Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Betty Tanakatsubo Interview
Narrator: Betty Tanakatsubo
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Skokie, Illinois
Date: June 15, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-tbetty-01-0015

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Now I want to go back to your job at the WRA. How did you get that job?

BT: Oh, after I got released from Amache, went to Cleveland, I went to the office and I had talked to the head, Mrs. Barber who was in charge of the office, and this was the area office, we had two offices, one for the district and one for the area, and I went to the one for the area. And Mrs. Barber looked at my record and she said to me, "Would you like to work here?" And I was amazed, oh my goodness, right off the bat and I said, "Yes, I would love to work here." And so she told me go and take a test again so I had to take another civil service test and evidently the score was good enough for me to get hired. That's how I got my job at the WRA office.

TI: Okay in Cleveland you said there's an area office and a district office?

BT: Right.

TI: And so the district office is a much larger?

BT: Right, and various, whereas the area will be strictly Cleveland.

TI: So tell me about the area office. So what was the structure, I mean, how many people worked in the area office?

BT: There was let's see, Miss Barber, Cameron, Titus, and George. There were four personnel who were all Caucasians. And then if you're employed... one, two, three, four, there four of us of Japanese, Niseis working under these four heads.

TI: Okay so now I'm curious like the four heads, what was their job? What did they do?

BT: Well, one did actually... let's see now, Mr. Cameron was the one that looked into various job offerings. Mr. Titus would help you out on the housing, then there was a Mr. George. I'm not too sure what he actually, what his title was, but he, evidently he must have helped evacuees in some sort of area and then Mrs. Barber who was head of the WRA office there.

TI: And then you said there were like four Niseis who were helpers.

BT: Yeah.

TI: And what was their job?

BT: One was a secretary to Mrs. Barber and she took... well, in fact, she was more like an overall secretary for any of these Caucasian leaders. And then we had another lady who's originally from Bay Area she, Masa also helped one of the Caucasian employer. And there was another one, Sumi, I think a majority of them had this job where whatever their boss is in charge of, they had to do all the secretarial work and etcetera.

TI: And how would you describe was the goal of the area WRA office? I mean, what were you guys really focused on doing?

BT: I think mainly getting a job for the people who left camp and housing. They left camp, they have no idea how to go about it, so they used to come to the WRA office and ask, "I need a place to stay," or, "I need a job," that type of situation.

TI: And in general how difficult was it to find jobs and housing for the people coming out of camp?

BT: Well, I think housing was a little difficult. A lot of places did not accept... they were not quite ready to accept the Japanese people. I mean, here you are, where did you come from? A lot of them thought you came from Japan, right, which was very common. And in terms of job, I think once they were hired, the Niseis had such a good reputation being good workers and very reliable, intelligent. And so the word get around where eventually it spread out to different companies to hire Japanese people so that was a plus.

TI: So it sounds like, other than housing, so there's some discrimination maybe with housing. Did the Niseis experience other kind of discrimination or prejudice?

BT: I would say to a certain extent. I'm sure they had problem with wherever they were working when they first begin working there was a question. It was questionable as to what are you doing, what are you from Japan? Everybody think that we came from Japan.

TI: How about things like restaurants, theaters, did the Niseis have problems with that?

BT: No, well, I think a lot of people cooked at home and you basically went to a Japanese restaurant where there shouldn't be any discrimination. I remember most of the time when we were first married, we always landed up going to this one Japanese restaurant. Very rare did we go the Caucasian or American restaurant because you don't know whether they'll accept it. That was at the beginning, but as years went by, the Niseis were, reputation were a plus and people started to hire.

TI: So you're in a position where lots of Japanese Americans and Japanese are coming through your office and if they would ask you, "So Betty, could you give me advice or tips about what I should be doing in Cleveland?" What would you tell them?

BT: I usually refer them to one of the officers.

TI: Oh, no but I say, "Betty, you tell me what you think as a Japanese."

BT: Occasionally if it's someone I know.

TI: Yeah, someone you know for instance.

BT: Then I would tell them, "Well, go look, if you want a job, depending on what you want to do, let me know and I will talk to my head about whether you want to work as an engineer or just a common laborer, depending on your background."

TI: Well what about just the day to day living like is there anything that you would tell a friend like you have to be careful about this or don't do this. What would those kind of things be?

BT: Offhand I didn't have to mention anything like that because I think as a whole, we have a tendency to work behind, we don't want to be in charge, but you're a good behind the worker. And I don't know, I didn't give them any particular advice, I didn't feel like I'm qualified, if I had a position, yes.

TI: How about the office in terms of more official kind of instructions, I mean, I think I read someplace where at some point the WRA cautioned Japanese Americans from congregating in large groups or things like that to avoid things like this. Do you recall things like that?

BT: I know they discouraged what you just mentioned, and as a whole I think I don't recall any particular group being called down on it. If they did they'd do it... they would go to someone's home and get together. But as far as congregating at the corner, the block corner or whatever, this is something that we avoided.

TI: Now was the kind of like unspoken, people just knew that.

BT: Right.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.