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

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Okay. Today is Monday, May 24, 2010, we're filming at East West Players, Tani Ikeda is videotaping, we'll be interviewing Jim Matsuoka, and I'm Martha Nakagawa, I will be interviewing. So Jim, let's start with your, the name of your father and mother.

MN: Toichi and Hatsuyo.

MN: And what prefecture were they from?

JM: They were from Hiroshima, from adjoining parts of Hiroshima, Kusatsu and Koi.

MN: And did your father come to the United States first?

JM: I believe he did, but I just don't have that much real information on his personal life. Because, you know, generationally, the Issei never really shared their personal stories with the Nisei. Just felt it wasn't our need to know.

MN: But you think he was in the Seattle area for a while.

JM: Yes, yes, I believe he was in Seattle, possibly maybe spent a little time in Vancouver and San Francisco. One of the reasons I know is that I have a piece of clothing from him left, it's the only thing I have left. It's a very, very thick wool full-length coat. There would be never any need for it in southern California, so I assume he was up north for quite a while.

MN: Now, do you know what year your father came to the United States and then what year your mother came to the United States?

JM: I think they were both here in 1924, which is the year that they, that was the limit. That was the time when the, sort of like exclusion acts against Japanese Americans came in -- against Japanese at that time, excluding them. So you had to be here by 1924 or you couldn't get in anymore.

MN: Now, now you, where were you born?

JM: Los Angeles, California, not very far from this, this theater. Maybe four or five blocks away.

MN: And at that time, was that considered part of Little Tokyo?

JM: Yes, it was. In fact, Little Tokyo went, I guess that would be south or east...

MN: South.

JM: South.

MN: You're talking, you said Fifth Street? Fourth Street that you were born?

JM: Between Fourth and Fifth on Towne. And the, as far as I'm concerned, Little Tokyo, not totally little Tokyo, but a really high percentage of Japanese residents went as far as, say, oh, I would say Twelfth Street. And then it slopped over the river into Boyle Heights. So in a way, I consider Boyle Heights a sort of bedroom community, too, of So Cal. But there are a lot of Japanese Americans all over. Little mom and pop shops, boarding houses, little homes all over the place.

MN: Now, were you delivered by a samba-san?

JM: I guess that would be a midwife? Yes, uh-huh.

MN: And you have this interesting story about your birth time and your son's birth time.

JM: Right. We were born at, on the same day, I mean, the same day...

MN: Not the same year.

JM: Not the same year. But I think almost at the same hour. Because I looked at the report from the midwife, and she wrote down around four o'clock in the afternoon. And, of course, she's probably figuring out around, around that time, but it could have easily been around two o'clock, at which time my son was born. So in a sense, he's, he's here to replace me, I guess, as the saying goes. [Laughs]

MN: And what, what is your actual birthdate?

JM: July 27, 1935.


MN: Okay. And what is your birth name?

JM: My birth name is Haruyuki Matsuoka. I came very late in my mother's life, so I guess it translates out to "spring snow." So, you know, at the very end of things. I think they told her to abort me, I guess, 'cause it was so late in her life, thirty... I think she was thirty-something, thirty-five, thirty-six. Nowadays, that's quite, you know, that's not that... I guess many women have, give birth at that age, but in those days, I think that was considered very old.

MN: Good thing she didn't abort you.

JM: Well, some people would say too bad. [Laughs] Just a matter of who you talk to.

MN: So when did you get the name "Jim," and how did you get that?

JM: Well, I got sick and tired at Ninth Street school of, they had you write your name on everything. So writing Haruyuki, H-A-R-U... I mean, that took forever. So I kind of like, figured out I want a shorter name, so I kind of chose between Jim, Ed, and Bo. So I could have been Bo, I could have been Ed, but I took Jim. Just three letters, J-I-M.

MN: Where did you get that from? Is it from a comic book?

JM: I have no idea, just that I think that was quite a common name at the time. But so was Bo, so I could have been Bo. [Laughs]

MN: How many siblings did you have?

JM: I have two older sisters, and I believe I have a half sister in Japan, which I know very little about. I know she passed away. And like I say, I know very little about my parents' background. I know they were both divorced, so that alone would kind of shut the door on any questions I had, see. That's about it. I have two older sisters, they're still with me.

MN: And you're the youngest.

JM: I'm the youngest, right.

MN: And you mentioned that your, you are named Haruyuki because you came late in your mother's life. So what is the age difference between you and your next sister?

JM: I think something like seven or eight years.

MN: There is actually a big difference.

JM: Yeah, there is a big difference.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: And you grew up in the Little Tokyo, what was considered Little Tokyo at the time. Can you give me a description of what your neighborhood looked like?

JM: You know, the best, the best way to really, sort of, visualize it is that movie they had. Is it The Sting, or was that the name of the movie? Yeah, and they had pictures of the old 1930s. You almost kind of get a feel for that in the Godfather when they took pictures of little Italy when there's so much street traffic. And we didn't have the tenements like they did in New York, but we had all these different older-type buildings, and people walking around on the streets, and the streets were full of, like, vendors. When you would go walking, you would see the popcorn vendor, and he would be popping... it was wonderful, actually. And you'd see the grocery guy come by with the grocery truck honking his horn. There'd be a fish truck... the only thing they didn't have was a meat truck. There would be an ice truck pulling up because not everybody had refrigerators. I'd say the majority of people had just plain wooden iceboxes in which you had to replace the ice every so many days. So all of these streets were just full of people walking around. And we happened to live right, right by the, I believe, the real heart of L.A., which was Fifth Street. And I say that's the heart of L.A. because all of the streetcars, which we had so many, would funnel down Fifth Street going toward the Grand Central Station, which was the hub of Los Angeles. We didn't have Union Station at the time, and I don't believe they had, they had LAX or any of the airports at the time. So everything came and went through the Grand Central. All your streetcars went through there, and so there was a tremendous amount of foot traffic going out around there. They had bars. It wasn't, I would call, the nicest part of town. You could almost call it... well, I would call it 1930s seedy, in a way. I don't know, it was kind of vibrant with life, it was an immigrant community. There was all types of ethnicities, whites... I didn't see too many blacks at all. Mexican Americans, primarily Japanese in this area.

MN: You know, that's a really nice description of the area. Tell me, what were the smells of the area?

JM: Oh, yeah, you would get, well, one of the, one of the real strong smells I would get was stale beer. 'Cause we had all these old... they had a lot of bars, you know. And it was primarily all these white folks were in there, these white males, and they would get drunk, they would spill out into the street fighting each other. And that was really something. You'd walk along and on Fifth and Towne, we had this rather tall building, and we were in the, right in the midst of the Depression. They think about the Depression as 1932 or 1928-'32, and right around '35 to '40, we were still in the grips of a terrible depression. And I remember many a time, my father, we would be walking toward Fifth Street and we'd have to walk around the body of someone that jumped off of the taller building there. Usually he'd fall right dead on his butt, and his stomach would burst open and he'd be sitting there with the intestines... I mean, it was a horrible sight. We'd look at that, and at the same time, you could smell the popcorn guy going at it, you know, then you could get this drift of stale beer coming at you from the bars. And the bar doors would be open, they'd be blasting the Andrews Sisters singing "Roll out the Barrel." So it was a very vibrant, life and death was all around you. Nothing quite like, you know, we were rather sterile, even in our gamiest areas compared to those times.

MN: Now you yourself, you said you went to Ninth Street grammar school?

JM: Yes, I did, uh-huh.

MN: And other than school, did you go to Japanese school?

JM: No, luckily, I avoided that. I don't know, they didn't push me into that. And luckily, they didn't send me to Maryknoll. My two sisters were sent to Maryknoll, which was a Catholic school. But my parents were members of Nishi Hongwanji, which is the Buddhist church there. The interesting thing about Maryknoll is that Maryknolls are usually set up in foreign countries. So whenever they set up, it's to convert the native populations in a sense. [Laughs] That's sort of like the origins of Maryknoll. They saw this as a, as a foreign section of Los Angeles. But to their credit, I'd say the Maryknoll fathers came into, came into Manzanar, actually, followed us in there. So they had a very loyal following in a sense. And well-deserved.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: So how did you spend your childhood days in this very vibrant neighborhood?

JM: Well, a lot of times I used to come out here because I used to like to go dumpster diving. Not the food dumpster, but they had a lot of businesses out here, and they would throw away all their cardboard boxes and all their containers. And I used to like to jump into those big container, dumping containers, and strip out the postage stamps. So I had a little collection of stamps going. Things like that. And I'd spend a lot of my time hitting up these drunks for pennies. You know, there's nothing like a staggering drunk, and I'd go up to him and I'd say, "Mister, can I have a penny?" Of course they see me and they'd fish around in their pocket and they'd drop a penny in my hand, and boy, I'd be gone, heading for that corner store and I'd by me an Abba Zaba bar or Oh Henry! or... I'm paying for it today with all my root canals, you know. Oh, gosh, I should have never eaten that. And this was going on for quite a while. I'm hitting people up and running to the store, until one day, I ran into that store to get my allotment of candy, my sister was staring at me because they had hired her as a clerk. I said, oh, and that was it, you know. That blew that.

But there was one other thing, too, we used to, I used to like to do, is they had this thing called Wing cigarettes, Wing, W-I-N-G. And when you opened it up, every Wing cigarette had a picture of an airplane. They were like baseball cards. So I would, I would wait around at the local drugstore, and a guy would come out with a Wing, package of Wings, and I'd follow that fellow. Sooner or later, he'd open that thing, and you know, they'd toss that, he'd toss that little card out, and boy, it'd never hit the ground. Shoom. [Laughs] I would have another, another thing for my collection of airplanes.

And then, once in a while, they would have this thing called gin gami undo, which is the effort to collect tinfoil. And so they had us, they had us doing that. We would, again, find empty cigarette packets, and they had it, they used to wrap it in tinfoil, so we used to strip the tinfoil and roll it into little balls. And I forgot who used to collect 'em, but it went for the war effort in Japan. So I always, I always hate to think that it might have come back at us at Pearl Harbor. I hope not. They had us doing a lot of strange things.

And once in a while -- and I can't explain why I did this, and I'm sorry I did -- I found a shotput. And I used to go around, and these nice ladies would have their little gardens, and I used to drop, I used to drop the shotput on those little plants, you know. Oh, boy, were they PO'd. I remember one old lady one time looking at me and she said, "Is that the one?" This was in Manzanar. It was sort of like, "What is he?" I can't explain it. Just, just bad things kids do.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: Your friends. Well, your school at Ninth Street, was that, what's the ethnic demographics of the school?

JM: We had a mix of a lot of different kids, but primarily, as far as I could remember, it was Japanese American and Mexican Americans, there were some whites. But I remember my Mexican American friend who lived just a few houses over from me, never had a lunch. So what little lunch I had, I had to share it with them, which I did. Gave him half of what I had, otherwise he had nothing. And I just thought it was some sort of an oversight on the part of his parents. One day I went to his house, and there was nothing. I mean, not a shred of furniture, it was, it was empty. So, wow.

So I think poverty was, well, we were all poor. We were all poor. It was just a matter of what level of poverty we were talking about. 'Cause I was used to every, every other day or sometimes every day, these, I guess you'd call them hobos, and these were young, young white males that were jumping the trains once they reached the Grand Central Station, and we were only about three or four blocks from that, from the station. They would, they would come off the train and they would be hungry and looking for food. And they would always come up to me and say, you know, "Can you go get the lady of the house?" And I knew exactly what they wanted. So I'd run back there and say, "Hey, Mama, somebody wants to see you," and she would just make a peanut butter sandwich and give it to me to give to him. I'd just rush back and give it, you know, that's, that was a given. So being poor, and I think a lot of Japanese from the Central Valley, because a lot of the food prices and everything fell over there, so the Depression hit them a lot. And they were going through what you saw in The Grapes of Wrath. Did you ever see that? Where they would get tons of people... and so, yeah, the Japanese Americans, there was quite a few of 'em. That's where a lot of 'em went. But instead of hanging out there and starving with the Joads, you know, like they did with all the influx of the Okies and all that, they fled, I guess, to say, that's the only other word for it, into, say, San Francisco or southern California. So there were a lot of them living around here, scratching around, making a living. And there were still, like, immigrants coming in. Well, they stopped it in '24, but I still remember this lady that was, she went off her mind wanting to go back to Japan, I think she left her children back there. So she would roam around the streets, literally crying, and say, "I want to go back to Japan." So this was this polyglot of, you know, things happening in that environment.

MN: I'm assuming she was going and saying that in Japanese, also, walking down the streets?

JM: Yeah, yeah, she was saying, "Nihon ni kaeritai, Nihon ni kaeritai." That's all she kept saying, "Nihon ni kaeritai," and crying. That was pitiful.

MN: Because there was no mental health care or anything, people just kind of left her alone?

JM: I asked around, I said, "You know that lady that was..." they said, "Oh, she's, when she went back and she was reunited with her kids, she was all right.

MN: But it sounds to me like your family, despite the Depression itself, you, you never really starved and you had enough to eat. You didn't have to go dumpster diving for food.

JM: No, not at all.

MN: What, what did your father do for a living?

JM: He worked at a drugstore, and I think he was, he was sort of like the stockboy or something. Amazingly, he made enough to where my mother never had to work. And we never had, you know, what you would call... oh, I don't know what you would call first-class food in those days, but no, we didn't, we were fine in a way. I mean, all my sandwiches were bologna and peanut butter and jelly, but, well, what the hell? I mean, we were still better off than the whites coming off of the (trains)... the white hobos and my friend didn't have nothing to eat. You know, in those days you had to be grateful for anything you had.

MN: And you mentioned that your parents were from Hiroshima. Were they active in the Hiroshima Kenjinkai?

JM: No, not at all. They were just rank and file. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: Now, December 7, 1941, you were only six years old.

JM: Right.

MN: What do you remember of that day?

JM: Oh, I think my father burnt everything at night, it was kind of odd that he, he brought out a little enamel pan, and then he had pictures of the emperor and any other things that pertained to Imperial Japan, he just lit it up and we had this little fire. And then I was instructed not to open the door unless I knew who was on the other side. So that was... I knew something, you know, was going on. I didn't quite know what Pearl Harbor was, or what any of this was about.

MN: But your life's changed as a result of Pearl Harbor.

JM: Well, of course, we were interned, yeah.

MN: Now, did your father get fired after Pearl Harbor?

JM: I don't remember. I don't recall that at all.

MN: Did your parents explain to you that, "Now we have to move, we have to go to camp"?

JM: Basically that, but none of the reasons for it and why.

MN: Now, what do you remember about preparing to go to camp?

JM: Not too much. I know that we, there wasn't a whole lot of things we could bring with us. I was concerned because my only impression of other kids were magazines that I saw from Japan. And all these kids had these little, nice little caps on and their backpacks, and they had these school uniforms on. And I was thinking, "Oh, my god, they're all gonna be there, and I'm gonna be looking like a bum." [Laughs] I mean, I just, I just had the wrong visual idea of what everybody looked like.

MN: Going on a train.

JM: Yeah, going on the train. So that was my greatest concern, that I didn't, I didn't look, I hope I didn't look so out of place. But as to where I was going or what the reason was and all that, none of it was explained to me. All I knew was I was going, and that's it.

MN: What did your parents do with the furniture?

JM: They stored it with somebody who they -- and I don't know who this person was -- but after the war, it was all gone. So they filed a claim in 1948, and I forgot the name of the act, but they were willing to give you a certain amount of money back if you could prove your losses. So I saw the paperwork on that, my father filed for something like around eight hundred something dollars in, in loss of furniture. And I saw a letter from the, I think the Justice Department was handling it, they said, "Would you settle for three hundred?" and I think my father said, "I'd rather get something than nothing at this point, 'cause we have nothing." So he said, "I'm willing to settle for three hundred." And I really don't know whether he even got that money or not. And that's the furniture. His savings account of twenty years was wiped off the books. He had it in Sumitomo because, of course, that's, that's where they had Japanese language clerks. So I still have some of the passbooks, and he had about two thousand yen in there, which, the yen, I believe the yen and dollar ratio was four to one. So he could have had a little bit more, but he would have had, he would have had something like a thousand dollars American money, somewhere around there. But in those days, a dollar would get you a meal. Some people were working, many people were working for less than a dollar an hour. But all of that was just wiped off the books. The worst part was the Justice Department said, and when I enquired about that, 'cause I said, "I have the passbooks and what have you, what happened to my father's life savings?" They said, "Oh, it's too late. We consider you having abandoned your claim. [Laughs] So, you know, I'm so, all right. So in a way, that's what kind of fueled my desire for redress, you know, these people are really... they're not giving us the time of day. I mean, they're just laughing at us. So these chumps, I'm gonna battle these suckers to the day I die. And yeah, I mean, in some of the worst of our moments, when we seemed like we were getting nowhere in our redress, you know, movement, people, you know, a lot of people would say, "Well, god, we're getting nowhere. Are we really, are we really wasting our time?" And I would say, I would just jump up and just kind of like explode and say, "You know something?" I said, "I don't think there's anywhere in the world I'd rather be right now than at this meeting demanding redress. I don't care how long it takes." But it comes from the contempt they used to show for us, you know. Maybe if they had given me some plausible explanation saying, "Well, put it in a foreign bank," and blah, blah, blah, and, "we had to use it for reparations to pay for somebody for what Japan did," I don't know. If they could give me some plausible explanation, maybe I could have bought that. To openly just say, "Well, you abandoned your own life savings," is really making a mockery of it, you know, of an injury.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: I'm going to take you back to right before the war, okay?

JM: Okay.

MN: When you gathered to go to camp, where did you gather?

JM: I think we were with the group that left at the old Nishi Hongwanji. I think they have pictures of that. We were bussed to, I believe, the train station, and we went... I thought we went only as far as Mojave, but I think you were, you were mentioning to me that the train had gone as far as, close to Lone Pine and that area. I think you're probably right. Because I do remember the ride from the train stop to Manzanar was relatively short, so it couldn't have been from Mojave.

MN: Now, when you went to Nishi Hongwanji, the old Nishi Hongwanji, did you walk those blocks to get there, or did someone drive you to Nishi Hongwanji?

JM: You know, I have no recollection of that whatsoever.

MN: And then you said the train station, so by then, was Union Station built, or was it the Grand Station that you went from?

JM: that's a good question. I keep thinking we left from the Union Station, but I could be wrong on that. That part I don't remember too well.

MN: Do you remember the train ride at all? Do you remember eating on there? Do you remember people getting sick, or any other recollection?

JM: No, not really. Just, that part is pretty much a blank.

MN: And then you said you went straight from here to Manzanar. You didn't go to an assembly center?

JM: No.

MN: Do you have any idea what month that was?

JM: I believe that was March. March.

MN: 1942?

JM: 1942.

MN: And then what time of day did you arrive at Manzanar?

JM: I think we were, we, since we took off in the morning here, and we had to transfer from here to there, I think we got there very late in the, at night. I'm guessing something more like -- I could be wrong again -- nine, ten o'clock. It was pitch black, and I was surprised at the amount of this fine, powdery dust that was everywhere. Whenever you walked, it went, poof. So we were sent to our barracks and then introduced to our straw mattresses. I guess that's what we were told to sleep on.

MN: And what did you do the next day you woke up?

JM: Well, next day as usual, I'm using to roaming around L.A. when I was younger, so I started roaming around the camps and promptly got lost. [Laughs] So, well, all the barracks looked alike, you couldn't tell, you know. So I kept roaming around, and eventually I found my way back to Block 11, which is where I was supposed to be. The overwhelming memory, of course, is the smell of tarpaper, because they were still constructing barracks. So you get this fresh whiff of tar. Then when it came time to eat, I don't know how many days in a row they gave us hash. Over and over and over.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: What other early days of Manzanar do you remember?

JM: A lot of it was the food, I guess. I remember standing in line, and you get this smell of boiling weenies. If there's anything that's kind of bad, it's boiling weenies and sauerkraut. I don't know where they got the idea that we, you know, that was part of our diet, but oh, that was an offensive smell. Combination of wieners and sauerkraut. If I was from Minnesota or something like that, or Milwaukee or something like that, I'd have been in my element. But most Japanese were horrified. And other than that, there was, there was just a raw, rugged aspect of Manzanar. The barracks and stark, starkness of the mountains, stark beauty of the mountains in some ways. The sagebrush, the dust, the smell, things of that nature. Everything was quite new. It was quite a jar coming from the environment I came from.

MN: Oh, yeah, you're a city kid.

JM: Yeah, I'm a city kid. If I was a country, country guy, that might have been a little different.

MN: Did you eat with your parents?

JM: Initially, but we kind of like, after a while, we just kind of ran wild, we just did what we want, wanted. I wrote this little short piece for the historical society, I entitled it, "Stray Cats of Manzanar." And we were like stray cats. We came back only when we needed something, but other than that, we were on our own. And it was, even when it came time to go to school, I mean, I think I went more when I wanted to go than if I decided I didn't want to go, I left. I spent a lot of my time down there by Bairs Creek, just roaming around there. And they had this so-called golf course they made later on. That was the biggest joke of... essentially it was holes, holes punched into the ground. That's all it was, in the hard desert land, but there were a lot of golf tees, and I would go around collecting those. When I got bored with that, I'd go back in and go to school. And I got bored of school, and I'd leave, and oh, when we would really act up in class. The poor girl, I felt so sorry for her when I think back on it. She couldn't have been any more than eighteen, nineteen, and how they ever talked her into taking on a teaching assignment into Manzanar, I'll never know. I understand that the, in Manzanar High School, they got a lot of volunteer teachers coming out of LAUSD. And these were professionals, but our teacher was like eighteen, nineteen year old at the most. You know, first, second grade. And she couldn't, there was no way she can handle us. And we would just go wild. I remember somebody hitting her in the back of the head with a book. And then she got so desperate she was passing out nickels to keep us quiet. She was paying us off. Then when she couldn't handle us anymore, she sent us to, like she would say, "You, go to the library." So I would be sent to the library. And guess who would be at the library? My sister. And they were afraid of me because I would say, "If you mess with me, I'll tear up your clothes." [Laughs] So they were glad to see me go. So bang, I would be gone. I was roaming all over. So in that article, "Stray Cats of Manzanar," that's what we were doing. Even in the evening, in the summer, we'd get flashlights and a pack of us would be roaming around. And yeah, it was utter freedom for us younger kids. But obviously it wasn't that way for the older people.

MN: Now, early on you mentioned you got the measles?

JM: I got the measles, and right, I was really sick. I had to, I wound up in the Manzanar hospital.

MN: Were you quarantined?

JM: Yes, uh-huh.

MN: In the hospital.

JM: In the hospital, right. And if you had chicken pox, you were quarantined, but not in a hospital bed, in your barrack.

MN: You got chicken pox later...

JM: Later.

MN: Manzanar.

JM: Uh-huh.

MN: What did your parents do in camp?

JM: As far as I can tell, nothing. A lot of people did nothing. I don't know what they did with their time. I've seen a lot of artifacts that they made, little birds, and I think some people went to work in the camouflage factory. Some people were cooks, some people were, you know, service personnel. But as far as I know, I don't think my father and mother did anything at all. I think there were a lot of people like that, just sitting around wondering what to do with their time.

MN: And then you said one of your sisters worked in the library.

JM: She worked in the library.

MN: Because you went to detention there. [Laughs]

JM: Right. [Laughs] That was detention, uh-huh.

MN: What about your other sister?

JM: I don't know what she did. I don't recall her working in the library doing anything at all, really.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: You mentioned about this school assembly.

JM: Oh, yeah, yeah.

MN: Can you share with us that story?

JM: Well, we were all called out to an assembly outside, not in a building, but really outside in the firebreaks. And there was a platform, and the principal of our school, old white lady, got up there, and she starts talking about Pearl Harbor and the death and destruction. And halfway through she breaks down and begins to sob, you know. And that's just what we needed. Just, just exactly what we needed, you know. We're wondering, "Why in the hell are we in this..." I mean, we were young, but we weren't stupid. Somewhere along the line, it filters through that people don't like us, you know. We're in here because we're bad, and now we get the whole, we get the whole thing thrown at us. We're bad because we're, we're part of this group that bombed and killed, and, "You Japanese are bad people, you know, and you're part of them." She didn't say it like that, but she might as well. She might as well. Because like I say, we're not stupid. And yeah, talk about getting a complex, you know, geez, how much more do you want? I could always relate to Frank Emi talking about, "What do they want us to do? Tuck our tails and walk away?" In a way, that's what we almost had to do when they browbeat you like that. I mean, I wouldn't have minded if she kept a stiff upper lip like the British do and said, "Oh, well, tally ho, we'll continue on and we'll beat the Axis," or something like that. But now to sit up there and sob, oh, goodness. Those are searing moments in your life, they're hard to forget. Obviously I didn't forget it. It's burned into my memory.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: Which block did you live in?

JM: Eleven, Block 11, which was sort of near the very top. It was Block 11 and 12 and then the fence.

MN: And I know the Terminal Islanders lived in Block, mainly Block 9 and 10.

MN: Nine and ten.

MN: And you sort of mentioned already your article on "The Stray Cats of Manzanar," but if you could share some of what went on between your block and the Terminal Islanders.

JM: Terminal Islanders were a tough, tough bunch. Their fathers were fishermen, primarily, and that's a tough breed. I mean tough. One of them got bit by a scorpion, the father. He just took a knife and cut himself in the butt, bleeding, he says, "I'll just patch it up." I mean, to him, going to seek medical help was like, just don't do it. These guys were like, they fell off a boat, they expect you to swim on and jump back in there, you know. And oh, they would, if their kids were out of line, they'd give 'em what they call a yaito, which is a burn. They literally burn you. So I remember seeing my friend with actual burn marks. I mean, that would put, in this day and age, that would put you under child... well, they would grab the kids, put 'em under child welfare situation, you would be, you would be in jail for child abuse. But that was common. You got out of line, and you got a yaito. So these Terminal Island kids were tough. And the older kids would, they would play every, every (day). I think every block had a basketball court or something like that. The Terminal Islanders would come to Block 11 to play. And arguments would break out, you know like you could see it. And all these (fights) were (from) the heat of the moment, and so the Terminal Islanders would start fighting the L.A. guys. The L.A. older guys were (from) Block 11. We had a mix of Terminal Islanders in L.A. and also, too, among the Terminal Islanders, they had a lot of these, what they call yogore, meaning, translated means "dirty." And they loved to walk around with their corduroy pants, filthy is the only way to describe it, dirt on them. But that means they were bad-asses, you know, sort of like wearing a bandana or tattoos, having tattoos all over their neck, you know. It was the equivalent of that. If you walked around with a dirty corduroy and grimy is the only word for it, the dirtier the better, and you would have an actual chain, like a zoot suit or chain, that meant you were a bad-ass. Someone wanted to mess with you, they'd have a go at it. Well, anyway, us younger kids would feed off of what the older kids were doing.

So every afternoon at one o'clock, the Terminal Island kids would come across the firebreak, and we'd meet them on our side of it and we'd have at it, and we'd have our supply of rocks and green apples, and boy, we'd be pitching it. And I would deliberately have a straw hat on there. Because I think they outnumbered us two to one, and after a while, the rain of missiles was bouncing off of our, you know, this hat, and we'd have to run for it. But hey, we're there every day at one, you know, going at it. And that was my recollection of the Terminal Island folks.

MN: You know that term "yogore," is that something that came out of the war years, or is that something that before the war, was that term used?

JM: I'm sure it's before the war, because that's around... it could have been, but it really reached, I think it really reached its height in the camp area. Because they loved to run around with the zoot suit chains. I think even we were wearing (it), we began to wear (it in) imitation of the older people, older kids, the zoot suit chains. But we weren't dirty.

MN: And you mentioned you had Terminal Islanders on your block.

JM: Yeah.

MN: Now, which side did they go on?

JM: Oh, they weren't fighting with us. It wasn't a Terminal Island versus L.A. thing, it was more like Block 9 and 10 versus Block 11. So the Terminal Islanders on Block 11 were on our side.

MN: Now, I know the Bainbridge Island people were also close by. Did you have any contact with them?

JM: No, I have no idea who they were.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: You got kicked out of your block.

JM: Got kicked out of my block.

MN: How did that happen?

JM: Well, we used to love to, when it was dark, 'cause we were still running around there, and the older people would go for a walk, we'd pick up these apples and rocks and throw it at 'em. We wouldn't try to hit them, we'd zing it by them, you know, and we'd be hiding in the bushes somewhere. They'd nervously look around and wonder who... we got our kicks doing that. Well, one time I threw it at the wrong person, it was our, sort of like our little club leader's aunt. And they said, "Who did that?" and it was me. And they said, "Out." So I could tell because no one looked at me, or the next day no one looked at me or talked to me. So, like, "Don't come here," you know. "You're not wanted in Block 11. Go somewhere else." I took off and I wound up way over there on the other side of the camp, which is like Block 36. And I used to roam around there and walk through the pear orchards and what have you. And interestingly enough, I saw the Children's Village, and I always wondered what that was. I said, oh, all these kids are living in this compound. Of course, that turned out to be the orphans that they took out of the Shonien Inn and other orphanages throughout California. And I think, I hooked onto a baseball, bunch of kids playing baseball at the time, and I think one of them was Bob Nakamura. You know Bob.

MN: The filmmaker.

JM: The filmmaker, yeah. And he remembers playing baseball every afternoon. I think, I think I was one of them playing in there. Of course, you know, my banishment lasted about two weeks. After that, I think our little club leader spoke to me, and I knew right then and there that, oh, it was, my banishment is over. So we used to all sit in front of his, where he lived, so now I could go over there and (return), find my place back on the lawn where I used to sit. [Laughs] And, of course, I had to be back on the line at one o'clock because the battle would begin. Things like that.

MN: Now, you said you ended up at Block 36. Is there, did you have relatives there?

JM: No. That was just the other side of the camp.

MN: And you just slept with strangers?

JM: No, no, no, I would come home at night. I would wait 'til it was dark. Otherwise, I could get beat up. 'Cause I was banished. I didn't want to be back there, and next thing, they'd be throwing rocks at me.

MN: So there was all these unwritten codes.

JM: Yeah. All these things, little things that you could do, you can't do.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: Manzanar had a riot in December 1942, and two people died and a lot of people got injured. Now, what do you remember of this incident?

JM: I went to my aunt's house one time and I saw, I saw a t-shirt, it had a lot of blood on it. But I don't think anybody in our family got, as far as I know (involved)... two people were killed, but I think others were wounded, but nobody really came forward as to who was wounded. I do know that at the next day, the camp was shut down. Everybody was asked to stop and turn and face toward a certain way, I don't know which, which direction it was, while they rang the, the dinner bell, so to speak. So throughout the camp, you hear this "clang, clang, clang." So I knew something had happened. But other than that...

MN: Do you think you faced the, the cemetery, the Manzanar cemetery, or no?

JM: Could have been, yeah. Yeah, the more I think about it, I think so. Because it was in that direction that we were told to stand.

MN: And so that was the next day, and what was camp like? Did, was the administration more strict with the inmates after that?

JM: No, I think, if anything, maybe they went on the opposite tacts. Because before, they were, like, relatively stringent in terms of manning the guard towers. After that, it kind of seemed to get, as each month went by, more and more lax, to where the guards didn't even bother, you know, they barely looked at you when you went outside. They didn't ask for a pass or anything. In fact, most of the time they were either playing cards or doing something, listening to the radio or something. Yeah, we began to -- well, for us, anyway, we really had a free run, inside and outside.

MN: Now, did your father ever leave camp to be a contract laborer?

JM: No.

MN: Did your sisters leave camp early?

JM: No.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: And then you had the story when you got the chicken pox. You have this story about you were quarantined and there was this lady next door.

JM: Oh, yeah, yeah. So I had to stay in for about ten days, and my neighbor, they were our neighbors out here in L.A. The wife got sick, and I don't know exactly what the illness was. It could have been cancer, but every day, she played the music that, I guess, reminded her of her time in Japan. So she kept playing this same record over and over daily. And it was, it was a number called "Ruten," R-U-T-E-N. And it was sung by, I think he was the Bing Crosby of Japan, Uehara Bin. He's a very well-known singer. In fact, when they had these nostalgic songs of Japan, they always throw one of his songs in there. And I believe he was in the Japanese version of the... what do they call it? Entertainment corps? He wound up in New Guinea, and he was killed in New Guinea, or he died over there. I don't know whether he was killed or not. But when you go back to the music of the '30s, Uehara Bin was... so she kept playing this "Ruten." So that thing is fixed in my mind. One day it stopped, and the following day, they were holding the funeral services for her, and apparently my father gave the eulogy. You know where I heard that tune again was when I was with the (Pioneer Center) we did this, we did these mochitsuki things for the Pioneer Center.

MN: This is years later.

JM: Years later.


JM: We're having these mochitsukis for the, for the Issei that lived in this area. This was sponsored by Pioneer Project.

MN: Which you co-founded. Oh, you --

JM: I didn't, I didn't. No, Moe was one of the most active founders of it. I just, I just... me and Moe were the two members of Pioneer Project that were founders of the Pioneer Center. So we were right in there with Pioneer Center. I was, I was their recording secretary for about five or six years. I still have the articles of incorporation in my closet somewhere. But anyway, the main thing was we were having this get-together, this mochitsuki every, on New Year's for the Issei that lived in these, these hotels around there. So I thought it would be a good idea to play some music for them, some hits of the '30s that they would relate to. And I remember talking to an Issei, I said, "Gee, I'm sorry, the music I got hold of is kind of old." He says, "Oh," he says, "those music, classics like that never get old." So I said, oh, okay, I'm on the right track. So one of our board members for the Pioneer Center was Hiro Saisho, he ran Magic Radio. And so I approached Hiro. I said, "Hiro, I need some, I need some music for the, for the Issei." And he says, "Oh, yeah, you can have these," and he just gave 'em to me. So anyway, I took.. so I played them to transfer it onto my tape, and I was really, like, stunned when all of a sudden, this "Ruten" comes on. I'm like, "Oh, my god. Is that what it was and is that who it is?" All those memories of being, having chicken pox and being in the, being in the barracks and listening to Mrs. Ota pass away. Did you ever hear "Ruten"? It's a very nice...

MN: Not until... not until you mentioned it. I went onto YouTube and I listened to it.

JM: Oh, you did?

MN: Yeah.

JM: It's a very catchy little tune.

MN: Yeah, yeah. So it brought you back twenty years, when you were a kid.

JM: Yeah, you can't help it, 'cause it gets drilled into your mind, you know. 'Cause the walls aren't that thick. And she must have loved that tune, she played it every day.

MN: Now, your parents are from Hiroshima.

JM: Uh-huh.

MN: And so when August 1945, the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb. Do you remember your parents talking about the nuclear bombing at all?

JM: No, but I looked at a map of... when I took a trip to Japan, I went to my parents' house in (Kusatsu). And then I had a map also of the, I guess the radius of the atomic bomb. And in a sense, my father's house dodged the bullet, so to speak, because the impact died out just before it -- relatively speaking, this atomic bomb in terms of nuclear weapons was, in today's weaponry is not, wasn't that powerful, so to speak. I mean, it's all relative, you know. But today's, today's weaponry, no, it wouldn't be considered a very powerful weapon, 'cause now we have these thermal, you know, these really, superbombs that blow everything up. But, of course, so his house and things are still there. Sort of an eerie sensation when you're in Hiroshima, you know. Like I was standing by the train station and you could hear the, and late at night you could hear the... I guess the squealing of the sounds from the railroad tracks. God, it sounds almost eerie.

MN: But as far as you know, your parents and your relatives and family in Japan were probably spared.

JM: Pretty much, they were, they needed help. I don't know where my father took out a loan, or he got his, he got hold of three or four hundred dollars somewhere, and we were, I remember, constantly mailing packages to Japan.

MN: And this is after the, after you were released from Manzanar?

JM: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: When did you folks leave Manzanar?

JM: I believe in about October. October of '45.

MN: And then after you left Manzanar, where did you go?

JM: We came back to Little Tokyo for a little while, for about a day or two, and then we had to, 'cause there just simply was no housing available. We couldn't afford it anyway, because, heck, all they gave us was, what, fifty bucks and a ticket out of, out of Dodge, so to speak. So we wound up in these trailer courts in Long Beach, the Los Cerritos trailer camp. And there wasn't one or two -- I'm not talking about a few trailers, there were like hundreds and hundreds of 'em. And a lot of people lived in there, blacks, whites, everything. And these were like dingy little... oh, my gosh. I would say they're barely fit for human habitation. Even FEMA wouldn't want 'em. They were... but a lot of Japanese Americans wound up in these trailer camps, not just in Long Beach but in Roger Young Village in Griffith Park, they were in Quonset huts over there, and then Sun Valley, they had a whole bunch of trailers over there. I think Tak was living in that.

MN: Nakayama.

JM: Nakayama.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: Now you said in the trailer park in Long Beach, there were a lot of people. You also mentioned that the soldiers were there too, returning soldiers.

JM: Yeah, some of them were. 'Cause I remember one Japanese lady got punched in the face for no other reason. It wasn't because of a sexual thing like she was being attacked, they just, they just didn't like you.

MN: So actually, it was kind of scary to live in these trailer parks, too, it sounds like.

JM: Well, yeah, because you didn't know who -- especially, even though we're in Long Beach -- we were, it was just a leery thing over there. You couldn't go into a restaurant, 'cause (you didn't know) whether or not they'd serve you or whether they'd say anything to you. I mean, racism, racial hatred was alive and well. Outright, it was in your face. It was nothing subtle, nothing, you know, it was just straight there. And the first day I went to school, right off the bat we got into trouble. Because a ball was missing, and, of course, "Oh, it was those 'Jap' kids that did it. They stole it." So they immediately assumed we stole things, which we didn't, of course. And Poly High School in Long Beach, they had to close it because they were fighting in the hallways. I got to say this: don't feel, I wouldn't feel too sorry for us because we did a lot of fighting in camp. So we could hold our own. We were battling away half the time. And oh, that crossing guard kept giving us such a hard time, 'cause he didn't like us.

MN: How did he give you a hard time?

JM: He said, "Get over here," you know, or something. He would really sneer at us or whatever. It didn't take much to figure out who liked you and who didn't. So we caught him in the alley and kicked him off his bike. Well, the teacher heard about that, in those days they had corporal punishment. So she called me in and she took out a ruler, and oh, she whaled away on my butt. But I had a pocketbook back there, so I'm like, "Have at it, lady." [Laughs]

MN: Now, which school was this at?

JM: This is in Edison. It's still there.

MN: It was a grammar school?

JM: Interesting thing enough, too, they came around looking for me one day, they said, "Who's this kid, who's Matsuoka?" And I said, "I am." Said, "Oh, is that you?" Apparently they had given a, what they called an Iowa test in those days. And that was sort of like a quasi-IQ test and what have you, and I had scored among the highest.

MN: So despite not going to school in Manzanar and really not getting, you know, book knowledge, you did very well.

JM: Yeah, uh-huh.

MN: I'm gonna go back to this crossing guard. Was this crossing guard an adult?

JM: No, no, he was a kid. You know, they used kids in these things. They thought they were important with their sashes and all that, you know, and they were big and tall. So we caught 'em in the alleyway there. And all of a sudden, he realized, "Uh-oh." [Laughs] And of course we just rushed him and threw him off his bicycle, and he went tumbling on the ground. Threw a few kicks his way, stepped on his bike and walked away.

MN: And I guess, what was he like after that?

JM: Oh, well, they... that's the last, last we ever heard from him.

MN: So as a Japanese American, it sounds like you were, it was very hard to be accepted at school. You also mentioned a basketball game.

JM: Yeah, we were playing, and all of a sudden this, this wasn't in Edison, I was at, this is at Thomas Jefferson junior high, I think, at the time. And all of a sudden this kid, he stopped. He says, when he looked at me, he says, "Oh, I can't play with you," and he walks away, and I said, "What was that about?" And they said, "Oh, his father died in the Pacific. He was in the Merchant Marines and his ship went down, it was torpedoed." So I said, "Oh, okay." It was nothing personal, you know, in that sense.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

MN: So while you were living in the trailer parks, what did you do on the weekends?

JM: Oh, boy. I loved to spend my time at the Pike. This was an amusement park in Long Beach. And oh, they had so many things over there. It was, it was like a mini Disneyland at the time. They had the Cyclone, you know, it just...

MN: That a roller coaster?

JM: Roller coaster, they had penny arcades which took real pennies. Oh, you could spend an hour in there easy. And you really got your play out of pennies. I could, I could spend an hour there and not spend any more than a quarter. And then I would always go see a, they had triple-feature movies, you know, Dracula versus Frankenstein. They were these great B-movies. I love B-movies to this day. And Bela Lugosi is a favorite of mine. [Laughs] I could be a charter member of the Bela Lugosi fan club, the Eastside kids, even though they wanted to go beat up the "Japs." You know, Muggs McGinnis and the Cisco Kid and all these Westerns. You can't beat those. And when it came time to eat, they had... oh, they had the most wonderful hamburgers and hot dogs and shrimp boats. What's not to like? I was there every weekend, every weekend for years. I'd ride my bicycle. I even, I even wrote a poem to my bike. [Laughs] That was published. That was my first publication.

MN: Where was it published in?

JM: Yeah. "It carries me through wind and fog, a friend more faithful than a dog, my bike." [Laughs]

MN: And where did you get this published?

JM: They had an anthology of junior high school poetry. So they accepted mine.

MN: Now where were you getting this money to spend at the Pike?

JM: Oh, my sisters would come in on the Red Car. And a lot of people would take the Red Car to go to Long Beach, to go to Pike. And they would come and visit us, and they'd give me a... what do they call it? They'd give me two dollars to go. And that two dollars went a long way, believe me. Movies, penny arcade, whatever, food. I'd have money left, I'd have a dollar left, actually. Comic books. God, you get, they were ten cents apiece. And some of those were the originals, too, that are worth, you know, god knows what they're worth today. They're original Captain Marvel, first editions, something like that, which I just probably tossed 'cause they were only ten cents. Oh, boy.

MN: Now, you said -- now, did your sisters live with you at the time?

JM: No. They were, they were staying in Los Angeles, they were working at the Queen of (Angels) Hospital, nurse's aides. The grunge, they did the grunge work. They emptied out the bedpans, they made the beds, they did, they did the dirty work.

MN: What about your parents? Were they working?

JM: My father never, never found a job after that. So even there... I think a few times, we were even late on our rent at the trailer, trailer park.

MN: So was it basically your sisters were supporting your parents?

JM: Uh-huh, yeah.

MN: Your father just having a hard time finding another job?

JM: Yeah. Couldn't get a job. I think he was quite typical. Later on, of course, a lot of Isseis went into gardening. And to me, gardening is the backbone of our economy out here. If it wasn't for the, if it wasn't for the gardeners, we would have been a terrible case of starvation or poverty.

MN: Now, there's this Bible in your house.

JM: Oh, yeah, right.

MN: Tell me about the story.

JM: Well, of course, they sent me off to Bible school, and I recited the Twenty-third Psalm, and I got a Bible. So I was very proud of that.

MN: And this is in the trailer parks.

JM: Uh-huh. I went to the trailer park Baptist church.

MN: Why is this Bible so special?

JM: It's the first thing I ever got, you know. I mean, you kind of remember things you got when you were a kid. So hey, I got this big old book, and good quality printing and everything. So what not to like? Free. [Laughs]

MN: Did any of the sermons stick with you, or did you just think it's just another white institution, this church?

JM: Well, you know, one of the things, in any religion, when they get to you when you're young, you're very impressionable. So you do, you do internalize a lot of the teachings whatever, whatever it might be when you're young. So I'm sure I incorporate, or I calculate in my psyche some elements of Christianity.

MN: Now, how long were your family in the Long Beach trailer park?

JM: Two years, I believe.

MN: And then from there, where did you folks go?

JM: We returned to Los Angeles and lived in the Jefferson area. And I went to Foshay and I went to Dorsey High School.

MN: Now, you mentioned that, okay, you left Manzanar, you left the Long Beach trailer park, and there was this one thing that you got once you moved into Los Angeles, which was a luxury.

JM: Oh, yeah, yeah. Which was the flushing of the toilet. 'Cause I never heard that sound in Manzanar, and I never heard that sound while I was in the trailer park. And I went to visit, I stayed with my sisters during the weekend, and they had a little house in the back in the Echo Park area. And I heard the toilet flush. It was like, I can't describe the sound to you. It was like, "I'm back to civilization. I'm back among living people." I don't know. I guess it's different for everybody else, but for me, a toilet flushing was a sound of, it meant something to me. Maybe that's why in my condo I have three toilets. [Laughs] I didn't consciously... it just so happened that my condo has three toilets. That's the way they built it. So I'm very happy. I use all three of 'em, and I get very upset if my plumbing goes out. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: Okay, so you went to Los Angeles, and then you went to Jefferson High -- Jefferson junior high, right?

JM: In Long Beach. I went to Foshay.

MN: Foshay, okay, I'm getting... Foshay, and then you went to Dorsey.

JM: I went to Dorsey.

MN: And this was in Crenshaw area. And now, you know, today, Dorsey is really black.

JM: Uh-huh.

MN: But in your time it's very different.

JM: It was really white. [Laughs] And we were like the beginning of the color seeping into the school and they didn't like it. You'd hear comments like, "Who let them in?" Or, "Here come the roaches," things like that. They ran the school, and they let it be known they just tolerated you. And I saw... and especially between blacks, there were a lot of racial fights that broke out. So it was, you know, the tension there was quite... it was a tense group. They kind of locked it down, you couldn't leave. I still had some fun. I played B football. I never got in a game, so a lot of my friends showed up one day in the stands, they kept yelling, "We want Jim. We want..." finally, my coach, "Who the hell is Jim?" "It's me, coach." "Get in there." So I go running into the game and the gun goes off and my friends went wild. The humiliation of finally getting into a game, and the gun going off and the game ending. Brother.

MN: So from Dorsey, though, you were transferred to Belmont.

JM: I transferred to Belmont.

MN: Now, did you go to Belmont because you were having problems at Dorsey?

JM: No, we just were, we moved because we had relatives that lived in the Virgil area, and they found a house for us. We were living in this back house, and they found an actual house, the rent was cheap. The Virgil area was a Japanese area. We moved over there, and I wound up going to Belmont. Belmont was totally different from... it was a compete mix of every ethnicity you could think of. And we all got along wonderfully with each other. We would all say, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of Mexico." [Laughs] All the Mexican students would bust out laughing. The only two fights that I ever heard of was within, was between women. They were fighting over some guy. And every afternoon for lunch, at lunchtime, we would go across the street and light up our cigarettes with the coaches. Our coaches would be out there and our teachers would be out there. Of course, if you walked across the street, they'd get you for detention. As long as you walked down this side, we're fine and we're all lighting up and what have you.

MN: Is that where you first learned to smoke, or were you smoking way ahead of that?

JM: I think I was smoking ahead of that.

MN: What other bad habits were you picking up? Were you drinking?

JM: I never could hold my liquor too well, so I never did. You mean in high school?

MN: Yeah, Belmont. [Laughs]

JM: Not really. I was a, sort of a, I was a pretty good student. In fact, I sang with the Belmont glee club. We performed at the, as part of a large group at the Hollywood Bowl and places like that. We went all over. I had one of the few bass voices. I played on their B football team which were co-champions of the Eastern league with Poly High School. All my friends were sent to Jackson.

MN: Tell us what Jackson is.

JM: Jackson is a, nowadays they call it continuation schools, but they were worse than continuation schools. You either went to Jackson or Reis, and that was one step from being kicked out. And if you gave 'em any lip at Jackson or Reese, you were out of the whole, you were out of the school system. Permanently expelled. So all the kids on the east side that were dysfunctional or had an attitude or gave the school grief, they were sent to Jackson. And all the kids on the west side, south side, went to Jacob Reese. I'll never forget the time I saw a track meet with a guy from Reese, and he was smoking a joint right... [laughs]. He was coming around the corner with a roach in his mouth. I had to bust out laughing. "Damn," I said, "that Reese is really something." Can you imagine that? He's toking up and he's running, you know? Oh, man. I said, "Now I've seen it all." I remember seeing my cousin at Belmont, the first time I went to Belmont and he was walking along the roof. He's yelling down there, "Hey, Cuz, hey Cuz." "Wow, is that you?" I said, "What are you doing up there?" He says, "Oh, I don't feel like going to class." Of course, the next month, he was sent down to Jackson.

MN: Yeah, but you were caught smoking on campus, too, right, at Belmont?

JM: Yeah, so they, they put me in front of the student court or something like that. And they said, "Do you know what you're in here for?" I said, "Yeah, I was smoking." Said, "Well, what do you have to say to it?" I said, "Well, only thing I have to say is, 'Who do you think you are, passing judgment on me?'" I should have said, "Screw you," but I didn't. They said, "That's enough. Ten days in detention." I had to give him some lip, 'cause all my friends were going down to Jackson. I would have, it would have destroyed my image if I went in there and meekly took whatever they gave me, so I just gave 'em attitude.

MN: But you know what? In spite of your bad attitude, you were doing well in school, and you got this award. Tell us about this award.

JM: Well, I was one of the outstanding students of the business department. They picked two students, a senior and a under... either freshman or sophomore, and it was me and this white kid that were given the award. So academically, I was always able to do well.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

MN: Okay, I'm gonna ask you more about the Japanese American youth culture in the 1950s in L.A. What was that like? You talked about clubs.

JM: One of the reasons we had so many clubs, segregation was a de facto thing. We were segregated whether we liked it or not. I mean, everybody was that... nobody told us we couldn't do this. It was just a unwritten rule. It's just like certain manners today, like I don't walk over and bonk you on the head. [Laughs] I don't say, "Martha, you were ten minutes, two minutes late," bango, you know. I don't do these things. You just don't do it. You'll be ostracized if you do that. Japanese Americans stuck with Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans stuck with Chinese Americans, blacks with blacks, whites with white. You don't cross the color line. Mexican Americans with Mexican, you don't cross the color lines. And as such, you developed your own society. Because, okay, if we had to, if our society was a Japanese American society, then we had to determine what we liked to do and what the young people liked to do and all these different things. What was cool, what was in, what wasn't, you know, what was uncool. And what was cool in those days was to be part of a athletic club. And I think that comes from the older Japanese Americans of the '30s because they all kind of gathered around the various athletic clubs.

MN: You're talking, you have this list here, you're talking like the Olivers?

JM: Yeah, people like that.

MN: The Cougars, the Exclusive 20 that you have listed, they were not athletic, were they?

JM: No, maybe not, but I think the Olivers were based around baseball, things like that. But the whole idea was that you would, you would have these athletic club, you know. And then you would have girls' clubs, too, and they weren't, they weren't athletic clubs as such, but they, they were formed to throw social events like dances and parties, house parties and all that. And, of course, when they had a house party or they threw a party, they would like to invite clubs. So that made all the more reason why young males would want to join clubs. So our whole idea was that we would join clubs whether we were athletic or not. And then the problem becomes like any other thing, like the things that, the trouble between Block 9 and 10 and 11, some rivalry starts to break out based on your geographic location or who or what you are. And I would say a lot of clubs remained clubs. They were clubs to the very end. They had these basketball leagues and what have you. Others began to develop in a different, different form. They became more like club/gang-like. And that's what transpired. When I was, when I moved to my new home, I was sort of like, and I was going to Belmont, I just didn't know a lot of folks. So the first thing I began to do is go to Hollywood Judo Dojo just to go somewhere. And I had a friend that would come by and we'd go out to a movie now and then. Essentially, I wasn't part of any social scene. So one day, I'm walking to my judo class, and I hear this car come up. It's one of these monster cars, vroom, it's my cousin in there. And my cousins were sort of like the epitome of cool in those days. He had a ducktail hair, you know, his hair was long, you know, and slicked back with a ducktail. And he's got these dark glasses on and it's evening, and he'll wear the, he'll wear the dark glasses, it was cool to wear dark glasses whether it was pitch black or not. It's just the whole idea of looking cool. He's in this monster, you know, car, and with the pipes just revving away. He said, "Hey, Cuz, what are you doing?" And I remembered him from before, so I was just talking to him and he said, "Well, what are you doing?" I said, "I'm going to judo." He says, "What are you doing Saturday?" I said, "Well, nothing." He says, "Why don't I come by and pick you up and we'll go to a dance if you're doing nothing else." I said, "Yeah, gee, I'd love to go to the dance." Sure enough, that Saturday, I hear his car outside. And I go out there, and there's about two or three other guys in there, you know, and he introduces me around. He's very proud of me. He says, "This is my cousin." I don't, I don't think he had any other relatives. And he tells everybody, "This is my cuz, da-da-da." Oh, I said, "Glad to meet you," and what have you.

And we take off and we're going to a public dance, and that's like the Tuesday evening programs of that day. Everybody went to a public dance. And this was at Normandy playground, and you went over there. Well, there was a whole bunch of dos and don'ts, of course. You had to look a certain way, you had to dress a certain way. The in clothing for guys our age was what they called a wrap. It was like a jacket with a tie around the coat. So that, I mean, if you wore that, you were cool. Or you wore a nice sweater, a dark sweater. Not like the dark sweater... something like I have on right now. And dark pants, and a very expensive pair of shoes. And not tennis shoes or anything like this, a Florsheim or Regal, something that cost you sixty, seventy bucks to look cool. And you had to have a haircut. If you didn't have a haircut, it was like you might as well go there unbathed. 'Cause you had to show that it was a razor cut around your ear, and your hair was perfectly... so if you showed up there, it was cool. And you walked in and they were playing these Doo-wop type of things. "In the Still of the Night," "Earth Angel," all that stuff that you hear. And not everybody would dance, not everybody. We were all in various clusters or groups, and I couldn't figure that out for a while. And I was standing there with my friends soaking it all in, you know, you hear this, it was a gymnasium and sparsely decorated. It was dark. Because it was a gym floor, everybody kind of knew that you better not smoke, otherwise we wouldn't have these dances anymore. But still, some people still lit up because you could see the cigarette smoke. And I ran into some of my friends from the west side who I did not like, 'cause they were trying to kick my butt, and they were like gang wannabes. They were like gang wannabes. And they came over to me, I said, "What the heck?" and they kind of looked at me and they said, "Are you with those guys?" I said, "Yeah. I came with them." They said, "Well, what time are you having the fight? When is the fight gonna take place?" I said, "What fight?" Said, "You're with them, aren't you?" I said, "Yeah." And they said, "I thought you guys were getting in a fight." And I didn't know what he meant by, "You guys," and, "What fight?" So I just kind of pull away from them, I walk back over there to the guys I came in with. And I said, "Do you know anything about a fight that we are supposed to be in?" And all of a sudden my cousin comes back and, "Hey," he says, "hey, don't worry about nothing, man." He says, "We got the backing of this group over there." And I said, "The backing?" Apparently the guys I was supposed to be with were supposed to fight somebody that evening. I had no idea about that. That was rather amazing. Later on, when I went back to the guys, these gang wannabes from the west side, I just gave 'em a dirty look like, you know, like, "If I were you, if I'm with these guys and something's gonna happen, it might be with you guys." [Laughs] They caught the hint and they took off.

So later on that night... I kind of enjoyed the dance, I didn't do, I didn't do much dancing at all, but in those days you did a slow dance which was very easy to do. You just grab your partner, just kind of hung on. Just kind of rocked around, you know, 'cause the music was very... you know what I mean? You know what Doo-wop is, right? So prior to that it was the foxtrot, which was... and if you didn't know how to do the foxtrot, you were in bad shape because you invariably stepped on your partner's foot, you know, it would be embarrassing. But here we did the slow grinding type of music, you know, which was fine, 'cause you got to grab your partner and hang on, you know. And of course, you let go and stood away when they did the fast dance, and they called that, at that time, point in time, we called that the "Jit," which was short for Jitterbug, which was really a cool-looking dance. Very few people could do it. My cousin could do it to perfection. Or they had this other thing that comes right out of the ghetto. It was sort of like the dance that the blacks did, and you would just hold hand with each other, and just kind of do the, you know, freewheeling. And I think we got a lot of our cues from the dances that they had down there in south central, 'cause they used to televise those things. Oh, that was the strangest programs you ever saw on TV, they'd go right into the heart of the ghetto. And I used to fear for the TV... I was wondering, "I wonder if they're ever gonna get out of there alive." They were giving them the hard, hard look, you know. But they would do that type of dancing, and you'd have the whole paraphernalia. You would wear a hat and a coat. So we had all these various things happening, and a supposed fight, people dancing, and it was, it was quite different. It wasn't a nice, everybody dance type of thing. It was just more like a gathering with dancing. And at the end of it all, you would invite some of the girls, "We'll drive you back," or what have you, if you came with somebody. And we'd all go to drive-ins, and we'd all sit around and have our chicken in the basket for a dollar and what have you, and our French fries. It was a good time. I thoroughly enjoyed those public dances, and went to those things for a year, couple of years, in fact. And, of course, they kind of evolved into house parties and things like that. And I even went to a dance out in Stockton one night, 'cause we didn't have anything to do. My cousin said, "Hey, I met this girl from Stockton, and she says they have a, they have a party there every night, I mean, every week." I said, "Yeah, we don't have anything going on here in L.A. this week," he said, "Well, let's go to Stockton. And this was like, we were having coffee at twelve midnight, said, "Yeah, let's go." Jump in our cars, gas was twenty-nine cents a gallon, we were blazing through. But at that time, that was the culture of that time. It was who you associated with, what you did and all that. They were very prescribed.

And a lot of people think (...) the group that I was with was a gang from the get-go, but really, we weren't, if you were that, it wasn't any good because nobody would invite you to parties. And so in a sense, it kind of evolved in that direction because people would want to beat your butt up for something, and you wound up defending yourself, and then you wound up attacking them, and things got from one stage to another. So in a way, it kind of killed the public dances because the fighting started breaking out between people, and for whatever reason. And yeah, I can see the reasons, if those wannabes were there one night and I had some of my friends, and maybe this would be my time to get back at them, you know, things like that. People trying to settle those old scores, that happens.

But I had a friend, too, that... interesting guy. He always felt that somebody was staring at him. And I swear the guy got into more scrapes, and he would come back and says, "That guy's looking at me." I said, "What do you mean he's looking at you?" "He's looking at me." And in this day and age, I think they call it dogging you, "mad dogging." In those days, it's sort of like he's really looking. I said, "No, get away from that. He's not looking at you." Next thing I know, [makes sound effect]. All hell's breaking loose, and it's my friend, and he's after the guy that's quote/unquote "staring at me." Oh, give me a break. But you know, these are, these fights started over these little petty things, no rhyme or reason for it. And, and this was the thing about it, too. These women, I swear to god, they instigated half of that stuff. They would come and tell us, "Oh, I heard that so and so, this happened. And I heard that they were out to kick your ass." [Laughs] Now, what are you gonna say in that case? You know, are you gonna tuck your tail in?" Sort of like, "Oh, is that right?" Well, we got to make sure we find where they are, and we make sure that we show up with a little bit more people than they have. And you could see the process of how it began to develop.

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

<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.

<Begin Segment 19>

MN: Then you had other ally groups with you.

JM: We had absolutely allies, right.

MN: Who were they? What were they called and what area were they from?

JM: We had another group that lived in J-Flats, and they called themselves the Junior Decoyos. Now, where in hell they got a name like that, I'll never know. But I guess you would call them the nicer guys in J-Flats. I think they saw themselves as a cut above us. They were the more educated, they were... they were strictly into their sports. They were the epitome of what Japanese society among young people wanted to see. School-oriented, they were like basketball stars, they just happened to live next to a bunch of low-achievers called the Black Juans who thought they were tough-ass or something like that. But when it came down to a dance and they were getting nervous about something, all of a sudden they were like, "Oh, we're with you." So there would be like ten or twelve of them. In terms of numbers now, imagine, if we went to a dance, and there were like twenty of us now, going to a dance, and now all of a sudden, now the Decoyos wanted to be part of us, and you can always tell because you had the clusters. Now, our clusters were something like thirty-something people. And that's a lot of folks at a public event, at a Nisei Week, at a this... you had thirty something people. We commanded respect. So they, they were always part of us when they needed us, but when they didn't need us, they didn't know us. Fine, fine, we'll live with that.

We had another group coming out of Chinatown, and they didn't have the large amounts of Chinese immigrants that came later on, so we had, they had a smaller group of people that lived in Chinatown, so their younger group called themselves the Chinatown Lowriders, and they had some renegade Mexican Americans in there, too, because the gangs in that area of Chinatown were very established. They had Alpine, which was a very large Mexican American group, Macy, Clover, well, the Temple Street Boys. But Alpine and Macy were the really big groups, and they were like, they made the headlines quite often. They would literally get into in the streets, and you know, you'd read that the Alpine and Macy battled it out, three or four were stabbed, you know. They had some knock down, drag out battles for turf over there. And so you had the small group over there of Chinese guys and their renegade Mexican allies, and they had, oh, maybe eight or nine. But they were kind of addicted to armament. If you went down to pick a fight in Chinatown, you could be looking, you know, staring at a shotgun coming back at you. Because they weren't into man to man fisticuffs like we were. You know, I'm a football player and I went to judo, so to me, going toe to toe was the way you went. I thought the use of weaponry was, among my group, was cowardly. "Hey, you don't have the guts to face me." You don't go toe to toe, you want to shoot somebody from a distance, oh, how cowardly can... you know, we kind of looked upon that with disdain. But to Chinatown, it was, "Hell no. You mess with us, we're not gonna get beat up, we're gonna shoot you." So that's where they were coming from. Somehow, we got to be kind of friends with them, so they were sort of like, they became allied with us.

So we had a very unreliable bunch in the Decoyos, we had Chinatown, which threw in with us because they were so small. So now you're talking about a potential cluster of forty, with ten of those guys really willing to, you know, fire away. And one guy in particular, which I'll never divulge the name, and he's still around to this day, he was what you'd call a shooter. But not with the Asian groups, but with the Chicano groups. I mean, I shouldn't use the word Chicanos, because "Chicano" has a political context.

MN: Latinos?

JM: Yeah. And they were always looking for this little guy that opened up on them. It was a Chinese fellow. But anyway...

MN: I know you had other allies, but what about --

JM: Well, that was there, and then, of course, we needed places to go. Now, I don't want you to think that that's all we did was run around. The whole idea was to, it was party time.


MN: Okay, Jim. Before we left off, we were talking about all the different groups that were allied with the Black Juans. You talked about the Chinatown Lowriders, the Decoyos from J-Flats, and I know you had some other allies.

JM: Well, we were, we tried to keep a friendship with the folks out in the valley. They were called the Freelancers and the Junior Freelancers. The reason we wanted to keep things very nice with them was they threw dances out there in the Sun Valley Community Center, and it gave us an alternative to having to, if there was nothing else going on. But on the other hand, too, we didn't want to go there as some invading force, so we spent a lot of time with them getting to be friends and what have you. So we sort of said, "Well, anytime you come to L.A., you can consider yourself part of our group, and we hope that we can be friends the other way around." So they didn't, but they had something like twenty guys over there. So if they ever came into L.A. and we had our forty, you could be talking about sixty. [Laughs] So I'm just saying, that's just the senior group. Then there was the... it came along in another few years or so, the Baby Black Juans, and they had a much larger, they had a fairly large group, too, but they had their different allies.

MN: What about Boyle Heights? Did you have any allies there?

JM: Well, the only reason we were relatively friendly with east Boyle Heights was we considered that the east side. So at one point in time, as the things began to evolve, for some reason, everything split along the east-west divide. 'Cause the west side had a large number of people in the Crenshaw area, and actually, we kind of assumed that Gardena was part of that group. And everything outside of that was sort of like, it was sort of like a no-man's land, which was the old Uptown area. I think you said you used to live there, and Little Tokyo. And the reason none of us claimed Little Tokyo was that we always had to, we had a lot of business to do in Little Tokyo. You know, people were coming and going, and it wouldn't seem like an invasion, somebody coming into our territory, so to speak. If they came to the Virgil area or J-Flats, yes, they were in our territory. We became more and more territorial. And yes, it wasn't that we had a love of that particular area, it was sort of like it was an affront to us, that they would dare to come in. You know, "Who are you people coming in to our, our homeland area without our permission?" That's the way that mentality, it's really locked down in the city of east L.A. among the Mexican gangs. God help you if you stray one block over. You know, you take your life in your hands. Ours were, we were much more mobile, and like I say, we were very car-oriented. And again, our focal point was parties, dances, house parties. And all the other stuff was stuff that we'd just as soon not happen. But if it happened, so be it.

MN: So then you're talking about, like, the uptown and Little Tokyo area was basically a neutral area.

MN: Uh-huh.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

MN: And then you know the east side-west side now, today, I think my generation, we think of west side as Santa Monica. Can you tell, explain to us where exactly in your generation you considered east side and what was considered west side?

JM: Okay. This is all in the context of JA community. For the JA community, the west side was Crenshaw. Now, West L.A. was a different story, Sawtelle and those places. And, of course, there were groupings of JAs all over the place, way out in the... where was it? Oxnard, places like that. And we even got into conflicts with some of the guys out in Oxnard. But we were quite friendly to the East L.A. people. We didn't think too much of them to be honest with you. And we even had an alliance with a Mexican gang over there that wasn't territorial. They called themselves EW, Every Where. So we had some friendships over there, too. Even though we were highly segregated, we never broke down into racial conflict. We all kind of assumed we were in the same boat, you know. We didn't mind, we just, that's the way it was. The whites had their society, and blacks had theirs, we had ours. We were all influenced by each other.

MN: Now, tell me about the west side. Which groups dominated the west side?

JM: That was groups like the... well, the largest group there for a long time were the Seinans, and then as generations turned, they kind of faded out and the Baby Seinans took over and they faded out. They were a group older than I was. And all of a sudden you had groups like the Constituents. They also had this large group called the Dominators, in and of themselves they were like seventy or eighty people. A lot of them were black. So I think, in a way, the west side JAs were much more influenced by their black friends, 'cause they kind of spoke in that slang, you know. And they took on a lot of black mannerisms. Whereas we were more like, we were influenced more like from the Mexican groups. We were much more like they were in the sense that... maybe more territorial, maybe more... I say we were more humbler. [Laughs] That's what somebody said, that was the difference. We weren't as flashy, trying to be as flashy, as flamboyant, 'cause they were used to all this black folk type of thing. That's the way you had to be, loud and brash. They kind of liked it like that, whereas we were like, more like the Mexican groups, where we're really reticent about things and more secretive, and we just kept things. And loyalty and what have you meant everything, you know. You were true to your homies, that type of thing. We were pretty much the same way. And we didn't get into too many conflicts with them, but a few times we might have.

MN: When you say "them," are you talking about Dominators?

JM: No, no, the Mexican groups. But like I say, we kind of considered EW part of us. So you add that to the Freelancers, and then you had EW, they had about ten to fifteen of them. Now you're talking about seventy, eighty. So when you say Black Juans, that's a pretty big, big grouping of people. There was no time in which everybody gets together at one time at one spot. That doesn't happen. But when you go along, when you go to certain areas to see who your friends and allies are, then, you know, in terms of numerically, we would say we have about sixty, seventy people sort of allied to us in a loose alliance. Now, we got into a sort of cataclysmic war with the west side. Everybody took sides, you're either east side, west side. You were either Constituent or Black Juan. We were, we headed up the east side.

MN: So you're saying the Constituents headed up the west side.

JM: Yeah, pretty much. The biggest group that we had, we got into a continual conflict with, was the Dominators. It was open warfare for us, not that we wanted it to be. I keep saying this over and over ad nauseum, but it just turned out that way. I mean, it went against everything we wanted to do, 'cause we wanted to party. "Where's the happenings?" "Oh, go up to Stockton and have a good time." Yet, now, we're spending time figuring out where we can go because we might get jumped, and what are we gonna do about them if they attack us here, and blah, blah, blah. And a lot of times, we can't control this stuff. When you have allies, sixty, seventy, they're gonna do things on their own. They don't need our permission to do anything. And I'm sure that happens at the other side. But on the other hand, everybody thinks that we had perfect control, like the Constituents had perfect control of the west side, I don't think so. And we had control over people on our side, no, that didn't happen. People did things on their own. It's sort of like, a lot of times we were left to clean up the, clean up the thing. It came to a head when... it wasn't us, we kept the peace fairly well, and we didn't use armaments very much. But among the younger Baby Black Juans, then it really broke out into armed warfare. And I think they got into an argument with the west side folks, and the fight continued down here in the Pershing Square area, gunshots, shots rang out, and one of the west side kids got, was killed. So all hell broke loose after that, and that's where they, they even, that's where they formed Jacs, because that was to stop this warfare going on. And I was getting these calls saying... and I got a call from one of the, a relative of the person that got killed. And he accused me of instigating it all. I said, "I have no way of controlling everybody and anything, and I don't want to see anybody get killed."

MN: This made the Japanese section of the Rafu Shimpo, am I correct?

JM: Oh, yeah. My mother caught wind of some... she said, "What are you doing?" [Laughs] I said, "I don't know. What do you mean, what am I doing?" She said, "It's all written down here," you know. Oh, boy, I was in hot water.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

MN: But you had, you did have guns personally. You had guns, right?

JM: Oh, I had hunting rifles and everything. And through a chance encounter when I was working in the aircraft industry, I knew this fellow named Red, and Red was a, he's a white guy, he had red hair and he's almost pink in color, white, strangest guy. He was, he turned Asiatic. You know, he's a white man that inside his mind, he's an Asian. What happened was he went through the Bataan Death March. He was in the Philippines, and they ran him through there, then they sent him to Japan in the, to the salt mines over there, or wherever. And at the very end of it, he identified more as a Japanese than as a white man. So when he came back over here, he couldn't, he couldn't fit in into white society at all, so he wound up hanging around J-town in those sleazy old bars with these old... I know this sounds disrespectful, okay? There's no other way to describe the old, old worn-out Mama-sans that had seen too much, too many miles in the cabarets in Tokyo in the Ginza. It was pitiful. But you would have people like that hanging out there, and also Kibeis, because Kibeis never really fit back into American society. I mean, Nisei society. You know, Nisei society was really, it was very conformist. You did this, this, this, or you didn't fit. Kibeis didn't fit, so they were out there, loose ends. So when you went to the bars over here you saw people like Red, the Asian white people. You saw Kibeis, you saw Tokyo renegades that were on the run probably from the yakuza, that if they knew where they were, they'd get shot. So they're all hanging out down here.

But anyway, Red was hanging around there, and we couldn't... the way I ran into him was he was an Air Force inspector, and we couldn't get any other parts sold until he put the stamp on it. And when Red was hung over, he was a son of a gun. There was nothing to do. Until one day I finally, I had to ask him, I said, "Red, what happened? You look in bad shape." He said, "Yeah, I had too much to drink last night." I said, "What in the hell were you drinking?" He said, "You know, I was in those bars in J-town." I said, "Oh." And so I began to talk to him. And he began to tell me things about things, but the main thing was, at the end of it all, he'd buy, he'd put the stamp on there. So the supervisors caught wind of that, and whenever he went on a tear, it was like, "Call Jim over here. Jim, go over there and take care of Red." So I'd go in there and Red wouldn't, you know, he'd look at that piece and say, "No, no." So I'd go over there and work on it a little bit, then I'd call Red over and Red would just, "Oh, okay, Jim." So I remember one day, though, he really got obstinate and I couldn't even, I couldn't even talk to him anywhere. I don't know what happened. So just on (some) crazy thing, I jumped up and I yelled, "Banzai!" And he freaked out, you know. He freaked out. 'Cause he must have been through beatings after beatings, you know, Japanese guards, you know. And he heard this "banzai" coming, and he, his eyes were like that. And I tossed the paper at him, and his hands were shaking, but he stamped it. [Laughs] That was cold, but I know that was the thing to do. We had to get the job done. But, the reason I bring him up was his hobby was gunsmithing. He was a gunsmith. So I got to know him, and when he told me had had a, unlicensed pistols, all of a sudden my eyes went, oh, you know. "Hey Red, can you turn me on to some pistols?" He said, "Yeah, yeah." So now I had my, I had shotguns, pump guns, what have you, hunting things, but now I had a collection of Saturday night specials if we needed it. If we needed it. Like I say, we had our mores, we don't believe in that, 'cause we thought it was cowardly. But, if push came to shove and they're gonna be shooting at us, we're not gonna, I have a whole arsenal courtesy of Red.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MN: And you started to take on a more leadership role in the Black Juans, and then you got this nickname called the General. And how did you get to be called the General?

JM: Well, most of our older members, as the years went by, were drafted, and they left. And so all of a sudden, J-Flats was sort of quote/unquote "defenseless," you know. Because as I mentioned to you, we had all these sixty, seventy people, alliances there, we could, you know, if you get us, well, we can come back at you all over the place while we were gone. They were all in the army. And I didn't want to go, you know. I was just, I got a deferment. I just got hold of a lawyer and gave him some money and he got me a deferment. And then at the same time, I had bought a brand-new car. I wasn't about to give that thing up. It was a beautiful car, it was a Plymouth Valiant, you know. You know, you could use it in the Batmobile movies, it had a swept fin, it was white and gold, and it had two antennaes coming out of the back. Whoa, man, I was driving that sucker around. I had, everything was just so, the pipes gave out a mellow "brrrrr," you know. It was, believe it or not, they had transmissions that you could punch. So, boy, that was something. I got hold of this young lady, and we went to the movies. And you know, going into a drive-in, trying to re-park your car, especially you have one of these monster cars, and you try to squeeze it, you're punching this and that, at the same time, trying to keep your arm around her, it was more, too much for any one man to deal with. And then I was going to have to give that up, 'cause I got this "greetings from the President," and I said, "Oh, no, it's not gonna happen." So that left me by myself all the time. And I think everybody realized now that J-Flats was rather defenseless, except they have the Baby Black Juans. So now everybody was taking shots at the Baby Black Juans. They were, like, pretty close to crumbling, you know, because they don't have the experience, they don't have, you know, the wherewithal. And I was the one living connection to the, what was there, and why they wanted to be called the Black Juans.

So one day I'm driving by, and they looked so beaten down and dispirited, I just pulled over and talked to them a little bit. And yeah, I could see why people need leaders. I could really see it. Because they don't just need leaders, they need, sort of need what you call iconic leaders. And that's bad, but it's a need that people have. We want somebody to lead us to be this more than human creature. So they saw me as this link, and I said, "You need to do something, to show that you're not afraid of the west side or something." They said, "Well, what shall we do?" And the thought came to (me), "Go on down to Hody's." Hody's was their drive-in restaurant on the west side, it was a, I believe it's either La Brea... it's right at the foot of Baldwin Hills. But that's where all the west side folks are. I said, "Go on down there." Now, I figured out they may get into it, that's possible. On the other hand, there's fifty percent chance they may not get into it. And that would be good, because in a sense, you could claim that you went and invaded their territory. But if we did nothing, you got a hundred percent that the club will dissolve. So I figured out, yeah, go on down there. Go down there and see what's happening. Just let 'em know you're around. And so they thought, "Hey, that's a great idea," so I could see them all huddling, seeing which cars they would go down there. They had about two carloads, two or three carloads, they were going to go down to Hody's. I said, "Yeah, that sounds good." I said, "Well, go to it." Then all of a sudden -- I don't know why it always happens to me, but it happened too many times in my life. I still remember a guy telling me, "Aren't you coming with us?" [Laughs] And I realize now that if I said, "No," they wouldn't go. And if I said, "Yes," I had to go. But our mores at the time was you don't get involved into the battling of the younger folks. They really put you down. My standings would have dropped. "What's wrong with you?" I would have been really looked down upon. So anyway, I said, "Okay, I'll go down with you." They weren't gonna go unless they could follow me down. So I'm driving as low as I can, I hope nobody sees me.

So I got to the, I got to the outside of the drive-in, and then (...) I said, "This is it, this is it, I got to leave. I can't stand the shame of this much," so I took off. I said, "This is it for me. You're on your own now. Whatever happens, happens. Well, as luck would have it, none of the west side was there. So the Baby Black Juans kind of got to roam around strutting, doing their thing like, "Yeah, where are the west side folks? Here we are." They had one renegade from Gardena, we used to call him Little Richard. He's actually a big heavy-set guy. The guy always had (...) a pistol with him and apparently Richard was walking along, kind of leading the crowd, waving his pistol around at Hody's. But that became legendary for them. They got there, and there was a... what was it? A public relations crew. The word got out, "Oh, the Baby Black Juans came down to Hody's of all places." And they were walking around, you know, oh, you could just see the difference in them. You know, they were like, you know, "Wow, we did this." Then all of a sudden, I became, now, elevated to the guru, you know. "Oh, that's the General from the old Black Juans. He told us to do this." Lord have mercy. Because the way the name General came about was we used to go to Linda Lea to see movies sometimes. And I think in one, there was a Japanese movie, and there was a Lieutenant Matsuoka. You know, everybody busted out laughing. So they started calling me "Lieutenant" when I left there. And my cousin said "Hey, you can't call my cousin nothing but a lieutenant. He's a general." So now I became General, you know, which was... they were wolfing on me, so to speak, just making fun of me. But the younger people, they just took it at face value, and I was the one that dictated that we launched this assault on Hody's, you know, now I became the link to the old guys and I became the, you know, if I said this, it was that. I became like an iconic leader. And anytime I showed up at a dance or something like that, it was, "Oh, the General's here."

I took a few advantages of it sometimes. Because I remember walking into a few dances, and I'm surrounded by admiring people. And the people at the door, they're frightened to death. They don't know whether to ask me for money or not, because they don't know whether, they think, "Maybe he's gonna use that as an excuse to tear this dance apart," 'cause there was a bunch of folks there. I just kind of give 'em the hard-eyed look like, "Are you gonna dare to ask me for money or what?" [Laughs] Lot of times they wouldn't. It would catch in their mouth, and I would just kind of walk by. Which added even more to my mystique. So anyway, that's how it came about.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

MN: Now, when was that other time you went to Griffith Park to sort of give a hint to the Gardena group? Was this earlier on?

JM: Oh, that's... it's kind of hard to tell the sequences of events that took place. Like I say, it just got out of hand. It just developed into an all-out war between the east side and the west side. And I believe at that time, I realized... well, I knew that... I figured out we did... there never was a situation where both parties are going to come together and go at each other. It was more like continuous skirmishes, and I'm thinking that our strengths were that we had a lot of alliances, though all of it was so fragmented now, 'cause everybody was gone here and there. So I was kind of concerned, I said, "Well, if Gardena joins the west side, we have no chance whatsoever because numerically, they're going to outnumber us three or four to one. So I understood that the, there was this dance in Pasadena, and I think... I don't know how I got the word, but some of the Gardena folks were going to be there. So we went over there with the express idea of shaking up the Gardena folks to just let 'em know they better not align with the west side. So anyway, we were... it's a little hazy right now, but a fight broke out outside of the dance, and these two Gardena guys were battling the Baby Black Juans, and they were good fighters. This one guy was an athlete, he was doing leaps and, you know, like man, he was knocking our guys out, two of 'em. Me and my friend were just standing there, and we were, like, admiring them, like, oh, my god, you know. "My god, we're not gonna, (our) guys aren't gonna beat these guys." We didn't really want to intervene, but these guys were doing such a good job, we had to, we had to kind of stick our two cents in there. We were in a empty lot. They had some construction going on there, so they had an empty paint bucket. So my friend picks up the paint bucket, and we're still watching this guy fighting, he's doing a good job. So we slip in there and I kick him one in the, you know, in the family jewels. And that puts a stop to him, and my friend hits him with the, slams the empty paint bucket on him, whammo. And that did it. They're, like, staggering, you know. They went down, "All right, that's it. Let's call it a, call it an evening." Then our Chinatown friends come in. I said, "Yeah, well, I think you better leave because the police ought to be coming pretty soon." So before they leave, they shot up every car. Said, "Ooh, that's a little bit more than we wanted to..."

So anyway, the following day was Sunday, and then I heard that the Gardena folks were having a picnic in Griffith Park. So that's close to where we live, so I said, "Okay, now we can deliver the knockout punch, the winner got to go fight. We're just gonna go up there and now use diplomacy." So we got over there, and they saw us, and yeah, we didn't, I only had four or five guys with me. We went over there, and they were just like, you know, like, "What's up? You here to start something?" I said, "No, no, no. We just heard that you're with the west side, and we just wanted to know." 'Cause they had no idea whether I had a bunch of people coming, or I would be calling people to get over there, here they were. They said, "No, no, no, we're not... who told you that?" He said, "Well, that's what we, that's what we heard." I said, "No, not at all." They said, "We'll we're glad. We just, just hope you guys are having a good time." So after that, then Gardena just separated off from the west side, and then there was now them and us. And it really came down to a nasty one, where we wound up invading Jefferson. And, oh, it was brutal. My friend that I know, they hit him in the head with a tire iron, and so the cops told us, "Yeah, you guys came looking for trouble and you found it. You're friend's dying over in Georgia Street," that was the emergency hospital. So it really led to a lot of gunfire at that time. I thought my friend... I could have sworn he shot five or six, but he missed 'em all. You know, the thing about it was, we were really bent, angry with him. And you know why? 'Cause he missed. 'Cause we thought our friend was dying, and, "You missed." So we had to race back to J-Flats to prepare an alibi, 'cause they were gonna come right for us, you know. You can't do that kind of thing, firing away, bullets were going into homes and everything. And broke out the deck of cards, and, you know, we're playing poker half the night. The next day, squad cars came into J-Flats and they just parked. If they saw you coming out of the house, boy, "Get in." They took you down, they shook you down. "Who started this?" "Who did this?" And that was getting to be a little bit too much, so I said, "Wow, man, time for me to go in the army." So the next time my deferment was up -- they only gave you deferments for a certain amount of time. I said, "I'm getting out of Dodge here." I'm tired of... I don't want to go to dances armed to the teeth anymore. That's no fun. All the public dances are gone, all the parties are gone, now we're in a continual state of warfare, and that's no fun, you know. I just want out of this thing. Maybe if I get in the army and they send me far away to Korea or Germany, I could start a new life or something like that. In a sense, that's what happened.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

MN: Before we get into your army days, I want to ask you some of the Nisei female clubs that stuck around with the Black Juans, I'm gonna toss some names out that you mentioned. Darlenez, the Desirees and the De Luchez.

JM: The group that really, we used to associate with all the time was the Darlenez, and they were not gang girls, so to speak. No, they were the social people that used to call the shots, you know. I'm not blaming the Darlenez, but if someone just dissed you, you knew it, 'cause the darn women would tell us. "So and so said something about you." I swear, the more I look back on it, I think the women were stirring up more trouble. [Laughs] They all looked at us like, oh, you guys were... I said, "Wait a minute, wait a minute." There was a lot of material that went into this pie," you know. But these young ladies were all good-looking. Number one... I know this wasn't fair, but the, it was like a sorority. You couldn't get in unless you were good-looking. You know what I mean? You had to be party-ready. You had to be able to dance, if you were like a wallpaper, what do they call it? Wallflower and rather, weighed three hundred pounds, you weren't getting in there. If you were good-looking, oh, yeah. And we're friends to this day, some of us. In fact, I met one of the... I think she was president of the Darlenez, last year. We had lunch together at the Marukai in West Covina. She lives in, she lives in Las Vegas. There was one young lady that was really good-looking, I'm telling you. And we used to hang out quite a bit, and we smoked together, we smoked like a... all the time. We were smoking those Kents with the Micronite filter? And you know the Micronite filter had asbestos in those things. She died of lung cancer, and it's a wonder I... that was really something. But yeah, those women's clubs were really social... what do you call it? Party girls. [Laughs] They had a good time. They were the Paris Hiltons of their time!

MN: Did they --

JM: And they were treated as young ladies.

MN: And did they usually fund the parties?

JM: They charged admission. They have dance bids they call 'em, invitations. They charge one or two dollars, no big thing. All they needed was a place, a record player, a minimum decorations, that's all. Well, they had to pay for the rental of the facility, that was about it.

MN: And where did you guys usually have these dances?

JM: Normandy playground and different places like that. Different playgrounds, community centers like San Fernando community center, Venice community center. But that was the society we had. And these were the active people that went around town. If you weren't part of this society, then you were part of the church group. And that was a group I didn't know. You went to the church parties, the church things and what have you. Other than that, you stayed home. You don't go to white things or Mexican things or black things or even Chinese things. If you weren't part, you were either a church group or our group or the in-between limbo nothing group. What we call "lame." [Laughs] You're a lame person, a fate worse than death.

MN: How often were you getting into fights?

JM: Again, if it was all the time, no, no organization could handle that. Nobody would be... and then you'd configure yourself in with every antisocial person, you know, around. It just, you got into it because it just happened and you couldn't back your way out of it. Every so often is about it. Every so often.

MN: Once a month? Once every three months?

JM: When we were around it was once every three months if that. And as the division and the war, you know, the split between the east side and west side took over, and it was really strong during the time, times of Baby Black Juans, it was almost like, almost weekly to every other week, something would happen, something would happen. And that battle down there on the west side was sort of a, that was the straw that broke the camel's back with the LAPD. Said, "Enough of these guys." They came and they busted everybody inside, and they busted you on conspiracy. All they, all you had to do was make a slip and say, "I'm a member of this," you're guilty of conspiracy. Conspiracy to be in a gang. And that was... I don't know whether that was a misdemeanor or felony or something. They sent a lot of our guys up just based on that. That's how they kind of broke us.

MN: Did you ever spend time in jail?

JM: Uh-uh. I kept thinking I was gonna go. I went to work and I said, "I'll never see the end of this day." The end of the day came and, "Man, I'm still here." [Laughs] Wow. So I got to say that our code of silence helped us out. And another thing, too. We would never run around and say who was what. We didn't have cards that said, "This is a member of the Black Juans." We had no rosters, no nothing, we had no formal officers, they were just like (it all) goes under as an understood thing. "He's a member now." And the only way you could get in, actually, you had to live in the neighborhood. You either had to live in Azusa or you had to live in the Virgil area, or you were a renegade that we would accept, that we said, "Okay, you're in." Or you would have to be related to someone. We would take you as a relative, 'cause we figured we can trust you. But it was an unspoken thing, like, "Is he a member?" It was very nebulous. We had who we considered hard core members, we had sort of like associates, friends, allies, wannabes, things like that.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

MN: You shared -- I don't know if you want to share the story, but who was "Kibei George"?

JM: [Laughs] Kibei George was, again, this friend of mine used to hang around in J-town. I didn't like that, 'cause I didn't want to hang out in these bars, 'cause I didn't like beer, and... man, them women were old. They were like retreads. Goodness. I should have had more empathy for them, but what can I say? But my friend used to like to go down there and drink, and we ran into this guy, and I called him the, sort of like the "King of the Kibeis" at the time. His name was Seri, Serizawa. If you weren't welcome in there, you would know it. 'Cause they had enough tough guys among the Kibeis and the expats, the people that got, they ran out of Tokyo. These guys were, they can hold their own. So whenever we went in there, Seri would always come over and say, "How are you? Hello, hello," and talk to us. As we sat there, he'd send over a couple of complimentary beers, so everybody knew that we were welcome, we're not to be screwed around with. And I think as an offshoot of that, there was this dealer in the Miyako Hotel. At that time, it wasn't the Kajima building, it was the Miyako Hotel, this old relic leftover. And he was the local dealer, and what I remember, I don't think he was dealing heroin, but he was selling weed. And the weed I'm talking about is very mild. Some of the stuff they today like Maui Wowie, Pakalolo and all those other stuff that they, I don't know what they called them now, are very strong. The stuff we had was very mild. And then you couldn't get an awful lot of the stuff, you know. They were just smoking these little tiny roaches and they were disgusting. "Man, I don't want to put my lips on that little thing you got there." But anyway, it was so scarce to get any of it. It was like a, I don't know, like looking for gold.

Anyway, apparently we probably got turned on to Kibei George probably from Seri. So we went up there, and apparently something had happened between my friend and him, and he had shined us on and said he didn't have anything when apparently he did. So my friend was curious saying, "He dissed us, and he's not going to get away with that." And I said, "Oh, come on." He said, "Well, come on up there with me." And I said, "What are you gonna do?" "I just wanted to get it straight with him, I'm going to talk to him and straighten this out." I'm glad to get out of the bar anyway, I don't want to be in the bar. "So let's get out of here and let's go upstairs." So we go up there to the fifth floor, and I'm like, "Well, yeah, go talk to him. I'll wait by the elevator. I don't want to talk to him, you settle what you have to do." So we looked down the hallway and I see my friend disappear, and all of a sudden I hear, "Boom, bang, boom, bang." And I ran over there and they're going at it. This guy has my friend in a headlock, and another fellow, I think somebody from Japan, well, he's terrified. I mean, I guess he was sleeping, 'cause he was in his shorts. And he was like... but he held a knife his hand. He had the knife. He's like, he's pinned against the wall, and he's got this huge knife. I'm looking at him, and then I, I see my friend, you know, who's in this headlock. So I said, "Oh, man, this has got to stop." And I'm keeping my one eye on this guy, 'cause if he moves toward me I got to jump back. And so I whacked at, I whacked Kibei George a couple of times in the head, "Wham, bam." That's when I knew I wasn't much of a fighter. If I was any good, I'd have knocked him out. I think I bounced off of his... so anyway, that staggered him anyway. So I pulled my friend out and I drug him out of there. And we went over to the elevator and my hand began to swell. I said, "Oh, god, what the hell did you do?" He says, "Oh, man, he was dissing me." I said, "Well, what the heck? Let's get the hell out of here." So that's the story of Kibei George.

But we, later on, my friend was still looking for the guy and he borrowed my rifle. We went home that night and he borrowed my rifle and he says, "I want to go rabbit hunting." I said, "Oh, okay." I was in such pain, said, "Oh, man, who am I gonna call to see about my hand?" And then the lightbulbs went off in my head. I just loaned this guy a rifle and I don't know where he's going. So I just jumped back into my car and I went back to Little Tokyo, and said, "I don't want to think it, I want to believe my friend took it home to go rabbit hunting." But sure enough, when I drove around and I looked in the (parking lot), pay phone over there, my friend's on the phone. In that parking lot over by the, it used to be the New York Hotel. It's the 3-2-1 Building right now, there's a hotel on there. And he's got this rifle and he's trying to talk Kibei George into coming down. I just rushed over there I just, "Give me my rifle back." I said, "That's all I need from you," and I just took it back and drove out of there. When Kibei George heard about all that, that's the last we heard of him. He took off somewhere. I don't blame him. That's the story of Kibei George. And I don't know whether my finger was broken or not, but so ended my fighting career. I just got other guys to do it. [Laughs]

MN: Okay --

JM: That was my same friend that kept saying, "People are staring at me." He had a, he had this thing. He got in a fight at Roosevelt High School. The day before, we were working on some things, 'cause we were in many ways very normal. We'd go fishing, hunting, so we went, we'd go fish, I'd do surf fishing, things like that. And (he made) this sort of like hook, sort of like the thing that we used to cut up bait and things like that. Then this fellow, he wrapped it around and made this little funny-looking contraption, you know, some little carving knives. So he made that, and I assume he was gonna use it for fishing. Next thing I heard, I said, "Oh, you know your friend so-and-so got in a fight at Roosevelt High School." Said, "Oh, is that right?" "Yeah, and he slashed somebody in the face." I said, I'm thinking, "Oh, yeah? And I think I know what he used, too. I know exactly what he did. He was the guy that also got his head broken up.

MN: But he lived.

JM: He lived, yeah, because... and the reason he got his head busted open, 'cause he wouldn't wait for the rest of the cars. 'Cause we got separated going down into... you know, because stoplights, you can't run 'em, there was about three or four cars we had there. And he got there early, and instead of waiting for everybody, I think he was with the Chinatown guys, he just went berserk. He says, "What are we in the car for? Just go out there." And the Chinatown guys said, "No, no, no. They're smart, wait for it." But, and he jumped out and apparently he told everybody, says, "I'm gonna show you how a Jap really fights." Next thing you know, somebody whacked him. It was the same guy. I ran into a lot of interesting people. [Laughs]

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

MN: So how long were you in the Black Juans?

JM: Five, six years, maybe.

MN: And so you did get drafted.

JM: Uh-huh.

MN: What year was that?

JM: I believe that it was 1958. I served from 1958 to 1960. I received a honorable discharge, I did my duty as an American citizen.

MN: And now you were stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona?

JM: We called it "Fort Hoochie-Koochie." [Laughs] And that's where they developed the drones. That's the electronic proving ground. The most god-forsaken fort, we had people trying to desert from there... well, the only place they would take you from there was Vietnam and Cambodia, if you wanted to go anywhere. We were there and we, I want to go to Germany? No. I want to go to Korea? No. You can go to Cambodia. No, you know. And they found a lot of people trying to go AWOL. They just went crazy on you, 'cause there's nothing, really nothing. They used it as a outpost to shortstop Geronimo from fleeing into Mexico, and that's the whole purpose of the fort, to stop Geronimo. Then they turned it into a... it was a sort of hospital fort for people that had tuberculosis, and then at one point they had the black troops there, you know, just for the black troops. And then they turned it into electronic proving ground.

MN: And now you had a very interesting experience at Fort Huachuca.


JM: I didn't want to go into the field units, 'cause they sent you, literally sent you out in the field and you stood out there.

MN: In the heat?

JM: In the heat and everything, and the dust, it's incredible. So I wound up as a driver. I wound up as a driver, and I was driving for this colonel, I was the colonel's driver. And one of them had this... well, one of them, he was a much older person. His wife was very young. And I looked at a lot of his silverware, 'cause I would go inside his house. Man, lot of 'em had little swastikas on there, I mean, they swiped 'em all from, you know, a lot of the German Nazi personal possessions never made it into museums and all that, they made it into people's homes. And they were, there was talk that she was kind of carrying on with the driver before me. Nice, tall, handsome young-looking white guy. And he got shipped... I think the colonel caught wind of it and shipped him to Thule. Have you ever heard of Thule? Thule is in Greenland. [Laughs] It was a Signal Corps fort. We were Signal Corps. He received orders to wind up in Thule. And I've seen pictures from Thule, there is nothing. You're underground, then when you come up, there is nothing. You are literally on a iceberg. So that was his punishment. So he figured out he's not gonna take a chance with some good-looking young, tall athletic white man, he'll pick a short little raunchy-looking "Jap" like me. And he was happy to see me. [Laughs] So anytime she kept saying, "Well, Jim, can you stay a little over?" I'm like, the sweat was coming down, like, "Oh, really? What do you want me to do?" [Laughs] Like, man, no, no, don't touch me. I mean, I don't want to go to Thule. I mean, that was, I drove for a couple of colonels. The other colonel was, he was the provost marshal and he was from Puerto Rico, little short guy. And his daughter was Miss Puerto Rico, yeah. Boy, what a, he's a little short, shorty guy like that, and his daughter was tall and built, you know. I mean, her breasts were like sunshades for this guy, you know. [Laughs] But I'm telling you, they were a nice, nice... they treated me like family. Whenever I got over there, they would bring me coffee and all that. When it came time for me to leave, they drove me to wherever, bus station and all that. Very nice. That's why I have a very, very high opinion of Puerto Ricans, 'cause every Puerto Rican I ran into was very nice. I mean, I know there's raunchy Puerto Ricans, but I've never run into them. The ones that I have treated me really well.

We were assigned to the... we were, us drivers were assigned to headquarters, the headquarters unit, and we were put into the motor pool. The motor pool is ninety-nine percent black. So there were four of us there, three white guys and me, in this sea of black folks. Well, okay, that's fine by me. No big thing to me. But my friends, one was from Little Rock, Arkansas, and he had been through the desegregation things. And he used to brag about it, and he used to say, I said, "Well, what did you do in Little Rock?" I said, yeah, well, he was the epitome of a southern redneck... I don't know what you call him. And he'd say, "Guess what we do, Matsuoka?" I said, "What did you do?" He said, "Every Saturday night," he says, "we go on a 'coon cock.'" I said, "What's that?" He says, "Well, we drive on a pickup truck and we get broom handles, and we drive as close as we could to the curb 'til we saw a black person and we try to hit him in the head." I said, "You're telling me this?" I said, "Take a look around you, and if I were you, I'd keep your voice down." He said, "Yeah," he says, then he says, "It's getting mighty dark around here, ain't it?" I'm like, "Oh, man, that's all I need is this guy." And so there was some...

Another one of 'em was just your completely average Midwesterner who's never been out of the Midwest. And another guy was a guy whose marriage was falling apart because he was, he was prepared to get a "Dear John" letter, and his name, by the way, was John. But anyway, this one guy was just a (regular guy) you know. He was like, "Keep it down, Richard, keep it down." And one night (Richard) really got off. I don't know what triggered him. And they handled him like, with kid gloves because he was some relationship to Dale Alford, who was, I think, a congressman or something, in Arkansas. And so they handled him with kid gloves. So anyway, he got on this thing and he said, "Matsuoka, I'll tell you something. You're nothing but a kiss-ass." And I'm like, "What?" "Yeah." And he's coming off the wall like that. I'm telling you, you don't do that to someone from J-Flats. Next thing I know, we were going at it. He was bigger than me and he was hitting me in the back of the head like that, and I was hitting him in the guts. [Laughs] And he slowly slid to the ground. And my friends jumped in there and they said, "Yeah, where do you get off telling that to him? Next time you're gonna have to get through me." You know, they all backed me up. But a week goes by and hey, it's like nothing had happened. He's like, "Matsuoka, can you give me a cigarette?" "Yeah, sure, have one." Just keep the peace, man, don't say anything around here. At the end of the year, we were all going home for the holidays. And I asked him, I said, "Hey, Richard, you going back to Little Rock?" He says, "No," he says, "I got nothing to go back to." I said, "Well, wait a minute, wait a minute. You showed me your wallet, and hey, you had your girlfriend there." He said, "Aw, she ain't my girlfriend anymore. She's probably going out with somebody right now," you know. It was one of these, "Yeah, yeah, she's having a..." and I'm telling you, the man had no, he was very uncouth. He showed me a picture of his mother, and he says, "Look at her. What a...." he said, "oh, look at that fat slob." I said, "That's your mother." He says, "Yeah, and I don't know how my daddy ever crawled on top of her." I'm like, "Goddamn, man, you have no shame." I said, "You have no..." you know. No whatever. Then he showed me a picture of his sister, and he said, "How do you like this, Matsuoka?" I said, "Oh, she's very pretty." He said, "Yeah, that's my sister." He says, "I wouldn't mind getting a little bit of that." I said, "Get away from me, man." I said, "Those are your family, and those are the only people that care for you in life, and you talk about them like that?" That's the type of people you had to deal with in the army. And so, anyway, I was going, I felt sorry for him, I saw him sitting there. I said, "Look," I said, "why don't you call up your girlfriend, man?" He said, "No, she's probably going out with somebody." I said, "Well, how do you know?" I said, "Do you know this for a fact?" I said, "Well, all you do is just give her a call. If you need some coins or something, I got some for you. Call long-distance, it's New Year's Eve. Call up and just tell her, you know, Happy New Year." He says, "Oh, yeah, I'll do that. I'll do it, I'll do it." So finally I think I was getting through to him, and I had to go pack because the car that was coming to pick me up to take me back to L.A. was going to be here in about fifteen minutes. So as I came back, I saw him slumped against the hall, I said, "You call?" Says, "Yeah." "You get a hold of her?" Says, "Yeah." "Well, what'd she say?" "She said, 'Whatever possessed you to call me?'" [Laughs] That was cold. And I said, "Oh, that wasn't nice." And he had a, he had a pint of whiskey, and he just practically dropped it. I said, "Happy New Year, Richard, I got to go." Anyway, those are my memories of "Fort Hoochie-Koochie." [Laughs]

MN: After you had your fight with Richard, did the respect among the black soldiers in that area, did they have more respect for you after that?

JM: No, they just, they just thought we were just crazy, a crazy Chinaman and a crazy white trash fighting among each other. That's probably all they said, "Look at 'em go at each other." They had their own world. It was really outrageous. A black sergeant died, and they refused to bury him in the cemetery at Sierra Vista. They said, "No, we don't, we don't allow black people in the cemetery." And so the army got really upset, they said, "Well, you are going to, if you are going to be around our area, and you'd better bury him." So they did bury him, but they put him in the far end of the lot where nobody was. And then if you went into a lot of the Arizona towns, now Arizona is getting known for what they did. Every single bar had a sign, "No colored trade solicited." They didn't want no black people around them. So that's why they were all in the motor pool, they were segregated. So their whole life and everything was in a different world. So what we did, it didn't matter to them. It was just like, "Oh, yeah, this white trash and that Chinaman going at each other." [Laughs] So those were the harsh realities of the life in the '50s.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

MN: But you got a transfer out of Fort Huachuca.

JM: It was miraculous. Like I say, I scored very high on the Iowa test when I was in school.

MN: That's the IQ test.

JM: IQ test. I figured out right away while I was sitting in there waiting for my next assignment to drive somebody, people, I'd read all the... since I was in the command structure office, I'd read all the regulations. So I read all the regulations on how to effect a transfer. 'Cause that's how they would stop every transfer of compassionate reassignment. They would stop it on a technicality. I mean, I used to read these heart-wrenching stories. "My mother is dying." "My kids are over there and we have no support. Please, please, transfer me to Fort Sill, Oklahoma," or something like that, "so I could at least be near them," blah blah blah. And the requests would be kicked back. "This is incorrectly (done)," blah blah blah. "It didn't have a forwarding letter from a," blah blah blah. Or it didn't have... but they would nitpick everything. It was done (wrong), it was incorrectly typed, something like that. They would stop every compassionate reassignment on incorrect clerical procedure. So I got to know exactly how it was done. And the first guy I sprung out of there was my friend who backed me up in that battle, whose marriage was falling apart. I wrote a letter to his congressman and said -- and I ghosted the letter. I said, "The army is doing the one, doing to me what I was sworn to protect, which is my family. That's why I'm in the army. Now my marriage is falling apart and I need to be reassigned in the Chicago area." And I typed it out, and I did everything the right way. All of a sudden, it was a miracle. He got, he got reassigned to Chicago, and he told me, "I owe it all to you, Jim. Anything I can do for you." I said, "No, you backed me up when I..." you know, "So it was the least I can do for you." So then I figured out, "Hey, if I can spring him, I'm next." And nobody knew I was doing this. And one day my sergeant major called me up and he says, "I don't know what the "f" you're doing, and I don't know what you're thinking, but if I ever get a hold of you again, you're gonna know you messed with me, Jim." I said, I just said, "Thanks, Sarge." But what he held in his hand was orders transferring me to Fort MacArthur, San Pedro. And oh, that was a wonderful place. [Laughs] but anyway...

MN: You beat the system.

JM: I beat the system. And the sergeant major was so pissed. 'Cause now he's gonna have to answer to the colonels, "How did our driver get away? What happened?" I was a celebrity. All those other guys that wished they were somewhere else, I mean, they literally held the door open for me. Because through me, they, I was the one guy that beat them. And so, like, yeah, "Us PFCs are not that dumb, you know. You could draft us, but we're smarter than you." It's sort of like this thing of us draftees never really reconciled to the fact that we were true army people. We were drafted, we didn't want to be there, we were smarter than you. If you volunteered, tough luck. You have, it's not our fault that your life is going nowhere, that you're a NCO, 'No Civilian Opportunities.' If you're stuck in this army, it ain't our fault. We're gonna go out there we're gonna get jobs, we're gonna do something, and we're gonna leave you behind. So don't put your misery off on us." So when they saw me beat the system, it just verified that us draftees were of a different class. In fact, one time, we heard of a guy re-upping, meaning reenlisting. We couldn't believe it. We even took a ride over to see this guy, and we pointed him out like he was some sort of freak. "Yeah, that's the guy that re-upped for another four years." We're like, "Oh, man." Even in the common room area, the first thing we wanted to know was, "Are you a draftee or are you a volunteer?" And if you're a volunteer, it's like, "Get away from us. You're too goddamned stupid to be part of us." We only hung out with draftees. So anyway, here I beat the system and I went to Fort MacArthur, which is a wonderful fort, golly.

MN: You mentioned earlier, NCO, which actually is Non Commissioned Officer, but you...

JM: Sergeants, yeah. That's what they call sergeants. But we used to call them "No Civilian Opportunities." 'Course, that ticked them off to no end. Lot of them were kind of sad. Lot of them were alcoholics, things of that nature.

MN: So seeing this, did it influence you? How did it influence you in terms of your own future?

JM: The army?

MN: Uh-huh.

JM: Oh, a lot. I said, "I will never ever allow myself to have to... you know. If I thought heaven was like this, I wouldn't want to go to heaven. The U.S. Army would mess up the pearly gates. They'd paint that sucker olive green or put a number on it, and it would be funky and it'd fall apart." It was sort of like, it kind of reminded me of being back in the camps again. Everything's substandard, barracks, I said, "I don't need this. I've been through this before," you know. So my whole idea in terms of the army was how to beat them. But I learned an awful lot in the army. I learned a lot. I said, "Well, if we went to war, I wouldn't know how to fight so much, but I'd know how to make a bunk." My locker would be spic and span, my shoes would be shined, and I can do a parade left or whatever, at ease or whatever. But other than that, I didn't learn a whole lot. [Laughs] Another thing, the army, they really tolerated alcoholism because so many of their NCOs were alcoholic. It was pathetic to see somebody come into our office that day, they just assigned to us, just to dry him out. And he would have all these service stripes on him, all these ribbons, and he would come around begging us for quarters. Isn't that pathetic? Like we said, "Sarge, they told us not to give you money, man, 'cause we know what you're gonna use it for." Then he'd go away, then he'd come back and he'd take a trash, wastepaper basket, then he'd go dump it out for us. Then he'd come back and he says, "Sure you don't have a quarter?" Oh, man, "Here, Sergeant. Here's some money, man." That one pathetic guy, later on I found out there was a fire up in the hill and they found him in the middle of it. He was alive, but he was surrounded by beer cans.

Then my sergeant at Fort MacArthur, he told me what to do and then I didn't see him all next week, he disappeared. Then I get this call and I said, "Oh, Sergeant, where are you? I got all these questions." He said, "Well, I'll answer them when I get around to them," and I can hear the music. The guy's in a bar. I said, "I got to get these papers signed by you, Sarge." "Well, come on down to the Hi Ho Inn or something," around the corner on Gaffey Street or Pacific Avenue. So I went over there, and he's right inside the bar, you know. "How about a drink?" I said, "No, no, no, Sarge, I got to go back." Then he says, "Let me pay my tab right now. I better go back with you. Let me pay my tab." So I thought he was gonna fish in and toss, you know... no, he's bringing out his checkbook and he's writing. Like, how much drinks did this guy have, for you to have to write a check? So we drug him back up to... but they tolerated all of that.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

MN: And at Fort MacArthur, you had a young WAC take an interest to you.

JM: [Laughs] Yeah. She was a, these WACs were, oh, boy. They were all from these little bitty tiny towns all over the South and Midwest, you know. And all the, all the... there was no civilian opportunities for them or anything.


JM: So she worked up in the same area I did, she was a secretary over there. And yeah, I could see why they joined the WACs. The WACs were a scary bunch, 'cause we had them over at Fort Huachuca. And the guys that raised a stink about having the WACs with us was us. We didn't want them quartered with us. They said, "Oh, you're gonna share facilities with the WACs, and you would think all these horny guys would say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." But we were like, "No, no, no." 'Cause we're like... one of those guys told me, "Matsuoka, did you ever see one of those WACs?" I said, "No." He says, "Well, they got more of a mustache than I do." And I'm like, "Oh, lord have mercy."

And going back to Fort Huachuca a minute, one day we were all called into the assembly and our commanding officer said, "The border is now off-limits. You cannot go across the border into Mexico anymore." And he said, "And the reason for it is there's been an outbreak of venereal disease and, you know, we're gonna put a stop to this. You guys are going down there to the bars, spending your money consorting with these, with these women, and you're bringing back disease. We can't have that, so the border is off-limits. Month goes by, the... what do they call it? Venereal disease is still running rampant. The border is closed, and all of a sudden the word came out. And the reason I know where it came from is I was in that office. And the office also had the files from the, from the military police. They investigated all those things, and if you had venereal disease, they would investigate you, because they wanted to know where it came from. So during lunchtime, I had nothing to do, I started reading these documents. And lo and behold, where in the hell was the disease coming from? The WACs. [Laughs] Them WACs were wild. When I left, I think the last I heard of them, some of them were pushing a burning mattress out the window. I don't know what they were doing. So any of these women that we saw in the army, the WACs, we were kind of like, hmm, you know. So we had two WACs in our offices. One was from the reservation, she was married, and boy, her level of education was, geez, just not there. The other one was from Kentucky. So I think she kind of took a liking to me. For some reason, she kept calling me Lefty. I have no idea why. So later on in the evenings, someone would say, "Hey..." I forgot what it was. Was it Janice? I don't. Said, "Someone out there is calling for Lefty." Oh, god, that was... so I go out there, and it was her. She says, "Well, come on down, Lefty, and let's go have a doughnut together." "All right, all right, I'll go with you." So we used to go down there, and I've have a doughnut, cup of coffee, I'd shoot the breeze a little bit and I'd come back, and that'd be the extent of it. Well, apparently she had a boyfriend who's now really angry at me, thinking I'm beating his time.

And then, she was from Kentucky, so these were like all these, sort of, hillbilly type folks. Our mail carrier, much older man, was from Kentucky, and he was a reverend. So one day he gets me aside, he says, "Well, how you doing?" I said, "Oh, fine, fine, Reverend. And you?" He said, "Oh, I'm fine. I really like this job." I said, "Oh, good, good." How is your flock?" He says, "Oh, yes, well, I don't have all that much time to do my preaching, but I do have enough time to marry people." I said, "Oh, marry people?" He says, "Yes. You know I'm an ordained minister." I said, "Yes." He says, "I sure wouldn't mind conducting a wedding if you're interested." And I said, "Me?" He says, "Well, I hear you're very friendly with that gal down there." I'm like, oh, lord, you know, I said, "Oh, no, no, I think you, I think you heard a lot more than what it really is, Reverend. I'm sorry, but all I do is go out and have a cup of coffee with her and that's it." He said, "Well, if you ever change your mind, I'm ready." I said, "If I change my mind I'll let you know." I said, oh my goodness, I got to stop hanging around these barracks. So I bought me a car, and I began to take off. It was really nice, and it was a convertible, too, I was, flowing in and out of Fort MacArthur.

When I left, this was another group of WACs typing out the discharge papers, DD-214. She said, "Well, are you black or white?" I said, "Am I black or white?" I said, "I'm not either." She says, "Well, you got to be black or white. What do I put down here?" I said, "I don't know, but I'm not black and I'm not white." She says, "Well, make up your mind," she says, "because you're not gonna process until I type this out. And it says 'race,' and you gotta be either white or black." I says, "I'm not either white, I'm not either black." 'Cause when we went to school, we were, we were considered, I had a choice of three. I was Caucasoid, Negroid, or Mongoloid. And I said, "I think I'm in the category of "Mongoloid." She says, "Oh, okay," and she types in "Mongolia." So if they ever run a scan on, in 1960, the ethnicity, they'll find a certain amount of "Mongolians." [Laughs] They'll find a Mongolian attached to Fort McArthur, California, that was a clerk. It's still on my list, it says, "Mongolian."

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

MN: So you were honorably discharged.

JM: Honorably discharged.

MN: Did you return to Los Angeles after that? You're already in San Pedro.

JM: Uh-huh, right. So I began hanging out back in L.A. And like I say, time marches, you know, time marched on, so to speak, and all the old feuds in the past kind of disappeared, and we were on a whole different level.

MN: So what did you do?

JM: Oh, I kept working in the aerospace industry. For ten years, I was associated with the aerospace industry, assembly and things like that, and I became one of the very few Asian labor... what do they call it? Shop stewards. I was the only one around. And my constituency was women and minorities. But I ran for about ten years, I never lost. I never lost an election. Oh, and I quit the day they, we got into a big argument at a union meeting among all the people in Local 887, I was part of Local 887 United Aerospace Workers. And the argument came up as to who to endorse, LBJ or Eugene McCarthy. And Eugene McCarthy, if you remember, was against the war in Vietnam, and LBJ was, that was his war. And so I was part of a group trying to endorse Eugene McCarthy. And the other half were loyally for LBJ. So one guy gets up and he says, "We ought to," he said, "we ought to bomb the shit out of 'em like we did in Hiroshima. We ought to bomb the Vietnamese, we ought to bomb them bastards just like we did in Hiroshima." So my response was instantaneous. I just jumped up and yelled, "Fuck you." And I said, "If that's the way the rest of you feel, then you can all go kiss my ass," and I took my union badge off and I walked out. And later on, they said, "Are you gonna resign?" I said, "Yeah, I can't be part of a racist group like this." So I lost my union status, which cost me my seniority. And a month later I was laid off, because they were going through layoffs. If I was a union steward like I was, I had super seniority and I would not have gotten laid off. But as it was, I got laid off, and I said, "Oh, the hell with it." I said, "I busted my ass for all these white folks, rednecks and everything else for ten years. If they're gonna come up with stuff like 'bomb these gooks' and all that, I'm gonna go back and help my own community." I'm gonna go back and... you know, the Asian American movement started at that time. I said, "I'm gonna go back and see what they need over there and see if there's anything I can do." Instead of putting my energy, spending my weekends over here trying to see what these folks want, I'm gonna go back and help the folks out there in J-town. So began my long association with, you know, all these things having to do with Little Tokyo and LTPRO, with the Pioneer Center, with the Anti-Eviction Taskforce, APA, with the pilgrimages to Manzanar. I did over fifty speaking engagements about the internment.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

MN: Now before we go there, though, let's... this is the 1960s we're talking about, right? You went back to school, is that correct?

JM: I was going to school concurrently with my job at night, and I received a master's in Social Sciences, I believe, '71.

MN: So you were going to school when the Civil Rights Movement was going on, the Vietnam War.

JM: Right.

MN: So how was this affecting you as a student also?

JM: Very much so, because they were challenging everybody at the time, you know. And here I was, coming out of the army, and I was gung ho, hundred percent. And I saw all these draft, people draft-dodging, and oh, I was outraged. And I would denounce them, I said, "You're nothing but a bunch of draft-dodgers. That's all you are. You're afraid to go over there and get shot. Why are you trying to bring up all these other things?" Like I say, when I was going back to the camps and that lady talking to me, we're not, I'm not stupid. [Laughs] Maybe I'm ignorant, yes, I'm ignorant of a lot of things, but I'm not stupid. Little by little I listened to all these teachings, and my first impression was to denounce them, but the more I listened to them, the more I said, "You know, a lot of that makes sense. Why are we in Asia at all?" The most cockamamie idea is of dominoes, and what are we doing pounding these poor folks. And the black people, black speakers were very effective with me, anyway. 'Cause I used to listen to the Joe Pyne program. And Joe Pyne, a regular on his program was Malcolm X. So Malcolm X was always saying, he says, "No Vietnamese ever called me a nigger," you know. "We're just gonna go against who I feel has a foot on my neck, and that happens to be you white folks." He laid it out there. I'm like, "Wow. Here these people are getting their jollies napalming these folks, taking body counts, and what did these people ever do to you?" And then they would bring up this thing, well, "What about the time you had in camp? Were they relocation camps or were they concentration camps, what were they?" I'm sort of like, oh, yeah. Well, yeah. They had us behind barbed wire, they're calling us "Japs," they took everything, they left me with fifty dollars and a bus ticket out, and fend on your own. I don't have nothing to be... that's what kind of ticks me off about a lot of JA's too, like, I mean, we got out of there within nothing except fifty lousy bucks and a bus ticket. And as far as the government was concerned, we could have, we could have starved to death. Yet on the other hand, all these JAs, somehow we all suffered and we made it. And they're all out there so grateful for everything. "Yeah, we were in the greatest country on earth." I'm like, "Yeah, well, it's a great country, but they just dumped us like garbage." And if we did anything and we got anywhere, it's because we did it. We did it the hard and dirty way through gardening, through... you know. Isn't that the American story? I guess. If crapping on you and seeing how far you can go is the "American Dream," well, that's what it is. That's why, in a way, I became very much involved with the Asian American movement, because they brought out all these truths, so to speak. And we just throw it out there and see where it lies, and maybe the society is better for it. It's about time we got away from wallowing in hypocrisy, and let's just see what the reality of the situation is and let's see how to deal with it.

MN: Well, you mentioned Malcolm X, what about Dr. Martin Luther King? What was his message, or did you relate to his message at all?

JM: I never saw him on Joe Pyne or any of those things. I guess he wasn't controversial enough, and he was a man of the cloth. Later on, of course, when I saw the totality of his life, he's a very, very courageous person. You can't help but be awed by the amount of courage that man showed. If anyone says he wasn't a courageous man, they're really mistaken. It's just that you're attracted to Malcolm X because he's out there telling it just like it is, you know. He's just like, "My enemy isn't in Vietnam, it's right down there in the South. It's among those crackers that are beating my people." I thought, "Man, this guy makes sense." Joe Pyne, by the way, had every strange person on. He had another guy on there that... and he used to come on campus, too, at Cal State L.A., and the guy had a pistol with him all the time. He was a black activist. So I remember that one program, Joe Pyne brought out his pistol, and they were both kind of staring at each other, and this is live TV, anyway, both of them armed to the teeth. Great program. They don't have that... geez. I learned a lot from that. How else would I be exposed to people like Malcolm X? Said, "Man, that Malcolm X really tells it like it is." And even some of the black Muslim folks, I mean, I don't agree with all their religious things, but you know, their analysis on how they got treated was pretty, pretty on the target. And I really kind of liked the fact that they said their salvation was not (to be) from the white man but from themselves, and that's pretty much true, you know. 'Cause the guy says, "Yeah, that's what's wrong with," I guess that's the criticism of Martin Luther King. And at that time was, yeah, he's still depending on the white man for his salvation, for his civil rights and all that, whereas the black Muslims said, "No, no, we don't even want it. We don't even want it. You keep whatever you want, we stay away from you. 'Cause you are seeds of the devil," and what have you. [Laughs] They had their own thing. But, salvation will come from ourselves. And I said, "You know, I kind of like that part. I don't know about the rest of it, and I don't know if want to characterize white folks as "white devils," but I do know that I feel that we need to, we need to derive our own things and do our own thing, have our own movement and seek our own place in the society. That's where you get things like "cincip," you know. "Oh, yeah, yeah, we want a picnic, but we're not going to call it "picnic." We're gonna call it "cincip." We're gonna do our own things. And the Pioneer Center? We never had a thought about any public funding. Did we want public funding? If they gave it to us, but we're not gonna go beg and plead, we're gonna ask our own people for it. We're gonna get donations and we'll do it by ourselves.

MN: And that's something you've, that was in 1969, the Pioneer Center?

JM: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

MN: Tell us a little bit about the Pioneer Center.

JM: Well, that was a pathetic story out here, because (...) the Isseis, a lot of them, were living in these hotels. And I don't know if... they couldn't adjust, they didn't want to move to the suburbs, and some of them had no families to move to the suburbs. There was no welfare in those days. And, correction, there were, but they did, have no idea of how to apply for it. (...) There was no material, nobody to tell them, "Yes, you can receive it." How they remained alive is beyond me, you know. And there were stories of Isseis eating dog food and things of that nature. Nonexistent healthcare. You would see them sitting on the bus, bus benches. So one day they, Moe and his friends got a call that, from one of the older guys, older members, if they could help them move a desk, because they found it in the alleyway. It's either they found it in the alleyway and they wanted to bring it inside, or that it was so broken down they want to take it in the alley, I forgot what it was. But when Moe and his friends went up there, they were kind of appalled at the dumpy situation. So he called a meeting, they called a meeting, and we all met at the Far East, and we had people like Reverend Howard Toriumi, and the Reverend Kogi Sayama, and a lot of different people. And we decided that we'd form a, sort of like a Pioneer Center. And none of the... what would you call it? Bigwigs or the Chamber of Commerce, they all pooh-poohed it. "No," you know, like, "we don't want anything to do with it." They just shined us on. They just thought that we were just some, an incredible rabble. But we harnessed the energy of a lot of young people. Pioneer Project, which had about ten, twelve people in there, and we got the, we got people helping, like Hiro Saisho and Charlie Kamayatsu, those folks. On and on and on. And Reverend Toriumi was a giant, you know. Toriumi was one of the few people that could tell me and Moe what to do and how to do it. How high to jump, and we jump. [Laughs] And he was, to me, the most influential person in putting together the Little Tokyo Towers. It was his concept, his idea, and yet his name is never mentioned in relationship to the Little Tokyo Towers. So that was really, like, to me, really unfair.

MN: But go back to the Pioneer Center for me. You guys cleaned up the Sun Building?

JM: Uh-huh, we cleaned up a little place. The West L.A. JACL helped us out by giving us, I think they gave us around seven hundred bucks, which sent us on our way in terms of rent. So me and Moe worked there to clean the thing and paint it. And we went, like, forty-eight hours nonstop. And I came off of an evening class at Cal State Long Beach, man, we were like... when we had our grand opening, we never made it. I don't know if Moe made it or not, maybe he didn't. I just knocked out in my car, because I was just dead. But it was a wonderful experience. The Issei was really appreciative. Quite often, over and over, they would tell each other, "I'm glad I lived long enough to see this." We would take them out on different outings all over, we would take them out on flower-viewing trips. We established the center that was open for them that had books in there, that had information, we went after all the county agencies demanding that they give us bilingual material. "Give us, help us translate this into Japanese because we have people that need these services." And so we had all of those, "How to Apply for State Aid," this and this and this and this, all of it sitting in there, all translated. Then we would do Health Services Day, which we invited all the dentists and (optometrist) and all that, just show up and give back to the community on one day. And we had it on that Weller Street area, we'd block it off. Oh, we did so many different things for them.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<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.

<Begin Segment 34>

MN: Let me go back to the Manzanar 1969 pilgrimage, and then you went to TV and you got a lot of coverage.

JM: Lot of coverage.

MN: And you got this feedback from Fred Hirasuna.

JM: Right.

MN: Is that from that?

JM: Uh-huh.

MN: What was, how did he react to this?

JM: Oh, he was livid. He kept writing articles to the Rafu Shimpo, and, of course, the Rafu Shimpo was printing all of Fred's stuff lambasting me. Said, "What does this young punk know about..." he didn't know I was a Nisei and that I had spent time in there, you know. "What are these Sanseis" -- so he's ripping into the Sanseis, essentially. And then we got in, the tri-district people, and I guess a lot of 'em didn't like Fred either. They just thought he was too big for his britches. They wanted him to, drag him down a peg. So they arranged a situation where I would be a speaker and Fred would be over there. [Laughs] That was like throwing a pit bull and... it was like a, it was going to be a dog fight. And sure enough, boy, we got into it up there. It wasn't over Fred initially, we were all in there, in this meeting. And all the older folks, Nisei, were there. I guess they were all backing Fred. And all the younger people were there, and they were all backing me, I guess. So anyway, some younger person made a statement about something she was doing, and made something, she made an error in terms of something about Japan. So at that time, the president of the JACL ripped all over her, jumped all over her. Oh, he was browbeating, it was awful. She was, like, what, eighteen, you know, she was kind of new to the thing. And so man, if this goes on too long... you know, it was uncalled for. I couldn't take it anymore, so I said, "I'm going to give these chumps their money's worth." And I jumped up there and I walked up to the, he's president-elect of JACL. I ripped that microphone away from him, I took it from his hands. And I said, "Look," I said, "You keep telling everybody that she doesn't know where she is, because she doesn't know what's happening and she's got all her facts wrong." I said, "Well, I don't think you know where in the hell you are, 'cause this is the Japanese American league. This ain't no plain old American meeting. 'Cause if that's where you want to go, you ought to go down a block over there to the American Legion. But this is a Japanese American meeting," you know. By that time, the room erupted because all the Nisei were, like, shouting, "Boo, get him out of there." They were just screaming at me. And on the other hand, all the young people were like [makes sound effect]. You know, pandemonium and chaos broke out. And I'm just thinking in my mind, "They wanted something, they got it." And then I see Fred Hirasuna. He's got this, he's sitting there right off to the side, and he's got this tape recorder. And I said, "Man, I might as well burn everything while I'm here." And I walk over to him, and I got the microphone and I said, "Look," I told everybody, "I'll tell you what's wrong," and everybody quieted down. "I'll tell you what's wrong with you people down here. What's wrong is this chump here." I said, "This sucker with a tape recorder, he's the, he's the problem over here. He doesn't do nothing but cause trouble, you know, and he ain't got the guts to speak up for himself. Look at him. He's cowering in the corner with a tape recorder." I said, "I have nothing more to do with you people." I tossed the microphone out and walked out. That place blew up. But I made a chump out of Hirasuna, anyways. [Laughs]

MN: I think, for the record, too, I don't think he was ever in camp.

JM: Is that right?

MN: I believe so.

JM: I don't know. Him and the Chinese playwright used to go at each other all the time.

MN: Frank Chin?

JM: Frank Chin. [Laughs]

MN: Now, the JACL person that invited you over, was he pretty upset about what you did?

JM: I just told him, I said, "Look..." and I wasn't about to apologize. I just said, "When you invited me up here," I said, "you knew that there was going to be an open conflict." I said, "You knew that. So I just gave you your money's worth, and I just want to know whether you got your money's worth." And he said, "We got our money's worth." I said, "Thank you. I'll see you, take it easy," and I left.

MN: What year was this?

JM: That was about a year or two after... that was about '71, '72.

MN: Now, were you a JACL member?

JM: Uh-huh. In fact, they even flew me up to Burlingame to take part in a ten-year planning committee. Oh, I was so disgusted. We sat for two, three days talking about the future of the JACL, you know. And I really put my effort into it. I took everything seriously. And later on, after about two days, it was like, "Well, okay, we finished, we're gonna leave, and we're gonna all, we're all gonna go into San Francisco. Come on, we'll take you with, come on along." They were in a frenzy to leave. This was the leadership, now. So we all go into J-town, and where do you think we go? Those sleazy bars with the old Mama-sans. My jaws just dropped. They were in such a hurry, they wrapped everything up to go over there to these dingy bars like in J-town, Nihonmachi bars with these old retreads. I said, "Oh, my god," I said, "I can't believe what I'm looking at." I was disgusted. He was, the director at the time, I forget now, his name was Sato?

MN: Masao Sato?

JM: Mas Sato. Decent man, and he was embarrassed. He says, "Look," he says, "if you'd rather be somewhere else, I'd be glad to drive you." I said, "Oh, no, I can take -- " I said, "I'd rather be somewhere else, and the sooner I can get out of here, the better. I don't want to kill anything, but this isn't my cup of tea." But I was just totally disgusted with the leaders. I said, "No wonder these people are the way they are. They're shameless." That guy that was, I rode, he drove me to the place, he was in such a hurry to go, he bumped another car, and I think he was insurance commissioner. You know, he's sort of like, "Hell, I got to get going." So I had a lot of respect for the young people in JACL, but these old-timers, just forget 'em. They had too many bad habits.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

MN: Before we talk more about your community activities, let me ask a little bit about your job and personal life. First of all, what year did you graduate with the master's program?

JM: I believe it was '71.

MN: And when did you get married?

JM: I believe it was '72.

MN: And how did you meet your wife?

JM: Oh, we met through the... I started the Asian American Studies club at Cal State L.A. I wrote the constitution... the reason we wanted it was we could utilize their facilities free of charge. So I just got hold of an old constitution, ran through it, put our name on it and filed it. And I don't know if we had an officer or not. I don't know if I put myself down as a founding officer. I was essentially the officer, the president. And we'd begun to recruit people, and she came in as a member. And so we kind of hit it off.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

MN: Let's go back to your student days. You just graduated with a master's. So after you graduated from Cal State L.A., where did you go find a job?

JM: I wound up in Little Tokyo because I wanted to do what I could for the community. I became, I was hired as a, they call it a liaison with the Community Redevelopment Agency. I was a liaison for the Little Tokyo office, so I was stationed here. And essentially I did a lot of the PR work for them. I wrote the articles for the Rafu Shimpo, and I gave, you know, tours and what have you, and people came to the office. If Kango wasn't giving the speech there, I would be giving it. But essentially, I did a lot of the, I put out the, sort of like PR things.

MN: And Kango is Kango Kunitsugu.

JM: Kango was a tough, tough taskmaster. He was tough. I never got anything through on the first take. It was always, "Not good enough, Jim." Rewrite, write again, rewrite. Third time, okay. But that was good. I mean, I learned a lot from him. 'Cause Kango used to write for the Rafu also.

MN: I think that's, he met his wife Kats Kunitsugu through the paper, I think.

JM: Could be, yeah. So he was a writer. He was an excellent writer. He had a drinking problem.

MN: I hear that a lot.

JM: Yeah. He'd go out for lunch and come back soused. Then we'd get into it.

MN: What'd you guys argue about?

JM: This and that. You know, when you've had too many drinks, you argue about anything. I felt sorry for those other people around, like Sachi Hirotsu and all that, 'cause they were like regular folks and all that. Like me, I had a world to conquer, so to speak, and I had to get even, you know, for all the ills done to me in my time. I needed a platform to speak out on. But people like Sachi, no, they didn't know what was going on. They were like management types, and they would see me. And Kango was the same way. He was driven. He was a driven person. So we were like two oxes, or two mad bulls bashing each other. 'Cause I remember one time he told me during Christmas, when they went around to give Christmas packages. At that time he was living in Little Tokyo in a little hovel over here, and his classmates came to his house, and they were shocked when they opened, they knocked on the door and it was his house that they were giving Christmas charity to. He never forgot that, and it really scarred him. So when it came time to talking about the community and doing something, we were right on target. Him and I were like lock-step. But when it came down to how to go about it, we, he was like, "We got to have the Japanese corporations," blah, blah, blah. And I'm like, "No, they're gonna take us over, they're gonna, we're gonna be nothing but an appendage to corporate Japan." I don't know if you've ever had a chance to read my article in Roots, but that's the whole tenor of the article, that we'll wind up being nothing more than, you know, some lackey to the Japanese corporations. So we went round and round. And then when they brought in the New Otani hotel as part of the redevelopment project, all it did was verify what I felt about the thing. And I said, "I can't be a part of this thing anymore." So I wound up going over to the high potential program at UCLA.

MN: And the in turn you became involved with LTPRO, and you became one of his biggest critics.

JM: Of the CRA.

MN: Yes.

JM: Yes, I made life miserable for the CRA, 'cause every time they had their meetings, we'd go barging in. [Laughs] We found out -- 'cause we had allies within the CRA office, and they would tell, oh, they're gonna have a meeting at the Hotel Roosevelt over there on Seventh and Figueroa. And technically, it's supposed to be open to the public, but no one knows that. And so we would come storming in there, "Is this a public meeting or not?" "We want to, we want to know if there's any time open for the public (...)." "Well, yeah, I guess you can have your say," and then we would harangue them, you know. "Since when are you gonna allow a structure that's owned by the Japanese corporations, and what does that have to do with housing? What are you gonna do with all the people that you displaced?" blah, blah, blah. We just ripped into them.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

MN: Now, can you share with us... a lot of us won't know what the Sun Building is, the history of it and what happened there, and the picketing. Can you share about that?

JM: Well, the Sun Building was the one building on Weller Street, which is no longer there, which is the... right about the site of the Kyoto Grand right now. And you notice I don't call it New Otani anymore with great satisfaction. But anyway, all of the CRA activities involving property owners had to be, should be local people, 'cause that was the whole idea, was to invigorate the local community. Lo and behold, we see this front develop. I forgot the name of the front, but it's essentially backed by the New Otani and Kajima. And they got a couple of local folks over here to front the thing, but when you looked at who the list of investors were, it read like a bank statement for Kajima International and the New Otani and I believe the Sumitomo Bank. It was strictly a Japanese thing. And it was the biggest single project. And so what that meant was that the Sun Building, which all of the social services and small artists and our Pioneer Center was in, oh, every little community group you think of. The JACS office, JACL office, was gonna be destroyed because it had to be destroyed. And they were gonna build us a quote/unquote "new community center," which was gonna house everybody. And we were like, "Yeah, we believe that. Like where is the new Tokyo Towers?" Because they had a moratorium on it. So we're like, "Where is the Towers? We don't see that. And now you're coming up with this cockamamie idea about, we're gonna build a community center and we're gonna shift everybody over there. And boy, we sure, we sure believe that." And this is where the split between me and Kango became permanent. 'Cause Kango was adamant about, "We can't build a cultural community center without help from Japan, the Japanese money. I'm like, well, yeah, first of all, show me the, show me the Little Tokyo Towers and I'll believe you. In the meantime, you've got these guys that's coming in that have taken over this whole redevelopment project.

So we came to loggerheads one day, and they had the grand opening ceremony, and we decided we're gonna picket it. And we had, at that time, it was called the Little Tokyo Anti-Eviction task force. And so we developed a (plan) all the city muck-a-mucks were gonna come in. The limousines started to pull in and they came into this empty lot, which was right, which would now be the very center of the Kyoto Grand hotel. It was an empty lot at the time. And the Sun Building was still standing and all that, and they eventually evicted everybody and destroyed it. But at that time, they had the opening, you know, a groundbreaking thing. And so we had this ring of pickets going around. "Save Little Tokyo," we all had badges, "Save Little Tokyo!" And when the ceremony started to open this opening day ceremony with all the city muck-a-mucks there, we cranked up (the music) -- we got on the rooftop, and we had these, I guess, tape with amplifiers, and we started playing "Colonel Bogey's March." Have you ever heard that one? [Sings] That was the... did you ever see that Bridge on the River Kwai? Yeah. Tani, you ever see that one? Did you ever see that? Bridge on the River Kwai? Oh, that was a classic. Well, that was the one in which the Japanese were building the bridges across Burma, and they used all the British soldiers and American soldiers as slave labor. So, the theme song throughout it all was "Colonel Bogey's March." So we were alluding to the fact that Kajima was the one that built the railroads, which they did. They were the ones in Bridge on the River Kwai that were using slave labor. So we cranked up [sings]. You know, it was blasting at 'em. Everybody was looking up, and then we rolled down a huge sign that said, "Save Little Tokyo," and we just completely took over that thing that way. It was something. I got to admit that it was one of the few things I was really proud of. Eventually we lost out (on) everything, the CRA, it was hard to beat big money, really hard. Kango was right in there. Oh, is there a picture of that in there? Yeah.

MN: But you know, you folks lost, right? I mean, the Sun Building got destroyed, a lot of the low income housing, the hotels were destroyed, a lot of the Isseis and low-income people were actually thrown out of Little Tokyo because of this massive redevelopment in Little Tokyo. How did that affect you? Were you disappointed? Why didn't you... did this stop your activism?

JM: No, at that time, I was a charter member of the Anti-Eviction task force, and I had used my experience in the CRA to our benefit. Because every time they try to say something and discredit us, I would bring (up my experience) you know, and we would be on TV quite often, and they would have me speaking and saying, "He's a former CRA employee."

MN: How long were you with the CRA?

JM: Six months. That was about as much as I can take. [Laughs]

MN: So, but after all this happened, and a lot of the people from the Anti-Eviction task force and Little Tokyo People's Rights Organization, you shared with me, you formed LACCRR, the Los Angeles Community Coalition for Redress/Reparations. And then, from LACCRR, it became NCRR.

JM: That's correct.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

MN: Now, during those early years of NCRR, and that was formed in 1981, is that correct?

JM: That's correct.

MN: What did you folks do in the early years of NCRR?

JM: Well, we just were trying to rally community opinion. Because a lot of times, there was no real (support) for redress, in a sense. Many of the Nisei were like, "Oh, you guys are crazy. You're going after your jailers." Or they just said, "I don't have time for this anymore. I have enough bad things in my life. You're just digging things up." Or, "You're nothing but leftist, you're nothing but left-wing Maoists," what have you. And yeah, it was very difficult. We had to do one thing at a time. I think the most difficult thing was I remember going to a house meeting in East L.A., and I had to speak to these Issei ladies in Japanese. My Japanese is, heaven help me. But I was willing to do anything. And I can't say we had an awful lot of help. We were scratching for every inch we can get. It was bit by bit by bit, and we weren't gonna give up. I think the thing that helped an awful lot was the media was essentially lazy. All the TV stations here are within, what, half an hour's proximity to Little Tokyo. They love coming down. They could just come down here, get their story, go back, file it, and they're free. You know what I mean? Their job is done. Whereas if you had something going on on Long Beach, they had to drive twenty miles to get (there) and they, here they love it. Anytime we put out a press release, press conference, they're there. They're like, begging us for the damn thing. And so we really played it well. We got to be experts on how to do press conferences, writing press packets, press releases, having little snacks for everybody, I'm sure you well know. [Laughs] Anytime you came to a NCRR press conference, you were well-treated. Somebody was there that knew what they were talking about, they gave you a press packet, they gave you refreshments and made sure you had the right camera angles, everything, we took care of it. And we knew we were gonna be on the evening news. So I was on there way (too much). I didn't want to be down there, I was on there way too often, because they kept using me because I was in the camps, and I was one of the few who were willing to articulate what our grievances were. And I remember one newscaster saying, "Who put this event together?" And I think it was some other group. And I said, "It wasn't me." He says, "No, I think it was you, 'cause I see you at all these events, and I know it was you doing some of these things." And I said, "Well, this is a nice event, but I can't get credit for it, but thank you anyway." You never argue with the press. [Laughs]

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

MN: Now, when the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians had, they had a house and a senate meeting... hearing, I'm sorry. And you were making a presentation at the house hearing in Los Angeles. Can you share with us, first of all, who Larry Boss was, and what happened at that house hearing?

JM: Well, first of all, nobody wanted to sign up for the testimony. Number one, you had to submit a total written package, and the Issei weren't about to do that, 'cause they didn't, they didn't... they couldn't write, you know, I mean, they couldn't write in English. Nisei was like, "Shouldn't try to beat a mule," you know. They just weren't ready for it at the time. And so we, it was us and the JACL, and me and Bert were --

MN: Bert Nakano.

JM: Bert Nakano, we got together and we said, "Well, how many people do we have, Bert?" And he says, "I don't think we have any, but we may have one or two." "And how many does JACL have?" "Hopefully they have twenty." "They have six maybe." I said, "They had seven, and they're bringing down the whole, we're gonna have a presidential commission hearing and there's gonna be seven testimonies? That's gonna be a major defeat." So at the next meeting, I said, they called for a report from the, from Bert and my's committee, I said, "We only have one or two. We're gonna have to throw workshops to, and we're gonna have to ask you to volunteer so that you could write down what these people tell you to write down. And not only that, I'm gonna ask each and every one of you to submit a request on your own behalf and I will do so on my own." So that's what we did. There was about ten or twelve of us in the room, and I got twelve persons to immediately volunteer to testify. Then we held the workshop, and I'm like, telling Bert, I'm like, "Well, gee, I wonder if anybody will show up." And just like that mochitsuki, before you know it, we were inundated. So I had to get on the phone and call people, "Can you come down here and help us?" We were writing all evening, getting the things in there. So we got, we got another, oh, maybe another twelve people, and we had twelve, all of a sudden, we had twenty-four of our own. JACL got rolling on their own, too. So by that time, things began to really roll. We found people, and I was getting calls at my office at Long Beach. I got a call from the lady whose son was killed in Manzanar. It was a long discussion. I picked up the phone and she says, "Are you Mr. Matsuoka?" I said, "Yes, I am. Speaking," and I just thought it was a counselee. And she says, "I got your name from the NCRR." I said, "Oh, okay." "And I was just wondering what to do." I said, "Well, maybe you could tell me a little bit about something." She said, "Well, we just buried his, we buried his t-shirt today." I said, "His t-shirt?" She said, "Yes, my brother" -- is it brother or nephew? Is it nephew? I think it's nephew, I forgot. I think her name was Mrs. Ogata -- "was the one who was shot in the back, and we kept his t-shirt all these years to prove that he was shot in the back, that he was running away when they shot him in the back. That he wasn't charging in the Manzanar 'riots,' he wasn't charging the MPs, he was running away from him and they shot him in the back. And we kept that t-shirt, and we finally buried it." And I'm condensing what essentially was a forty-five minute discussion. I just let her speak. I said, "You have to speak. You have to, 'cause people need to know that." So anyway, things like that, people were coming out of the woodworks, you know, and it was really something.

And the question came up was, "On what basis are you asking for $25,000?" And I said, "Well, there was this study made by the National, I think, National Reserve or something like that, Federal Reserve in San Francisco estimating that there was a billion or so, or something, I don't know, four hundred million or something of that nature, lost by the Japanese property owners. That's all we really had. And it was sort of like, 'Is that all you have?'" I said, "That's all we got." Then the word kind of filtered through to me that this young graduate student by the name of Larry Boss had did a detailed study on the Long Beach community in which he went in there as a master's, as his master's thesis. And he took everything apart and he quantified it and he put the dollar value on those things. And we could show that just the Long Beach community alone, we were talking into the millions of dollars, let alone any of these other communities, the totality of it. So I said, "We got to have that testimony. This is testimony we must have." So I got on the line and I talked to his friend, Lloyd Inui, and Lloyd says, Lloyd says, "I'll talk to Larry and we'll see." So time was running out. And to make a long story short in a way, we really had to put the pressure on him. And I made a trip to his house specifically, I said, "Larry, we got to have your testimony. We have to have it. We've got to be able to show why we want $25,000. It isn't something we just plucked out of the air, you've got the study and you've got to make the testimony." And he says, "Okay, I'll do it." And I said, "You've got, you've only got a few days to submit the, this is how you do it." And he did it.

So our turn came to testify, and I happened to be on the same table and same panel, but I consider my job done. I got Larry Boss there, my job was done, and my wife was waiting for me to go eat. That's all I wanted to do, was talk about how they stole my father's life savings, that's all I wanted to talk about. And once I said that, I'm out of there. I'm done, let me go eat. But Larry Boss is the centerpiece. So it comes our time to testify, and all of a sudden, I think it was Judge Marutani, says, "Well, in the interest of time, we don't have time. I'm asking this table to just submit their testimony and we'll read it later on." And I'm like, "Oh my god, this is the, this is what a lot of people were waiting to hear, especially detail people that want things, and they need to hear of this." So Lillian is sitting in the seat behind me, right behind me.

MN: Nakano.

JM: Nakano. I could hear, "Jim, do something. Do something." And I have this flashback to the time, this attack on Hody's, like I could almost hear, "Aren't you gonna come with us?" My first thought was, "Why me?" Why me? I'm like, "Oh, lord, I knew it was gonna happen. Why me?" All I wanted to do was give my quick testimony and get the hell out of here and go eat. What am I gonna do? So just, I just went berserk. I pounded the table and I told Marutani, I said, "No," I said, "you're not gonna shut me down." I said, "I waited too long to speak and you're not gonna tell me I can't speak." And I was sick and tired of hearing all this crap. I went into a tirade and I told 'em, "You people," I said, "I'm warning you. The next time you ever try to get away with forming an all-minority brigade, you better watch out where that brigade's gonna head for. It may head for Washington, D.C.," I said. And I ended up saying, "If I ever get any of this money at all, first thing I'm gonna do is buy a ticket to that guy that keeps claiming that his skin crawls all the time that we ask for money, S.I. Hayakawa. I'm sick and tired of his crawling. He's crawling here, crawling there, he's crawling too much for me. The crawling stops right here." Said, "I'm gonna give him a ticket to get the hell out of here and go back to Canada." And the audience went wild. The flashbulbs went off and I was on the L.A. Times, I was on the front page of the California section. One of the reporters asked me, "Did you do this on purpose?" And I said, "Hell, no." I said, "I was just begging to get the hell out of there." I said, "I couldn't make this up if I wanted to." So then I became sort of like an iconic figure. So every time during our early years, they would run tapes of the hearings, you would see me pound, going berserk. But those were very interesting times.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

MN: Well, so after that, you were also scheduled to make a presentation at the senate hearing.

JM: That one they told me, they thought now they were afraid, they were afraid that I was a runaway locomotive and that I'm gonna wind up screaming at them again. They said, "Jim, we have to look at this thing very, a senate hearing is a little different. We only got a... what we're gonna try to do is win over the senator from Alaska."

MN: Stevens.

JM: Ted Stevens. "And if we go in there shouting at him..." I said, "Please, please." I said, "I'm ahead of you. You will hear nothing from me, except if you want me to read a written statement, that's all you're gonna get." So we caucused and we said, "All we're gonna do is present our argument in a very rational, very unemotional way. All the sparks and emotion and firepower, we've already done that. I don't think Ted Stevens is gonna appreciate it." And it went right to script. The other anti-redress people, these whackos is about the only word for it, these Holocaust denial, you know, these Lillian Baker types that kept saying that Manzanar was a picnic, and "at least they were well-fed and everything," they went crazy. They were like ranting and raving, especially one lady by the name of... something Kawasaki. She was married to a Japanese person, she was like six-foot-five almost, blonde, big mouth. She wore one of those Spanish dons type of hat, she would strut up and down and she was like, oh, she was raising a ruckus. And it was wonderful. We was just like, "Oh boy, can't get any better than this." It really worked. Ted Stevens got completely turned off. Halfway through, when they were ranting and raving, he stopped listening to them. He just closed his book or something, and he started talking to his aide, totally ignored them. And the message was brought home to me really well: there's a lot of ways to win.

MN: Now, in the early years, though, did you think that redress could be won?

JM: It was difficult. No, I don't think it could be won.

MN: When was it that you really thought, "We can win this"?

JM: We went on a lobbying trip to D.C., and I was a team captain, and I led a small group into five or six different congressmens' office. And we were very well-received with the except of David Dreier's office. We went to David Dreier's office, and they laughed, they actually laughed at us. I said, "Well, I had a one o'clock appointment with Congressman Dreier," and that punk looked up and he said, "Oh, yes, you did have one, didn't you? Ha, ha, well, I'm afraid he isn't here." So like, too bad, you know. Another guy I went to had no idea what we were about. He was from Colorado, Denver, and it was an agonizing five minutes. He says, "Are any of you from Denver?" We said, "No, we're here to, we're from Los Angeles, and we're here to thank you for support of our bill." He had no idea what our bill was about. He had no idea what he was supporting. He was gonna vote for the redress bill, but he had no idea what it was. What had happened was they had traded bills. So that's how it works. "You vote for mine, I'll vote for yours." "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." Then we went into... I was given the assignment of going into -- and I had a team with me -- going into the one from Florida, a congressman from Florida, and I forgot his name, but he was Mr. Senior Citizen. And we brought a member of the Gray Panthers with us, little old white lady. [Laughs] So we were pulling all the stops out. And she was very effective. I thought he voted against us for the simple reason he was a FDR loyalist. But when I really went back and looked it over, I found that he had abstained, I think, abstained. He did not vote against us. And another guy I was surprised at, who abstained, was that kind of, the really right-winger from Orange County. I forgot what his name was... Bob Dornan. I thought if anybody would vote against us, it would be Bob Dornan, and he abstained. 'Cause he saw the logic of our argument. So it was very strange. You kind of didn't know... and later on I found out a sponsor of the 442 was from, was that fellow from Wyoming in the Bush cabinet, vice president.

MN: From the Bush cabinet?

JM: Yeah.

MN: You're talking about Cheney?

JM: Dick Cheney was the co-sponsor. [Laughs] So it's kind of like, things are really wild. But getting back to when I found out, we were called into a meeting room, senate meeting room, and it was by Senator Spark Matsunaga. And he was like, my god, he was like everything you expect a United States Senator to be. Genial, you know, the old boy's club, he had beaten out Patsy Mink for the senateship. Yeah, he looked like a, he almost looked like a southern senator. He said, "I want to welcome all you folks here. And if you look on the table, there's homemade cookies for all of you. And soda pop, and there's drinks and everything, help yourself." Says, "I called you here this evening, just to let you know," he says, "that you're here, that we're aware that you're here, and I want, I just wanted you to know that please don't waste your time with the Senate." He says, "I have seventy-five votes, which will override a presidential veto, so don't waste your time there. I have the Senate, just take care of the House." And that's when all the lightbulbs went off. I said, "Oh, my god, we're gonna win. We're gonna win this thing." I couldn't believe it, it was so like winning the lottery. Now this is no longer a pipe dream, this is no longer a... you know, let's stick it back to these suckers. It wasn't a personal argument anymore, it was like we were looking at victory now. And now all we have to do is follow through on the House -- and we had a lot of strength in the House -- and we were gonna win this thing. So that was the defining moment for me. If there's anybody... of course, there's no one person that won redress, but I would say one of the most significant persons would be Spark Matsunaga. Because in order to get seventy-five votes, just think how many commitments he had to make in this trading process. He had to practically sell his Senate soul, but he did it. He delivered the damn thing.

MN: What year was this meeting?

JM: 1987. 1987.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

MN: You were involved in a lot of movements, Manzanar, Asian American Studies, Vietnam, LTPRO, redress. Did your street fighting days, did that help you take on these challenges?

JM: Oh, yeah, because during, I remember going to a meeting at East L.A., JACL meeting, we went to speak to that. One of those people, I don't know, he began to whine and moan about white backlash. And it just got to me, and I said, "Look. If you're worried about white backlash, someone's gonna kick your ass. I live at 165... no, 509 Kingsford. Send 'em over there. So I ain't worried about it, and you ought not to worry about it. If it bothers you, I can't help you. There's a lot of us that we're gonna take it all the way. We're gonna do it nonviolently, and we're gonna do it according to the rule of law because that's how the Nisei want it done, and that's how we're gonna do it, but we're not gonna be, we're not gonna be moving off that thing." So if I didn't have that background in me, yeah, I could start treading water, being worried about, "Oh, what's gonna happen to my, my job prospects in the future, and what's gonna happen here?" And, "Am I gonna be ostracized by my community?" I'm like, hell, let it all hang out, and we'll see what's what. You know, we were one of the few groups during December 7th, we used to wear hinomarus on our (clothes) we used to run around... you know what a hinomaru is? The rising sun flag. We used to wear that on December 7th, and we used to run around and see if anyone wanted to take us on. We see other young white kids, we say, "Happy Pearl Harbor Day." [Laughs] Well, anyway...

MN: Well, you know, the early years of the redress movement, though, I mean, it was almost really taking on, it was David and Goliath. What kept you going?

JM: Like I said, I said, "There's nowhere... it's things like that letter that I got from the Justice Department saying I abandoned my father's savings account. I mean, how much... oh, I mean, I was really super offended by something like that. Not only did they commit a crime on me, in a sense, stealing our money, but practically making a mockery of it. And that lady weeping and crying telling us about Pearl Harbor and, you know, what were we supposed to do? Feel good about ourselves? On and on and on and on. Or the people that, when I was walking with my sisters, they would say, "Hey, Tojo, Miss Tojo." And oh, this one here. Remember I showed you a picture of the old Little Tokyo Cafe, I used to go eat there? Well, I'd be sitting there eating, and an old drunken marine would come in there, and he would tell the waitress, "Hey, Mama-san," he'd say, "where's the women around here?" Do you know what I mean? And I'm like... and the guy sitting next to him was a blind man, too, blind Japanese man. And the guy looks around, and the other, his friend tells him, "Shut up." And he says, "I don't give a damn. I can kick everybody's ass in this restaurant." And I'm like... indignity upon indignity at some point. Incidentally, on that one, I got a friend of mine together and we both picked up pieces of lumber and were waiting for the guy. He'd walk by, we were gonna really work him over. I think we had a good chance 'cause he was drunk. But yeah, how much more do you take? And that's why I keep going back to Frank's "dog with a tail tucked under." How often can you run, how often can you tuck your tail back? You kick somebody enough, and they're gonna want to fight back. And so as the years went by again, and people got disheartened, I always would tell them, "There's nowhere I would rather be at this moment in time than at this damn meeting for NCRR, and I'm always gonna be here 'til we win, knowing that we probably may not, but we're gonna fight and fight and fight.

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.