Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Jim Matsuoka Interview
Narrator: Jim Matsuoka
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: May 24, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-mjim-01-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

MN: I'm gonna ask you, Jim, what is the name of the club that you were with?

JM: We were called the Black Juans.

MN: Do you know how the Black Juans got their names?

JM: There could have been an earlier group from, in our neighborhood, our neighborhood being the Virgil area, which we called J-Flats for "Japanese flats." And there could have been a group there, earlier group called the Wombats (...). But I don't know where we got the name Black Juans exactly.

MN: You did have a black guy in there, you mentioned.

JM: Yeah, we had, we had two or three black members. We had, well, this one guy by the name of Jimmy who was half and half. He was, he was very light-complexed, but he identified himself as black. And in those days, we didn't use the word "black." To be polite, you could say "colored," but this guy Jimmy didn't like "colored" either, because he felt that that was kind of demeaning. Like he felt that it was Uncle Tom-ish in a way if you called him "colored." So we would call black people in those days -- and it sounds bad today -- we called 'em "spooks." Which sounds bad today, but we got it, I think, off of the jazz musicians, who would call each other "spooks" or "membas." So black people, to me, in those days, were "black" or "membas." Not "black," but "spooks" or "membas." We were Buddhaheads, Chinese were "c-heads," Mexican Americans were Mexicans, we just called 'em Mexicans, or sometimes we'd call 'em "beans." Jews were "wooges," whites were "patties." What else is there? [Laughs] We didn't have Filipinos around... oh, yeah, we did have. There were some, they were "flips." None of that was meant in a derogatory manner at all. Fact, that's what they called themselves. What else were there? Koreans, we didn't have Koreans at all. No Koreans. Vietnamese, no, we didn't know what Vietnamese was.

MN: Now, you said maybe, is it the Black Quinns preceded you guys?

JM: Possibly, yeah. Possibly. But it's really murky. So we were a relatively small group. And that was, that was the joke at the time. "Yeah, you want to be bad, join the Black Juans." And people would laugh because there was only maybe six or seven or eight of us at most.

MN: Oh, that's all?

JM: That's all.

MN: And yet, the Black Juans, didn't they dominate the east side?

JM: Well, what happened was, of course, we looked to enlarge our groups, you know. One day, after a year or so of being in existence, we wound up in a dance in Venice. And we were, apparently, we were supposed to fight this group from Venice. And we saw this other group hanging around, and we got to talking to them. And we got along really well, and it turns out they were all from Azusa. And strangely enough, everybody in Azusa's from Okinawa, so they were the Higa brothers and, you know, Higa this, Higa that. So we got along, and we said, "Well, why don't you join us?" And they said, "Yeah, we'd like to, because we like to go to the dances in L.A., and we never know if we're gonna get jumped or not, or attacked. And we're only about eight or nine or us coming out of Azusa." I said, "Well, that's about, that works out perfectly. There's eight or nine of us." So they said, "Okay, we'll call ourselves the Black Juans of Azusa." So there were two Black Juans now. Black Juans from J-Flats, Black Juans from Azusa. But now we got, now there were twenty of us. And twenty is a pretty good figure, you know. And the Azusa guys were pretty strong. Like the Higa brothers were second-string all CIF football players. They were, like, husky, built, you know. They had a black guy in there called Pooh, P-O-O-H, I think. And they had a Mexican called Blackie who we never knew was illiterate. We gave him a farewell party when he was supposed to go into the army, and the next day he was walking the streets because they found out he couldn't read or write. So all of a sudden we had twenty people, we had blacks, we had a black and a Mexican from them, we had a black from our, our, you know, group. We had another black guy, but we wouldn't take him as part of the Black Juans from J-Flats because he was a heroin, he was addicted to heroin. And our rule of thumb was that nobody with that type of addiction can join because, it wasn't anything to do with morals, it was we knew they'd rat you out or they'd sell you down the tube for a fix. So we knew this guy would rat us out.

MN: Now tell me --

JM: But, if it came down to a problem, he was quite helpful because he fought professionally in Tijuana in those bullrings. Yeah, he was a boxer. So if we got in a pinch and we needed some, you know, some strong-arm people, hey, we'd call up... his name was Bugs. [Laughs] "Get Bugs down here." But he could never really be part of our group. 'Cause people saw that we had a junkie with us... no. So now, all of a sudden, as a group, we were quite legitimate at twenty.

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