Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Min Tonai Interview I
Narrator: Min Tonai
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 2, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-tmin-01-0028

<Begin Segment 28>

TI: So I'm gonna switch gears a little bit here and, and --

MT: We were accredited, by the way. School was accredited. Oh, got to tell you another little story. This... when I was in the ninth grade and taking algebra, the teacher was Nisei, then he had to leave -- oh, then I got called into the principal's office one day, wondered, what did I do? Ninth grade was not part of high school now, no longer part of junior high school. We were moving into high school without graduation of junior high school, just moved in, and I complained to the principal about that. I said, "We were all planning on having graduation, graduating junior high school. What's gonna happen? We're not gonna have a graduation?" And he didn't like me saying those kind of things. He said, "No, you're in high school." And he wouldn't argue. I had other problems with him, but that's what he said. So anyway, one day he calls me in the office. Said, oh, I'm in trouble again, and goes in there. I said, "Mr. So-and-So --" I can't remember his name now, but names are bad for me. He has now gone out of camp. I think he went to college. I don't think he went to the army. I'm not sure. He had to leave, so, "And the teacher that's coming from Jerome to our camp is gonna be delayed, so she won't be here for a month, so I want you to teach your class." My own class. He didn't give me lesson plans. He gave me nothing. "Teach your class." I said, "Well, what am I supposed to do?" Said, "Well, teach your class." Okay. So I go to my class and I explain to them what happened and so I'm gonna have to teach. So the only thing I know is what the other teacher did before, so I would do the same thing. We would do things and I would read a day ahead and know what it is, then I would go to the chalk board and say what it is. Then I would give them homework. I would give them tests for one month. And the thing, people give me some credit for doing that, but it wasn't it. We were, we were college, we were, we were the academic course, so... but not one person gave me a hard time. Not one person complained. Not one person said anything untoward toward me.

TI: That's amazing.

MT: They all did it.

TI: Yeah, I don't, I don't get, why was that? I would, if, every class I've been in, if one of the students just took charge, we'd all kind of take liberties with that because... yeah, it's kind of a situation of...

MT: That's why I say I give 'em credit. And these kids, kids were very smart. One guy became a PhD in economics and taught at University of Rochester. He's emeritus professor. He's blind. Was one of the guys like that. Other guys were, became lawyers and others became doctors and, and dentists and stuff like that, so, and professional engineers, but nobody gave me a hard time. Not a single person, for one month 'til the new teacher came. It was amazing.

TI: Yeah, that's, that's interesting. That's a good story.

MT: Great experience for me. I have, to this day, I have total admiration for those people.

TI: But it also shows that, that you were the best student. I mean, for the teacher to say you should teach the class and the principal to go along with it, they had to have confidence that --

MT: No, I can't say that, 'cause one of the exercises they used to was arithmetic exercises. He would put four columns -- this other teacher, Japanese -- and I would do the same, put four columns down and then we had to go up and add. We had to add that up. I could take wo columns at a time. Pow. Bam. Take next two. The other friend of mine takes three columns at a time, boom, boom. And he was spastic. He got a Master's in economics. He couldn't get a job, of course, because he's spastic and he ended up working, running his father's grocery store in Fresno, but it's fast. Boom, boom, he's through before anybody else can, and other people just do one row at a time. And I thought I was fast with two at a time. Nothing. So I'm saying these guys, some of these guys were very smart, so it wasn't that I was the best student or the best for...

TI: Or you had the leadership or something they saw that --

MT: Probably, yeah, he saw something. I was always the one that gave him a hard time. When I got moved back half a year when I went to camp, 'cause I was a half year student and so they moved us back, so I put, I was in the B-8, was about to start eighth grade again. Wait a minute. I already finished half of the year. I should go to the ninth grade. So I went to complain to the principal and he says, he wouldn't pay attention. "You're in the right place. Stay there. You're in the right grade." So quite a few of us, a lot of the other people that were smarter than us, clever, they say they were in the eighth grade, so they moved to ninth grade, same grade as us, so they got a year ahead of us. But in camp, because in order to keep us out of trouble we would have, we would go, all go to summer school, keep us occupied, and what happened is that we would take academic courses. These, some of these kids that were once in my grade graduated a year ahead. So suddenly they're wo years ahead of me in school. One of my friends at twenty-one was a dentist.

TI: Interesting.

MT: So it's, it's crazy things like that happening and it wasn't, it wasn't... so I, then when the, my eighth grade was finished he calls in me the office again. Said, oh, I'm trouble. He says, "You can go to tenth grade." I said, "You mean skip ninth grade?" I said, "I can't skip ninth grade. That's all the academic, start of the academic courses for college. I can't do that." Besides, my sister was, would be the same grade there. I said, "I'm not gonna do that." I turned it down.

TI: Interesting.

MT: So I was having those kind of conflicts with him, so when he called me in the office to run the class, thought I was in trouble again.

TI: [Laughs] That's funny.

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