind, anyway. So we would do this regularly and all, and to see whether, somehow, it became less of a skill or an exercise of, it's less to do with technique, is that so much of it was like being in charge of your fears. And somehow, if you could deal with that, then it will allow you to do what you need to do. Because if you're ready to cover up and all, then you're already vulnerable, and you're dead. And I think there were a lot of lessons from them. Being willing to be hit allows you to also attack. And I don't know, a lot of that, I think, serves me well in different kind of political combat. 'Cause I took a lot of hits. And most people try to protect themselves, but then you can't get in the game. You want me to jump in there and start...

MN: Okay, hold on. No, we won't get into that then. But let me ask you...

RO: My dad and kendo?

MN: Yeah, did you... well, did you spar with your brother?

RO: Yeah, my brother and all. Yeah, I did things with my brother, but that's the funny thing about my brother. He's two years older and whatever, and I'm, I probably was an annoyance for him and all, but he was very protective. He was a kind big brother. He's nice, it's probably why I picked my husband, because he picked him. I had different suitors and all, and my brother said, "This one." [Laughs]. Yeah, anyway. Oh, my brother, did I fight with my brother? Yeah, we fought all the time, but there was never any animosity.

MN: Were you stronger than your brother?

RO: Hmm?

MN: Were you stronger than your brother?

RO: Not necessarily physically. Yeah, he was strong. But I'm an obstinate, stubborn, strong person, so I guess I'm stronger in other ways.

MN: Can you share with us your father's kintama story?

RO: Hmm?

MN: Your father's kintama story?

RO: Say that one more time?

MN: The kintama? Kintama?

RO: Oh. [Laughs] You know, whatever I wanted with the brother and all, he would be regularly admonished, study hard, go to college, you know, learn something, do this, be successful. And I always would say, "What about me?" And he'd say, "You're a girl child. Grow up to be a good wife and mother." And this is, goes on all the time. But when I would come home with good grades or athletic trophies or class office, my father would turn to my mother, in Japanese, and he would say, "What a shame to waste these attributes on a girl." What he was saying is what I'm doing is good. So it was indirect positive reinforcement, you know. But what he's saying is, "waste on a girl child" means that she doesn't have kintamas, or gonads. And I don't know, I guess I've thought about that many times during my life.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RO: And I'd like to tell the story, is one of the most amazing challenges was my participation on the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy under President Carter. I was invited to serve, and when they called me, I was skiing with my friends in Utah, and they said, "It's the White House." And I said, "Yeah, sure." And it was the White House, and they offered me this position on this commission. And I said, "Oh, you know what? I don't know anything about immigration. Let me, how about Alan Ali, how about Dennis Mukai?" whatever, and they said, "No, you've been selected." So here's this body, it's the first time you have, you have cabinet members, four leaders from the Senate and Congress and four public members. One was Cruz Reynoso, so he was from the California Supreme Court and a labor leader, and the chair was Father Hesburgh. So we have their first meeting, we're in the State Department and you have Kennedy speaking and you have cabinet members speaking, and everyone doing their little prepared speech. And then they're about ready to just call a press conference, and I says, "Excuse me? I just have an opening remarks," and I just said something to the effect of, "Historically, immigration policies and practice have been arbitrary and racially discriminatory. And as we move forward on this, we need to be mindful of this," blah, blah, blah. And they were all staring at me because they could see I came to play. And the reason is, I had heard that the keys were the people that Clinton -- not Clinton -- Carter turned to to identify someone for this post. And all they wanted was somebody that would not be afraid of the cabinet members and would speak the Asian voice. And they knew I didn't know anything about immigration, but they said they heard that she wasn't afraid of anyone, Chief Davis, and she was a legal aid lawyer, and, "Don't worry about the policy."

So throughout -- and there were very difficult moments on the commission -- where I would climb all over. One day they were saying something about, "Okay, we're gonna change the amnesty provision that if you break residence during your time in the U.S., you're ineligible." And I'll say, "Excuse me?" You know, I said, "Do we want to say Mexicans are not going to be a part of the amnesty program?" I says, "The nature of the agriculture business and their work, the proximity to the border and the importance of family? They're all gonna have violated by this policy." And there are other times I would go over to a Republican conservative member and I'd say, I'd find out that he has an Asian daughter-in-law. I says, "Don't you think it's important to have family reunification?" And now you have, not Carter, but now it's the Reagan administration, and everything started getting, like, anti-family preference, preference. And so I'm, like, alone on a lot of these battles. And one time, I jumped up and tore into Father Hesburgh. Oh, he was complaining that Japan wasn't doing enough to take in refugees. And I said, "I'm not an apologist for Japan, but just remember, they did not, they did not begin this war in Vietnam." And then I'd talk about the size of their country and whatever. But I was on top of him. And I heard, following that debate, that Senator Kennedy turned to his colleague and he said, "Where did they find her? Does this woman have balls." And I thought, "Papa would be so happy."

MN: But tell me, what, what makes you so fearless? You've been in a lot of battles. I mean, some people would just shrink away.

RO: Well, there's two things I would say. One is, before I left, I recognized this is a different kind of a body. And I happened to go by former Kenny Han's office, and he was a fighter. And there was a little motto on his desk, and it said, it said that, "If you have... if you are pure or you're brave, you are a majority." So why I was so powerful is most members, cabinet members, everybody, they're scripted. So if something starts off, they're not in there. Most of them are very knowledgeable and talented, but they got many things on their plate. And so they're scripted and they're prepared. So I can, I can just speak. There are a couple of times where I would just jump in to something 'cause it's not in our packet. Staff will recommend all of a sudden that we should have English preference for admissions. And I says, "Excuse me? Mr. Attorney General Civiletti? Mr. Rodino? Your grandfather's couldn't have been admitted under that policy." So lots of times I just shoot from my hips. I'm not prepared, 'cause not even any of the staff could help me. Sometimes, one time, they created a new policy and they said, "Okay, we want -- before you can regularize and become a citizen, you have to return to your sending country." I didn't know what the facts were. I says, "You were the former counsel for the INS. Do you get ahead in lying if you want to regularize your status?" He said, "No." "You, Mr. Ambassador So-and so," and I used everybody in the room to fill out the factoids, and this is against Civiletti. And I looked at him and I said, "I don't know who's pushing this. The airlines?" I had fun.

MN: But, see, people would -- like, most people would be afraid to speak up because they would think they would burn bridges or their careers, they wouldn't be able to go up.

RO: That's an important point. See, I never had a career. I mean, if you go... after you go to law school, and it cost a lot of money to go to law school. Turned down a chance to be a U.S. attorney because of prosecuting draft dodgers, and I take a Reggie for ten thousand dollars a year working, like, phenomenal hours, we can talk about my time at...

MN: Okay, okay.

RO: But you're not worried about consequences.

MN: Those are not things that you ever worried about, then.

RO: That's not true, because from time to time, I'll say, "Good." You know what? They're still looking at me, "Wonder why you're still looking at me," 'cause I've been out there. When I came back -- well, when I went through all my three confirmations, or two confirmations, three presidential appointments, but everything's been out there.

MN: And my understanding is the White House, you came to their attention because you took on the LAPD chief Ed Davis.

RO: Yeah.

MN: And, you know, not a lot of people would take on the chief of police.

RO: Well, you know, he's a wonderful man, I have to tell you. I, after -- we can talk later about my experience as a Reggie. But when I went to City Hall, I went to work for Terry Hatter, who was my boss at Western Center, and he was my law professor from Race, Racism, and American Law. He has been an important factor in my career. When he was appointed to the bench, he recommended to the mayor that I succeed him. So I decided to go visit the chief, and he said, "Oh, my god." Tom Bradley and they were colleagues in the police department when Tom Bradley was an officer. He said, "The mayor done, done wrong for me, oh, my gosh." He says, "A woman, a lawyer, and an ACLU type." And I said, "Chief, I was a teacher." He said, "Oh, teacher, that's good." I said, "Listen. We have to fight with the county, we have to fight with the state, and we need to be on the same team, and I'm your advocate. I'm gonna be your champion. So you have to look at it like this: it's like a pick-up basketball game. Sometimes you're skins, sometimes you're shirts." He says, "Okay, you be skins." He was good. You know, he had a reputation, and he was very effective, but he was a very intelligent, smart man, and we partnered to the best interests of the city many times.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: Okay, let's go back to when you were, you were a gym teacher, and the same time you were a gym teacher, the massive student walkouts were going on. From a perspective of a teacher, did you support the students or did you think they were just wasting their time?

RO: Well, I have to tell you, having gone to Stevenson and Roosevelt, I understand what the issues were. They were fighting for equal educational opportunities, and clearly there was disparate availability of programs, educational offerings to East L.A. and perhaps other parts of the city. So I understand the issues, having experienced it at Roosevelt myself, and at Stevenson. And I, among a lot of the faculty, we embraced their ideas and actually wanted to help them. I decided, instead of going after a PhD, I'd already gotten my master's, that instead I'll go to law school.

MN: And is it because of the students walkouts that that influenced you to go into law instead?

RO: Law rather than a PhD, and I'm happy that I made that choice.

MN: Now, in law school, you read the Korematsu case. Is this something that they were teaching in class, or is this something, is this an independent thing that you came up with?

RO: Oh, it's probably, after I had the class on legal research, it was probably one of the first things I looked at. And I talked to my father, probably that's the first time we really talked about internment. And he essentially said something to the effect that shigata ga nai, meaning, "It can't be helped." And that was something that planted in my mind, you know, that I'm, this is wrong. Later on, we can talk about how I was a part of the redress effort. But that, too, the walkouts and all, and I think that not only the students, that whole political movement that affected a generation of faculty members, people who went on and became administrators and people like myself that got involved in educational law reform, that movement had a lot of positive fallouts.

MN: Now, as a teacher, did you ever feel threatened by the students when they were doing the walkouts?

RO: No, no. If you're a gym teacher, you have to do the yard duty, and you have to do the... you know, it's actually easier to teach in a place like East L.A. if you know who you are and the students respect you. It's easy. It was easy.

MN: So let's talk about law school, then. You got into Loyola law school, 1968. What were the demographics of your law class?

RO: Oh, probably just a handful of minorities, Asians, probably not even a handful.

MN: And because there were not many minorities, did you feel any discrimination?

RO: You know, it's like you don't go there to make friends, you're just going, at this point in your life, you're just going to get an education. But yeah, there are silly people. Well, actually, I don't know necessarily whether some of the Jesuit fathers that were there were necessarily comfortable with the new students that came in with the Legal Opportunities program. We do, we did things like start legal aid, and we have actually poor people and children running around in the hallway until they gave us another old building they owned.

MN: Tell me a little bit about this Legal Opportunity program.

RO: It's called CLEO, and it has s pretty remarkable history of picking people, educating them, and there's a roster of 'em that have made significant contributions to society.

MN: And then you opened a... you mean on the campus you opened a place where the poor people could come and get legal aid? Is that my understanding?

RO: Well, we had a legal aid program that the students volunteered, that we created, and we didn't make administration necessarily at that time comfortable about our clientele.

MN: Now, how about being a female? I mean, was that, were there females in the class?

RO: Well, it was interesting. One time, in Constitutional Law, this old professor, in real law school traditional fashion, he was a stern master here. And he said, "Mrs. Oki?" I said, "Ms. Ochi." And anyway, I proceeded to answer questions, and there was a Japanese American classmate from Fresno and he says, "How come you could talk to him like that?" And I says, "Why?" And he says, "Well, I'm from Fresno. We all go to one high school, the rich farmer kids, the middle-class farmer, and then the farm workers', you know, children and all. And that we have a hierarchy, and we wouldn't dare step out." I said, "I'm from East L.A., and we didn't have a hierarchy. We were all, we're all similarly situated and all." And so I realized that there's, it was quite a blessing in a way, because we were all pretty much poor and immigrants' children. And we feel pretty empowered.

MN: Now, you clerked for the U.S. Attorney's office in Central District of California. Were you the only female and the only Asian American?

RO: Well, probably, yeah. For then, in terms of a student, and, but I was offered, Robert Proseo told me to apply. And after I had, I had two student assistant research positions, and it didn't seem like the right place for me, but I think I may be, at that time, could have been the first woman and first minority.

MN: Did you feel awkward in the office?

RO: No. You know, there's a powerful layer of women there, and these are the Japanese American women who were the legal secretaries. Probably in another generation, they or their daughters could be lawyers. These women are sharp. They had college-educated, and they're always, you know, cheering me on.

MN: So it sounds like you had a sort of indirect support that way.

RO: Yeah. Well, I think so.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MN: Now, I think you mentioned this earlier, but I'm gonna ask you again. You graduated from law school, you were offered a job with the U.S. Attorney's office as a prosecutor but you turned it down. And why did you turn it down?

RO: They were prosecuting -- well, no, I didn't pursue it, they suggested that I apply. Because they were prosecuting Vietnam draft-dodgers, and that's not, not my calling.

MN: You graduated in '72 and then you received a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow.

RO: Fellowship.

MN: Fellowship. How competitive is that, to get that?

RO: I imagine it's very competitive, but you have to be very committed to want it, because as I said, it's only ten thousand dollars, full year salary.

MN: And then you graduated in June of '72, you took the bar exam in August, you were a trainee in September '72, and then you became involved in this huge Supreme Court case, Serrano vs. Priest. Can you share about this landmark Supreme Court case?

RO: Yeah. You know, it's an interesting thing about life. I had been a schoolteacher, and now Terry Hatter, who was my professor in Race, Racism and American Law, was now the director of the USC Western Center on Law and Poverty. And they had handled the case when it was a Supreme Court case on the legal issues. And that was resolved, and now it was scheduled in December for trial for the factual issues. And so here I am in East L.A. Legal Aid, and they were getting ready for trial, and they said, "I want Rose Ochi. She used to be a schoolteacher. Get her to help prepare for trial." And that's how I came to Western Center. I had an opportunity to do two very, very significant contributions to the case. And I'm kind of away from the legal issues right now, but the case is challenging the state's system of school finance. And what you're essentially saying is the way the state collects and distributes the money contributes towards the disparity of equal educational opportunities. And anyway, you have on one side, Beverly Hills, Baldwin Park, you have the State of California, the county of California, the school district, and you have, and hired guns from the top law firms, and here you had Western Center, not for the Supreme Court, but now for trial. You had one young man who tried some small cases, a very smart young man named McDermott, and myself, and I had done some juvenile and some landlord-tenant. And here we're preparing and whatever else and all, and Beverly Hills, they demurred, essentially a legal step to say, "You don't have a case."

And so I had to go and research and find a way to overcome that, or they would dismiss the case. I don't know what I was doing, and I was shepardizing, it's a process, forward, backwards, up and down. In any event, I ended up finding a case that is cited now on cases having to do with demurrers. But if you use regular research techniques, you would have never found it. I knew so little, I did it upward, downward, backward, sideways. I found a California case right on point. And, and so we would move forward on the trial. But even so, it was kind of like David and Goliath. You have this big battery of the top lawyers, and here's John and me. And I barely got to come invited to the table in December when my bar results came out. I took the bar in August. And one day, the key day of the trial, we had we had the educational finance expert of the state on. And John, our lead counsel, has this yellow pad of questions. And each question he asks is objected to. And the judge affirmed it. And he went through his yellow pad. "What if..." "Objection." And now, this is, hours pass, and he's down to his last page, and all objections sustained. And so what happens? I looked up, and I see the judge, and I see the bailiff and the court reporter. I look over here and I see the whole defense, and I look to the right, and there's John, laying prostrate on the table.


MN: Now, you were, you're in the courtroom...

RO: We were finished. We were finished. We didn't get any of our witnesses' testimony about how the State's formula for distribution of educational monies are affected by the assessed evaluation. And I leaned over to John, who was laying prostrate on the table and I said, "John, ask a hypothetical question." And he rose up, started at the top of his tablet, went through, several hours later, we got in all our testimony and ultimately won the case. Several years after, I was attending a funeral service for Judge Bernard Jefferson, he was a wonderful African American judge who presided over our six month trial. And at this service, no one mentioned Serrano, and this is a landmark case. So my friends elbowed me and says, "Up." So I went up and told this story, and then I said, "You know, I'm a new lawyer, I don't know anything." I said, "Judge Bernard Jefferson had written this treatises on evidence, and I bought this red book and put it on the table to impress him. And I had my hands on the cover, I said, 'Maybe it was osmosis.'" And so it sort of made his family and everyone laugh, and then I said, "Oh, I don't know. You know, he might have felt so sorry for us that he just sent it to me by mental telepathy." And they roared, and finally I said, "I don't know." I said, "It was meant to be." And I said, "I think I just reached out and grabbed universal intelligence." And everybody clapped. But it's a remarkable victory, not only for Serrano, Los Angeles Unified School District children, but the legal principles have been used across the country in a number of states making the same challenges. So the outcome is that you're going to have improved educational offerings to all students.

MN: Now, this took two years of your life.

RO: Two years of my life, ten thousand dollars. Tommy used to make peanut butter sandwiches and hand 'em out as I go walking out the door. There is no life.

MN: You had a very understanding husband. Now, from Serrano, Serrano's victory, you did not go continue in legal practice. You went to go work for City Hall, and why did you choose to go to public policy?

RO: You're talking about two years, like, huge days, you know. I may have six, four to six hours to myself of personal time. And it's exhausting. After you prevail, you still have to go to the legislature to create enabling legislations to change the laws, and I thought, "Well, heck, this takes too long. I'm gonna learn how to make policy." So Terry Hatter, my professor from Race & Racism, took a job in Bradley's administration, new administration, and he recruited me to do legislative work in his criminal justice office. And it was perfect. It was a perfect place for me, not only for criminal justice, juvenile justice policy, but being involved in Japanese American community issues, whether it's redress, establishment of Manzanar, and the like.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MN: You know, I was looking at your resume. You started in the office in June '74, and then by a year later, you were the director of the Criminal Justice Office.

RO: Yeah. I was Legislative Program Director, I developed a whole array of... I'm interested in making change, and whether it's domestic violence, gang, juvenile justice, just prolific. [Laughs] And so when they're older and more experienced male managers and all, and yet Terry Hatter... Terry Hatter, actually, is my mentor. His mother in Chicago is an attorney, so he really believed in the ability of women. And he, I always joke, I said that, "Yeah, he'll hire a few men if they're capable. But when he left to become a judge, he recommended to Tom Bradley to have me succeed him.

MN: So wasn't it unusual for someone like you to come and be promoted so fast?

RO: Yeah, it was a very fluid time in the mayor's office. A new administration, and there were just new opportunities that if you, if you deliver, it was fluid, then it was wide open.

MN: And around this time, you were --

RO: But I will say this: Tom Bradley always had a very strong connection with the Japanese American community. When he decided to run first as a council member and then for mayor, he always reached out to that base, and they were all there from the beginning.

MN: And why do you think he has that affinity with Japanese Americans?

RO: I think that one reason is he went to Poly High School, probably had a lot of classmates.

MN: Now, around this time, when you're in the mayor's office, you were recommended for a judgeship and you turned it down. Why did you turn it down?

RO: I'd been active in the bar, created the Japanese bar and was the first Japanese American on the board of trustees of the county. I was active politically in many campaigns, including Jerry Brown. And so it was sort of like a natural progression. But when it was offered to me, I went to lunch with a friend of mine, and he asked me, being a judge would... he asked me to answer the question. And I said, "Put me in a cage." So I went back and called him up, and I had an opportunity to... I had ties in the governor's office. So recommend someone for that appointment, but previously, when governor first took office, we were able to help Judge Bernard Jefferson elevate to the circuit court, Bob Takasugi from muni court to superior court. I was, we were able to sit there and name names because we had people in the governor's office. And then throughout his term, then, we were able to create a pipeline and have a lot of talented people. Interesting, one of the individuals that we named, someone who did not have political ties or bar ties to judgeship was one of the individuals who tried to, via Tommy, discourage my going to law school.

MN: Does he know this at all?

RO: Hmm?

MN: Does he know this? Is he aware of this, this person that was recommended?

RO: Yeah, yeah. Definitely.

MN: I'm gonna change tracks --

RO: And the reason is because he'd be a good judge, and he is a good judge.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

MN: I'm gonna switch tracks a little bit, ask about your parents' naturalization. Is it 1952 that they became naturalized?

RO: Yes. We'd been living in that same Percy Street in East L.A., and the opportunity came about, and do you know, you had to get some American citizens to vouch for you? And we had this wonderful neighborhood, we had a lot of immigrants, Armenians here, Mexicans behind, Mrs. Cambruzi, Italian. Most everybody were immigrants. Most of 'em were not citizens. And we had a citizen several doors down, it was a Scotch family. And I, I did not have a real relationship with them, but we were on the same block for many years. And their son came back from the war shellshocked, and that, kids, we knew that when we rollerskated in front of their house, we'd have to get on the grass, because any loud noises would have him scurrying under the bed. And this is as a result of World War II, Pacific War. This is his parents are the ones that stood up for my parents. They're pretty remarkable.

MN: And tell me about, how did your parents go about studying for the test?

RO: I think we tried to help 'em, 'cause they have to learn American history, yeah. I could remember we would, we'd get to teach 'em and quiz 'em.

MN: And is this the time that your parents took on a Anglicized name Roy and Grace?

RO: Hmm? Yes, they did. They accepted, and that was a fun process, finding names that they would like. I think probably my sister selected Grace for my mother.

MN: And how did your father get Roy?

RO: I don't know where that came from. It could be Roy Disney.

MN: Were you at the swearing-in ceremony?

RO: I don't think so, just the parents.

MN: And did they celebrate afterwards, or how do you recall that?

RO: Yeah. You know, it's... I do remember that they were so very proud. They just never seemed to, they never seemed to have any regrets, and they had many challenges.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

MN: Bill Clinton is in office, President Bill Clinton. How did you get the CRS?

RO: The first position is gonna be drug policy.

MN: Oh, okay.

RO: Okay? All right.

MN: How did you get this drug policy position?

RO: Well, in the Clinton administration, actually, I was involved in the campaign, and I also was involved in the transition committee. We were looking for candidates for recommendations to positions. And, but in the end, the reason I got the position at the drug czar's office is the drug czar was a professional personal friend of mine, Lee Brown. He had been a police chief in a number of jurisdictions from Oregon to Texas to New York. But we had served under Attorney General Levy's national minority advisory council. He was the chair and I was the vice-chair. So it was a body made up of leaders from different parts of the justice system, and I was the only Asian American... Asian American. But we were, we were together for maybe six years or so, and we conducted hearings across the country in Indian reservations, in ghettos, everywhere, talking about the problems of the criminal justice system in minority communities. I had an opportunity to select an Asian expert, and I used Paul Takagi out of UC Berkeley, who wrote the chapter on Asian Americans. But Lee Brown was someone I worked with on that body, and then he'd been police commissioner in New York and at Atlanta. And his last post was in Houston. So he called me and he said, "Oh, the President called and invited me to be the drug czar." And I said, "Well, you gotta say yes." And he was actually looking at a couple of other posts, but I said, "Well, you need to say yes." So I was sworn, when he was sworn in at the Rose Garden, he invited me to attend. And then I went by his office afterwards and I said, "You know, I've been working on transition and I got about three positions I picked that I like," you know. "One is CRS and one is BJA and the other one here, the associate director." And he says, "It's yours."

So it wasn't, it's really not necessarily politics, contributions or whatever, it's professional associations where you... he knows what I can do. He knows what my philosophies are. So when I got that job, he took a program called the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, which was in the supply side, it was focusing on drug interdiction, and he put it in my shop under local, so it'd involve instead just federal agencies then, instead, we involved state and local drug enforcement agencies working in partnership with federal. So we created a new model, a way of co-locating individuals so they gained trust and share intelligence, and then they jointly execute. So it just really improved the effectiveness. But he took, he had a lot of confidence that I was a program developer, I could, I could forge collaborations. And the interesting part is, my staff, when they heard I was appointed, "An Asian lawyer from Los Angeles? Oh, my god." And the guy, head of HIDA was a Japanese American retired military from Hawaii. He didn't say much, I understand, but I'm sure he was thinking the same things. It's kind of nice, when I'm ready to leave, he sent, gave me a little note and says, "Oh, you're the best boss I've ever had."

MN: Now, being a female, too, I mean, isn't this a very male-dominated field?

RO: Yeah. Everywhere, you know, you have individuals there from every federal agency that has any kind of enforcement function, and then you have your treatment and your education folks and all. But in my shop, I worked with every agency and most everyone was white male. There, there was some interesting conversations sometimes. I would meet with somebody from Justice or Treasury or somewhere, and they're not used to Asian American women, women, period. And so they have a hard time looking at you when you're talking to 'em, so they look at your staff, and then they'll look at my ear or something like that, but they can't look at me. So I trained my staff to look at me so they would have to look at their ear. [Laughs] But things started to change, you know. It has not to do so much just the agency, it's the country. Being in Washington, D.C., you didn't see any Asian leaders. The only visible people is maybe Connie Chung. And I would have to go and give speeches at conferences, national conferences, and so you'd go off to these big old hotels and dressed up, and I had a little pageboy at first, too, you know, the little old bob. And I'd come walking through the lobby, you know, and people would point at me and follow me and chase me down and stand in my way and say, "Connie Chung?" That happened. And then sometimes they don't know it's Connie, but they say, "I see you on television." And I think it's important; I'm glad to see that there are still Asian women on TV or period. Not that we see as much as we did in the past, but we're not a part of the system. And now, now it's changing. You have inclusion at all levels, and maybe not as much as we used to see in the media, but in the administration.

MN: So now you're with the CRS. That's when all the church burnings were going on.

RO: Hmm?

MN: The church burnings?

RO: Yes.

MN: And can you talk about that and how you went into these communities?

RO: Well, I was about ready, after two years in the White House, I'm ready to come home. And because two years, you know, every day is seven, it's dog days, you know, and dog years you had to measure things. So I'm ready to come home. But Ms. Reno asked me to come to CRS. She, we met when I visited her program in Miami on drug diversion with acupuncture when I was with the City of L.A., and that she had also visited and came to see some of our drug programs in central L.A. And so she knew me, and then while I was at Drug Policy, I would involve her to speak at some of my conferences. And so we connected, and she, she wanted someone at CRS, not a judge, not a lawyer, but she wanted someone that could work with cops, work with civil rights groups of all minority backgrounds and all, and she just, she said, "You're my lady." And so what can I say? And it's an agency you just love, and they were involved in every issue during the Clinton administration. The race initiative, church arson, race-based policing, hate crimes, I can go on and on, we were in the middle of it. And what was nice for the Asian community activists and advocates, if I'm in the room, they'll have a seat at the table. And that's something I sought to do. One of the things I did is, the agency had been gutted, but because of the church arson, they are allowing me to build up, and then we started moving into hate and race initiative, we developed the One America Dialogue. One of my treasures from my tenure is a signed copy from the president, says, "Thank you, Rose." And it's, it's been very, very rewarding. One of the most lasting contributions is the kind of people I brought in. I brought in... he had to compete, but I sought him out, Ron Wakabayashi, to become the regional director here in Los Angeles, and he's doing a phenomenal job. I see him from time to time and he is recognized... first he was an outsider, and now, within the organization, they see him as one of the top, and if not the top. So I'm very proud of wherever I've been able to hire, groom talent, and be inclusive. At CRS, I have ten regional offices, and by the time I had left, now like three women were heads of those office, and then we had an Asian, a Latino, an African American, and it changed the whole organization. Because our work is intergroup conflicts, and the kinds of people we brought in bring different kind of perspectives and experiences.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.