Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Esther Takei Nishio Interview
Narrator: Esther Takei Nishio
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 21, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-nesther-01-0020

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SY: So, and what was that like? Did you feel comfortable there?

EN: It was a very lovely home, two story home in Altadena, in a very nice neighborhood.

SY: And they treated you like one of the family?

EN: Just like one of the family, so that first evening was very pleasant. But it wasn't until the next day that everything changed.

SY: How was that?

EN: Well, I'd been met at the train station by the editor of the school paper, and so he had this big scoop, the first Japanese American to come back to the West Coast, so he took his story to the Pasadena newspapers and that was picked up by the L.A. papers, so by the next morning it was in all, it was a big headline.

SY: I see.

EN: And so there was a big protest at, they had meetings, the school board meetings, and there were big protests and things that lasted for several weeks.

SY: Wow. And do you remember the headlines in the, was the L.A., were the articles negative or were they just reporting what happened?

EN: There were quite a few negative articles, uh huh.

SY: So the Japanese were definitely still not...

EN: Yes. Not welcome.

SY: Yeah, and how did it affect you personally, emotionally, how did you feel when you saw this?

EN: The student body was fine and the teachers were excellent. There was no problem at school at all. It was only when you're out on the street sometimes that you met some uncomfortable reaction.

SY: So do you remember any of that specifically?

EN: There was one little old lady, a famous little old lady of Pasadena, that ran into me at the bus stop almost every day, and she'd call me a "dirty Jap" or something like that, and one day she hauled off and slapped me just before I got on the bus for school. And one of my fellow students happened to be there and he asked her, "What'd you do that for?" She said, "Well, she's a dirty old Jap." But he said, "Well, she's a better American than you are." So that's how students were. They were really great. But she was the only one I remember that gave me any guff at all.

SY: Other than these, these terrible headlines. So did you attract a lot of attention?

EN: Apparently, well, not personally, but in the papers I did.

SY: But not when you were --

EN: Right. They had all these horrible meetings at the school board because they're trying to get rid of me, but Mr. Anderson would never let me attend those meetings. He was protecting me and his family. And things got really tough, apparently, and all the newspapers would publish his home address, so there were streams of cars driving by all day long trying to get a glimpse of me. And I guess he decided, one period he thought it was quite dangerous, so he sent his family off to stay with another friend out of town and I was sent to Mr. Walt Wright's home. He was the advised counselor for the Student Christian Association. So I think that lasted for about a week, and then things simmered down so people came to their senses. But what really amazed me was all these newspaper articles were carrying on, but the armed forces, the soldiers who were serving in the South Pacific, came to my aid. They sent me wonderful letters protecting...

SY: 'Cause they'd read the articles. They knew about you.

EN: And they said they were fighting for people like me and, "What are these people trying to do to you? They're wrong." Says, "You have a right to go to the school of your choice and you're an American citizen," and all these things. And I had servicemen coming to visit me.

SY: Now these were Japanese American servicemen?

EN: No.

SY: No?

EN: Not all of them. Some 442 fellows that were recuperating in the army hospitals would hike in or bus in to see me, but there were a lot of Caucasian soldiers who'd read the story in the, that newspaper, the armed forces paper, and they would hitchhike to Pasadena to protect me. It was really an amazing experience.

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