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-01-0033

<Begin Segment 33>

MN: Jim, I'm gonna ask you about the December 1969 Manzanar pilgrimage. You were part of there, how did you get involved?

JM: Okay, I was part of OSAAO, the Organization of Southland Asian American Organizations. And they came up with, to me, the sort of cockamamie idea of going there in December. And having been there in December for three and a half years, I had no desire to go back there in December. But they kept saying that if we went there any other time, it would seem like more of a picnic than, you know, trying to experience what we did. So they knew that in December it would be cold and freezing, and so they decided to go. And I said -- and I was a little older than most people in there -- and I said, "Godspeed," or whatever, like, "go at it and let me know how it is." And they were like, "Aren't you coming?" I said, "No, I'm not going. So next thing I knew, I don't know how they, how it transpired, but they must have caucused and they said, "Well, you've got to come." I said, "Why?" "Because you're giving the opening statement on behalf of NCRR -- " I mean, OSAAO. [Laughs] The umbrella group. So that was a, that was an honor that was very hard to turn down. I said, "Well, all right. How am I gonna get there?" They said, "We got a bus." I said, "All right." I had forgotten how I had even gotten there. I saw some old film clips of that movie that they did on the first pilgrimage, and I could see myself in the bus over there. But it was so cold. I never, ever saw Warren speechless. He was supposed to be our press liaison, and his teeth were, like, crunched together. He was out of it. Everybody showed up. I couldn't believe how many people showed up at that pilgrimage. National media, NBC, ABC, they flew in, it was just, it was a media storm over there. Couldn't believe it. And the minute it came time for our political message, they left. [Laughs] They got all the footage they wanted, and they took off.

So it came time for me to give my little speech, there's hardly anybody left. But anyway, I said... when people ask me how many people have died at Manzanar, I say, "A whole generation." And of course, by that I mean all these people that were, as Frank Emi -- and I always quote Frank Emi -- "that tucked their tail, like a dog that tucks his tail behind and runs away." I said, there's too many Nisei doing that, and it wasn't to my liking. A whole generation of them went down there. And that was my recollection of the first pilgrimage.

MN: The OSAAO, were they mostly Sanseis?

JM: Yeah.

MN: So you were one of the few Niseis...

JM: Few Nisei. Even Sue Embrey was not part of our group. Sue Embrey shows up later on at Cal State L.A. at -- as I mentioned, I put together the first Asian American Studies class over there. And the reason I was able to do that, I was very good friends with Dr. Burns of the history department. And I just simply went to him and said, "Dr. Burns, you know, the black, there's a black studies, there's a black history course, there's a Mexican American history course, a Latino course," I said, "where's ours?" He says, "Well" -- and he was the chair of the history department -- he says, "Find me an instructor. All I need is somebody with a master's." And so it just so happens, that day, we had a program going on. And so I wandered downstairs, and our guest speaker was Alan Nishio. So Alan was talking about things, and I kind of wandered among the audience and I found one guy by the name of Bill Tsuji. And I said, "Bill, I heard you're, you recently got your master's." And he says, "Yes." And I said, "In what area?" "History." I said, "Ah, would you like a job?" He said, "Yeah." "How about teaching Asian American studies?" He says, "What do I do?" I said, "Don't worry. We'll give you material to teach. There's no books to teach, 'cause we don't have books. We'll give you mimeograph things, and you just carry on a lively discussion and keep things going that way. And we'll run another class, 'cause we don't want these people to mix with your people, because these are the activists and they're gonna disrupt your class." Because they don't want to hear this, 'cause they're already there. So we had two classes under one, under Bill Tsuji.

And one day someone came to me and said, "Oh, there's this older Nisei lady that came to our class, and she seems to know an awful lot about the camps, 'cause she said she used to work for the Manzanar Free Press." I said, "Oh, who is it?" "Some lady by the name of Sue Embrey." "Okay, I guess she can, she'd be a real help. Put her in the class." Of course, Sue is one of those types you don't need to... you know, you don't need to wind up too much. She jumped off of that and formed the Manzanar Committee, and next thing you know, I was part of the Manzanar Committee with Warren. It was me, Warren, Sue, and the Runstrom twins. And a few other people... I can't remember them now. But, so, for a while I was part of -- oh... Rex Takahashi, he used to be my T.A. when I was... I had a six-month teaching assignment over at UCLA, so Rex was my T.A. So he joined the Manzanar Committee. And one day we had an assignment, Sue said, "Well, we can get hold of a plaque, and we need the wording on it. So, Jim, why don't you do one, and Rex, why don't you do one? We'll see which one we like better." So I wrote one out there, and it was okay, but I was being more politically nice. And Rex wrote exactly what you see on that thing today.

MN: The California historical marker you're talking about?

JM: Yeah.

MN: At Manzanar.

JM: He wrote exactly that. Hard-hitting, to the point, even I like that one. I said, "Rex, yours is better than mine. You don't pull any punches. However, I doubt if they'll buy it." And Sue says, "Well, we'll force it on 'em." 'Cause I could see that Sue was ready to fight, you know. I said, "That's fine, as long as..." I said, "If you think we can't go with that, they're not gonna buy that, then we can go back to mine. But even I didn't really like mine. I said, "Yeah, throw it out. Let's go with Rex's." And that's what we have today.

MN: I heard it was really controversial, though.

JM: Very controversial.

MN: Very heated.

JM: They hated it. They hated it.

MN: 'Cause the word "concentration camp" was in it

JM: "Racism," you know, "greed," we laid it all on the line. There was nothing more to say. [Laughs] I said, "Well, yeah, that's exactly my sentiments. Let's not pussyfoot around this thing."

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.