Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Nancy K. Araki Interview II
Narrator: Nancy K. Araki
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: July 19, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-anancy-02-

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, so we are, so today, Nancy, is Tuesday, July 19, 2011, and we're going to jump into our second interview. On camera is Tani Ikeda, and again interviewing is Tom Ikeda. And where we ended the first interview was when you were ten years old, your grandmother had just died, so you talked about that. You talked about also your aunt and the whole thing about the dance, which, I think, is how we ended the interview, and we had just started talking about your father wanting to reestablish farming up in the coast, Mendocino, and so why don't we start there? Why don't you first tell me, so before the war he was leasing the land and farming up there, what happened during the war to the farm?

NA: Well, it's one of these kind of catch twenty-two situations at the beginning, I mean, when the war started, because according to my dad if you didn't farm you were definitely not loyal. So he says, and yet at the same time they'd, they didn't know what was gonna happen to the crops or anything, but indeed they started farming. And so it was all put into the ground, and as, I think I told you about the second equipment going to the Keatley Farms in Utah, so he had tried to figure out what to do with his now planted crop and turned to a person he had gotten to know when he was down in, as a young person, down in Half Moon Bay helping the Morimotos. And there was a, what you called a field buyer, a person who goes and checks and buys different fields of crops and for a certain market, produce market, and this man's name was Paul Pera, and Paul, I guess being young enough so that he and my dad occasionally hung together, so he called Paul and asked whether he'd be interested in overseeing and looking after the farm. And I guess the deal was that eventually, and they didn't know when it would be, that he'd come back, that Paul would then turn everything over back to my dad. I think there was some other agreement that there be a certain amount of exchange because they knew that he's already planted everything and it was just a matter of them letting the crops come. So that's who took over, Paul Pera.

TI: Okay, so now after the war, your dad's now back, and so when he goes back what happens?

NA: Well, Paul apparently wasn't really happy to let go of this kind of, like, very lucrative, or at least it was the first crops, and so he wanted to continue. And my dad thought, okay, well he's gonna have to figure this out, so he continued with working in the city. I think he'd start to do some day work, day labor at, basically doing maintenance, house cleaning, all that. And at the same time, though, I guess he continued to have relationships with people in the produce market, and the people in the market was encouraging him to hurry up and get back out there farming. In fact, willing to even, what do you call it...

TI: Like invest or...

NA: Yeah, how do you say, yeah.

TI: But, so going back to Paul, so it was kind of like this agreement your father had, and was it like Paul just saying, "Well, give me another year or couple years and I'll do it," or what?

NA: No, not really quite clear, because when I did interview my dad is was quite, pretty much like, well... [laughs] And meanwhile, while Paul was doing there, other people saw the success in there, and there was another man who came up there to also lease a whole bunch of land named Mr. Furtado. A long story short is that ultimately Paul does decide to leave. My father goes to farm, Mr. Furtado has his own pea ranching going on, and it was kind of interesting, my, the strong memory I have is that one day there was a kind of showdown, or it felt like a showdown. We must've been, like, around eleven years old, ten, eleven, and what I could distinctly recall is that we were, we were at that time, my dad had leased out what was known as the Welsh's ranch and farming there, and Mr. Furtado was in the other's, Taneta's, another ranch which we were familiar with. But all the pickers now assembled in the yard of the Welsh's farm ranch where we were living in the south, and it was quite interesting 'cause you know that something's coming down, and there was discussion -- now, we kids couldn't be part of that discussion, obviously, so we were outside watching all the other activities happen, and we just knew at the end of which, then Mr. Furtado says, well, he'll continue and my dad will continue, right? And what ends up happening is that ultimately before the season ends, Mr., what I recall is Mr. Furtado just doesn't get anywhere because his, and my dad was, continued to keep control of his quality so he eventually made it.

TI: So was the showdown over the workers?

NA: Workers.

TI: And who were the workers who would help out on this side or that side, kind of?

NA: That's, the showdown, I thought, was much more like who's gonna continue on, because what was happening was that the peas were being flooded into the market, and so it was like flooding in and Mr. Furtado was just not as particular as Dad, and so Dad wanted to keep some kind of quality control and so it was either buy out or whatever. And I will look into that more as, I could review what my father says about that.

TI: Okay. No, it's interesting.

NA: What I just remember as a kid is it was, we all thought, oh boy, this is a showdown, and at least the two camps of Chicano workers were there and it just felt like a showdown to the kids.

TI: Okay. So your, so your father...

NA: He prevailed.

TI: Prevailed and reestablished his, himself as the pea farmer up there.

NA: Yeah.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: So describe, tell me about what it was like for you just working the farm, the pea farm.

NA: When we were, when we were young, of course, all we were doing much more is kind of like having fun as kids, and I think my dad eventually, as we got to be teenagers, then we had our jobs that we had to do. And what my dad had established was a good crew of workers that would come every year, and he would have a set number of people, and he was pretty strict about the set number of people 'cause he felt that he can, they can also earn good monies that way and so he had his own sense about, but he definitely demanded some kind of quality. So Mr. Ochoa was the foreman of this group of pickers that would come up from Delano and find their way to my dad's place. But there's a couple of interesting stories here, but as we got older it was our job to then go out there and man the weighing booth. That was my job. And my brothers, we would all make the pea crates, and then eventually as, when they turned, the oldest, the brother next to me turned sixteen, he had to drive, he became one of the drivers of the truck down to the market and he would do that. It's a hundred, about a hundred and fifty, hundred and sixty mile trip into the night into the market. Next day come back up, then the next loaded truck, truckload of peas, would go down. So both of the two brothers that are right under me, they, as soon as they turned sixteen they were doing that kind of job. But prior to that, as we were growing up, we would do all the kind of like out in the fields. Now, my dad's crop -- I think I told you this -- he had a one crop season, unlike most farmers, was just a one crop deal, but because he just basically wanted to fish the rest of the time, sports fishing. So we had, our life growing up was during the school year we would be in San Francisco going to school, but during the summertime we would be all moved up to Mendocino and we'd have a farming life.

TI: And what would your mother do during that time, when, the farming life? What was her role?

NA: Well, we had cousins that would come and work. As you know, then a lot of the Japanese American families, if you had a farming relative, cousins who were city-bound cousins would be sent up there to either work to make some monies for their schooling or shape up or whatever, and so there were several cousins that would come up, or cousins and friends would be part of it. So Mom would be the cook, of course, and then, but she's also the bookkeeper of the farm, so she'd maintain that kind of business part of it as well as the chore of the farm, I mean, cooking the meals and all that.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So I'm, I'm a city boy, so I have this sort of maybe naive, romantic view of farming in the summer in Mendocino. It's just, it's just a beautiful part of the country. And so what was it like? Was it hard work, or do you think back with fond memories of that time?

NA: Well, I could give you the kid's memory, right? I mean, there's several parts to it because also my father had also, he's kind of an interesting man 'cause he's kind of, the older I got I'd begin to understand how complex he could be, and partly he also wanted to help out with the Bracero Program, so he had workers come in, at least one that I could recall, from Japan, when they were having that program. He also went, and not just with the picking team that he had come annually, but he also went out and got Native Americans in the Garcia Indian Reservation, which was in the, by Point Arena area, which is the biggest town. It was located between Manchester and Point Arena, but the Garcia River Pomo Tribe, and so he had engaged some of them to come out and become pickers. And also noted that there was some of the local people who, long time residents of Elk, which is another close town, they used to come to also help pick. But for us, I guess, being from the city, what's entertainment, you know? It was different. But we had other chores that we had to do and all. But I got to explain this thing; as we had to take up more important, important working role, the first thing that would happen as we get up to the farm is that Dad would put us under Mr. Ochoa, and by this time people were already picking in rows of peas, and Mr. Ochoa would put us at the end of the rows of the more slower pickers so at least we would pick. And this would go on for a whole day because my dad really needed us to know how hard this was. Labor is hard. Picking peas was not an easy thing.

TI: So this was something intentional by your father. He wanted...

NA: Every season, that's how we'd start out. And we would do that, and then after that whole day or couple days we then took our position as the, weighing the hampers that would come in, or shaking, my brothers would then pick it up, and of course we had our, our older cousins were already working that, but he had us go through this process.

TI: And when he did that, did he say anything? Did he --

NA: No, we just know he just, that was expected of us.

TI: And, and so at your age, or looking back, it's kind of easier to say, okay, this is what Dad was doing. In the moment, did you guys get what he was doing?

NA: Well, we got it one... and this was, we got it during this course of the summer when, as kids you get kind of, like, because the hampers weren't coming all the time, it wasn't a steady flow, so there would break times where we'd be waiting and all, and kids being kids we'd start foolin' around and all that. And that night we would get it. I mean, over dinner my father would run the riot act of saying, "Who the heck do you think you are, the boss's kids?" Says, "We're nothing. Without these workers you're nothing, and to have you act like that, thinking that you're so important that you could have that luxury of fooling around while these people are laboring for your, to maintain you," he, I mean, we got that riot act whenever, and we learned pretty fast that, you know, who the heck do you think you are, the boss's kids? He did it, there's other ways that we learned valuable lifelong lessons. I know that my brother said this at my dad's funeral, related this story, but it was really amazing because it's a story that I keep really close to my heart too. It's that one time we're in the middle of the season and two carloads of workers came up and they were looking for work and asked Dad if they could work, and my father was, had to turn 'em down because, he explained, because my workers, he wants them to get a decent wage and all, but he appreciated them coming such a long way so he said, tonight, says, there's an extra place here you could stay, and the bath, he had a ofuro for everybody, workers as well as family, ofuro. And he made sure they were fed and then the next morning he filled their gas tanks and then gave them, I forget the amount of money, but so that they could get themselves back home. And that kind of, it stayed with my brother, surely stayed with me as we witnessed this. Like why did he have to do that? Or all that kinds of, I don't think we questioned it really until later on when you think about it, you're going, okay, why? And then you think about it and you kind of say yeah, well that was Dad.

TI: What great life lessons to observe and see in action.

NA: Yeah. And I think, I was telling my brother the other day 'cause he was kind of wondering how come we remember these things and all, and I was saying I think he, our family, or the kids, we were lucky that we had teachers from the grandmother, my father, my mother. They were really genuinely teachers as well, 'cause I know some of my cousins sometimes say, "You guys remember those kinds of things?" But it seems like they kind of, I don't know if they really thought it out to make sure it's life lessons or not, but it certainly was there for all of us to pick up.

TI: What's interesting -- I'm jumping way ahead, but I think of your role in Los Angeles and how I got to know you, very much that is you. Now you are the teacher and helping others learn, and oftentimes not so much saying things but just by example. And so it's very, very interesting how this...

NA: Well, you flatter me because I don't see it. [Laugh]

TI: No, you don't see it, you don't talk it, but you just, it's through your actions, that same action.

NA: You're gonna, you out to make me cry or something?

TI: [Laughs] I just, I had to put that in there. It's so, so clear.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Let's go to San Francisco in school, so in summers you were pea farming, but during the school year you're back in San Francisco. And let's go into, like, junior high school. Tell me what your junior high school years were like.

NA: Well, it seems like I'm not the smartest kid in town, I'm not also the very bottom, but I was definitely track for college. But in those days they used to kind of track you, you're put into grade levels and then within the grade levels, the levels, right? So this, the classes or the room assignments, like homerooms and all, I was always probably the only JA kid, so my environment, or the kids that I was around, at least in homeroom and other classes, didn't necessarily have a lot of Japanese American kids. And I know that, I don't know how I got involved, but I ended up being the costume mistress for the drama class and took over that, and that started a kind of a long line of becoming later in high school involved in the rally committee and so forth.

TI: So how about socially? Dating? I mean, you're in junior high school and without very many...

NA: Oh my. Your father wants me to know about...

TI: [Laughs] Without very many Japanese Americans, so what, what did you do?

NA: Alright, what did I do? I was very, I was a very shy girl. [Laughs] Okay, I was a very shy girl. I was a very proper girl, and I think also part of the expectation experience was laid out, and if it was, if it weren't laid out consciously there was a time when my cousin -- and I should explain, before the war they were like, out of the, I don't know, thirteen cousins or so, there's only, at that time there were only three girls. So the oldest one was gonna get married, and she was marrying a non-Japanese. And I was like twelve, I guess, and boy, at the shower did I get it from my aunties. "Don't you dare..." You know. I mean, it was really --

TI: And this was kind of behind your cousin, I mean, they're not saying this directly to your cousin.

NA: No.

TI: But they're looking at the other girl cousins.

NA: The two of us, yeah. The next, where there're like two and a half years and I'm two and a half years younger than her kind of stuff, but it was just, it was there, anyway. Maybe there were more years behind here. But at the same time, my parents were very open to welcoming Randy, Randy Chung, and later on as the cousins, they had children, I know my parents, my mom especially, were the Auntie Masa who they could turn to and all that. That's, same as my cousin who had married a German woman and brought her back, and then Josie, even though they eventually divorced Mom made sure Josie and the kids were remembered at Christmas and other times, birthdays and things like that. So how do you make a message out of this, other than it ultimately counts who the person is or however it works out?

TI: Now, in the case of your family, so was it your mother, or did the rest of the family... I mean, initially there might be some hesitancy, but then they later on embraced, especially when children came? Or was there always this sort of --

NA: I think, I think the parents of the couple, the mother as well as the, Randy's family, and so their kids grew up trilingual, speaking Chinese to the Chinese grandparents, Japanese to the Japanese grandparents, and English to their parents. So yeah, I'm sure things worked out with that, but I remember that particular time of having that kind of pressure.

TI: And you were getting those expectations sort of clearly stated to you.

NA: Well, not clearly stated. The way it's stated is, remember, you're the big sister and you set the example, so all the unsaid is also coupled in being the big sister. And of course, in my mind it's like, yeah, like my brothers are gonna all follow my direction.

TI: So going through junior high school and high school, did you have any non-Japanese American boyfriends?

NA: No. In fact, I didn't have any... I never had a serious boyfriend. I mean, it that's, that's what, that's what...

TI: In high school and junior high school. Then, how about just dating then?

NA: We'd go out as a group, maybe, and within it, because by that time I'm really active with our girls, from the Girl Scouts we became Links, which became a social club and a basketball team. From age twelve on up we had this group called the Links.

TI: Was it ever a situation where you were -- and if I'm prying too much just, just tell me to stop.

NA: [Laughs] I haven't thought about these things. That's why I'm more like...

TI: But it's just so interesting, these kind of interracial type things, so I was wondering if there was ever a non-JA that you were attracted to but because of the expectations you just didn't go down that path.

NA: Yes. Several. Several. And it was partly, I mean, and we'd all go out as a group and stuff like that, but when they would ask me straight out and I'd have to kind of, without saying, "I don't know if my parents would approve," it would be pretty tricky. But I do have to say -- and boy, if this ever comes out I'm gonna scream -- as I got older I ended up working in the city while my family's up in the country, and part of it my parents thought it's a good experience for me, but so I'm maintaining, watching over the house. And of course, my brother or my father would come back every other night, so it wasn't like I could be doing something too wild, right? Although my brothers think that I did. But like periodically did run into a slumber party when they'd be driving in. [Laughs] But basically, so during the summertime I was on my own after a certain age.

TI: And any stories or anything you want to share about that? [Laughs]

NA: Why you laughing so hard? You're laughing too hard here. Your imagination is going a little bit... well, I did go out with a couple of guys that, who were non-Japanese, but they continued to be good friends more than just anything really hot and steamy or anything like that.

TI: But what's interesting to me was the influence of those expectations. I mean, I think of, perhaps those expectations aren't as strong these days as they were in your generation.

NA: Oh no, I think in my generation, the whole thing is as liberal as I think my parents were for their time and towards other people's situation. I wasn't sure about me. I wasn't sure because there were enough other kinds of expectation, and I guess I had, I don't know, my head was screwed on that way to really think about what's the balance here, what's the counterbalance, what's the... and regardless, you're still oki neechan, the big sister, as if that meant something to my brothers. [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, and I really appreciate you just being so candid about kind of lifting, there's so much that's unsaid in our community and this is sometimes one of them. And when those expectations were expressed, what were the reasons? Was it because -- I've heard a couple things. One was, well, Japanese are better than the others, and so you should marry a Japanese. Or the other side is, well, if you do that you're gonna be disappointed. They're not gonna accept you. Now I'm trying to think what, what were the reasons for those expectations?

NA: Well, I don't, I don't know if anybody ever explained that to me, but I don't know if I told you this about... I mean, my life lessons, a lot of things about how I perceive the world really gets grounded with my grandmother. And one time, I don't know why we got on this subject, but I asked my grandmother who makes the best husbands, and she says Chinese. I said, really? Why? She said because they are really, they place the women highly and they are very attentive and all of that. And I thought, oh, so who makes the best wives? And she says Japanese. I go, oh. And then she said, "But don't you dare marry a Chinese." And I said, "But, but if they make the --" "You just don't." So in my little head, and this is all before I was ten 'cause she dies when I'm ten, and so somehow I go like, hmm, this somewhat doesn't compute in my little brain, but okay. So some of that's in my head as I get older, right, remembering what Baachan said, so of course I'm kind of curious. And in my adult life, yeah, I've gotten to know some Chinese men and, yeah, they're very attentive. I mean, especially since I'm the senior person at the table. My god, I get all the wonderful bits of food and they take care of me. I love it. [Laughs] No, but so some of what she said way back then of course plays out as I keep, continue to grow older, right? But somehow it's, some things were not quite fully said, but somehow you know, okay, or at least it was in my head that I should kind of balance this somehow.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Okay, so another question, going back. When you were in high school what did you want to do? Did you have a sense of what you wanted to be when you grew up, or what was that?

NA: Well, and again, it's probably, again, going back to my grandmother's planting, learning much about her life, and in a lot of ways it was tragic, some of the paths that she had to take, losing her husband and not able to fulfill their dream, sending her children to Japan, getting the son through Imperial University, expecting him to come back and follow going into medicine and all that, so somewhat in my little head is like, okay, it's gonna be a medical career. So starting in junior high school I take German, and I take German through high school, so sprechen sie Deutsch, you know?

TI: So you think because of the chemistry, or what, why?

NA: Well, in those days, in my grandmother's days, medicine was German. And there was nobody nurturing me nor me telling people that I think that's what I'm gonna have to do is go into medicine, or want to do. And ultimately when I get to college I'm a bio-science major.

TI: Sort of bio-science, pre-med kind of thinking?

NA: Kind of, but not knowing if that's really -- and I ended up really enjoying much more field biology and genetics, that kind of stuff. But ultimately that wasn't necessarily where I'd go either.

TI: Okay. So before --

NA: That or becoming a teacher, one or the other.

TI: So before we go to college I want to just, anything else in high school that we should talk about in terms of what happened with family, with you, or any other activities? Go ahead. [Laughs] What is that?

NA: Well it's, and there's all that kind of sports thing that was going on too, but I think one of the things growing up, in junior high school and going to a Christian church, that changed some other areas of responsibility, and would, it allowed me... like I was, I think I went to, I went over to Church of Christ and that was Reverend Howard Toriumi, who eventually moves down to Los Angeles and establishes Union Center, I mean Union Church, and becomes quite a leader in, well, in the community movements, Howard Toriumi.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: So we should talk a little bit about that because when your grandmother was around you would attend the Buddhist church.

NA: Yeah. Practicing Buddhist, yeah.

TI: And so after she's gone you are now Christian, so how did that, that transformation happen?

NA: Well, I think until you're about ten years old you're still not gonna go on your own and make friends or run around with your friends, or at least that was what was happening to me. I mean, certainly we had a lot of the, in the Buddhist temple we'd have a lot of plays and Hanamatsuri shows and all, so it wasn't like I didn't know anybody, but most of the people were either two years, two and a half years older than me, or they were at least a year, year and a half younger than me. And at that age, as you're getting to be into sub-teens, that's a big, one year, one year and a half, especially among girls, it seemed to be a huge, big jump in interests, in things that you do and all, so I think it had, some of that timing had to do with how old I became. And then I was into basketball by now, Girl Scouts, and our Girl Scout troop pulled from all over, all different religious churches, and so some of that and then getting into basketball. The basketball teams, the YBA, the Buddhist churches had a basketball team, but again, I was the age that I'm too young for them, and so, but with the Girl Scouts we were all the same group, and we came from different churches and we formed the Links. And then within that there were Christians, there were Konko, there were Bukkyo, and there were two, Pine Methodists and the Church of Christ kids. There was also Episcopalian kids, so we were kind of like a mixture more than just one group that were in the same Sunday school class, and then became the basketball team, club and all that. So we were in this kind of much more...

TI: So it sounds like the conversion happened, there were a lot of social reasons for that.

NA: Yeah, lot of social.

TI: Once you made that change, how about the practice of Christianity, the philosophy of Christianity? How, how did that play in your life at this point?

NA: Well, it was kind of interesting and new. And the other thing that happened to me is, like, I went there, I don't remember exactly what season I started or anything, but come the next summer Reverend Toriumi says, "Nancy, I want you to help me with the vacation bible school." I said okay, and he says, "I want you to take over the whole crafts and all of that," and he'll take care of the religious lessons. Okay. So I was given responsibilities real early at Church of Christ, and later on when I met Mrs. Toriumi here in Los Angeles she kept saying, "Oh yeah, we were training you," and I go like, yeah, I guess that's what was happening. They were kind of giving me responsibilities so that I would learn to take leadership role. And through the Christian church process of being there I got active in becoming part of the youth leadership activities.

TI: Now, did she ever share what it was that they saw in you?

NA: No, because this is, this happened maybe about ten years ago here, and she was, she just, all that kind of stuff, and I'm going like, oh, we were there for a different reason and we don't need to pursue that.

TI: Yeah, I guess later in my life when people say things like that, maybe it's my oral history training now, I say, so why, what were you thinking? [Laughs] I'm just curious.

NA: I was there on museum work, to interface with the JEMS Christian missionary work. They wanted to start doing oral history work and all that.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Okay. So let's, let's move to college. And so what -- well, first let me establish, so what junior high school and high school did you attend?

NA: I went to Roosevelt Junior High School 'cause our family was still living in California Street between Lyon and Baker Street. And when I was in junior high school, went to seventh through ninth grade, and when I was in about the seventh going into eighth grade my parents bought a new house, and this was in the Avenues. We were in the outer Richmond. We were one of the first Japanese to be moving that way out into the outer Richmond area. And so, but I was already into my junior high school and my next brothers were starting junior high school too, so we remained there and so it was out of our junior high school district but still walkable or taking the bus. We continued, and then from there I went to Washington High School, which was right in the neighborhood.

TI: Okay. And earlier you talked about how you were always on the college track, that that was something that, an expectation, so did you, were you thinking of different colleges, or was there just like one college? Or how did you choose which college to attend?

NA: In those days, I mean, it's not like today. [Laughs] In those days, no, it wasn't like today, and very, I always assumed I was gonna go to San Francisco State. Which I did.

TI: And was that where most Japanese Americans went in the city, or why San Francisco State?

NA: Because I think I was thinking more of like, well, here's this teacher, maybe I'm gonna be a teacher too, back of my head. 'Cause everyone was saying that, "Oh, you'd be a good teacher." So San Francisco State seemed like a logical choice, and I thought, well, if I'm gonna go into medicine, well, if you're go into medicine at least you could get a biology background and then you got, you could go to grad school maybe.

TI: Okay, so you study the, you said biological science was your major.

NA: Major.

TI: So how, so college is kind of an exciting time. You get to choose your classes and it's a lot more freedom, so tell me how, what college was like for you. What kind of opened up for you in college?

NA: Well, certainly the first semester, or first going to college, all of a sudden you realize, you graduate from high school thinking you're on top of the world, you know everything, all your experiences are, you've almost done everything possible in life, then you go to college and you're nothing. Pretty much that was it. Like it was kind of a rude awakening where everything that you did in high school and achieved and succeeded and all your, and what was hard, I think, was also that this is a time where there are veterans coming back from Korean War, and so you were competing with people who also had -- and San Francisco State especially, 'cause it's a big commuter school -- so your classmates in the freshmen class was also these veterans who were already had, what, they must've been in their twenties, mid-twenties, already having life experiences, so it became a whole interesting... And it was also a time where then all of a sudden with the Korean War and the veterans coming in, they came back after a wonderful experience of, about being in Japan on R&R, so Japan then became a little bit different. Up 'til then we had things like "Considering we are Americans" kind of speakers' bureaus and things like that that was, had popped up.

TI: Speaker bureaus in terms of the Japanese American community?

NA: Of, actually it was multiracial. 'Cause like in, my world going even into junior high school, high school, towards the end, don't ask me how I got into -- oh, I know how I got into it, because I was selected to be one of the commencement speakers for junior high school. So we went through a, I guess a practice, and that was the first time I ever heard my voice on the tape recorder, and all I could think about was, "Where did that person come from Japan when?" And it was me, and I realized that that was me and I sounded like I was from Japan or a foreigner speaking.

TI: But I don't detect an accent.

NA: Well, I, you didn't know me in junior high school, I guess, because my T-Hs were Ds because there's no T-H sound in Japanese, and remember, my grandmother and her Japanese was really strong, and I still spoke Japanese to the Isseis I'd run into. I even was, because partly I guess I had an interest, but also to keep it up, and so when I heard this I was really kind of shocked and so I worked with my English teacher to at least get the pronunciation right, get the T-H sounds and of course the Rs and Ls. I still today, I have to really think consciously where to put my tongue. So that experience, by the time I went to high school I decided to go into speech and, I mean speech class, but the only speech classes were debate, was connected with the debating team. And so that's where I was teamed up with Carol Thompson. She just kind of Facebooked me to reconnect, but it's through her that she was saying, well, let's debate -- we had to debate, we had to find a topic, so she says, "Well let's debate about the prejudice against the Jews." And I go like, "What prejudice against the Jews?" And she says, "The prejudice against Jewish people." I said, "I don't understand," because all I saw Jewish people as white. How could white people be prejudiced against white people? I could understand if you're people of color, at least that's where I was coming from. And so that was a big, another life experience to me. When we talk about prejudice, as much as I learned when I was young how Japanese could be so prejudiced against another group of people and still figure that they are at the bottom of this, you know, unjust and all, but here's another dimension that I learned.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Well, something that came up that I wanted to follow up as I was listening to you is just your sense of identity as a Japanese American woman at this point. I mean, you had heard yourself, you talked about hearing yourself for the first time really, recorded, and you corrected that, but what was your sense of just being a Japanese American woman in high school?

NA: Ambiguous. It was not like, I don't think I was so conscious about being a Japanese American woman. I knew that when I got nominated for, like what they would call GSS, Girls Service Society -- it was the hat people. They had the Eagles for the guys and the GSS for the girls and it's kind of like an honor society. You have to be more than just grades; you have to be service to the school and all that.

TI: Or what, maybe this is a question, what stereotypes were there or were being formed about an Asian American woman or Japanese American woman? This is like mid '50s, early '50s.

NA: Early '50s.

TI: Early '50s. What, again, kind of like expectations as an Asian American woman or Japanese American woman? What were those?

NA: Well, what were they? [Laughs] You threw me a curve because I haven't thought about this.

TI: Yeah, just thinking back to those times, I mean, was the expectation they're quiet?

NA: Definitely.

TI: Were they more docile, or... that's, I'm just trying to get a sense of the environment that you grew up, 'cause later on we talked about the things you did. It's just getting a sense of your environment.

NA: Well, what's interesting is my environment is also among young women who participate in basketball, right, and that wasn't necessarily common in the white community, even though our basketball team played against women Marines and we played against the Filipino girls. I don't know if we ever played against a Chinese team, but I remember the Filipino club. We played against them. And we played against the Marines, but otherwise we were playing against JA basketball clubs, and then there was times where we ended up having to fill in because nobody would do it. Our club was crazy enough to say, okay, you all need for the Nisei rally -- they would relay, Nisei relays in, these were track meets that would happen. Southern California would come up to run with, against the Nisei guys in northern California, and there was some kind of team coming up from Fresno, a girls team, but there was no girls running at the host committee so they said, okay, come on, you guys, we got to be there. We're not track stars, but we had to go and practice and do high jumps and broad jumps and shot putting and relay and all that, which we had to fill in because we got to be the good host team, right, or host committee, and then throw a dance later on for everybody. So we were full of that kind of activity, but nobody, not any of our parents said no, don't do that 'cause it's not ladylike. And it's really in college, this is not during my college years but it's after, later on in my later, after I was married in later life, that I went back to take up some courses in communications 'cause that's what I really got interested in, and realized that other communities, the roles for women were much more stifling than for me. I never felt that I was held back.

TI: Okay, good.

NA: I mean, but I didn't think of it in a conscious way of being because I was a Japanese American or I was a woman. I don't think that ever passed in my head.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: -- second hour, and we'd gotten into college, but before we go there, you mentioned your, some of these leadership roles that you were thrust in, primarily through the church, going to conferences and things. So let's, let me ask about that. So first tell me what these things were. Who was there, what was the purpose? What kind of things did you do?

NA: So the background, I think, it's church background as I know it, in the Bay Area there were two groups, and one was the JEMS, the Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society, and they still exist today and their headquarters is just down the street from us, and then the other group was called the Young People's Christian Conference, YPCC. And if you want to just kind of term it one way or the other, one was more kind of evangelical and fundamental and more conservative, if you want, might want to call it, and the other one was a much more liberal, and under the YPCC would be people like Reverend Lloyd Wake who then is with, active with Glide Memorial and all, but he was Pine Methodist. So that was the two kind of church organizations that happened. Very early, because I was, I went with the JEMS group -- that's Howard Toriumi's church -- and didn't, I was still younger so it wasn't so much that I took leadership there, other than the Sunday school type of thing or youth, the fellowship youth kind of leadership with others in our group, but then into the high school years, because, again, basketball and all of that, I also had friends with YPCC and went there.

TI: Now when you say one's more conservative and one's more liberal, are you talking in terms of political beliefs, or in terms of just --

NA: No, it's religious, the stance.

TI: More religious, okay.

NA: Right. The stance.

TI: So the JEMS, they would be more, like, traditional.

NA: Well, it's the evangelical type of Christianity, and it'd be the Free Methodists, the Baptist churches down here would be part of that group.

TI: And what would be an example, when you look at the two groups, that would be indicative of one being perhaps more liberal, more open to change, I guess? What would be, like a practice that one group would do that the other group wouldn't do, just for me to try to understand this?

NA: Wow.

TI: Like maybe the use of music, is that something that was different?

NA: I have to think about that because the music is pretty much the music, the same and all, but I think, I guess when you get into a place like, well, even in San Francisco you had the Pine Methodist Church and the Church of Christ. Pine Methodist is Lloyd Wake, and on this side would be Howard Toriumi. It isn't that they weren't friendly or anything like that, but I know that Pine Methodist under Lloyd would become, would have a different kind of tone than Howard's, which would feel a little bit more conservative. And I'm not saying this in any disparaging way; it's just how it was, and it wasn't that one was better than the other. It just depended on where you went, right?

TI: And so when these two groups had sort of leadership groups doing things, was there a sense of rivalry between the two groups?

NA: Actually I didn't sense it. Maybe there was, but I know that there were people who dated across churches, the young adults did. I mean, I was still junior high, junior high, high school kind of person, but...

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: You know, I'm curious in terms of in either group, was the war effort discussed back then? Did people talk about the war years?

NA: It's usually the camps. "What camp were you in?" But it didn't really go beyond that. There's also another part that, I don't know if I discussed this before or not, but I think at that time we all knew somebody, at least one if not more than one person whose either mother or father had become mentally ill because of the war experience and were either in the state hospitals or under treatment or something. And in fact, in our church there was one family the mother was, but nobody ever said it out loud. It was one of those respectful things -- and I call it more respectful than hidden because we all knew but nobody would ever say, such-and-such, your mom's... you know.

TI: And in that situation, would there be, what's the right word, assistance or help for maybe the kids from that family, like maybe a pick up or something or little things like that?

NA: It could've happened, but I was just too young to really be engaged in that or know that. But that's one thing that I was real conscious of as, when, around that time is, 'cause even our family, I knew we had this one, my mom's friend from camp and she would periodically place herself in a state hospital. And as kids we knew when she came out our family would go down there to visit, and so my mom would say, so-and-so's home, so let's go down there on Sunday, and we'd get manju and stuff and drive down towards Gilroy to visit with the family.

TI: Well, knowing that other families dealt with this, was there still a stigma attached to mental illness or things like this? When people struggled because of the camp experience, or whatever, you said it was kind of respectful. I mean, it wasn't like it was hidden, but what kind of stigma would you say was attached to it?

NA: I don't know. Certainly it wasn't in our, it wasn't discussed like that in our house, and maybe that's the tone that I just took. Maybe there was stigma, but I didn't know, I mean it wasn't, I didn't, I didn't have to deal with it as a stigma. I just knew that everybody either was somebody that we knew, and we even had our neighbor who was in Topaz, the second year after the war they went back into farming and -- this was down in San Jose -- and the second year of farming there was a terrible rain, rain weather, and the family got wiped out. Their crop got totally wiped out and the father committed suicide. And so those things I was aware of, but certain for the mental illness, I never heard of it as a stigma or, you know, buzz, buzz, buzz kind of thing.

TI: Yeah, it was interesting when you were talking about that. I just, it made me think about in Seattle, I mean, yeah, right after the war and I'd hear stories about suicides. Oftentimes they might be bachelor men, but it's just like it was just known that that happened. Again, yeah, you're right, it wasn't like there was any, it was just --

NA: Like, shame on them for doing that. No.

TI: Yeah, there was none of that.

NA: None of that.

TI: But it was just like it just happened.

NA: Yeah, and whether everybody understood why it was there or not I don't know. I was, I was a kid. In that sense I was a kid, and I certainly, I was a sponge enough to pick up on things, but that was not what I picked up, but I just knew it was in the community there. But nobody talked about it.

TI: But you did mention that when it came to the war people might ask, "So which camp were you in?"

NA: And that's the biggest thing. Oh, you were there, or you were there, or, do you know so-and-so? Oh, that was my cousin. It was that kind of talk more than anything about how horrendous it was. I mean, it was just something that you just went through.

TI: That's what I remember growing up, my parents, and always one of the first things that would come out is, "So which camp were you at?" And they would have that conversation and I was just clueless not having lived through that experience and not knowing what that was. It's interesting.

NA: Yeah. But that was an identity marker. "Oh, you weren't in camp? So where'd you go?"

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: Another leadership group that you got involved in was CINO. So tell me about, again, give me some background on that organization first and then we'll talk about that.

NA: Well, I didn't know this until I got involved with it, it's California Intercollegiate Nisei Organization, and apparently it was a group that was started before the war and it was mainly to get all of the Nisei collegiates together, I guess another way of networking and all. And I knew it existed up and down California, but when I got involved was, I think it was my sophomore year, and CINO was gonna do its conference, and I don't know if it was the revival conference -- at least it was the first up in the Bay Area and it was at UC Berkeley. And I guess they all had queen contests and all, so San Francisco State dug down deep and they said, "Nancy, you got to run."

TI: So how does that work? When San Francisco State wants to run someone for queen, is that, yeah, how do they, how do they decide?

NA: [Laughs] Well, San Francisco State, we, the campus was relatively new by the time I got there. The institution's old because it was downtown San Francisco and then they built this new facility, campus out in the cold, foggy Lake Merced area, and I think it was in its second year of, after it opened that I entered San Francisco State. And it was like there's a gathering of people and they're, pretty soon ended up being a kind of an informal grouping of college students. And the age group, as I said, there was some of us fresh out of high school and then there were the ones that maybe had had some college before they went into the military and now they're coming back to finish up, and then there were others who were there before we even got there, so there was this kind of mixture of age group as well.

TI: And so every college kind of had their queen contestant?

NA: Yeah.

TI: And what would it mean to be the queen of CINO? I mean, so they picked --

NA: I have no idea. [Laughs]

TI: -- they pick one, right, from all the campuses?

NA: Yeah, and supposedly it was based on the service that you give the community and your, how active you are on campus, and a whole bunch of things like that.

TI: So was it anything like the queen contest today where, stage, they ask you a question, you answer, things like that?

NA: No, it was pretty much a judge. There was no bathing suit or all the, but you were required -- oh yeah, I guess we had to, there was an interview, so obviously we had suits and all, our own suits, and then I guess there was the ball, so we all had to have our ball gowns. And that's where the, I just remember the judges asking questions and you answering, and then next thing you know you had to go change to your ball gowns and have the ball, and then comes this announcement who's the queen. Not me. But then --

TI: And what would the expectations be for the queen?

NA: I don't know. To tell you the truth, I don't know, because it isn't like Nisei Week where then you have to go, you have all these arrangements and go across states even to support the other contests and all. This was just California. I'm assuming the person has to show up at the next conference, or convention. But at this part somebody put my name in to run for the state secretary of CINO, and somehow I won. [Laughs] Without me even knowing my name was in there, so I now --

TI: And what's the role of secretary of CINO?

NA: It's to support the president of CINO and to ensure that notes are taken. You know, it's all the secretarial kind of stuff.

TI: But an officer of the organization. I mean, you had...

NA: That's exactly, the officer of CINO. And we had people, if I could recall now... it's been a long time. The president was somebody from Berkeley. He was Berkeley. I was secretary from San Francisco State. Treasurer was from down in Fresno somewhere, then there's two regional reps, or three regional reps or something like that, and we had an advisor who was from southern California.

TI: So I'm curious, if you took a snapshot of the people who were active in CINO back then, whatever happened to these people? So these are Japanese Americans in college, active with CINO, what...

NA: Well, that'd be an interesting thing. I often wonder what happened to some of these folks because our, our cabinet was the one that decided that we're going to have to disband CINO because we were exclusive to just Japanese. We're just going through this whole civil rights movement in the United States; we cannot be against others, so as CINO stands should be disbanded. If we then could open it up, then we should reconvene. That was our big -- and of course, that means the next CINO conference, which is in Los Angeles, and this was all proposed and all and argued well enough so that the organization was disbanded.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So let me, let me play devil's advocate on this one. So here's civil rights, you have organizations like the NAACP, I mean, so it's an African American organization to advocate for civil rights, so wasn't there an argument that CINO, by being, organizing Japanese American collegiates that you could actually be a force in the Civil Rights Movement?

NA: Well we saw, at least those of us who got elected, saw this to be a whole lot more social than anything, and we thought that's fine. We can be straight up and be social, but under the bylaws that we are it's just being limited to nobody but JAs, and that we thought stood not in good standing for what we could be. And so it was real -- [laughs] I'm laughing because, oh my god, I never thought --

TI: So you, so you killed an organization. [Laughs]

NA: Not me, but our little group. We basically, well, but it was voted by everybody. It wasn't like, it wasn't like we killed it, but we brought it to the table, that in today's -- today being 1956, I guess, '57, I can't remember -- that what are we standing for? And that we can regroup and become, but as we were, then we should really consider that we should not exist...

TI: Right. So that's, I guess, a question, so was there a proposal to create a new organization --

NA: Yes.

TI: -- that was more focused on political...

NA: No. No, they wanted to be the same old CINO and so they tried to organize the next year, and they pulled together another conference the following year by another group of leadership, but then after that that's the end. You never heard about CINO after that.

TI: But the ones who wanted to end it because it was so exclusionary...

NA: It was very much against --

TI: But was there a, so okay, we can formulate a new organization that perhaps is more inclusive, that would do something? There was no -- again, here you are, you have the Nisei collegiates, sort of, in some ways people say the best and brightest of the community.

NA: They just wanted to have fun. I guess.

TI: [Laughs] Okay.

NA: I mean, there was some people thinking that way, but then already we were, not we, me, not meaning me necessarily, but there were people already now working with other civil rights multiethnic kind of activities, so it wasn't... I guess. That's the only thing I could think about, thinking about the president whose name I can't remember, but I know for sure he was, he got into law and he certainly was much more into a multi, mixed kind of activity.

TI: So for you was there some frustration? Here -- you talk about getting involved with multiethnic groups, looking at civil rights -- here you're part of another organization that is Japanese American. Were you frustrated there wasn't more discussions or time spent on some of these large political issues happening in the United States during that time period?

NA: It was my growing up time too, trying to understand that myself. I think if I'm really honest, when I'm there all these things are just poppin' out, right? I mean, it's, there I really start thinking about things, becoming, more and more expanding your understanding and appreciation. I remember one time listening on the radio, I mean, to the radio, and there was somebody talking, and I can't even remember what, but what impressed me was it was a Southern, American from the South and he's talking and saying, you know, I can't tell whether he's an African American or if he's white. I really can't tell. So what is this that we're thinking about? I didn't have answers, but that kind of stuff was going through my mind, like hmm, so we could all be colorblind and we couldn't tell and that thick accent could be coming from anybody. As much as one day I heard a dignitary from, this is a foreign dignitary talking a real thick -- what I thought was thick -- British accent, and it turned out he's from an African state and he's a South, I mean an Africana, or African who was educated in England and he was, I forget even the discussion. But it's that kind of thing, like saying, okay, and that starts to, you... well, it got planted in my head, anyway.

TI: Okay. So at this time your involvement with the civil rights -- I mean, it's still a little early. We're in the '50s.

NA: Yeah, it's still, still early.

TI: But just, you're just now, just seeing things, I guess, maybe.

NA: Yeah, or just beginning to kind of start thinking, reckoning some stuff that isn't necessarily on the table or in the discussion. Or you start thinking about, gee, you start thinking about things as you get exposure.

TI: Okay. Anything else about college we should cover? Any other, whether it's school or anything else, anything else that happened? Did you get, ever get in trouble during your...

NA: No. I guess in some ways there were times that I felt that I was very, maybe I was too young, and the feeling I got that is that it was so many -- as I explained earlier, that there were a lot of vets that had returned, so even in our discussion in the after lecture or whatever, you realize, oh, I don't even have one iota of what they're, have experienced. I mean, it was just way worldly, and so I thought okay, I got to learn a whole lot more of, however. But yeah, I think that was one thing that struck me. And then I wasn't quite sure if I was gonna go to med school because by that time I realized, hmm, for certain I know where my strengths are, but I didn't venture out of the science area. Maybe if I didn't eventually get married and... I would've maybe changed to a whole different major. I don't know. But that was a thing that I realized at one point.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So let's talk about you, you now graduate from college and so what happens next?

NA: Actually, I didn't. I got married. I met, I met George the first week of college.

TI: The first week at San Francisco State? Okay.

NA: And we didn't get serious until junior getting to senior year. And then it got to a point, well, he had already had gotten his degree, had been out of the army, had gotten his degree, and he was thinking of going into medicine.

TI: And so how much older was George than you?

NA: Five.

TI: Five years.

NA: Four and a half, five years. So he was then going off to Stanford. He had been accepted into Stanford, and decided we couldn't be without each other.

TI: And so you dropped out of school --

NA: Yeah.

TI: -- and went down with him down to, what, Palo Alto, down that area.

NA: To Stanford. Yeah, lived in the Stanford housing area.

TI: And so, yeah, I, so again, how much do you want to talk about George and the relationship? How much do you want me to ask? I mean, is this...

NA: He's a pretty good guy. He really, he really, he just at the end didn't have no account for taste in women. You get it? [Laughs]

TI: [Laughs] Let's talk about the early years, so what was it, so he was a...

NA: He was a bio-science major. He had gone off to, he had, the Korean War was on and he was at that time, not knowing what he wanted to do, he went off, went to San Mateo, what is it, San Mateo Community College, I guess. He lived in Hayward; he grew up in Hayward. But it was that time in the Korean War era where they would now, they were gonna have the draft come in, and if you get drafted then you have to be in the reserves for something like eight or ten years or something like that. Or you could join the army and get it over in three years. So he was apparently at a stage where he says, well, not quite sure yet where he's, wants to do, so he must have joined the army and get it over with, and he got picked up with the MIS and he got put into the Military Intelligence Service Army Language School focused on Russian.

TI: Oh, interesting, not Japanese.

NA: Russian. And so he got the full Russian, he had the Russian down and he thought, okay, this is not bad, maybe get sent to Japan, right? No, they sent him up to the Aleutian Islands. Aleutian Islands right there next to Russia, and what do you do? You have to listen in on everything, right? It's Russia and this whole thing. So that's, but to him that was the most important time of his life because the group that he got thrown in together in the MIS and in this particular language section, and the people were already people who had gotten out of university. They were from Harvard, they were from Yale, they were from all over, and George, bless his heart, he's a good, he's always an explorer. Like he loved the beat generation, I mean, he'd go down and explore and learn about what it would be to be beat. He was really a very kind of like wide open, trying to learn new stuff and get very excited about it. He doesn't get so carried away that he comes a beat himself, but he gets engaged enough to start to understand what is the rhythm and poetry writing or things that expand him. Well, he's among this group of well-educated, some of them, because of the -- because remember, in those days Harvard and all of those were all just kind of like elite old boys' school. It wasn't like, like it is now when anybody, if you can apply yourself and you can get the grades, you got the money, you could go kind of situation.

TI: It was almost like your father had to have gone or...

NA: Exactly. It's an old boys' club. And so George got thrown in among those folks, and what happened is he, he had said, told us that up there in the Aleutian Islands, he says, there's nothing you could do, right, so they started a kind of seminar, so somebody would teach the others something. So I said, "What did you teach 'em?" He said he taught them how to play canasta, or bridge or something like that. That was what he was. But there he got exposed to other kinds of things, including furthering his love for music and all, and some people would lecture on Beethoven and the whole thing, or whatever their specialty was.

TI: And so for you, you're in your early twenties, to meet such a worldly person, I mean, he'd been exposed to a lot, he was older, service, must've been a pretty powerful experience for you.

NA: Well actually I didn't like him too much in the beginning. [Laughs] Yes, it was very powerful. Okay, uh-huh. No.

TI: [Laughs] But you, eventually you decided to marry.

NA: Yeah, eventually.

TI: What was your family's reaction? Because you're about twenty-two?

NA: No, not even that.

TI: Twenty-one?

NA: Yeah. Twenty, yeah, something like that.

TI: Twenty, twenty-one when you, so what was the reaction of your family?

NA: Well, obviously they had met him and all that, and my dad right away -- this was his final year of farming. My father was turning fifty, he said okay, this is the last year. He knew the kids would not take over farming, no matter how, to him it could've, they could've. And he says, "I knew that when you guys were young because we'd walk down the field and none of you would stoop to pick and weed automatically." So he just knew none of us would be that. So anyway, "So the idea is, if you guys are gonna get married you had only two choices, either get married before the crop starts, which is in February, or you get married in, what is it, October or something, after the, we finish the crop." Well, George had to start university, he was gonna go into university in March, the spring, so he said, "Well, let's get married now."

TI: In February.

NA: So we got married in February.

TI: So it happened quite rapidly when you decided to do it.

NA: Yeah, it was a matter of like six months or something like that, but we'd been going around for about a year -- well, I've known him since the first day of college, but we started to go around, I guess, for about a year.

TI: So your parents had met him. Your family had met him. And so what was the reaction of you getting married at a relatively young age?

NA: Well in those days that's not too unusual. I mean, it's only after the next generation that comes in getting married at thirty years old. In those days, yeah, it was pretty much anywhere from, what, nineteen to twenty, I guess if you're getting towards twenty-four you're pretty old. I mean, in those days. So it was not, it wasn't, like, weird.

TI: So it wasn't, it wasn't viewed as early or anything like that. Okay. So this is a big shift in your life, and this is where we're actually gonna stop.

NA: Oh, good.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.