Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mark M. Nakagawa Interview I
Narrator: Mark M. Nakagawa
Interviewer: Jim Gatewood
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: July 28, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-nmark-01-0001

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JG: Okay, this is Jim Gatewood and I'm here with Mark Nakagawa, and we're doing an interview here in Los Angeles. Today is the 28th of July, 2010, and Dana Hoshide from Densho is also present, behind the camera. And Mark, I have to begin by thanking you for allowing us to talk to you and having you regale us with stories from your fascinating life. So what I'm gonna do is we're gonna talk a little bit about your early background and then we'll lead into specific aspects of your life, including your ministry. And then we're gonna talk about some of the work you've been doing on the history of the Methodist Church and its relationship to the Japanese American community, and... yeah, so I want to start by just asking you where you were born.

MN: Okay. First of all, Jim, actually the, the gratitude and the pleasure is mine for being included in the Densho interview group. I really feel blessed to be included in these interviews and just want to thank you and the Densho group from Seattle. As I mentioned to you in a previous conversation, my dad is from Seattle, so in a way, my life is coming, in some sense, full circle. Growing up, my dad would always tell us stories about his days growing up in the old International District there in Seattle and going to Franklin High School, living on Beacon Hill, playing a short stint at Washington State on the football team, so on and so forth. So in a way this is kind of poignant that this is happening today, so my thanks to you and the Densho group.

I was born here in Los Angeles, actually nearby at Saint Vincent's Hospital here in Los Angeles, and I was born in the central part of town here in L.A. We grew up in the area known as the Crenshaw area, historically that's what it has been called and to this day still is referred to as the Crenshaw area. That well-known movie from the 1980s, Boyz n the Hood, was filmed in Crenshaw, most of it, that is. And I think that's one of the reasons people know the area so well. Crenshaw was, had a large Japanese American population, primarily after the internment camps. When folks came back, that was one of the areas where Japanese Americans, who had previously lived in other parts of L.A. prior to the evacuation and the internment, came back and resettled. I think a lot of it also has to do with the property laws, real estate laws that were enforced back in the late '50s, early '60s. As a matter of fact, my parents tell the story that when they first wanted to buy the house -- the one and only house that I ever grew up in before I finally moved out -- at the time that they wanted to buy the house they could not because the real estate agents were enforcing restrictive covenants. And the Crenshaw area back at that time -- and we're talking late '50s, early '60s -- was primarily white, actually primarily Jewish, but then later on things began to change and they were finally able to move into that part of town.

But for our entire life, at least my brother, sister, and I, the area was primarily ethnic minority. African American, Japanese American, some Latinos back then, and there were some Caucasians living in the area when we were growing up, so it really was, in a way, an integrated community. Again, because of the real estate laws, the restrictive covenants that were enforced, not just there in Crenshaw but other parts of town. My good friend, Reverend Mas Kodani at the Senshin Buddhist Temple here in Los Angeles, always says that historically, if you wanted to find where the Japanese American church or Buddhist temple was in town, just find out where the black churches are because we all shared the same neighborhoods, and he was referring to the fact that... you know, again, because of the real estate laws and the property laws, most people of color were just basically herded into certain areas of town, and that's why our historical experiences are the same. As a reflection of that, one of the pluses of that reality was that the Crenshaw area during the '60s and the '70s, the black power movements, civil rights movement, was a really exciting area to grow up in. And also a lot of well-known athletes came up out of that area, guys that my Sansei friends and I went to school with. Here in L.A., familiar names such as Marques Johnson who played basketball for UCLA and then Milwaukee Bucks and then finally the Lakers, Wendell Tyler, football star at UCLA, we were in junior high school together and ended up playing football for UCLA and then the Rams. Darryl Strawberry, the infamous baseball player, came up out of that area. So, right, one of the benefits of growing up in that area, in spite of the historical realities of the time, was we got to mix and grow up and rub shoulders with a lot of folks, athletes as well as entertainers, who ended up becoming famous and making a mark here in society.

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