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-01-0006

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TI: Earlier you talked about Japanese school after regular school, tell me about regular school. What kind of school did you go to?

BT: We went to a school (named) Lincoln School (where) most of the Japanese (students attended, and) students population-wise, Japanese, Chinese were the majority in that school. You had the (few) Caucasians they were maybe of Portuguese descent or whatever but they were considered Caucasians. We had only... (in my class) two black (...)... one girl and a fellow. Other than that there weren't too many at that time that we were attending (our) grammar school (...).

TI: So would you say the majority of the students were Japanese?

BT: Japanese and Chinese.

TI: And how did the Japanese and Chinese get along with each other?

BT: Well, as far as I'm... I don't think there was any, in my group there was no rivalry but evidently there's a certain amount of rivalry between the Chinese and Japanese. Because when the war broke out and they would have a sign says, "I'm Chinese," in other words they didn't want to be taken as Japanese because the Japanese were ostracized and beaten (...).

TI: So how did that make you feel when you saw your Chinese classmates wear "I am Chinese" buttons?

BT: It naturally upset you. You thought they were your friends. This happened -- same thing -- when the Pearl Harbor broke out on Sunday, and Monday we had to go to school. And I told my parents, my mother, "I'm not going to school." And she said, "No, you have to go." So some of my friends, we decided, okay, we'll all go to school, and this was in high school. I was very disappointed with my homeroom teacher, I thought she was such a sweet lady, (but) turned out to be the opposite and one of the student, who was of German descent, but he was born here, he got up in front of the class and he condemned the so-called, he used the word "Jap" frequently. And my homeroom teacher didn't... every time he spoke, she would not interfere, she let him talk. And so there were only two of us Japanese in the homeroom class and we couldn't say anything. We just had to sit and listen and I was very disappointed with my homeroom teacher to let this student condemn, knowing that there were two Japanese in that classroom. But maybe this Pearl Harbor turned a lot of people against the Asians.

TI: I'm guessing, when you describe that, I could just imagine that the two of you sitting there, you must have felt horrible.

BT: Oh, yes that's right.

TI: And it seems so ironic that he's of German descent.

BT: Here the Allies, right, was considered the German, Italian, the Japanese, the three Allies but evidently he didn't feel that way to go up there and condemn. And he kept using the word "Jap" a lot, which we totally are against that type of conversation.

TI: Now were there other incidents like that at school like on the playground or other classes?

BT: I don't know, (...) maybe the others had some experience like that. I have no idea. No one talked about it or none of my friends mentioned that something like that took place. I imagine to a certain extent it probably did take place, but they didn't want to talk about that.

TI: How about the other side? You mentioned you were disappointed that the homeroom teacher didn't say anything. How about other teachers or the principal did they come out and say anything?

BT: No.

TI: In terms of, "These are our classmates and they should be treated well," anything like that?

BT: Nothing, no backing in terms but I remember going to the assembly center and they had the radio on where Roosevelt spoke about the so-called "sneak attack" in Pearl Harbor. And you see the Japanese students scattered all sitting around different area (...) we just had to listen to the radio.

TI: Okay, so this is on December 8th, the day after you had an assembly at school?

BT: Right.

TI: And so they brought everyone together to listen to the President.

BT: Roosevelt.

TI: Essentially declare war.

BT: Yes.

TI: On Japan and that's that famous date of infamy December 7th, 1941.

BT: Right, but a lot of us were sitting around in the auditorium, and different groups from different areas, these are the Niseis. We just had to listen to all this and you could just imagine, in those days, we were not that outspoken. Now the Yonseis, Sanseis and Yonseis are more outspoken about these things and they won't tolerate it. But the Niseis were on the quiet side.

TI: So earlier when you mention how you didn't want to go to school on that Monday, was it because of these reasons?

BT: We figured something would take place, and that it's not going to be very pleasant. But my mother said, "No, you have to go to school." She didn't see any other way whereas we knew what was going to take place.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.