Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Minoru Kiyota Interview
Narrator: Minoru Kiyota
Interviewers: Tracy Lai (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Klamath Falls, Oregon
Date: July 3, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-kminoru-01-0002

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[Ed. note: This transcript has been edited by the narrator]

AI: Well, we also wanted to ask a little bit about your young childhood years in the U.S. -- in San Francisco. In your book you described some very happy memories and a time of life that, in some ways was difficult with you and your mother.

MK: In Japan?

AI: In -- in the U.S.

MK: In the U.S.?

AI: In San Francisco. Could you tell us a little bit about those years, as you were growing up? Did you consider yourself American, an American child going to first grade, second grade, third grade?

MK: Well, the first grade, second grade, national identity does not enter the picture. What does enter the picture is this: my parents were poor. (...) So I'll give you an example -- you know, Jello? Those things that they sell at the cafeteria? Even those are cheap things, I looked (enviously) at people buying it and eating it. I never ate those things. But I never passed through there and looked at it. Why? Because every night (...) when my mother came back from work, she exposed me to a book on ethics that she, as a young child, was exposed in Japan. One, which says that one who studies will become successful -- one who is lazy will become a beggar. (...) Now, you know, you get exposed to those things, you develop a sense of a morality, and also a sense of shame merely receiving something from others. So I'll give you another example. When I was small, (...) at 10 o'clock the school provided milk, cookie. My parents were so poor that they could not afford to provide me with those things. And then the teacher would say, "Go and get it because there's one student absent." And I would feel very embarrassed (...). Now, if it's an American student I would assume that what they would say (...), "If you don't go, it's going to go to waste." So there's no sense of obligation to the teacher. But no, because of this early training, when the teacher said, "Go and get it," I felt embarrassed. And when she insisted I really felt a deep sense of obligation. (...) It's a sense of shame to the extent that you're receiving something without giving something. And if the other person insists, you feel obligated -- a deep sense of obligation.

AI: So at a young age, your mother gave you a sense of values that...

MK: That's right. That's right.

AI: ...you felt very deeply. At that -- as you got a little older, in the U.S. still, did you form any kind of national or ethnic identity while you were still in the U.S.? Do you recall forming any kind of national identity or ethnic identity before you went to Japan?

MK: (...) Before (entering primary) school my mother took me to work. I was in the park, and I saw Caucasian youngster playing around with their (mothers). (My mother) can't do that. So I say I'm quite different because my mother is Japanese. She's got to work. (...) But when I got into school there, there is no ethnic difference. The children -- you see in the world of children there's no bias. There's no discrimination. They play around. And so that is the kind of new education that I was exposed when I went to grade school in the United States. Now, in contrast, Japan is a very provincial state. So they would not accept aliens, foreigners, readily as an American. So when I went to Japan I did have some problems, but in due time I was able to merge. So you go to Japan, you come to this country, you go back again, you come to this country -- you are a marginal personality, split personality. You can't understand -- quite sure whether you're Japanese or American. Which is perfectly okay because there you have no notion of nationalism whatsoever. But that is something that the FBI, as well as the Department of Justice, did not understand in the '40s and '50s.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.