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-01-0002

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JG: Let me ask you... you're providing a lot of good information about the neighborhood in which you grew up. I'm interested in knowing a little bit about what predates that, talking about your family and its history, and in particular I'm really interested in thinking about when the first Nakagawas, or the first kind of members of your family came to the United States. Can you describe for me what you know about that?

MN: Sure, a little bit at least. My father's family was originally from Hiroshima. My mother's family was originally from Niigata, Japan. And like traditional Isseis who immigrated, they came at the turn of the last century. My father actually was born in Missoula, Montana. His dad was a railroad worker, and then when he was about, I think eight or nine, the family moved to Seattle and so that's where he considers his home really. That's where he grew up. His family ran a tofuya, tofu shop there in the International District, which is where a lot of the Issei and their families grew up during the war, and my father mixed with a lot of the Nisei kids in the International District and also on Beacon Hill. He remembers going to the Japanese Presbyterian church when he was a kid, and went to Franklin High School there in Seattle, and during his days growing up played football with some well-known Niseis, or Niseis who later became well-known, such as Bill Hosokawa the writer, Harry Yanagimachi, who was a very well-known athlete there among Nisei circles. My dad was also a member of the Taiyo sports organizations, one of the well-known Nisei sports organizations before the war. He actually went to Washington State, I believe around 1930, '31 and actually was on the football team one of the years that they went to the Rose Bowl. Unfortunately, though, he had to leave school. His father had passed away, so the, kind of the traditional story of the son having to leave school and go back home to help out the family, so he never finished his college education. In a way, I've always felt that maybe it wasn't all that bad because he often told us his lifelong ambition was to become a forest ranger, so had he finished his college and been able to realize his dream, I don't know if that would've sat well with us. Living out with Smokey the Bear in some remote forest. But anyway, that's how his life turned out.

When the internment happened, after Pearl Harbor and the internment happened, during that time he was already down here in L.A. working in the produce market, and so when he was evacuated he was evacuated to Poston and spent the internment camp there and then came back to Los Angeles -- actually, did a brief stint in Chicago, which a lot of Niseis did, and then ultimately came back to L.A. where he met my mom. My mom's side of the family, again, was from Niigata, Japan. They immigrated, actually, here to L.A. My mom grew up in East L.A., the area well-known as Boyle Heights, where a lot of Japanese Americans grew up during the war. During the evacuation she was sent to Heart Mountain, and that's where she spent the war years, and then after Heart Mountain actually went to Chicago. Nothing to do with my dad being there, 'cause they didn't even know each other back then, but went to Chicago for a brief stint and then came back to Los Angeles where she and my dad ultimately met. As a matter of fact, last week we moved my dad into the Keiro retirement home over in Boyle Heights, so I've been cleaning out the house, getting it ready for whatever we're gonna do with it, but as I was going through some old drawers I came across the wedding certificate that the Methodist minister who married my mom and dad signed. And so I believe they were married in 1951 or '52 at the, what is today called United University Church, which is a church on the campus at USC, and so I've got that marriage certificate at home in a safe place now. It's not just lying in one of my dad's drawers back at the house.

JG: What do you know about their courtship?

MN: I don't know a whole lot, other than that they met here in Los Angeles and through some good friends, who I believe are still alive to this day. And again, they were married at the church on campus over at USC and just stayed here in central, south central part of town for the rest of their lives.

JG: What kind of work did your, your parents do?

MN: My dad, again, was here working in the produce market, I believe, at the time of evacuation. When he came back I believe he went back to the produce market but ultimately got a job at a local poultry processing plant here in downtown, not too far from us, and for all of the lives of my brother, sister and I growing up, that was his job that he had for all of his working years. Ironically, his boss was an Italian guy who we grew up just knowing as Joe Fish, but his real, legal name was Joe Pesci, like the actor, and pesci in Italian means "fish," which is why we always knew him as Joe Fish. But I always thought it was kinda funny that his boss was named Joe Fish, and yet they worked at this poultry processing company here in Los Angeles. And the company actually sold out to another company back, the latter part of the '80s, and actually Centenary, this church, when we have our bazaar there every year, we continue to buy our chicken for the bazaar from that company because of the connection that my dad still has with that company. So that's basically his bio here.

Our mom was a traditional Nisei mom, at least when we were kids. She didn't work outside of the house, although I do remember her having a job working for a greeting card company, something she was able to do at home, assembling greeting cards. And she did that up until the time I was in college and my younger brother was in high school. She got a job at a local branch of Bank of America, did that for a number of years, and then was able to land a job at USC, where she actually worked in the department that processed the scholarships for the athletes, and it was because of that that my brother got to meet a lot of the athletes coming though SC who were on scholarship. He would bring them home to the house, and particularly the ones who were from Hawaii, who played football and baseball for SC. So that was kind of neat right there. But she did that until she retired from USC, I believe in the early '90s some time.

JG: I didn't ask, but what are your parents' names?

MN: My father's name is Roy. Roy Nakagawa. And my mother's name was Shizuko, actually Shizuko Yamada.

JG: Tell me a little bit about your siblings.

MN: I have one sister and one brother. We're all one year apart. I'm the oldest. My sister, Julie, actually lives in Redmond, Washington. She's been up in the state of Washington since around 1978, where she originally went to Kirkland. She landed a job in the Kirkland school district, and so she's been up there ever since then. But she and her husband, Chip, have been living in Redmond for at least the last twenty years, I believe. They live a mile down the road from the Microsoft campus, and they're in Redmond and they always say they're the only two people in Redmond who don't work for Microsoft. And they have one son, Brent, who's now a middle schooler, about to be high schooler, there in the Redmond school district. As an aside, I remember when Julie first moved up there, when she was living in Kirkland, the first couple years she would come home every now and then and tell us about these huge stores they have up there called Costco. And naturally we didn't know what that was about because they weren't down here in Los Angeles yet, but we later figured out that the reason why all of Costco's store-branded items are named Kirkland is 'cause that's where they're from, is Kirkland, Washington. And so it's funny now that back then we didn't even know what the name Costco meant, let alone where it was from, and yet she was way ahead of us 'cause she was living up there at the time. My brother Grant is down here. He's a dentist down here and still keeps in touch, runs around with a lot of guys that he grew up with. He's an avid USC sports fan, but pretty much just as involved in some local activities down here.

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