Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Harry Kawahara Interview
Narrator: Harry Kawahara
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 20, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-kharry-01

<Begin Segment 1>

SY: Today is September 20, 2011. We're at the Centenary United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. And this is Harry Kawahara that we're interviewing, and my name is Sharon Yamato and on video camera is Tani Ikeda. So, Harry, thank you very much for being here, and we're going to start off I think with a little bit of background about your family. I think let's definitely start with your parents and where they're from?

HK: My parents are Issei, they came in the early turn of the century, and they are from southern Japan in Kyushu, a ken called Fukuoka, Fukuoka-ken. So therefore I'm a Nisei.

SY: And your parents... your father came here by himself originally?

HK: Yes, he came here as a laborer as many Issei men did, and then he eventually married and my mother was a "picture bride," so that's really another story too.

SY: Right. I am fascinated by the women who came over as "picture brides."

HK: I just thought unbelievable. My mother was eighteen years old when she came, didn't know the language, didn't know the culture, and at a very young age. I just could hardly believe she made that move, but she did. And to come meet a man she had never actually personally met, and to see him for the first time at the port in San Francisco, that is just incredible they did that.

SY: And they were the only ones from their families who came to America?

HK: Yes.

SY: So it was really your father's spirit of going away from home?

HK: It's adventure and maybe a little bit of craziness mixed in through it all.

SY: And did he have siblings in Japan?

HK: Yes, I'm not even sure how many, but he had several, yes.

SY: And then did their families arrange the marriage? Is that how it happened?

HK: As far as I know it was an arranged marriage, yes.

SY: And you're not quite sure who was responsible or how it happened?

HK: Well, the parents... I guess my grandparents, my parents' parents, they knew both parties and they thought it would be an okay match, so that's the way it worked out.

SY: Did your mother ever talk to you about that whole arrangement and how she felt?

HK: Unfortunately, my Japanese is not very good and my mother's English is almost nil, so we had some problems in communication. But we did manage to talk a little bit about her experiences when she first came, and she does say it was a major adjustment to come here at a very young age to meet a man. And she arrived in San Francisco, and my father was waiting there at the port, and he was an agricultural worker, the farm work at the time. So my mother, I think it was in Watsonville up in northern California, she had to get up the next day and go out and work in the farm. [Laughs] So that was quite a rude awakening to life in the United States for her.

SY: I see. And she had not been working when she was in Japan?

HK: No, she came from what I understand, a fairly comfortable family, so that's even more surprising to me that she would've come at a young age to the United States.

SY: So your father originally, when he came, did he settle up in northern California?

HK: He was in San Francisco but he also went up to... of course, he stopped in Hawaii and worked there for a few years in the plantations, sugar plantations and then went to Alaska in the fisheries, did all kinds of work. And then to the northwest, the Seattle area where he chopped down trees where they cleaned out forests. And then eventually found his way down to California in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place called San Leandro, and there he started to farm.

SY: I see, so that's where he was when your mother came... arrived?

HK: Yes.

SY: And that's when they started their family?

HK: I don't know how soon they started the family, but I think it was fairly soon, yes. 'Cause we had... actually there are seven children, but there were two who were born earlier, but like a lot of Issei families, because of inadequate medical care, they would lose some of their children at an early age. So I had... actually they had nine children and two of them died at a very early age because of some kind of illness.

SY: That's amazing. So if we can sort of get an idea of timeframe, your father probably arrived around the early 1900s?

HK: Early 1900s, yes.

SY: And then your mother, do you remember when she came?

HK: No, but too much longer, but I'm not sure exactly how many years.

SY: 'Cause the "picture bride" thing was during a certain period?

HK: Yes, right.

SY: That was the only way the Japanese could come into this country. So then the two oldest children were the ones who passed?

HK: I believe so, yes.

SY: I see.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

SY: So now tell me about your... the siblings and where you are in the family structure.

HK: Yes, there are seven children now, and four of them are deceased, and I'm next to the last. I have a younger sister.

SY: So when were you born and where were you born?

HK: I was born in 1931 in San Leandro, again, that's in northern California.

SY: And all the older siblings that were born also in San Leandro then? You were the next to the youngest so maybe all of your siblings were born in San Leandro?

HK: As far as I know that's the case, yes, we were all born in that area.

SY: And what was your father doing? He continued farming all those years while he was --

HK: Yes, when he settled in California he was pretty much in the farming business, yes.

SY: And your father, did he speak much English?

HK: A little but not fluent.

SY: So do you remember what living as a farming family was like? I mean, did you actually have to do some of the work or were you too young?

HK: I was pretty young so I didn't do a whole lot of work, but I remember my parents working very, very hard. Long hours and here thinking about my mother, she had to work in the field on the farm, and then she'd have to come home and then do the cooking, preparing the meals and then the laundry, so she had a hard life.

SY: And taking care of the children?

HK: And my father also had a hard life because he worked those long, long hours, so it was tough.

SY: Were they primarily farming a certain crop?

HK: I think they were largely strawberries as I recall. They also did some other, what they call truck farming too.

SY: I see. So they actually leased the land?

HK: Yes, they leased the land, they couldn't afford to buy the land.

SY: And then whatever crops he would take to markets.

HK: Yes, I can remember when we lived in San Leandro, we even had a strawberry stand on East 14th Street there so we would also sell strawberries with a stand which is kind of crude but people did that.

SY: And your older brother and sisters probably had the brunt of the responsibility for helping.

HK: They all did pitch in, my older ones, and then my brother eventually was able to go to Cal Ag... UC Davis, the agricultural school for a couple of years. So he picked up some additional skills by going there.

SY: And this was early...

HK: This is probably 19 -- latter '30s probably.

SY: So how much older is he than you?

HK: He's twelve years older than I am.

SY: And then there were other... maybe you could go through your siblings.

HK: So I had four sisters above me and one sister below me. So everybody helped on the farm.

SY: And then there were the only the two sons.

HK: Yes, that's correct.

SY: So it was the oldest son and then you were the next to the youngest. I see. Did your father and mother talk about wanting more sons or was that ever discussed?

HK: No, we had a lot of girls in our family, but that wasn't really discussed.

SY: They never talked about that. That's good. That's very good. So you actually were going to elementary school.

HK: Yes, that's correct. You mean at the time of Pearl Harbor and World War II, yes, that's correct.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

SY: So your earliest memories of childhood go back though, right?

HK: I can go back probably maybe a couple years earlier than that. Something I remember very vividly is in our previous house before we lived in the one on East 14th Street was that what I remember clearly in my mind was that our house was on fire. It burned to the ground in fact, and we had some workers next door who I guess one of the workers was smoking and fell asleep and this cigarette... and those were all wooden frame houses so the houses went up very quickly. So I can remember the flames licking up and my dad, I remember very clearly my dad wanted to go back into the house to get, save stuff, and my mother was pulling him back saying, "Don't go in, don't go in." I thought that was quite an experience just to kind of observe that.

SY: And luckily none of your siblings --

HK: No, no one was actually hurt physically, but obviously it did a lot of economic damage to the family.

SY: And so this happened during the daytime when everybody was out?

HK: No, it was evening, early evening, but I do remember that so that's probably about maybe four years old or so.

SY: And then you don't remember what happened after that whether you had to rebuild?

HK: Well, we did that, but it was a struggle, it very difficult but here again they just scraped and saved and did what they had to do to survive like a lot of other Issei families. They just worked hard and by the sweat of their brow, and they just kept working at it, just persevered.

SY: And do you remember where you were living temporarily then?

HK: No, I actually don't remember. I think we just took some temporary quarters for a while while they were rebuilding.

SY: Amazing, destroying all your possessions then.

HK: Right, most of our stuff was gone, just burned up. It was a difficult time. I was very young to sense the full impact of it, but I know it was a struggle for our family.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

SY: So then I guess you said you remember a little bit before Pearl Harbor so you remember going to school?

HK: Pearl Harbor was on Sunday morning, and we heard the news over the radio and I just knew it was bad news for us.

SY: And your whole family was there at the time?

HK: Yes, pretty much, yes.

SY: And do you remember any kind of reaction from your parents?

HK: Not so much from my parents but my... the sister above me, Sachi, she was a student leader and she was student body president of her middle school or junior high school as they called it in those days, and she was concerned about how she would handle this, going back to school. But fortunately there were no untoward incidents so it went okay for her... she was concerned for a while as we all were.

SY: Exactly. Now how about you? Did you have any kind of --

HK: I was a little bit edgy, a little bit nervous about it all but I'm happy to say that my classmates were pretty good about the whole thing so I didn't have any unfortunate incidents.

SY: Was there any discussion about it with your classmates?

HK: You know, I don't actually don't recall an actual discussion about what took place.

SY: Just that there was probably some discomfort.

HK: Yes, for sure.

SY: And your oldest brother was helping your dad at that time?

HK: Yes, that's correct.

SY: So he was probably... your older siblings probably had, there was more impact on them right?

HK: I believe so. At the time of Pearl Harbor, one of my older sisters was a student at UC Berkeley, she was a sophomore there in fact, it was spring of 1942 and you know, with that Warren Furutani the legislation to allow the Nisei to receive honorary degrees. Well, that sister Chieko did receive an honorary degree at Berkeley a couple years ago, yeah, a couple years ago, and we all went to the service. And it was a very emotional thing just to kind of be there and honor her and her son... one of her sons received an honorary degree in her name so that was very special.

SY: She had already passed away.

HK: Yes, that's correct.

SY: That's too bad. So she was the only one who was actually in college at the time?

HK: Yes, one of my older sisters had gone to San Jose State although she didn't finish there as I recall, and one of my other sisters went to the business college in Berkeley.

SY: I see. And then the other sister was still in middle school and was student body president?

HK: Yes.

SY: So now the whole transition from getting prepared to go to camp, was that something you remember, do you recall the details?

HK: Yes, I remember having a... I really had kind of pestered my parents to buy me a Schwinn bike, you know the Schwinn bikes? And they finally relented to my pleadings and they bought me a Schwinn bike, new Schwinn bike. It was very nice, I would clean it and wipe it and keep it immaculate, and I remember this very vividly, it had a little horn on the side and you pressed it and it would make a noise, like it's a horn. So I remember that was a very special thing too. That was my precious possession, and unfortunately the Pearl Harbor happened and we had to sell the bike. I was really brokenhearted by that, 'cause I was so fond of my bike that I rode to most places. It was a really crushing blow.

SY: It was something that you --

HK: Yeah, I cherished my bike and so it was gone.

SY: So do you remember them selling off other things?

HK: Yes, I don't know exactly how much they sold, but I know that people were coming around and buying stuff and negotiating and it was of course very cheaply ,so they were taking big losses on their household items and so on.

SY: And so being truck farmers, they obviously owned a truck?

HK: Some equipment, right.

SY: And farming equipment?

HK: Yes, that all had to be sold.

SY: Would you say that your father was fairly successful? I mean, was he taking... did he have a lot of acreage on his farm?

HK: No, I would not say he had a lot of acreage. I would say he leased the land and I would say he was just... I wouldn't say he was that successful. It was after the war that he experienced more success in the nursery business.

SY: I see. So at the time it was a matter of getting rid of all their equipment?

HK: Oh yeah, I think all of the Japanese families were under semi-panic because we had to obey the evacuation orders and we had to do this in a relatively short period of time. So it was very difficult, very anxious time for all of us for that matter.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

SY: And then you ended up going to an assembly center?

HK: Yes, the people in the San Francisco Bay Area went to the Tanforan is what it was called, assembly center, and that was in May of 1942 after Executive Order 9066. And we went to Tanforan... I remember we went to... we reported in Hayward just below, just south of San Leandro. We had to report there. There was a library park there and we all had to go there with our luggage and I can remember the buses being all lined up and baggage on the sidewalks, and there were soldiers around with rifles and I don't know why they had to have all these soldiers around but there were soldiers. So then eventually we got onto the bus, we went across the bay to the Tanforan racetrack. And we disembarked there and we were assigned to a horse stable like a lot of other people. And like other people too when you first move into this, quite, "horse stable" it was... you could still smell the horses so it was quite an experience. And our beds were just cots and then they made mattresses... so-called mattresses. We used canvas bags and you stuffed in hay to make a mattress, it was kind of makeshift mattress obviously. Not the most comfortable in the world but again, we just had to accommodate ourselves to survive again.

SY: So you have vivid memories of that?

HK: Yes, that made an impact. I said, this is going to be our home for the next number of months? This is not a very nice place to be. I do remember one thing very vividly though. I was ten years old during my very formative period of life, and I think I was really too young to know what was really going on but I was old enough to know that something is not right. I had some sense of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and we had no legal standing, there was no trial, no jury, nothing. Just simply because we were Japanese, we were placed in assembly centers and eventually the internment camps. But I sort of, as I reflect back on that experience when I was ten years old, I thought about that experience of going to Tanforan and seeing these soldiers with rifles walking around, marching around telling us where to go, what to do, and I think I began to internalize some things at that point in time where I thought to myself, "Why are they doing this to us?" I didn't do anything wrong, I wasn't found guilty of any kind of crime, and I began to think that they're doing this to us because we're Japanese. And during those formative years, to have that experience, I think it's very damaging psychologically for a young kid of ten years old to realize that this is happening to him and he hadn't done anything wrong. So you're still developing your self concept, your sense of ego, and I began to internalize the fact that they're doing this to us because we're Japanese, therefore it's bad to be Japanese. You know, that's very damaging, and I think I still feel the impact of that to some degree. And I've talked to other Nisei who were about my age, some of them related some similar experiences and the damage that does to us in terms of our psyches. I think we still struggle with that even today after sixty plus years.

SY: Do you remember the assembly center at Tanforan where you were in a stable the whole time you were living there?

HK: Yes, we were there for I think about five months. And while the, what they call euphemistically "relocation camps" were being built inland so about in I guess August or September, we boarded trains to go to Utah.

SY: And what was the... do you remember what you did while you were at the assembly center? Did they have school?

HK: We had school, which was ironic here this is my... two sisters above me, she was a college student so they recruited her to do some teaching. And she had never taught before so she tried to pitch in. And she was my teacher for a while. [Laughs] Then we had to just make do with whoever was available so we did have school, yes.

SY: So she taught and helped --

HK: Reading, writing and arithmetic like an elementary school class.

SY: And a class of twenty, thirty people do you remember?

HK: Probably about maybe twenty, maybe eighteen to twenty but here again, people just pitched in to help in whatever we could so I'm not sure it was super education but we went to school.

SY: And did you enjoy it all, the transition, in terms of having more free time?

HK: That's true too, you know, I was too young to work, to do much work on the farm but we had, quote, more "free times," therefore we had a lot of kids to play with, so we did that to pass the time of day.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

SY: And then after you boarded the trains and ended up at what --

HK: Well, let me just mention one other thing at Tanforan. You know the Fred Korematsu, the Korematsu versus U.S. was a very well-known Supreme Court case? Fred Korematsu and his Japanese name is Toyosaburo, we used to call him Toy. Fred Toyosaburo, "Toy" we used to call him, was a very good friend of my... probably the best friend of my brother. So Fred Korematsu and my brother were close buddies, so when Fred went through all that experience of being picked up by the police in San Leandro... he's from (Oakland), and then that whole process of the courts and et cetera et cetera, the legal case, he was sent from San Francisco then to... he was told to report to Tanforan. So he came to Tanforan and looked up my brother so we know the Fred Korematsu family for a long long time. In fact, his family had a nursery business, and our family went to the same church so we got to know Toy, Fred and his whole family pretty well 'cause we were pretty close.

SY: Amazing. And your oldest brother, did he have any... did he ever talk about what Fred decided to do?

HK: Not to any great length of time that I can recall, but I remember Fred coming to see my brother 'cause they were good buddies, and telling him that his family was... Fred's family was giving him a hard time for doing what he did and not reporting to the assembly center and running off. 'Cause he had a Caucasian girlfriend is the background, why he stayed, and I guess he had some pretty primitive plastic surgery and he was finally picked up. [Laughs] But coming to the, he was told to come to Tanforan and so he looked up my brother. But he complained to my brother that his family, Toy's family, Fred's family, were very critical of him and he was unhappy about that matter. I remember my brother telling me this, Fred said, "My parents are calling me bakatare, you fool, why are you doing this? You're giving us a bad name," et cetera, et cetera. So my brother was the recipient of some of that therapeutic unleashing of some of his feelings.

SY: As far as you knew, or as far as your brother knew, he really did it because he wanted to be with his girlfriend?

HK: Girlfriend, yes.

SY: That was his --

HK: I think that was his primary motivation at the time, but as he got into the... I guess there was this attorney, something Besig, and they took his case to become a test case and as he got into the test case, and interviewing and background, Fred became more and more aware of this civil rights issue. And eventually he discovered that, "Yes, I wanted to stay because of my girlfriend but it grew into something much larger and much more meaningful to challenge the evacuation orders, incarceration orders."

SY: Interesting. And was this knowledge you got in terms of Fred... did that come way after the war?

HK: It came after from my brother and then I read a lot of material on this and there's a lot of stuff going out now about Fred Korematsu.

SY: And your brother stayed close with him?

HK: Yes, I think after a while they were said to go in separate ways. My brother went to the service and Fred did other things, but they remained good friends.

SY: That's really interesting. So then your family ended up... so did you make any friends while you were at Tanforan? Do you remember any people?

HK: Oh, yeah, sure, sure. There were a few friends I had from San Leandro with whom I had... that I knew from before, so they were friends, and obviously you make some new friends because of the school and et cetera and so on. One thing I do remember is that when I was in Tanforan I got a package in the mail which was unusual for a little ten eleven year old to receive a package. And I opened it up and it was just a bunch of letters from my classmates from my school. I guess the teacher wanted to have the class write a letter to me knowing that I was in a camp, an internment camp. So she had everyone write a letter to me and she wrapped up the letters and mailed them to me, and so that was kind of a nice thing, very touching and comforting, so that was nice, a very nice gesture.

SY: And basically they just said --

HK: "Hey, Harry we miss you. Wish you were here," just kid stuff.

SY: Did you save them?

HK: I wish I had. I just don't know whatever happened to them, but that would have been a treasure.

SY: So do you remember the train ride to Utah?

HK: Yes, I do remember the train ride. As I recall, I had never been on a train before, much less traveled outside of California so that was a whole new experience. But we travelled overnight, and it was very dark obviously so we sort of slept, so it took about, I don't know, a couple of days. And then we arrived in central Utah and before they bused us to the camp itself, Topaz, Central Utah, we landed in this Delta which is sixteen miles outside of Topaz, the camp. And as we disembarked from the train in Delta, what struck me was all these local citizens in Delta, Delta, Utah, they were out there with their umbrellas and sun chairs and patio chairs and they were looking at us with great interest. I'm sure they had never seen Japanese people before in their lives, and then here were these Asian looking people and they're foreigners and the enemy and it was kind of curious how that played out.

SY: They were just spectators.

HK: They were spectators and I'm sure this is one of the most unusual things that had ever happened in that town. But to their credit, eventually they did create a kind of small little museum commemorating Topaz that it was constructed sixteen miles just down the road. So they do have a small museum there in recognition that there was a camp very near there.

SY: And as a young boy, when you got off the train was that... first of all was that the only time you were allowed off the train?

HK: As far as I know that was the only time. There might have been some others but it's the only time I actually remembered it.

SY: And do you remember wondering where you were going?

HK: Yes, 'cause I was very young again but I just tagged along with my family, my parents, so we were told where to go.

SY: Curtains were drawn during the trip?

HK: As far as I know they were, and we were told just to kind not make any noise, just look straight ahead. It was a very controlled environment.

SY: Amazing. And then so all these people never interacted? They just sat there and watched when you got off the train?

HK: Oh, yeah, we were a curiosity piece to them 'cause I'm sure they had never seen Japanese or Asians before in their lives. And of course there was no television in those days so it was... we were a curiosity to them.

SY: So now how did you then get... you boarded another bus?

HK: Buses, yeah, they bused us to Topaz.

SY: To Topaz.

HK: Correct.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

SY: And do you remember your thoughts when you first arrived?

HK: Yeah, we actually had a... I was in Block 12 I remember the Block 12 there was a Barrack 5 and, quote, they called them "Apartment" C and D. We have a little larger family so they gave us two rooms. My brother had left Tanforan to go to Topaz before it was fully completed... he volunteered to do that to help with some of the construction and some of the things they were doing there to prepare for the arrival of most of the people. So since he arrived early as a volunteer to help out, he had the choice of more desirable locations for where we would be housed. So he picked Block 12 which is a fairly central location, and we were right next to Block 19 which happened to be the canteen and the dry goods store. So it was very convenient in terms of our going to buy a few things that were available to us. So we had a very nice location and fortunately my brother was able to do that because he went earlier.

SY: Interesting.

HK: I do remember very clearly the... we're talking about the desert... very dusty like five or six inches of dust I thought, this was unbelievable, we're going to live here for a while? And I thought this is not a very hospitable place. Anyway, but we did manage to survive and here again we turned the desert into varied gardens and it's amazing what they did. We built an ice skating rink, and for kids it was fun in its own way because we didn't realize the full impact of it all until later. But as kids, we had a lot of kids to play with, we didn't have any... we didn't have to go out to the farm to work or the nursery or whatever so in that sense it was kind of a fun activity. But here again, without fully realizing the other things that were happening on the issue of internment.

SY: And do you remember any kind of reaction from your parents?

HK: I think again, like a lot of Issei and Japanese families, this whole notion we talked quite a bit about gaman and shigata ga nai, I think that helped us survive that whole experience. And I think those were very evident during those days it was just like what can we do? There's nothing much, we can't fight this, we don't have any leverage, so we just had to kind of go along and try and make the best of it. This is gaman thing and shigata ga nai, this can't be helped, this is the way it is, we have to make the best of a bad situation. And I think that those factors did help us to survive the ordeal.

SY: And your father was he given a job?

HK: Yes, my father was a carpenter. He was fairly handy because on the farm you do things which you have to do. So he was a carpenter and as I remember they worked... I think their salaries were like sixteen dollars for a common laborer and because nineteen dollars if you were doing more professional work like a dentist or a doctor or whatever. My father was a common laborer, was getting paid sixteen dollars a month. And then we were big on the Sears Roebuck catalog and we were able to order some things... not a lot, but here it was kind of fun to thumb through the Sears Roebuck catalog and say well, yeah it would be nice to have that. We didn't have very much money but we ordered a few things, so that was kind of nice.

SY: And your mother, was she working at all?

HK: My mother worked in the mess hall as we called it, every block had a dining area which we called the mess hall, and she worked as a dishwasher in the kitchen. So she did the dishes and the pots and the pans, but what's nice about that is she made some very good friends with other dishwashers, they were all women. And they became real buddies and even when they came back to California they stayed in contact. So curiously enough through this dishwashing work, they bonded and they became very good friends.

SY: So all of your siblings were with you at the time?

HK: My oldest sister Shizu, her husband was in the army.

SY: Oh, so she had married.

HK: So she... was she married? Just before the war, yes. So he was sent to Camp Grant in Illinois and she was able to join him so she moved to the town near the camp, Camp Grant, and the town was called Rockford, Rockford, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. So she never went to camp because she went to be with her husband who was in the army. But all the rest of us were in camp for a period of time.

SY: So your oldest brother must have been working as well then?

HK: Yes, he was in camp. I'm not quite sure what he did but he left fairly early. They asked for volunteers to help in largely sugar beets so they went up to Idaho and some of those states in that area to provide the labor for farm workers and again largely for sugar beet crops. So he would go with several men, Japanese men, and served as kind of like migrant workers and provided the labor for the crops.

SY: Was he eligible for the draft when it started?

HK: He was getting close to being eligible for the draft. Eventually he was drafted.

SY: He was drafted.

HK: But it was later, so he didn't go with the 442nd to Europe. He was with MIS, Military Intelligence Service, so he took training in the Japanese language at Fort Snelling in Minnesota like a lot of other Japanese American men, Nisei men. And eventually he was sent to Japan in intelligence work with MIS.

SY: I see.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

SY: So all this time were you still speaking Japanese at home?

HK: My parents, Issei parents, well, yes, obviously that was their first language. I spoke very little. I was sent to Japanese school on Saturday mornings which I wasn't real happy about, you know, like most boys they just wanted to go out and play on Saturdays or play baseball or go see your friends or whatever. So I was not a good student of Japanese school on Saturday morning. Another thing, I'm left handed, so you're not supposed to write Japanese characters left handed 'cause if you write it the strokes don't turn out well and you had to write right-handed. So the teacher made me write the characters right-handed. But I was very awkward and very uncomfortable for me, so whenever she wasn't looking I would switch and start writing left-handed and I think it was kind of not a pleasant experience.

SY: So all Japanese students have to write with their right hand?

HK: Well, I think it's, today, modern Japan, I'm sure they've liberalized that and are much more open about that. But the time, if you wrote Japanese you had to write right-handed because again if you wrote left-handed, the strokes, the kanji, the characters did not look right. That's probably true, so you had to write right-handed.

SY: I see.

HK: So that was not being told that you had to write right handed, it was kind of awkward and switching to the left hand sometimes it was just kind of a... it was not a pleasant thing to go through. And just as a kid it was not the place for me to be on a Saturday morning. So eventually I kind of lost interest. Unfortunately I wish I had hung in there, but it just didn't work out that way.

SY: And so what kind of student were you in regular school?

HK: I was an okay student. I did all right, probably not outstanding but I got by okay.

SY: And did you notice a difference in the schooling between pre-camp and during camp?

HK: When I left for camp I guess it was about the fourth grade or so. Then in camp in was uneven. I had some fairly good teachers, some were not very good. But I do remember in camp, in Topaz, another student in the class, his name was... I happen to remember his name... George Inada, George and I were always competed against each other getting the best grades in our class. It was kind of a friendly competition, so I guess at that point in time I was a fairly good student.

SY: You're being modest I think.

HK: But I was also not very well-behaved 'cause I went to the archives back in Washington, D.C. and pulled up my report cards, and the teacher wrote, "Harry is a good student but he needs better self control." So I guess I did act out once in a while. "To exercise better self control"... kind of laughed at that.

SY: But your grades were okay?

HK: Yeah, they were decent.

SY: You got okay grades. So did you enjoy school at that time?

HK: I guess overall I think I would say, yeah, I enjoyed school it was kind of fun thing to do.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

SY: And then what were your activities outside of going to school?

HK: Sports. Every block had a team, baseball team, basketball team, and so on and so... we didn't have football. So, you know, sports was a big thing for us because that was an activity that everybody engaged in. Then we also got sort of active with the church group so that... some of their youth activities took up some of my time but that was pretty much it.

SY: But you never felt like there was nothing to do?

HK: No, not that I was bored or anything like that. I remember we played board games and we played... Monopoly was big. It's still a pretty popular game but we played a lot of Monopoly games frequently and so we popularized Monopoly. And we had some card games too but I remember most of our time was with Monopoly as far as board games were concerned.

SY: That's interesting. And did you end up... I'm sure it was... was it seasonal there?

HK: Oh, yes, there was snow. I'd never seen snow before in my life so that was quite an experience when it first snowed. It didn't snow heavily but I would say we would get eight, ten inches of snow. And as I said earlier we built an ice rink in the back, and here again I was able to order ice skates through the Sears Roebuck catalog so I had ice skates which is curious. And I became a pretty good ice skater because we did a lot of that. And then of course we played sports, it was basketball and baseball. And then we also did... they also had a Boy Scout troop so we did that and we also went out to do some camping outside of the barbed wire, so there was a place where we went camping with tents and swimming hole so that was kind of a fun experience.

SY: So you were able to go... besides camping, though, did you ever go beyond?

HK: I mentioned Delta earlier and they did us allow to go and our families go to Delta I think once a week, there are two people from each camp... from each block were able to go. And they would go shopping, so the bus would take them and leave them for shopping for four or five hours and then bring them back. So we were able to go to Delta to do some shopping, so I went a couple times along with one of my sisters, but we had limited funds so we couldn't buy a whole lot. But I remember being able to buy an ice cream cone, that was a treat.

SY: But how about the reaction? Still you didn't feel any kind of negative reaction from the people in Delta?

HK: I felt a little uneasy, some discomfort going there and all these white people there. They never talked to us. I'm sure they maintained their distance, 'cause we talked to the clerks in the shops of course, but I didn't feel really that comfortable.

SY: It was just two people from the camp that were --

HK: Two people from each block.

SY: So there was a group.

HK: A group, yes.

SY: You stayed together kind of?

HK: Yeah, we kind of stuck to each other for security.

SY: So during this whole period of time, you were pretty much sheltered from any kind of racial --

HK: Yeah, I pretty much... my brother, after working in the sugar beets, went to Salt Lake City where he actually was able to live, and he worked in a produce market there. And so one day he said, I'd like to bring my younger brother, me, from camp to Salt Lake City just for a few days just to kind of just to have the experience of being outside of camp and seeing Salt Lake City. So I went by car with some camp personnel... I'm not quite sure what that person did, Caucasian person, and drove from Topaz, Delta, and then up to Salt Lake City, it's about a four hour drive. So we made a stop along the way somewhere I forgot what town it was and this gentleman that was driving me went to the store or somewhere and he was gone and I was in the car all by myself in the back seat. And some white men came by and they saw me, I'm sure they said, "There's a Jap, a Japanese person there," and one of the men said to the other, "Let's get that Jap." I'm here, a little kid, I thought, I'm scared, "Let's get that Jap." And fortunately my driver who accompanied me came back in the nick of time so I remember that, being very frightened from that experience.

SY: Did you talk to your brother about it or not?

HK: I don't think I mentioned that to him I may have but I don't recall saying anything. And then in Salt Lake City one of the things we did as kids were, to get some change, make a few dollars, we would sometimes sell ice cream. They used to have these little carts with ice cream and they had dry ice in there to keep for the refrigeration, and we would push the carts down the road, sidewalk, to sell and ring the bell to say the ice cream man was here. But I was a kid, you know, and I remember a white family coming by and looking at me and looking at the little cart and I thought, "Would you be interested in buying some ice cream, your children, your two children here?" And the man said, "No, we wouldn't buy any from a Jap." I remember that very clearly as well. So those things remain in your psyche as a very negative kind of experience. So it reminded me that, yes, I'm a victim of all that was going on, World War II, Pearl Harbor, et cetera, et cetera.

SY: So you felt more comfortable to some degree when you were surrounded by Japanese in the camps?

HK: Well, yeah, that's all we knew, so certainly the comfort level was higher.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

SY: So when the war ended, do you remember that?

HK: We actually left before the war ended. And then eventually 'cause my brother was in Salt Lake City, then he bought a house or maybe he leased a house or rented a house. And so we moved from Topaz to Salt Lake City before the end of the war and so I went to school there. And we were in Salt Lake City probably for about a year. I made some very good friends in Salt Lake City which is kind of curious, across the street were twins, they were Bobby and Billy Memory and next door to us a young man, a boy named John Clayton, and they became good friends of mine which is curious. And we had a good times and we'd been in contact for a while, but after a while we did lose contact, but made some very good friends. I was there for just a little over a year.

SY: So you ended up going to school there?

HK: Yes.

SY: And pretty much lived... I mean, what were your parents doing at that time?

HK: My father worked in the hospital, the LDS, the Latter Day Saints Hospital, he worked in the laundry area. And my mother was just primarily a housewife.

SY: And your oldest brother was obviously still working?

HK: Yes, but soon after he was drafted into the military.

SY: So do you remember what happened with the house?

HK: We stayed in the house. My brother left... eventually we came back to California but we stayed there a little bit longer after my brother went into the service. And then came back to San Leandro, the very same area from where I came, and started school again. And again, my classmates, I met up with them and again they were very cordial and very welcoming, and I was happy about that obviously. In fact, our high school class, we had a reunion a number of years ago and they asked me to speak at this reunion, and I told them, the class, my former classmates, "I really appreciated you guys for being so welcoming when I came back 'cause I wasn't sure about how I would be received or what kind of reception I would get or whatever." But I told the class, "You guys were great, you were very caring and you made my return," so the comfort level of my coming back was good.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

HK: That was... the war ended in '45 so about '46 I came back and interestingly enough, here again my class... I was in ninth grade and in tenth grade they elected me tenth grade class president, and then in my twelfth grade, senior year, I was elected student body president which is really quite remarkable when you think about so soon after the war ended, that I was elected for that office. What's also interesting is that Norman Mineta, who was the former congressman, mayor of San Jose, of course cabinet Transportation Secretary of Commerce, secretary, et cetera, et cetera. Norman and I are the same age but I had heard he was going to San Jose High School, he became the student body president there. And I think I mentioned this earlier, that somehow Herb Caen, the columnist in the Chronicle in San Francisco picked up that story and he mentioned our names in one of his articles. The article's called "Bagdad by the Bay," that was his... I don't know if it was daily or not but it was often. He mentioned this high school senior at San Jose, Norman Mineta, and then Harry Kawahara in San Leandro, they were elected student presidents in 1949, which was not too long as I said after the war ended. And he thought that was quite remarkable that that would have happened. But anyway, at my high school reunion I told my former classmates I was really appreciative of their receiving me so warmly, and I really expressed that I really felt good that they were understanding about the whole circumstance, so that made me feel good.

SY: And it's just peculiar to me that Herb Caen picked up this story and was it to say... was that the point of the story?

HK: Yes, that was the point of the story, as I said the war in the Pacific had ended in August of '45, and I guess his point was that it's quite remarkable that these two high school seniors became student body presidents in 1949 which is, well, you know, four years after and he thought that was quite notable.


SY: I'd like to talk a little bit more about your being elected student body president because it seems to me that you were a very popular person to become elected like that. I know it's hard from your perspective to see that.

HK: I liked school and I enjoyed my experience in high school. The eleventh grade I was encouraged to run for yell leader of all things, a Japanese American running for yell leader, my gosh. So I became the head yell leader which is kind of hard to believe that I did that at the time. So I became more active in student events and so on, so I guess I began to know people and people knew me from some of the things I was doing. And I was encouraged to run for student body president in my senior year, and I did that and won, so that was a nice feeling.

SY: But to be a student body president, I mean, it requires a certain amount of you would think not only popularity but you're probably a fairly good leader in a sense.

HK: I guess in a sense, but I was just kind of developing leadership at the time. It was still formative.

SY: I see, because your sister had been a student body president.

HK: That's true, she was a leader in school, that's correct, so I guess in some respects she was a model for me.

SY: And your family obviously was... I mean, it seems to me like your brother was somewhat of a leader, he went out...

HK: Yeah, the sugar beets and so on and getting the house for us and going to language school.

SY: So it's kind of a lot of initiative?

HK: Yeah, again, we had to survive so we had to do whatever was necessary to do that. Again, that's not unlike a lot of other Japanese American families. We just, hard work and perseverance and diligence, people just worked hard.

SY: But there weren't a lot of... how many Japanese were in your high school?

HK: Not a large number, probably maybe a dozen, maybe a dozen or so.

SY: So it wasn't like you were the... you even had a big majority of Japanese in your class.

HK: Yes, there were not that many Japanese, in fact, there was only one other Japanese in my class. Her name was Jane, Jane Ogo, and there was also a Chinese girl her name was Shirley Chan, and so, no, there were very few Asians in our school.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

SY: And it's curious to me that you then... maybe you can tell the story of how you met Norman Mineta?

HK: Oh, yeah, we... I knew of him because of the Herb Caen article and hearing about him. I guess he told me he heard about me too. So then we started UC Berkeley together in fall of '49, and interestingly enough, Norm was in a dormitory on the north side of campus, and was in the same dorm as my closest friend from San Leandro High School. So when I went to see my good friends from San Leandro who were in the same dorm as Norm, that's when I met Norm. I thought, "I know you, I've heard about you..." so we became friends at Berkeley so we actually got to know each other.

SY: And did you regard him as student leader at the time?

HK: Yeah, no doubt about it. I think he became a rep at large, he ran for that office and won. And so he was clearly a leader for high school and in college, so I can see he was on track to do some other things down the road which of course occurred.

SY: And how about yourself? Did you continue to take on a leadership role?

HK: Maybe to some degree I helped with the Nisei... it was called Nisei Student Club in those days, and I was elected president of the Nisei Student Club. Although most of the things we do were primarily social but we did some things too that were more community... for the community. But largely it was a social kind of thing.

SY: Again, I'm curious, did you have organizational skills? Did you have people skills?

HK: Probably a little bit of all those things. I'm sure as I took on some of these roles, you learn things from the experience so I think you just kind of build on the experience and then you develop better skills.

SY: And I also wanted to mention this sort of connection that you have with Norm through your sister.

HK: Oh yeah, it was curious. Now Norm and I are related through marriage. Our sisters, the sister above me, Sachi, and Norm's sister, they married Masaoka brothers. Etsu, Norman's older sister, her name is Etsu and she died several months ago. So Etsu married Mike Masaoka and my sister Sachi married Tad Masaoka, and Tad is the youngest of the Masaoka brothers. And of course Etsu being Mike's wife, and Etsu and Norman are brother-sister, so we became related through marriage because our sisters married brothers.

SY: Right, so that happened when you became related, was it way after the war?

HK: It was certainly after the war, but, see... '49.

SY: Because Mike Masaoka was the JACL leader.

HK: Yes, that's correct.

SY: And he must have married Etsu --

HK: I think it was right during the war.

SY: During the war.

HK: Yeah, I think so.

SY: And your sister then married his brother.

HK: After the war.

SY: After.

HK: Actually they were together at Berkeley, my sister Sachi went to Berkeley and Tad went to Berkeley, that's where they met and got married.

SY: That was before the war.

HK: This was just after the war.

SY: This is your younger sister?

HK: Yes, just after the war.

SY: I see, and did you ever talk to Norm about the fact that he's related to Mike Masaoka?

HK: You mean after?

SY: Right, when you met him.

HK: Well, after a while we would kid each other. "Hey, Norm we're related through marriage." He say, oh yeah, ha ha ha that's like a joke or something.

SY: But the fact that he was actually related to someone who was a leader in the JACL.

HK: Yeah, that's true. That's certainly true.

SY: But you never talked about that?

HK: I don't think it became a big topic of conversation for us.

SY: That was amazing. So you are still are fairly good friends?

HK: Yeah, we stay in contact. Whenever I get back to Washington I try to look him up.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

SY: So your experience at Cal was fairly, was a pleasant one, a good one?

HK: I would say for the most part yes. Made some good friends, still maintain contact with some of them. Yeah, that was a good experience. It was quite a transition from a high school, fairly smaller high school to the university which was like at the time was about 20,000 students. It's a huge transition from this high school to this enormous university campus, so that was quite an adjustment.

SY: At the time how was your father... how were your parents able to support, 'cause several of your family went to Cal, correct?

HK: Yes, well my sister, the one who got the honorary degree, which unfortunately she didn't graduate because of the camp, and then the last three, Sachi, my younger sister Momo and me, the last three of us got our degrees from Berkeley.

SY: And was that something that happened by design, I mean how did that happen?

HK: Well, you know, it's a funny thing. People say, "How did you happen to go to Berkeley?" Well, I didn't really have much choice 'cause he just said, "You're going to go to Berkeley," so I says, "Oh, okay." So the expectation was there, so that was for a lot of us in our time. so the last three of us actually got degrees where one more sister would have gotten a degree if she had been able to continue with her schooling. So it was just understood we were going to go to Berkeley, and that's the way it worked out. It was convenient, it was close, it was public, it was reasonable, so that was the place to go for us.

SY: And your parents at the time were doing what?

HK: After the war they didn't continue farming. My father, like a lot of the other Japanese American men, went into gardening, and that served as a survival thing for a lot of Japanese American families. The father and frequently the mother also would go gardening. And they worked very hard again and they made do with whatever they could, and then eventually my father and... by then my brother was discharged from the army and came back. So my father and brother started a nursery, a bedding plant nursery. They started just in the backyard with a little lean-to green house, and eventually they grew and we'd build greenhouses and lath houses and began to grow. I was in high school then when they were doing this, so I had to come home from school and work and weekends and vacations, et cetera et cetera. So it was a lot of hard work again, you know, they didn't have all the mechanization they have today so a lot of it was just by sheer manual labor. And I could tell myself I don't want to be doing this for too much longer, I'd rather go to school and become, quote, "a professional" or something. Anything but all this hard work. So that was my choice and I guess my father would, probably would have liked me to come into the nursery business with my brother so he would say "Kawahara and Sons" or something like that. But I said, "Well, yeah, that's a nice thought but I think I'm going to go my own way." So I started doing some other things. Fortunately my brother and my father established the nursery, grew it, developed, and it's very successful today. They're wholesale bedding plant growers. Fortunately my brother's two sons, John and David, got into the nursery business as well, followed through, and they run the nursery now and it's really grown and developed. So I think they were primarily the moving forces to make it what it is today, because it's a fairly large business today.

SY: And is it called Kawahara and Sons?

HK: Yes.

SY: Really?

HK: No, it's just called Kawahara Nursery.

SY: So even though there was pressure, some kind of underlying thing for you to go to college, you didn't feel that same pressure to become a member of this business?

HK: No, not quite the same pressure. I think my parents realized that Harry was a little bit different in some respects, that he's not going to be going into this nursery business or farming business or whatever. He had some other interests that motivated him to go another direction. So they were kind of understanding of that and so I guess my father, I would, probably had some ambivalent feelings. "Yes, it would be nice to have my younger son in the business, Kawahara and Sons, da da da, but at that same time he's got his own interests, his own things he wants to pursue, so just let him do that." Which I appreciated that, so they kind of let me go my own way.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

SY: And so what did you end up majoring in in college?

HK: Curiously enough, my major in college was political science, and most of my buddies were engineering majors or pre med or pharmacy or whatever, and that was the areas that they could go into. So I majored in political science 'cause I'm more of a social science person. And then as I mentioned, my earlier involvement in church, and I began to go to a church in Berkeley. It was a Presbyterian church. I was quite active and I joined their college, collegiate group, it's called Calvin Club. So I became part of that and made some good friends from that experience, so eventually, not really knowing clearly what I wanted to do, was something working with people. I thought, well, I might want to consider the Christian ministry. My family was a little bit taken aback by that, so I pursued that for a while and that's why I came to Pasadena, in fact, to enroll in Fuller Theological Seminary which grew into a fairly large seminary. But I went there, this is back in the mid-50s, it was still relatively small, the seminary was, so I enrolled there and eventually got my degree from there. And after I graduated from Fuller Seminary, they asked me to join the staff for a while so I worked in development and alumni relations and field work supervision of our students. So I did that for about three or four years, so that was good. Then I thought I still needed a change, so I had a change about my vocational choice. so I was thinking about the ministry or some kind of Christian work. Fuller was also developing a school of psychology to go into counseling psychology in a church context. And I got kind of interested in that so I went back to school to pursue... not at Fuller but at Cal State L.A., Los Angeles and to USC, and got some more background in counseling and went into school counseling for a while. So after I left Fuller and got more schooling, more credentials, then I went to Monrovia High School where I served as a school counselor there.

SY: So backing up a little, your interest in religion, did it start at Berkeley?

HK: No, in camp I was church related, so it goes back that far. And then coming back from camp, there was a local Christian church in San Lorenzo, it's called San Lorenzo Holiness Church at the time. They're not called the Christian church so I became fairly active with that church. And it was kind of off and on for a while, then when I became... I had a Christian church background.

SY: And was this apart from your family or was it something your family did?

HK: My family went to the same church.

SY: So you came from a background --

HK: Yes, although my parents really do not have a Christian background when they came from Japan. But the church was the only church in town, so they began to go there, and so we joined with the church and the church that's Sunday school, and the high school group et cetera et cetera. What's also interesting is that's where we became good friends with the Korematsu family, Fred Korematsu family, 'cause his family also went to the same church. And that's where Fred becoming a good friend of my brother, 'cause they were about the same age.

SY: So it was kind of a social thing for Japanese Americans?

HK: Yes, it was a social network, correct.

SY: And this holiness church I know was very evangelical right?

HK: It's quite a conservative church, yes, evangelical, yes, definitely.

SY: But you became more liberal as you learned more?

HK: I would say yes. Well, I went to, again, Berkeley and this very active church, this First Presbyterian Church at Berkeley and it was a very fine church and good people there. So that further developed my interest in church and church work and possibly considering the ministry. But it brought my scope of the church, the concept of the church and what the church can do. So that stirred my interest in how I gravitated to attend Fuller Seminary in Pasadena.

SY: And did you feel that you had some sort of mission at the church?

HK: Well, I was... it was because of my background with the holiness church and I would say theologically pretty conservative. But by going to seminary, my area, my vision was broadened, and eventually I became more, I would say more, quote "liberal" about the church and the church's role. And I became much more inclusive about the scope of the church, and of course the evangelical conservative church believes that Christ is the only way. I thought that was... after a while, I believed that for a while, but after a while that seemed very arrogant and narrow and confining. So I could tell that I was beginning to broaden and make a shift in my own mind about what the church was and what it represented, and my role or function in that church. Eventually I got a little bit disillusioned by the institutional church and eventually left the church. I mean, I have a lot of regard for the church and what they're doing, but I just didn't... no longer felt that comfortable in that situation, so it's no longer part of my life.

SY: And that happened fairly late in life?

HK: Yeah, later, probably about in my late thirties or so.

SY: So was that one of the reasons you were thinking of turning to counseling or was that after?

HK: Yeah, because I got interested in counseling and psychology and clinical work, so I went back to school and got some additional training and then became a school counselor at Monrovia High School where I was there for about thirteen years. Then an opportunity opened up at Pasadena City College, the local community college, and I helped along with others to start the Asian American Studies classes there, the program there. And this is the early '70s, which is pretty early in that whole what they call, quote, "the movement." So I became very interested in Asian American studies, the community, the movement, and so I helped develop some curriculum stuff along with others again. And we had a group called Asian American Studies Central so we had colleges work together develop curriculum material. That was kind of an exciting time and it was really not only an academic exercise for me to learn about my background, but it's also kind of an emotional thing to figure out who I was as a Japanese American. And in a predominantly white society, and begin to sort that out and figure out how all this impacted me. That's when I studied a lot of it on my own with the camp experience and Michi Wegyln's book that you know so much about from your work. And a lot of other things, I just did a lot of research and studied, and going to conferences with similar people, similar interests and I just began to grow and develop from that experience.

SY: You mentioned the term "the movement."

HK: Well, that's kind of passe now but it was called "the movement."

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

SY: Can you just describe... because if you could take us back to that early '70s.

HK: Yeah, we got caught up... the class provided the impetus for what they called ethnic studies, and it was a big movement, but I think it was an awakening not only for all the minorities, the African Americans, the Latinos, Native Americans, and then of course for Asian Pacific Americans. It was an awakening about who we are, our identity, our self, sense of self, our ego development, and developing our communities. Before, others defined who we are... well, we said that's okay for a while, but we went to identify ourselves who we are, we want to define ourselves and create our own communities so that we become empowered as individuals and as a community. And so that was a big thrust in the movement, and it caught a wind, so we had marches and rallies and of course this is still Vietnam era time, the Civil Rights Movement, so all that came together to give further impetus to our movement. And so we got pretty excited about community development and community service and identifying ourselves.

SY: And was it difficult getting this Asian American Studies program together? How exactly did that happen?

HK: Well, it wasn't real difficult for us at Pasadena City College. Again, we were fortunate in ethnic studies that a lot of our road was paved with some previous work from African Americans and Latinos. At Pasadena City College they had already developed those programs, not as large as it is now, but so we kind of got in on the tail end of that, so on the coattails of African Americans and Latinos we came in and we didn't have to twist the arms of the college. Said, "Hey, you have African American studies, you have Latino studies, it's very appropriate because there's a growing Asian population in the San Gabriel and San Gabriel Valley area, you need to have Asian Pacific American classes." So it was a strong rationale for it, and they already had precedent with the other groups, so we didn't have to fight for a rationale for why we wanted to come in with Asian Pacific American studies. So they allowed us to start in, I think this was in 1972. One of the early community colleges to really establish a program, and so we just started one class but eventually now it's about four or five classes. We have the history, sociology, psychology, literature, and I think even the philosophy now, so it's really developed over the years.

SY: And who were some of the early people that you were involved with?

HK: Well, I helped provide the impetus initially, but eventually we were able to bring in some part time people. And there were some notable people, we had some great people come in largely from UCLA. UCLA's Asian American Studies Program was really developing nicely and they had some very strong people who were coming out of their program. So we hired some of those part timers, and some of them were, look, Akemi Kikumura was one of our part timers. Judy Chu who is now a U.S. congresswoman was one, and she was out of UCLA as well. And we had several others from UCLA, so we had some really good people come in and help us out and we still do. We bring in people, we have a couple of full time people now, tenure track people, and we utilize now maybe three or four part timers, adjunct faculty. So for a community college we developed a pretty decent program in Asian Pacific American studies.

SY: That's wonderful.

HK: Of course, part of it is also the demographical shifts in the San Gabriel Valley. I mean, it's incredible now how the Asian presence in the San Gabriel Valley, particularly among Chinese. When I started at Pasadena City College, this was back in 1978, Asian Pacifics made up only about four or five percent of the student body. Today it's almost a third, so it's a reflection of our pulling students in from the San Gabriel Valley, so that's added to the growth and development of our program.

SY: But at the time, maybe when you started, then you came up with the idea for an Asian American studies program you were really getting input from people all over Los Angeles.

HK: Yeah, because we had made these contacts. What's also interesting is that the first class that we taught was called The Sociology of the Asian American. I helped coordinate that, but I had a lot of support from the JACL chapter. It is called the Greater Pasadena Area Chapter of JACL, and in preparation for our... we agree that we would all jointly teach the class. So we broke it down into different units, segments, and we had members of our Greater Pasadena Area Chapter take on responsibilities for the different units. So they helped teach the units as they came up, so my task was the coordinator so just to kind of pull it all together.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

SY: Can you back up and tell us a little bit about this Greater Pasadena, how did that come about? When did that come about?

HK: Well, one of the active members of our chapter before we even formed was Bob Suzuki who eventually became president of Cal Poly Pomona. But Bob and I were at Berkeley together too for a while. Then he came down to Pasadena to go to Cal Tech 'cause he was an aerospace engineering major, and Bob got his PhD from Cal Tech. Then he became a faculty member at USC in engineering, but Bob was interested, he got very interested in education, and in ethnic studies of all things. So he was also active... I'm not quite sure how he got active in the JACL, the Pacific Southwest District of JACL, he became chair after a while of the repeal of Title II of the Internal Security Act of 1950. Now 1950, it that was the height of the McCarthyism and anti-communism, so historically we kind of understand how that evolved at that time. But he was very committed and involved with the repeal of Title II, 'cause he felt it was a real parallels because the Internal Security Act would play on anti-Communism where baiting Red China, Communist China, and there was even conversation about Chinese becoming very suspicious behavior, they were stealing our military secrets, et cetera, et cetera. So there was some talk about, well, we should watch these Chinese and maybe we can put them in camps just like the Japanese. I thought, "What?" We could hardly believe we were hearing what we were hearing. So the effort was to repeal Title II, it was called the McCarran Act. And so Bob was a chair of the committee from the Pacific Southwest and he began to recruit others to kind of help in that endeavor, that effort. So since we knew each other at Berkeley and I knew Bob and what he was doing, we got caught up along with some other young people -- well, fairly young, relatively young -- in the Pasadena area, and we formed our own JACL chapter and Bob was probably the inspiration for our activities. So we got involved and just repealed... that was why we came together largely but then we got caught up with the movement again. With ethnic studies at the Pasadena City College, protesting against the war, caught up in the Civil Rights Movement, and helping to develop our own communities.

SY: And why did the Greater Pasadena chapter form? In addition, you didn't want to go to the existing --

HK: There was an existing Pasadena chapter of JACL, but we thought, well... we thought about joining them and beginning to take on some leadership roles with the other group. We said, well, it might be easier just to form our own group, not only drawing from Pasadena but we call it the Greater Pasadena Area, so we were getting kind of a broader range of people to join our group. So we thought it was a better way to just kind of form our own group. We didn't have to struggle, kind of internal things, but we were all... we were about a dozen, twelve to fifteen of us who had worked together now on the repeal of Title II and other things, so we kind of had some bonding as a group so we just kind of moved ahead as our own group. And I think it that was a good decision basically. And so we became active with the repeal movement and then we got caught up in again referring to the movement.

SY: So this was really in the very... it was way before the redress movement started?

HK: Yes, it was. I don't know about way before but yes.

SY: So what came first, the Greater Pasadena JACL or the formation of the Asian American Studies program?

HK: The forming of the Greater Pasadena Area chapter, and those twelve to fifteen people became the core, and also they're the ones that helped teach this first Asian American Studies class at Pasadena City College. So they became more engaged from that experience, so again, not only an academic exercise for a lot of us but it's also kind of an emotional thing in terms of understanding more about who we are. So it became almost therapeutic in a way to talk with others and share experiences and ideas and thoughts that were... we understood our mutual experiences and there was further cause for our bonding and coming together.

SY: And this Asian American Studies program, though, really began not just as a Japanese American program.

HK: Oh, no, not at all. But the Japanese Americans were a driving force to get moving, but no, it was much larger in its scope. And a lot of it was with early on when Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos and they were the four main groups. But after the war in Vietnam and we get more Vietnamese and other southeast Asians, Cambodians, so it had to by necessity broaden out. So the classes we have now at Pasadena City College incorporate all these groups and the experiences of these groups, and that's really the way it should be. In moreover, ethnic studies is just not for Asians or African Americans or Latinos it's really for the larger society and it's better to have a number of white students in our classes because they learn from the experience and broaden their knowledge about ethnic groups and their contributions. It's just a better and healthier understanding of American society, and I think that's a positive thing for our country.

SY: But your purpose at first was more internal?

HK: It was more internal, identity, helping community development and again as I mentioned earlier is that so we can define ourselves and define our communities, what we want to do, and it was a source of empowerment for us as Asian Pacific Americans, as minorities in California and the U.S.

SY: Usually when you think about these movement groups in the '70s, it's a much younger demographic that started that became involved.

HK: That's true, that's true most of them were Sansei, third generation.

SY: And did you consider yourself different because you were a Nisei?

HK: Well, in our group there were some combination Nisei and some Sansei as well.

SY: So it was more Nisei driven then at the time?

HK: I would say probably maybe half, but I guess I would say at the time, initially more Nisei initially driven but after a while it was just clear that it was a much broader movement with third generation, fourth generation coming into assist with the mission of what we're trying to do.

SY: But his activist role, would you consider you took on a very activist...

HK: I would say yes. I became very engaged in the whole process again largely from my ethnic studies, Asian American studies interest, and then becoming much more aware of the larger community. Again, we were out there marching against the war in Vietnam, marching with our fellow minorities regarding civil rights, human rights.

SY: So and at the same time were you doing what else? What was your other role at Pasadena City College?

HK: Since 1978 I joined the full time faculty, and my role there was largely in counseling students. I worked with students on a regular basis, but also helping to foster this Asian American Studies program. So to keep that... it's helpful to have a full time employee to help sustain the program. If you bring in part time people, they're good, but to have a sustaining effort you need at least one or more than one if possible full time person. So fortunately, I was there as a full time faculty member, so I was able to give it some sustainability.

SY: So you were never actually teaching classes other than Asian American studies?

HK: I also -- 'cause my political science background -- I did teach some political science, American government classes periodically. But my primary interest was of course Asian American studies, and that was my growing interest and I just did a lot of my own reading in the area. So I just enjoyed that experience 'cause, again, it was not only academic it was also personal, psychological, emotional for me to sort out who I am, my role, my function, how do I fit into society as a minority person.

SY: And then as the years progressed, the Greater Pasadena JACL continued to take on other topics?

HK: Yes, whenever there were some big social issues that would come up before us, largely like curriculum in colleges, and some of the other things were they were trying to limit the enrollment of Asian students on some of the college campuses. I remember Berkeley, it was a big issue there, they were concerned about there were too many Asians enrolling, largely Chinese from Chinatown in San Francisco and some Japanese Americans. They were concerned about the growing number of Asian Pacifics there and of course today it's incredible, but almost half the students at Berkeley are Asian and Irvine it's like two-thirds, and UCLA is about forty-five percent, it's incredible. But at the time when the numbers were growing, it was kind of threatening, I suppose, so they tried to limit that. So that became an issue about the criteria for enrolling students.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

SY: And what was your relationship to the JACL in general? Was the JACL also supporting the same causes?

HK: Yeah, I think so, but see, the JACL is a very establishment organization as we know, but at the same time they were some more progressive members of the group. And I think our chapter I would say were members of that very progressive, almost radical group. And we tried to make some changes within JACL and maybe to some degree there was some change, definitely some change. Because if you had to meet the needs of your community you had to change, so we got involved in other issues as well besides just the human rights and Vietnam War and ethnic studies, although those are ongoing issues.

SY: So when did the redress issue first come before you? When was that?

HK: I knew that JACL got into that whole discussion about asking for reparations, redress. There was Edison Uno from San Francisco, and we got to know Edison very well from our mutual interests and the movement. I know he proposed at some JACL convention many years ago that we do this, this redress, reparations we should do something to get compensation or recognition or something.

SY: Was that just about the same time that you were sort of--

HK: Probably a little bit before when some of those... Edison Uno to his credit kind of sowed some seeds fairly early in the minds of Japanese, the JACL leadership and members too, and eventually began to grow and develop and evolve. And it ended up with the whole movement to bring about some kind of redress. You probably remember some of the discussions we had about how best to do this, some say we should just go directly to the government and ask them for reparations because of what happened to us during World War II and make the case there directly to the government. And others said well, yeah, that may not be terribly productive, maybe we should think of other strategies. So one of the kind of compromises, I guess you might call it, was to have a commission, something in between going directly to the government and asking for reparations. But forming a commission also would provide a lot of information, more information for us to understand the experience of all the incarcerees from all kinds of experience. It would also serve as a historical legacy. So there was an internal discussion about should we go directly to the government or should we go this commission route? Eventually the commission route won the day and we did that, this was back in the mid-'80s I guess it was, yeah, the mid-'80s.

SY: And what was your position? Did you take a role in that?

HK: Yes, we got very interested in this of course, and I was still helping with the Pacific Southwest, volunteering with the Pacific Southwest district.

SY: This was right after the Title II?

HK: Not too long afterwards. Then I joined the redress committee for the Pacific Southwest District Council, so we became active with that whole effort.

SY: And this redress committee was a combination of all different chapter JACL?

HK: I don't know about all chapters, but a good number of chapters had representatives to come into this redress committee. So we began talking about how best to approach this, we had a lot of discussions about should we go directly -- the internal discussion within JACL -- should we go directly to the government, should we have this commission hearing or something else for that matter. So we began to explore some different possibilities, and then I guess eventually we got into the commission approach.

SY: And did you take a position personally on this whole issue?

HK: I was kind of ambivalent initially. I thought we're angry, we're mad, we want to go to the government, "You SOBs, you owe us, you did a lot of damage to us, you owe us." I guess I thought, well, I guess there were some problems with that. You're going to get some reaction and counter forces working, and so maybe the commission hearing might be a better way to go to establish the grounds for asking for reparations. Maybe that perhaps is a better way. So in hindsight that was probably an okay strategy.

SY: And do you remember the friction within the JACL at the time?

HK: Yes, you mentioned Seattle. I know there was more of a little more activist or militant group in Seattle who said, "Yeah, we should go directly to the government and forget this commission stuff. That's just kind of stalling the whole matter." And others felt the same way that we should just go right to the government. Well, eventually the commission hearing thing won the day, then Pacific Southwest district, the reparations committee, redress committee, I became chairman of that committee. And so I helped... right during, this is about the mid-1980s when we had hearings in Los Angeles. Well, first of all we had to get the commission approved, so that took some lobbying and working with our legislators.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

SY: So once the decision was made to have the commission hearings, then is that when you became the head of the redress?

HK: Yes, just before in fact.

SY: Just before.

HK: So our task was to help prepare witnesses who were going to appear the hearings. I think it was in 1987, '87, '88 or so. So we had several sessions preparing our witnesses to appear before the commission panel. I mean, that was not easy. We had to recruit people to come and be willing to testify. We had to kind of twist some arms and push people, 'cause I can understand the reluctance, you know, appearing before a federal commission, and you have a panel with table and microphones and these klieg lights shining on you and crowds there. It could be an intimidating scene and I could understand that. So we had to kind of again cajole and help these people to ease that anxiety about appearing before this commission. So we had several training sessions before... we did some mock hearings and took a lot of kind of nurture to get these people ready and be willing to share. And we finally got a pretty good number of people to share, and I must also pay tribute to the NCRR people for their contribution, 'cause we worked together very closely I think in Los Angeles. I don't know about other areas, but we had a very close relationship with NCRR and we recognized their strong contributions, especially at the grassroots level. Maybe JACL did some things with the legislators, with Dan Inouye and Norm Mineta and Bob Matsui, Spark Matsunaga and so on.

So it was kind of a collective effort, but again, we had to be very careful to acknowledge the strong contributions made by NCRR, they had delegations going to Washington, D.C. and talking to senators and legislators, so they made a very significant contribution to the redress reparations effort. So as redress chair of the Pacific Southwest District JACL, we did help prepare the witnesses to appear, and fortunately we eventually got to a certain comfort level and then they appeared. And I was there for the whole time, like three days of hearings. And I was just moved by hearing the testimony of these people. It was just absolutely mind blowing. I was just taken aback emotionally just time and time again. I was just, almost just blew me away. I just didn't realize some of the pain and agony of that experience, and it was good for our community because it was really therapeutic, cathartic, and they were just unloading emotionally, crying tears, and I was moved to tears too. And I just thought this was a great experience for our community to do this. They were up there, their hands were trembling, shaky voices, but they spoke and they spoke powerfully, eloquently, and in a moving way. I just... it was just an extraordinary experience. The experience of camp and incarceration for some of the people you know around your family, et cetera, et cetera. But to see a much larger picture of how the camp impacted all these people and the varied experiences they went through, it was a revelation. It was a very moving emotional experience for me.

SY: Amazing to be there at that time.

HK: Yes, to be an eye witness. But it was really very emotional and as I said very therapeutic for our community. Then after all these years, this is mid-'80s, so it was like years after camp, I always hear about Japanese Americans, young people say, "Well, my parents never talked to me about camp, they never brought it up, they never mentioned it, and when we asked they were reluctant to answer our questions or inquiries." So I know that there was kind of a hush about the whole experience, but I think that in the mid-'80s with the hearings it was just a time for unloading and sharing the pain of that experience. So the very real sense was cathartic, healthy for us to finally kind of let it out and let it just come pouring out, which it did, pouring out. And we're not... Japanese, we're not very emotional people, but for that it was a very emotional time for all of us and was a very extraordinary time, extraordinary experience.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

SY: So did you feel that having lived in Pasadena for a number of years right before that happened, that the area... Pasadena area had some sort of contribution other than your JACL group?

HK: Pasadena does have a Japanese American... small Japanese American... there were probably about four hundred families there. And we helped with the Pasadena Unified School District, our chapter again the Greater Pasadena, we helped develop units to be taught in an eleventh grade history class in high schools. A unit on the Japanese Americans and Japanese American incarceration, the camp experience, because we got feedback that not a whole lot was being done to teach about this experience. Maybe some short little paragraph in a book, but to expand on that and to see the larger issues of human rights, civil rights, Bill of Rights.

SY: This must have been... when did this happen?

HK: Late '60s.

SY: Late '60s?

HK: Yeah, as early as that because we got the Pasadena City College going in 1972, so I would say late '60s we began working with the unified school district, the Pasadena Unified School District about helping teach about Japanese American incarceration in U.S. History classes in the eleventh grade. So we were finally, just by pushing on this, able to incorporate, and we helped develop that unit on Japanese Americans. So we used that curriculum information which they used when they taught about our experience to their U.S. History classes.

SY: So there was quite an active movement then in Pasadena?

HK: Fairly, fairly. Yeah, we had to kind of galvanize the troops to some degree.

SY: And how did you do that? Did you do it through church groups?

HK: It was with our JACL chapter. We worked with a church group, the Buddhist church and the local Presbyterian Christian church, and then some community groups as well. And we thought it was important and we still do, to work closely with African American groups and Latino groups, and so we can work collectively. We would have more influence and power by working together. So we worked on these coalitions with these other ethnic groups as well, and I think that really helped to give us some more impetus for what we were trying to do. I guess they would say there were power in numbers so that was certainly true. So I guess it was just kind of a growing awareness for all of us together, ourselves, the JACL Greater Pasadena Area Chapter, the members of that group, the core group, and then some members of the community. So we kind of grew together from that experience.

SY: Amazing. So this obviously took a toll sort of in terms of your time. Were you working?

HK: I was working full time, but for me this is a priority because it was of great interest to me and an important issue. So again, I'm not alone. Without this other core group of twelve to fifteen people, we all felt some of the same things. So we were willing to put in a lot of our own time, our own energy to help develop these areas because it was important to us and we felt to our community as well.

SY: And with this core group is it still --

HK: We're still there and we're not quite as active as we were 'cause the issues are different now, so we were not as active in terms of daily things, monthly things, but whenever an occasion arises, we rally the troops and appear before the city council or make statements before community groups, write letters to the editor to make a point. So the most recent thing was now we have established Fred Korematsu Day in Pasadena, and we had to go there and appear before the city council and provide the rationale for why we think it's important to have Fred Korematsu Day in our school district and in our community. So they approved, they agreed, and so we're now working on how best to accomplish that to honor Fred Korematsu on Fred Korematsu Day.

SY: So there's still a good core?

HK: Yeah, so the issues are there whenever something comes up that we want to rally our group, then we'll make phone calls and emails and okay, now we got to come together and work on this issue. So that seems to be our modus operandi now is we rally around issues as they come up.

SY: Amazing. And there's also a strong Quaker presence in Pasadena?

HK: Yes, I think we've talked about this before, but a woman named Esther Takei Nishio was recruited by a group of Quakers in Pasadena, a very active group, and they were very strong on human rights, civil rights. And one gentleman was Hugh Anderson who was particularly active in that group, and they felt it was time for a test case to challenge the executive orders to leave California or be incarcerated in the internment camps. So they were able to somehow recruit Esther Nishio, Esther Takei Nishio from Amache in Colorado. And so they went to Amache and talked with Esther, and she was only like eighteen, nineteen years old and she agreed, amazing. And she's not even from the Pasadena area originally, she's more from the west side towards Santa Monica. And she agreed to be a test case, and so she was allowed to come to return, not return, but come to Pasadena as a student to enroll at Pasadena City College. So again the Quakers played a key role in getting her to come, and not only come but also she lived with this Hugh Anderson family for several months when she first arrived because housing would have been difficult and they were concerned about her security. So she lived in this home with Mr. Anderson was going to be safer obviously.

So she came -- and I have to give her a lot of credit for this -- by train from Amache, Colorado, and arrived in the station in Pasadena and she was welcomed by a committee which is wonderful, college, church people, and they welcomed her when she got off the train. And then they went to Hugh Anderson's home, Esther lived there, and then they helped enroll her at Pasadena City College again with a lot of concern. Fortunately there were people there who were sensitive to the issue and were quite receptive to having Esther come. The president of Pasadena City College was very supportive, very helpful, and made it a point to make her, Esther, feel very comfortable by coming. Now this is in September, fall of 1944, this is well before the end of World War II in the Pacific, so that ended August '45, so she was there well ahead of that. So there was still this suspicion and some hostility about Japanese and Japanese Americans, so she was quite brave of her, a nineteen year old girl at the time to agree to be a, quote, "test case." So there were some incidents, but overall it was a good thing and I guess you're going to be hearing from Esther later on with another interview, but it worked out.

SY: That legacy really for you was starting this Asian American studies program, was it something that you were aware of?

HK: No, I was not fully aware of that. I knew that there was some Japanese American woman who came back, but that's about all I knew. And so it was after we started our class -- classes, plural -- studying more about this and this Esther lives in Pasadena. Oh, wow, this is fantastic, so we would talk to her and heard her speak at different functions and we have a relationship, so she's developed a nice presentation about her experience.

SY: But you sort of nurtured her story?

HK: Well, she nurtured herself, so we helped create an avenue for her to express her concerns and her point of view and her experiences, which was very helpful and beneficial. So as far as we knew, she was the first Nisei to come back to California and attend college.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

SY: So, Harry if we can change subjects a little. Talk more about your own family with your wife and how you met your wife, let's start with that.

HK: As I mentioned earlier I had a church background, so I went to a church conference in the San Bernardino mountains, a place called Forest Home. And met my wife, Jane, Jane is from Watsonville. You know where Watsonville is up there in Santa Cruz area? And so we met there and then eventually got married.

SY: Do you remember when that was when you met her?

HK: Probably early '60s.

SY: So you just moved to Pasadena?

HK: I wasn't there too long, that's true, but it was at a church conference in the San Bernardino mountains where I met Jane. And she was going to San Francisco State and preparing for a nursing career. So after she graduated from SF State as a nursing student, we got married the following June. She graduated in early June and we got married in mid-June, so we've been married for almost fifty years, a long time if you think about it. [Laughs]

SY: So it wasn't through mutual friends you just met each other?

HK: No, it was through friends but it was because we both were attending this church conference.

SY: And I assume her family was also in camp?

HK: Yes, my wife is a Sansei, so her parents, Nisei, they went to Poston for camp.

SY: I see.

HK: And they're from Watsonville, Watsonville area.

SY: And then when did you and Jane start your family?

HK: It took about five years. So she worked as a nurse, public health nurse for L.A. county for several years. And like a lot of young couples, we just tried to establish ourselves professionally, financially, economically, and then eventually we started a family. So she stopped working for the L.A. county public health department and then became a mother and she was at home for a number of years before our boys started school. And once they started school she felt more comfortable about going back to work, so she went back to work and became a school nurse 'cause she had the credentials to be a school nurse. The advantage of that was she could be home when our boys came home from school, which to us was important when they come home there was somebody there. So she was able to be home by three o'clock or so because of her work.

SY: And you had how many sons?

HK: Two, just two. Tim and Reed, and Tim is now... he went to UCLA, he went to Pasadena City College first then to UCLA and he was also a political science major. And worked for the UCLA Alumni Association as a development person, program coordinator, and did that for maybe two or three years and then got a good background in this area. Then the Anderson Graduate School of Management invited him to join their staff in development and administration, and then Anderson developed a real estate center. Anderson has about five or six centers, one of which is the real estate center and it was fairly new. And when that center was established, it's called the Richard S. Ziman Center... he was a big contributor to the center. When that was established, Tim became the executive director for this center. So he's very happy there, he's a very gung ho UCLA Bruin fan, goes to the football games and cheers them on, basketball, et cetera, et cetera. So he loves UCLA so he's in a nice situation because the environment is very conducive to what his interests are.

Our second son, Reed, the one with the two kids, they live in Walnut Creek. He went to Pasadena City College also for a year and then transferred to UC Davis up in northern California, then went to SF State for his master's degree in urban development. So he's now working for an urban development firm in San Francisco but he lives in Walnut Creek with his family and then he takes BART to work, so that worked out pretty well. So he enjoys his work and he seems to be in a nice situation, so my wife and I feel very fortunate that our boys have done well and feel that they're happy in what they do which makes us feel good.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

SY: And how about your siblings, what has happened? Your father passed away --

HK: My father passed away when he was ninety-six years old. That's several years ago, and then my mother died earlier than that. So it's been quite a while since my parents were gone.

SY: And he was working at the nursery?

HK: The nursery.

SY: Up until?

HK: Yes.

SY: He kept going.

HK: He was ninety-six years old, my heaven, he was still working it's just incredible. These people just... work was just in their genes or their whole psyche, they're just work. It was very intense and then I have to say they did work very, very hard like a lot of the Issei men. Of course, they didn't have a choice they had to just to survive to keep the ship afloat.

SY: But by the time he died the business was --

HK: Yes, it was pretty well established.

SY: And successful.

HK: Yeah, so I'm sure he felt good about that, so that was nice to know.

SY: Right, and your oldest brother passed away?

HK: Yeah, last January, so he was ninety-one years old.

SY: Wow, and he also stayed at the nursery?

HK: Yes, of course, it was my father and brother both of them together who started the nursery, so they had a lot of commitment to keeping it going.

SY: He was also a hard worker?

HK: Absolutely, one of the hardest working people I know. He would work seven days a week and hardly ever take a vacation, I just couldn't keep up with that, it was too much.

SY: And then your sisters, what became of your sisters?

HK: Well, my oldest sister, Shizu, she married this serviceman, so she came back. As the oldest sibling in our family, she was quite enterprising with the farm and so on. She would be out there in the fields, she would be throwing around these hundred pound sacks of cucumber and going out and going to the market. And we had the strawberry stand on the street, and we would sell as much as we could, but there would always be something left to sell. She would get in the truck, take all the strawberries, go to the market and sell... convince the market people, "You need these strawberries, look how fresh they are, look at their color," and she would go out and sell. She was very entrepreneurial. So when her husband was discharged, they came back and they started a wholesale flower shipping company in San Mateo and they did very well. Again, because of sheer hard work, because it worked out eventually, the company scaled down quite a bit because the floral industry, as you probably know, they got big competition coming from South America, Latin America and began to eat away at the business. So a lot of them had to with the grower shippers, a lot of them just went out of business because again from competition from South America.

SY: But your father's was bedding plants only?

HK: Yes, wholesale growers of bedding plants.

SY: So they didn't have any interaction with your sister's business?

HK: No, not at all. See, the floral growers, they were more cut flowers. My family, my brother, my father, they had the bedding wholesale bedding plants. It's wholesale, so they went to nurseries, not retail at all, so it was a different kind of...

SY: So she eventually retired?

HK: Yes, they eventually retired, correct. Then another one of my sisters, she was a good writer, the one that went to San Jose State, and I remember in camp she was a reporter for the local camp paper, and she enjoyed writing. The next sister was Chieko, and I guess her thing was she worked as an attendance clerk or something in a middle school in San Leandro. I think she paid the highest price for camp 'cause she was at UC Berkeley in 1942 and she never was able to finish college, she was very bright, very able, student leader, et cetera, et cetera, but she never finished college. She helped the family get back on their feet when they came back to California, she just got caught up in all that responsibility and then eventually she got married and then she just couldn't finish college. She would have had a career, no doubt about it, a professional career. But she just worked as an attendance clerk at a middle school and then eventually she became just a hundred percent full housewife. And then the sister below me, the one that went to Berkeley also, she was a schoolteacher for a while. And then she married a farmer from Marysville, it was called Hatamiya. My brother-in-law is Roy Hatamiya. So they live in Marysville, Yuba City area and they're retired now. So that was her life at Marysville Yuba City.

SY: That's nice. It's interesting a lot of Japanese Americans became teachers.

HK: Yeah, we just had limited choices. So we were able to... so a lot of us went into education or women went into nursing or secretarial work, that sort of thing.

SY: That's great. And when your mother passed away, was she still helping out?

HK: She was seventy-four, unfortunately when she died she had cancer. Yeah, she was working, she worked at the nursery, yes.

SY: So I really want to back up. Their families, their respective families, did they keep in touch with them at all, your parents?

HK: Yes, they did. Not that often, but there were exchanges of letters and we went there and visited them in Kyushu in southern Japan. I went there once and met my uncles and aunts for the very first time in my life and my grandparents which I barely knew.

SY: When was that that you were able to visit them?

HK: 1959 or so. Most of them are gone now. So that was a nice visit. Then some of them also came to visit us in California so we had ongoing contact with them. I remember just shortly after the war they were really having a very difficult time just surviving. I remember we were sending food, flour and this and that, and canned goods. So we were happy to do that 'cause we were able to help them out. After maybe about a year or so we noticed that they had a change of what they were asking for, they wanted food stuff, canned goods, et cetera et cetera, then they began asking for other things. It tells you what was going on there, they said we wanted to get more makeup for the ladies, we want to get a baseball glove and a bat for the boys. So I said, "Well, this is changing isn't it?" so it was kind of reflection of they were getting in a better situation economically. That was kind of curious to see that transition of what they wanted to have.

SY: Yeah, it was Japan after the war probably.

HK: Well, my brother was there after the war, shortly after the war. He just could hardly believe what was going on. The lack of food, lack of clothing, it was really very poor situation, but remarkably they made quite a comeback in a relatively short period of time.

SY: Now your father appeared to be medically a hard worker.

HK: Absolutely. But again, that's typical Issei men. Of course, the fact that they came here alone and this adventure just told you something about them and their interests and their commitment to taking risks. So he was one of those for sure, and so he was a risk taker coming here, didn't know the language, didn't have too many skills, just manual labor but doing it. It's just a mind blowing thing when you think about it, and a very young age at that.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

SY: Well, I have to congratulate you on having recently turned into a new decade, right?

HK: Oh, yes, I just turned eighty a couple days ago, three days ago, September 14th.

SY: So what are your thoughts as you enter another decade? What would you like your life to be now?

HK: I think I have come... I have always felt this way but probably more keenly now, how important family is. And the cohesion and the commitment of family to each other, you know, having brothers and sisters and now grandchildren, for me, that's what makes the world go round for me is the family. So we have the two grandchildren and we go up there maybe every other month to see them. We're older grandparents, so one is only four and the other is only two and a half, three, so they're still very young. But we're delighted to have two of them. we weren't sure we'd even have two or one or two for that matter. So we're pleased with that but from that experience and so on to me the underscore is how important family is. I guess that's part of our Japanese tradition, too, the importance of family, the cohesiveness and responsibility to each other. So I'm sure that's going to be a continuing value for me in importance.

SY: But when you think about the work that you did in your last --

HK: Several years.

SY: Fifty years. And the accomplishments really were rather major in terms of redress and really dedicating a lot of your time to those kinds of things, is there something that draws your attention that is equally as important now?

HK: Well, I think all those things you mentioned are important and it's nice to see our movement, which is no longer called the movement but has matured and grown and developed and evolved, so we have, I remember one of our outspoken leaders in the movement at the time was Warren Furutani. So to see him now, he's an assemblyman, school board member, now he's running for the city council to be a councilman for Los Angeles. So to see that happening, I mean, he's wearing his army fatigues and all this speech-making and he was quite something. But to see how that's changed. He's walking around in suits and tie and becoming more the establishment although he's still very outspoken which is good. So we've evolved and we've grown and developed and we have more further to go obviously, but I think we've developed some real skills and some inside information knowledge, et cetera et cetera. So I think we've made some very good strides, so we can feel good about that but also acknowledging we still have a ways to go.

I'm very pleased that, like I know JACL and NCRR they're working closely with the Muslim community because the parallel of our experience with Japanese Americans in camp and then the kind of treatment laid upon the Muslims and Muslim Americans. I think it's nice to see that conversation we're having with them, and that they feel our support which is also wonderful. So that we're learning from that experience too, so we've made some progress with that. And I guess the very fact that they're being harassed tells you we've got a long way to go to help the country understand the diversity of our society, the multicultural dimensions of our country to understand all that the kind of flak they're getting now with their Muslim background, it's just appalling. But as you say, we've seen this script before and it's playing out again and that's very disturbing, but we need to ally ourselves in a broader context with people who are being discriminated against simply of because of what they appear to be and their religion and their culture and whatever.

SY: So I did want to mention that now that you're retired, right? When was that that you retired?

HK: Six years ago.

SY: Six years ago.

HK: Yes.

SY: So you have more time now?

HK: Yes, I've kind of been involved with our community, the Pasadena area community. I've served on several boards with non-profit groups, largely service agencies. And the most recent one is the one I'm serving on in Monrovia. It's called the Foothill Unity Center and I'm on their board, this is my third or fourth year on their board, and we primarily serve lower socioeconomic people, low income people. So we provide food and shelter and school things for the kids and so on. Thanksgiving we give turkey, a lot of food we provide so I feel good about kind of a helping thing that we're doing. And just last week the U.S. Census Bureau came out with some statistics about poverty in America which is appalling. This is a rich country. We still have forty-two million people without insurance and children living in poverty, that's outrageous, totally outrageous. And of course, we see the gap between the rich and the rest of us, this gap is widening, that's not good, poor for our society and you see this playing itself out right now. And here again, this gap, it's just... it shouldn't happen. So Obama's having a real struggle with trying... let's tax the rich. I support that totally. Warren Buffett himself says, "Yeah, you should tax us guys, we're millionaires, billionaires, tax us." Throw out Prop 13 -- of course, that created quite a bit of strife, confusion in California, but I totally agree with that. And this gap is growing, and it's just not good for us so I think whatever we can do to close the gap and then I help a little bit with different things to help make life a little more comfortable for lower socioeconomic people.

SY: So this is a kind of... would you trace it back to your religious upbringing?

HK: Probably there's some roots there, yeah, but this whole notion of service to your community, to society, I think again back in the '60s and '70s there was a big thrust as part of the movement. Serve your community, make their lives better, improve their lives by the service things we go there and help. I mean, that was part of it too, you just don't make speeches or the rhetoric, but you actually get your hands dirty and working in the community and helping out. So I think that's all part of it too as far as this continued interest in community improvement, community empowerment.

SY: That's rather unique really, I mean, it's not everyone who takes that position.

HK: Well, perhaps. I don't know, but more people certainly need to do this because the well-being of our society depends on that and I'm appalled by what's going on right now. That the greed and selfishness of segments of our society to the detriment of those who are among the lower socioeconomic. To me it's upsetting, appalling, and sometimes just depressing to see what's going on. And the lack of compassion and the safety net is falling apart, people don't seem to care and it's, we have all these economic problems so it's just a very disheartening to see what's going on right now. It'll take it a while to turn that around economically.

SY: Definitely, and you're doing our part which is great.

HK: Well, we all need to do our part, need to kind of pitch in and help out.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

SY: So how do you see the Japanese American community in terms of the future? What do you predict in terms of how it's going?

HK: That's a good question, that's a very good question. We're one of the Asian groups that have been here longer, Chinese certainly and Japanese. Japanese have assimilated very strongly, acculturated into the larger society, professionally and a lot of other ways. So what's happening is that this is a reflection of concern for Little Tokyo, a future Little Tokyo and other Japantowns like in San Jose and San Francisco, Seattle to some degree. The future of our ethnic communities, so I have a concern for that and I'm concerned about Little Tokyo right here, about its future existence. It's a very important part of our culture, it's the heart of our culture in many ways. But to see it diminish and talking about no longer what it is today or what it was before for that matter. To see that kind of disintegrating and changing is very disturbing to me but it's a reflection of all our assimilation, our acculturation. We went to the suburbs and became acculturated and that's fine too, and I understand how that happens. So I guess that's going to be, we have discussions now about what is the future of the Japanese American community? Are we even going to be still a community? Well, I don't know, that's a good question because there's more interracial marriages. One of my sons, Reed, our younger one is married to an Irish girl, an Irish American, their two kids are hapas and the hapa population is growing obviously in particular in California. So what is the future of the Japanese American community? That's a good question again. I don't think we're going to fight... we're going to have to fight to keep it still a viable community, but I think eventually we're going to probably, years down the road, we may not be... I'm sure we won't be what it is today. So I see that acculturation, assimilation taking place.

SY: So would you like to see us being able to preserve certain things in our culture?

HK: Yes, I think that there is a lot of beauty to our culture and a lot of plusses that I think we'd like to maintain, and it's hard to do that. Because young people now, they're not coming to Little Tokyo, they're not going to the festivals or whatever. Some are, which is good, we need to continue doing that, but again with the acculturation and interracial marriages going on, I think way down the road we're not going to be... we're going to be a much smaller community.

SY: Do you think that your own children have maintained a connection?

HK: To some degree. To some degree but not nearly as much as we would like, but they live their own lives and their own styles of life. To some degree because we have contact with them and we talk about this a lot, but when we're gone and a lot of other Nisei, Sansei are gone, this whole acculturation thing is going to play out and it'll be the dilution of our community. And I guess maybe that's inevitable, probably is, probably inevitable. So it's just a matter of time.

SY: I know that the JACL is talking about this same issue.

HK: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

SY: Have you had any input or any discussions?

HK: Well, not input per se, but I observe what's going on and their JACL is trying to continue to exist but their members are down, their income is down, they've had to cut back, they've had to lay people off. So the same things are going on there as well as people acculturate or assimilate, they just don't see the great need for JACL or other Asian American groups for that matter. So as I said, maybe that's inevitable and that maybe we would not be the same community obviously as the years go by.

SY: But you do have this Greater Pasadena JACL that still does things from time to time?

HK: Yeah, as issues do come up, we kind of rally the troops and make phone calls, write letters, whatever.

SY: But it's not an ongoing by any stretch?

HK: No, it's not. The issues have changed and that's just the stuff of life, but we have to change too but we still know that we still have a ways to go, so we keep working at it.

SY: And education is a part of your life.

HK: Absolutely, yeah, absolutely true. That's certainly one powerful vehicle we can use to bring about a better understanding about the diversity, multiplicity of our country, and I hope that we can perpetuate that for the better good, the common good.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.