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-01-0032

<Begin Segment 32>

MN: Now, you said you had all these social service information in Japanese now. And there's this stereotype that Japanese do not, you know, apply for these things.

JM: Right.

MN: So tell me about, did anybody apply for this?

JM: Oh, yeah. What we did was, we said, well, we can talk all you want to about Japanese accepting welfare, 'cause that, the idea is that they would never accept welfare. And so the only way to really do it is to form a Japanese welfare rights organization, form a actual club of welfare recipients. So I had no idea of how many people would really join in anything like that. I didn't take the lead in organizing that. I think Carol Ono and those people did. And lo and behold, they had something like seventy members, bing, just like that. So when we went to the county and they said, "Well, you take care of your own." I said, "Well, if that's the case, then we wouldn't have seventy members in this welfare rights organization that are receiving welfare support, and we have hundreds and hundreds, who knows how many more?" 'Cause we got a bunch of folks over there in the hotels that are, that are essentially abandoned. So that's why we also did our mochitsukis also. We said, "Hey, we're gonna do all this. When it comes time to celebrate, we can go out and get drunk on New Year's Eve, but, you know, aren't you tired of that? Let's do something worthwhile. Let's learn how to make mochi. Let's find an usu, let's get some of these older ladies like that lady in the restaurant, let's get her to teach us how to pound mochi, and let's make ozouni, and let's invite everybody in the hotel around here. And we don't know who's gonna show up, maybe ten, fifteen people. If nobody else, we'll have a nice New Year's ozouni feed by ourselves with the ladies that helped us, and that's fine." So we did all these things. Somehow, miraculously, an usu turns up in Boyle Heights. Somebody has a pickup, they go to get it. All of a sudden these ladies materialized from the Pioneer Center, "We'll show you how to do this." Next thing we know, we're pounding away. [Laughs] We learned how to do these things, we're pounding mochi all night. And in the meantimes, we're out there leafleting these hotels, and some of those hotels are kind of scary. We wouldn't let anyone, one person go into the Alan Hotel by themselves. No, you go up there in twos. Even the clerk behind the desk at the Alan Hotel was behind wire mesh. So all these hotels we leafleted. So, "In the morning we have ozouni and mochi for you. Please come, it's free of charge, just celebrate the New Year's with us."

So the New Year's comes up, and we're all ready to go, and we have the ozouni, and I have my music now from Hiro Saisho. I have all this good stuff from Uehara Bin, you know, I'm ready, and we're waiting. For a while, nothing happens, just the older people there. Like, "Oh, man, oh well, that's okay, we'll eat." Little by little they begin to come in, little by little. One here, one there, and then we begin to serve. "We're gonna eat, but we better serve these people first." More and more and more and more. Pretty soon we had a basement of, basement downstairs here was pretty full. I'd say about thirty-five, forty people, hotel people plus us, we had about sixty-five, seventy people. Then I cranked up my music. [Laughs] And they loved it. Yeah, they loved it. And we gave 'em extra mochi or something like that. And we, later on we said, "Well, we'll give you extra mochi, but you have to come and pound it with us. Come next year, you come, bring your friends." So we did that for two or three years. Somebody got into the thing, people began to want more mochi, so they began to place orders with us, and that's how things go to hell. Next thing we know, we're trying to crank it out with a machine. 'Cause it's too damn cold in the morning trying to... try it sometimes. Eight o'clock in the morning on New Year's Day washing rice? Brrr. So I'm like, "We have all these orders, and we can't pound enough for this thing." So I'm like, "Bring in the machines." So we're cranking 'em out by machines now, but it's not the same.

MN: You know, you put a lot of time, you put a lot of effort into the Pioneer Project and Pioneer Center. I mean, you and Moe, and I guess some of the folks got red-baited.

JM: Oh, yeah, continually, because we're working for the welfare of the people. Anytime you do that instead of for the elites, you obviously must be a left-wing radical, Communist, Pinko, whatever. And we had this running feud with the Chamber of Commerce. We hated them with a passion. They hated us with a passion. We talk about each other like we're, like dogs. As far as we're concerned, they were Fascist, unrepentant militarists, we were, we were left-wing, Communist, Pinko, Maoists, everything. It's just one of those ugly scenes. We never ever bridged the gap. To this day, I dislike them. To this day, they dislike me.

MN: So after you left the Pioneer Project and the Pioneer Center, you went on to other things.

JM: Community-wise, I was with LTPRO. And LTPRO, we had different segments in where we worked. We worked in housing, like the New York Hotel, trying to get things like that, redevelopment was a big issue for a while. Newcomers, you had the Newcomers Committee, which sought to acclimate and assimilate the Shin Issei, and then we had the Redress Committee. And we started with the, this small group of redress people that... I forgot. Our name was LCCRR, Los Angeles Community Coalition for Redress/Reparations. And various groups were part of that, but after a while, when you went around the room to introduce yourself, I would say nine out of ten members in there were LTPRO members. And as LTPRO slowly began to fade away, we all sort of like melded into NCRR. And that's where we are today. To this day, I'm still a member of NCRR. So that was a long journey. [Laughs]

MN: NCRR stands for?

JM: Right now it's Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, but it used to be the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations, which I was the national treasurer for, up until two months ago, when I finally closed the account.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.