Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mo Nishida Interview I
Narrator: Mo Nishida
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: November 29, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-nmo-01-

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

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: Okay. Today is Tuesday, November 29, 2011. We are at the Centenary United Methodist Church. We're gonna be interviewing Mo Nishida. We have Ann Kaneko on the camera, and I will be interviewing, my name is Martha Nakagawa. So, Mo, let's start with your grandfather on your father's side. What prefecture is he from?

Mo N: He's from Kumamoto.

MN: Can you share with us a little bit about your paternal grandfather's background, like where did he land when he came to the U.S. and what did he do?

Mo N: Okay. Well, he was the last of three sons. He left Japan because his father had left the property that they had to his two older brothers, and so he bailed out and headed for Seattle. And he worked in Seattle as a lumberjack. Then his brother, I don't know if it was the younger brother, the brother right above him or the niisan, but one of 'em died, so he was called back from Japan and told that he had some property there. So they brought him back, and then they got him married. They stayed long enough to have three children, and he decided that he wanted to get the hell out of there and come back to the U.S. So he talked, he tried to talk his wife into coming back with him. And when he left the U.S., we're not sure if he went to Hawaii and then to Seattle, 'cause a lot of the guys in those days, right, went to Hawaii, 'cause it's easier to get to Hawaii. I think they had, still had kind of an indentured system there. Anyhow, so he came back, got married and had three kids, and then took off again and tried to talk his wife into leaving with him. Now the story she tells is that she didn't see any reason in the world why she was gonna leave Japan, the security of Japan, when they had a house and land. And she didn't think it was a good idea to leave. But he insisted that she come over and he made arrangements to have my grandmother, his wife, and my dad, the oldest son, to come over. About that time, his daughter gets sick, and my grandmother then opts out to stay in Japan to take care of her.

So my dad makes the journey by himself. And he's about fourteen, he's just finished the compulsory grades in Japan, I guess eighth grade in Japan. And yeah, the sucker crosses the Pacific all by himself which is kind a heavy duty trip. And then he comes over and he lands in Seattle, and he's supposed to be, his dad is supposed to pick him up, but something happens on the way over which also happens to be the very last boat of Japan to cross the international date line. So technically it's the last boat that you could come from Japan to the United States on.

MN: Now why, why couldn't any Japanese immigration come over after that?

Mo N: Okay, yeah. This is international stuff, right, between the United States and Asia, but the Chinese Exclusion Act that they passed in eighteen-something is rolled over to encompass the Japanese. So by 1924, they get enough support in the country to do the exclusion act that it covers all the Asian triangles and particularly aimed at the Japanese. But it also excluded Koreans, the Indians, Filipinos at that time. So, yeah, he crosses over, last boat over. In fact, when we tried to get him his citizenship, when he got his citizenship, that was one of the hard things that we had to do is track down the boat and when it crossed over and all those kind of things. So it was a little bit of a hassle, but all the information's there, so he got it. So he comes over, and for some reason, I guess a storm or something, the boat arrives a day or two late. So his father, my grandfather, is coming down from the Mt. Rainier area of, around Spokane. Not Spokane, but around Seattle, and he's a lumberjack. So you can't just up and take off, right? Especially in those days. So he comes down, he misses 'em, so he can't get back to Seattle for about another month. So my dad is stuck on, where they keep the immigrants, right? Immigrant youth. So it was like a, I guess like Angel Island in San Francisco. It was some island out there where you can't get off and you're under quarantine. So he's stuck there for about a month. He doesn't share too much, he didn't share too much with me about how it was there. I can imagine him being stuck over in a strange country, and not having, you know, supposed to meet his dad and his doesn't show up. But eventually my grandfather shows up. And they go back, he takes him to Mt. Rainier, my dad works as a lumberjack until they make connections and he becomes a houseboy in Seattle.

MN: And then from Seattle they went down to Los Angeles, right?

Mo N: Yes.

MN: Do you know why they came down to Los Angeles?

Mo N: Yeah... no, I don't. I think it was economic in the sense that the lumberjack trade probably was pretty tough. And my father, being a young man, I think, to be able to work alongside his dad, probably, didn't work out. So I think they opted out to come down south to check out the opportunities and stuff like that, and particularly I think the gardening and things like that, 'cause that's what they got into, and they worked together while my grandfather was here. And my grandfather goes back to Japan when his daughter is sick again and they're afraid she's gonna die, so he goes back. And '24, so this is probably the early '30s, right, they come down here, and then he goes back to Japan to take care of his daughter or to see his daughter before she passes.

MN: Now going back to the Seattle and then coming down to Los Angeles, your father didn't come down by land, he came down by boat, right?

Mo N: Right, right. They had a ferry... ferry or a transportation from Seattle to Los Angeles in those days. And so my dad was saying that my grandfather came ahead of him, and then he came later, he came by boat. I guess my grandfather came by train or something, went down. Maybe he went by boat, I don't recall his saying how he came down. But, yeah, he came over, down by boat, and he said he was on board with a whole bunch of Filipinos. And he said they treated him real good and they all had fun together, so it may have been that conflict arising over there in Asia, but it didn't seem to affect, at least at that time, his relationship with the Filipino brothers.

MN: And then they came down to Los Angeles and then you said they did some gardening?

Mo N: Uh-huh.

MN: Who were your father and grandfather's clients?

Mo N: Well, I think the main guy that they worked for was... I can't remember the name. I remember we had this trouble the last time, too. But...

MN: But were they hakujin?

Mo N: No, they were Japanese. This guy was the richest Buddhahead in L.A. at that time. Was one of the richest. In fact, he owned the Taul Building in First Street here before the war. And, yeah, he was a high roller. He had a couple daughters and a son, and two, I think the girls were some of the first college graduates here, I think they graduated from UCLA. Yeah, and then the son I guess was pretty young. But in those days, if you picked up a tax bill, then it got passed on to your kid. It didn't die with you if you passed away. So the son got stuck with that bill, so he could never go into business himself or else they would have took everything away from him. I don't know why I can't remember that name.

MN: I know, we did have that problem, and I should have looked it up. Because I think I know who you're talking about. It wasn't the Kusayanagis?

Mo N: No.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: You know, let me ask about your mother's side now.

Mo N: Okay.

MN: Now, which prefecture did your mother's family come from?

Mo N: My mom's family supposedly is from the Fukuoka, so that's, they're both Kyushu people, Kyushu area, the island, and it's right next to each other. But yeah, she comes from Fukuoka city, my grandmother on my mom's side. And her father comes from Kumamoto. In fact, the village that he comes from, there's maybe twenty, thirty miles, not very far from where my dad comes from. My dad, the major town near where my dad comes from is Yamada, it's an onsen place. And my grandfather on my mother's side is in Kikuchi which is just up the road a little bit, actually. And, yeah, so the story, their story is real interesting, 'cause my grandfather on my mother's side, he's the oldest son, he's got two brothers and a sister. So he leaves, and apparently they're a minor samurai family. Why we say that with some confidence is that their old man had this flat forehead that comes from years and years of training in kendo. It's all shined up with that kabuto, that hat that they have, right, and stuff. And when he was younger, he used to, they used to have tournaments in the family and stuff like that, and he'd kick everybody's ass. And he was a pretty tough guy on the street, too. My uncles talk about the police knew who he was, right? Nobody would mess with him. I guess they tried early on, and he held him off.

But anyhow, history is is that he's supposed to, supposedly went from Kyushu, went to Tokyo, and learned a trade in ironworks, learning how to build battleships and stuff like that, or ships, iron ships and things like that. And I guess he decides that he wants to come to the U.S. to see what's going on here and tried to further his understanding of the trade. Comes over here, and we don't know if he goes to, again, to Hawaii, or comes directly to San Francisco, but he ends up in San Francisco. And they don't hire "Japs" at that time, and all the "Yellow Peril" bullshit.

So, and then from San Francisco, apparently, he comes to L.A. and he meets these people from Fukuoka, my grandmother's folks. Her brother and father -- so that would be my great grandfather -- and I guess they whispered in his ear, "Come on back, we'll fix you up with this foxy lady." So they take him back to Japan and get him married. And then they stay in Japan long enough to have one child, my mother. And then they cross the Pacific and end up in San Francisco. And that's only for a short stay, and I don't know why they came down to L.A. from there. Of course, he may have been originally, started out from L.A. going back to Japan. But it might have been that earthquake, too, a lot of people came down after that earthquake. So he comes down here and they have, she has nine sisters and brothers, good old fashioned peasant family, and they move all over the place. He does all kind of different things. He learned a trade that always puzzled me, cobbling, like working with leather. In Japan, the only people that worked with leather were burakumin, right? And so that's always kind of confused and intrigued me on why he went into that. But he did the green grocery work, he did peddling vegetables and stuff like that. But the story about him is that he was such an honest man that he could never take advantage to be a good businessman. So they used to talk about, we used to, he'd go out and buy vegetables early in the morning, right, so he'd get a good deal on vegetables. Well, when he went out on his route, he sold it cheaper 'cause he got a good deal on it. So he passed it right on down to his customers and stuff like that. So he didn't last very long in that business.

Yeah, apparently he did some farming, too, around where I grew up, around, areas around Dorsey on the west side. Well, they used to do sugar beet farming there before the war, a long time ago. And so he did sugar beet farming, and the family used to gather to talk about horse and buggy, taking the stuff down to the Central Market. If you're familiar with that time, when Japanese people or people of color went to market, went to town, they went to the Japanese market. The white market, the once on Central Avenue, just right up the street from here, that was white. That was called the American market. Just like the flower market's the same thing, you got the Japanese market and the American market, it was the same thing, the American market. So, but it'd be an all-day trip from out there around Dorsey by horse and buggy to bring stuff in, so they'd have to leave the night before and go out there to bring their stuff into town. So there's those stories.

The story I like to tell about here was after the war, when we come back, he sets up his shoe shop on Normandie and Jefferson, that was the center of the Japanese community right after the war. This is when suedes first came out, and this black lady came in and asked him to fix up her shoes. I think she just needed a heel or something replaced on it. So my grandfather didn't know how to deal with -- well, he fixed up the shoe, but then he decided he's going to shine it up for her. So he put it on the goddamn machine, and it took that suede and just [makes whirring sound] so it came out shiny, right? So when she comes after her shoe, she looks and she says, "Can I have my shoes?" He said, "Sure," he's very proud, right? Comes out, takes it out, and she shit a brick. "What did you do to my brand new suede shoes?" [Laughs] My grandpa looks at it. When I was a kid, I used to go to grammar school at Thirty-sixth Street School, so I used to come and hang out at my grandpa's place until my dad came home from gardening. So we were all sitting in the back, and Grandpa said, "Are you unhappy?" [Laughs] "You're goddamn right I am. Look what you did to my shoes." Said, "What do you mean? I fixed it up good for you," in his broken English, and he's arguing with her, "I did a good job." She said, "No, you didn't." Finally, he decided she's unhappy. He said, "All right, I take it back. I buy you a new shoe." And that lady said, "No, just give me my shoe." "No." They sat there arguing about that. And yeah, that's where I learned the true meaning of bakashojiki. [Laughs] You're so honest you're doomed. So my uncles had to come out from the back, talk to the lady, calm her down, calm him down, and I think they gave her money. But yeah, my grandfather was hot. Oh, man.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MN: Let me ask about your mother a little bit.

Mo N: Okay.

MN: You mentioned earlier how your father, when he came over, 'cause he came right before the Immigration Act of 1924 went into effect, and he had problems becoming a citizen, your mother had the same problem, too, right, becoming a citizen? Because she didn't have a passport?

Mo N: Yeah, yeah. They both had problems. They didn't have problems with the technical part, going to class, the questions and stuff like that. But they had problems in terms of the research to find verification of their travel. My dad was finding out what the name of the boat was that crossed over the last time. And for my mom was that she was so young when she came over, she didn't have a separate passport. So her passport was her mother's passport which just stated that she had a babe in arms. I think we found that passport, so we used that to get her verification, yeah. But, you know, both my parents were educated over here. My mother, mainly, right, over here, all the way through from first grade to twelfth grade. My dad came over here, and he did the compulsory school he went to the eighth grade in this country, too. So he actually might be considered an intellectual at that time because he'd been educated up to the eighth grade in both countries. But so they didn't have any trouble with that.

My grandfather was the one that was bullshit because he, by that time, he became disoriented. I think it might have... I don't know if it was Alzheimer's or whatever, but I think he had a stroke, slight stroke. The place where he had the shop used to be next to this dry cleaning place, and they use a lot of the steam and stuff like that, things get, place gets real hot. And the heat would go through the wall and come over to my grandpa's side, and they think that that might have probably affected him. But anyhow, so he's an old man, he's had three sons serving in the United States army, and he wants to become a citizen for, like, his kids. So I'm his interpreter, I'm in high school at that time, so I'm his interpreter. So I go with him, and I feel, I think I probably messed up. I didn't know how the system worked. I was still pretty naive. So I answered exactly the way my grandpa answered questions. And sometimes he'd get it right, sometimes he wouldn't. I mean, he didn't go to school or none of that stuff. So he flunks the first time, so he's really sad. So he said, "Come on, let's go try again." "Okay," and we went again. And then some of those interviewers were pretty cruel, I think. 'Cause I've heard of other people who just passed 'em. If they're old enough, hell, they're not gonna hurt nobody. They just passed 'em in sent 'em through. Either that, or whoever was interpreting lied. [Laughs] That's where I fucked up, I should have lied. I should have gave the answers that I knew were right. But, so he died an alien in this country after forty, fifty years here at least. So it's always been, the way I see it is the... how should I say it? The heartlessness of the racism and the colonialism in this country that created people who want to hold shit over other people's lives, and knowing that they're there? What can they do to harm them? So, yeah, that's another mark.

MN: Let me go back to before the war years. Can you share the story about how your mother... how your mother found out who she was gonna get married to?

Mo N: Oh, yeah. I asked my mom about that, and how she had met my dad and all that stuff. She said, well, she used to work, help out at the shoe repair shop. My grandpa had a shoe repair shop on Western Avenue, right two blocks south of Jefferson. The Japanese community just had a business kind of thing there, Case Hardware was there, Nisei Drug Store was there, the Yoshi gas station was there, the Watanabe Nursery was there, all that. So right in that area there before the war. So she said that this guy used to come in and get his shoes fixed and talk, and she realized this cat was checking her out. But she didn't think nothing of it, 'cause she was sweet on somebody else. Then they had a, were told to attend a party, so she said, "Okay." So she goes down there, and they're milling around. The person that -- everybody knows who the baishaku is, right? Everybody in the community. So the baishaku comes up to her and tells her, "Hey, you want to meet the guy you're gonna get married to?" [Laughs] And she says, "What?" This is the first time she'd heard about it. But anyhow, so she goes, she meets my dad, and then she asks her father, "What's going on? What is this?" And she was at that omiai party or something like that, she realized that that's what she had been attending, and it was for her. [Laughs] But yeah, so that's how she says she met him, she met my dad and she's gonna marry the dude. But damn, all the marriages at that time were like that, I think.

MN: So do you know where your parents got married in? Did they get married in a church?

Mo N: Yeah.

MN: Centenary?

Mo N: Yeah.

MN: And this is when Centenary was on Normandie.

Mo N: Normandie, yeah.

MN: So after they got married, where did they live?

Mo N: Well, they lived on the old Furukawa properties that was right across the street from Foshay junior high. We lived right in that area until the war broke out, then went to camp from there.

MN: So before the war, how did your father support the family?

Mo N: My dad was a salesman for this crate yard, Three Star Crate Yard. I don't know what the hell that means. But before the war, if you were a worker working for Japanese people, no way in hell you could get married and support a family. They wouldn't pay you enough. So that's why there's so many of the Isseis stayed single that worked for the Japanese people then because of segregation and all that racism, couldn't find work. Only place where you could probably do fine work was in gardening, possibly in gardening, and then in the produce market. And usually you were working for some rich Japanese cat. Or in the greengrocery part of markets, or you're farm laborer, only work jobs that were open. Unless you went out to sea, fishermen, San Pedro, Terminal Island folks were doing business. But I guess Terminal Island probably, fishing probably had a pretty decent shot because I think they went by, they went by percentages. When you had a good catch, you got a percentage of the catch. They didn't go by no regular wages kind of stuff. If you had a good catch, then you had a chance to make some money. So I think some of the fishermen probably had families. But you know, our community originates with, I think, under thirty thousand women that came here. So...

MN: And then, well, your mother, did she have to work? Or what did she do?

Mo N: No, she didn't, as far as I can remember, before the war.

MN: Took care of the kids?

Mo N: She was, yeah, she was basically a housewife.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: How many children did your parents have all together?

Mo N: Three.

MN: And where are you?

Mo N: I'm the first.

MN: And when were you born?

Mo N: 1936, August 11th.

MN: Where were you born?

Mo N: I was born at the Japanese hospital on First and Fickett.

MN: And what is your birth name? Your birth name?

Mo N: Oh, Vaughn Moritsugu Nishida.

MN: There's a story behind this. Can you share the story?

Mo N: Yeah, that Vaughn, I never liked that name, it used to give me the heebie-jeebies. But yeah, my mother, I asked my mother about it, and she never told me herself. My sisters say that she told them that I was named after Vaughn Monroe, but Vaughn Monroe, the movie star and singer and all that kind of stuff, and the way he spells his name is V-A-U-G-H-N. And I think, if that's the case, then my mom was doubly kind of embarrassed, 'cause she didn't know how to spell "Vaughn," right? So I never used that name my whole life. The only time I had to use it was like when I was in the army. But then it's usually, they use your last name, so it's no big deal. It's only now that I've come to terms with it, and I'm seventy-five now. [Laughs]

MN: So what school did you... you know, for kindergarten, which kindergarten did you go to?

Mo N: Well, kindergarten, prewar, I went to Thirty-sixth Street School. Yeah, and then the war broke out and we went to camp. So camp was first through third grade.

MN: Don't go to camp yet, let's stay before the war.

Mo N: Okay.

MN: So at Thirty-sixth Street School, what was the ethnic makeup of the students?

Mo N: It's hard to remember, but I think it was predominately white, some Asian, and some black. And in those days, well, I don't remember the housing pattern before the war, I just knew where I lived and the people I grew up with. I grew up with some black kids and Buddhahead kids. But after the war, when we come back -- this is during segregation, so there's a finger of people of color, Japanese and black, that move along from Central Avenue, San Pedro, down Jefferson all the way to Normandie and Western. So that's... and white all around that, and white above Adams, white below the railroad tracks at Exposition. So I pretty much assumed that it must have been like that before the war, but the western penetration wasn't all that high. There'd still be a lot of whites left. In fact, when I went to Foshay, it was mostly white.

MN: So when you were at the Thirty-sixth Street School, though, who were your playmates then?

Mo N: Well, most of my playmates were local Japanese kids. But, yeah, I don't have a lot of recollection of people, of the kids there. I have a picture in the family that goes back to the Senshin Gakuen, must have been preschool at Senshin. And all my friends, they're people that I still know, are in that picture, so I'm assuming that those were probably the kids that I played with.

MN: So do you remember what kind of games you played at that time? Or what was your neighborhood like in that area?

Mo N: Well, like I shared before, about where I lived, I vaguely recall there was a black kid that I used to play with and another Japanese kid, and so they were mainly Buddhahead. And like I was sharing, we had this haunted house down about half a dozen houses from east of where I lived. And so when we were kids, we used to go over there, and I peeked through the window to see if we could see the ghost and all of that kind of stuff, yeah.

MN: Now why was this house considered haunted?

Mo N: Huh?

MN: Why was this house considered haunted?

Mo N: Well, they claimed that somebody was murdered there.

MN: Now you had some recollections about visiting your mother's parents' house? Like they had a big yard in the front?

Mo N: Oh, okay, yeah, yeah. Yeah, I just got the confirmation from my auntie about that, that it's just west of Normandie on Thirty-seventh and Thirty-eighth, so it's right in the neighborhood. With that big yard, and the recollection that I have most clearly about when we were gonna eat chicken one night, they got a live one. And what we used to do was you put it on, you tie the wings up and put it on the ground, you chop its head off. And my uncle swung and he missed the neck and chopped off half the head, and then the chicken got up and started running around the whole yard and all of us were chasing after it. So it was... I guess that should stick in any kid's mind. [Laughs]

MN: And then another time you had to go to the doctor's?

Mo N: Yeah. Okay, yeah, that's pretty clear in my mind, too. Being a little kid and being real curious, my mother, the washing machine they had in those days used to be, they had that agitator. And then after you got through washing and rinsing, you had to put it through the rollers that were above the machine. And apparently I got my hand caught in that sucker and went up to my elbow. So my mom, I guess they decided they're going to take me to the doctor, so they took me to the doctor, and I guess I cried all the way there and cried all the way back. And so to shut me up, my dad and my uncle decided, "Well, we better give him some ice cream," so I guess that shut me up. But they used to have Curry's ice cream stand up by SC right there on Hoover and Jefferson. And they used to this one called Mile High ice cream cone, with that sugar cone. And they had the... wait, I don't know how in the hell they did it, but the ice cream was scooped up, it looked like that cone, except it went the other way. So you had this big old ice cream cone. I got me some good ice cream. Paid a little dues, but I got some good ice cream. [Laughs]

MN: What memories do you have of visiting Terminal Island?

Mo N: Oh, yeah, yeah. See, a lot of this stuff going back to that time, you don't know if it's a dream, if you dreamed it up, or you actually experienced it. But my recollection is that my dad, as a part of his business or whatever we ended up down in Terminal Island. That's what I distinctly remember, Terminal Island. And it was like we were on a... well, like a Japanese village, I guess. I didn't know what a Japanese village was like. Had these little clapboard houses, and that plank sidewalk, and ran right down to the beach. And then on the beach they had this iron tripod for a pot, cooking up there, and apparently they had tako inside there, cooking octopus. I distinctly remember that. I'm not sure why, but I distinctly remember that. When I talk to people, they say they used to do that, so I guess it wasn't a dream. But I don't remember if I ate any or not, though. That's the part that kind of trips me out. I would have liked to try that. [Laughs]

<End Segment 4> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MN: Okay, let's get into the war years now.

Mo N: Okay.

MN: Do you remember what your family was doing on Sunday, December 7, 1941?

Mo N: Yeah, very clearly, real vividly. We were on our way to go fishing. My dad is a fisherman, and my mom tagged along, made the bento and that kind of thing, to be with her old man. So we were out and on our way to go perch fishing, heading toward the coast. I remember the news coming over the thing, right, Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. I didn't know, I don't know what they said. But all I remember was Mom saying, "Uh-oh, I think we better turn around and go back," and my dad said, "Yeah, I think we better." We turned around, came home, and no sooner did I get, we got out of the car and stuff like that, my mom runs inside the house. The next thing I know, she's taking all my kazari ningyo, you know, the Boy's Day dolls and all of that, all of that stuff, and I guess my dad was saying his books from Japan and this shit from Japan, she took out in the backyard and set fire to it, man. Yeah, I tripped out on that. All my treasures went up in smoke. So that was December 7th, that's what I remember about December 7th.

MN: Did you know anybody who got picked up by the FBI?

Mo N: Yeah, yeah, but I didn't know at the time, but yeah, the landlord of our house, Mr. Furukawa. He was one of the leaders of the Kyorikai, Seinan Kyorikai. Very strong, good man. Apparently he got picked up, taken away. I didn't know, just... later on I figured it out that he was one of the people picked up.

MN: The next day was a Monday. Did you go to school?

Mo N: I don't remember. My assumption is that probably did. I mean, there were enough of us Japanese living in the area where I think we would have, it would have been a pretty normal thing to do. All that real heightened race attitude, especially amongst black people, doesn't come until after the war, during the war and after the war.

MN: So once the government announced that all the West Coast Japanese Americans had to go into camp, what did your family do with the big furniture and the car?

Mo N: Well, we weren't a rich family. Our family was, didn't have much. But we had a new car, my dad had invested and bought a new car. They must have just got rid of it, somebody must have come by and picked, got whatever it was that we had, which wasn't much, because it was just starting off as a family, too. But the car, what we did was we reported to, I guess maybe people with cars reported to Centenary, and we were lined up out there. I distinctly remember lining up as a family, and this guy, soldier with guns come along and put our family numbers on us. So I remember that. Then we get in the car and we drive to Santa Anita. And then the car is auctioned off at Santa Anita, I found out later. So we drove to Santa Anita.

MN: What about your mother's parents? How did they get to Santa Anita?

Mo N: That's a good question, I don't know. Of course, we had uncles, my uncles were, some of them were fairly old, old enough to take. If not, then they went there at the designated date and they got on buses and then they brought 'em in by busload.

MN: And then by this time, your father's parents had already gone back to Japan, right?

Mo N: Yeah.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: Now once you got to Santa Anita, where did your family live? Did they live in a horse stall or in the parking lot?

Mo N: We lived in the parking lot. We lived in the Orange Mess.

MN: Now you saw the fight that eventually erupted into the riots at Santa Anita. Can you share with us those memories?

Mo N: Yeah, sure. Some of us kids were out there, I forgot where we were. Maybe we were in the grandstand. But yeah, we went to school when we first got there, I remember that. And we figured out that nothing was happening, so we quit going. So we were out there roaming around camp every day, checking everything out. And I remember seeing this dude running like hell and people chasing him, talking about dorobo, thief. And I remember this guy trying to climb on to this garbage truck that was going by. He got in, but the people inside were Buddhaheads, they were collecting the garbage. So they beat the shit of out this guy with garbage cans. So he falls out of the truck, and he's out running, and then I run back to camp, I run back to my block, my house, tell my mom, and we go out.

And lived, the White Mess, the Orange Mess was right... I think it was Orange Mess. One of those we lived either at Orange Mess or White Mess. And my grandparents lived in one and we lived in the other, but I think that's probably 'cause we came by car. But anyhow, it's right by the entrance. So we go there and we watch these soldiers come in. And this one truck stops right in front of us, me and my mom, and we're looking at this kid standing on the top of his truck with a big machine gun pointed directly at us. And this kid is scared, just as scared as we were if not more scared. And that's the part that comes up later again in my life with this thing of seeing the face, seeing the expression, but me feeling no emotion. No emotion there inside of me. Should be some fear or something, anger, anything, right? But there's nothing there. And my mother, that night, doesn't come home with me, so I'm home with my dad. And next day, my dad takes me out for a walk and tells me my mom ain't gonna be with us for a while. Turns out she's with her parents at another mess hall with my sister, my baby sister. And so that's when I find out that, later I find out that she had a nervous breakdown behind it. And I can imagine what she's thinking. And I think she had my little sister with her, just born, my sister was born in '41. And so two of us, she's got two of her kids and herself, and this guy's facing her down with a big machine gun and she can't do nothing about it and could get killed. So I could see where it would just tear her up to the point where she couldn't handle no more. But we couldn't say that while she was alive, it's that old Buddhahead thing about kichigai, right? If you're crazy, then you get ostracized by this community. So we were never able to talk about it openly. But that's my thinking what happened. 'Cause she has another incident when the FBI comes to visit us after the war where she freaks out thinking they might take my dad away kind of stuff.

MN: Do you remember any positive memories of Santa Anita?

Mo N: Yeah, yeah, I remember us collecting pollywogs out of the ditch. I can remember some of the soldiers, not all of 'em were bad or mean to us. They used to throw pennies to us and we'd scramble for pennies and stuff like that. So I guess we went mooching or begging from these guys like any kids would. Yeah, so that was kind of fun. But of course the best part of Santa Anita was that we got ice cream on a regular basis. Never had ice cream on a regular basis. I mean, that was a luxury, right? So to have ice cream, I can't remember if it was once a week or almost every day or something, but we had ice cream, we had plenty of ice cream. Now, that was a good feeling.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: Now from Santa Anita you're put on a train to go to camp.

Mo N: Right.

MN: What memories do you have of that train ride?

Mo N: Well, I don't remember this clearly because, maybe because I was a kid having such a good time running around exploring things. I was always kind of a curious kid I guess. Some people call it mischievous, but I was always kind of curious getting into stuff. So I don't remember a lot about who or what I went with. All I know is that when I talk to the family later, my mom and my baby sister are traveling with my grandparents. So me and my dad are traveling by ourselves in a different part. My mother was, I think, kind of like a hospital, so she was separate from us. So it was just me and my dad, I don't remember my dad being on the train with me, 'cause I guess we were just out running around all over the place, just checking things out. The one part that I remember is you couldn't look out the windows, they had all the windows blacked out. So we were just tearing the shit up, running through the train.

And then we stopped and they opened the door and told us we could get out. And I remember people saying, "Hey, don't go out there, you don't know what they're gonna do." [Laughs] But they were saying, "You could come out and stretch your legs." And it turned out that we stopped at a real desolate section of the Great Salt Lake. So soon as I got a chance, me and some other kids, we got out. Was out there running around, and we ran over to the lake. Run to the water and watch that thing get, dry up and cake up. And so that was kind of an exciting thing. But I remember that people were very distinctly distrustful and scared, and no telling what they were gonna do. And then once we got off and were running around, they were yelling at us, "Come back, don't go too far, 'cause they'll leave you," and all that kind of stuff. Yeah, we were being cautioned by the community folks. And there's always, right in the community, tight community, there's always these nosy people that want to boss these kids around, so they're always yelling at you and stuff like that. Nobody ever paid too much mind to that. Here I'm running around having a good time. Then we come, end up in camp, end up at Granada, and we're loaded onto trucks and brought out to our blocks that we were in.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: So what was your first impression of Granada?

Mo N: No impression. As I was told, we just got off the train, lined up and we were put on trucks and then we went straight up into the camp.

MN: And which block did you live in?

Mo N: 11-K.

MN: So there's this story you shared about being called the "11-K Obakes." Why were you called that?

Mo N: Well, I think that was the name put on us by a very famous man in our camp, his name was Mitsuru Konki. I don't know if that's his real name. And the story about him is that he was a real brilliant young man, and he had an accident and got hit by a car and did something to his brain. And so he was like a, kind of like a kid. And he used to ride around camp on a bicycle, and all of us used to fuck with him. And so yeah, I hope we didn't do it, but we may have thrown shit at him, teased him and did all kinds of stuff. So that's why he called us the 11-K Obake. Yeah, he was Mitsuru Konki. Then I heard, after the war, I think it was in Chicago or something like that, he got killed by being hit by a car on his bicycle. Yeah, what a tragedy, tragic stories of camp. Yeah, he gave us that name, 11-K Obakes. People messing with him all the time.

MN: Now you and your friends had another name, you were the Three Musketeers?

Mo N: Yeah, we fashioned ourselves as the Three Musketeers, and the block people kind of took to that, too. And the reason why we liked that name, in those days, the Three Musketeer candy bar was unique because it had three pieces rather than two pieces in it. So the three of us would never have to fight over who got more, who got less, everyone got one piece. So whenever we could shake up the scratch, we would go and buy that Three Musketeer candy bar. We just had a reunion a couple, about a month ago. Seventy-five year old jiisans getting together talking about their kid days. [Laughs]

MN: So did you and your friends sneak out of camp?

Mo N: Yeah, yeah. We were always sneaking out of camp. Well, I guess probably when I think back, it had to probably be after they took the guards down from the tower, because I heard stories about people getting shot. At first when we got there, talking about some guy, old guy went up there and just touched the fence, and they just shot him without warning. And of course the story, telling by older kids, young kids used to go to the firing range. They had an army company that was supposed to, garrison to supposedly watch over us, and they had a firing range. So kids used to go there and dig up the bullets to use to make arrowheads and stuff like that. So we used to go there and dig those up. And one time we were digging and they said, "They're coming," they told us, "get the hell out of there, they're gonna start shooting." So we got out of there, but apparently there was one guy who didn't hear or didn't give a shit, smoking back there, and he got shot and killed. I've talked to people about that who may have, who were older, and they don't recall that, so I don't know. But I distinctly remember that, that's a distinct part of my memory about camp.

MN: This firing range, was it just right outside of camp or was it inside camp?

Mo N: Yeah, so many of us used to go there, so it'd have to be inside, that's what I think. Inside meaning that it was a part of the camp setup where you had the soldiers that were stationed to look after us, and they were part of the compound, impoundment area. So the shooting range was right by them. So... 'cause I don't remember us having to sneak through fences to go there. Might have, though. Just becomes a regular thing to go out there. But, yeah... the people that are supposed to be doing, out of University of Colorado that are doing that research on Amache, they didn't even know there were soldiers that were stationed there. Shit, every camp had a company of soldiers there at least.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: Well, let me ask you about your schooling at Granada, Amache. Where was your school located? Was it pretty far from your block?

Mo N: No. It was down toward the entrance as I recall, near the hospital. And, yeah, so from our block, from 11-K, we had the main north-south artery. Well, every block... the thing was set up in rows. So you had, I don't know, one to eleven or twelve or something like that. And it then was one way, rows, and then across like that was by alphabet, alphabetical order. So we lived at 11-K, and the block just to the east of us, or west of us, was 11-H. And there should have been a... if we were K, there should have been an L. There was only one L block, 9-L. So it went like that. So between each block, then there was a main thoroughfare going through, main through the camp. And as I recall, you just had to walk down towards the entrance, we were right on the edge, the far, the southern edge of the camp. There was only one block above us, 12-K and then we were 11-K, went down to, I don't know what the smallest numbers were, but down there. And we used to just walk down that street, and then we'd have to go left a little bit and then we'd be at school. So school was real easy, it was real easy then.

MN: And who were your teachers?

Mo N: What? Oh, our teachers were... yeah, if I recall, they were white and Japanese. I don't remember anything about the white teachers. We had a Japanese lady who was, we thought she was special. She was pretty and she was young and she was nice to us. Of course, when we had that get-together, the three of us, we used to talk about all the kind of mischief that we used to do to her, though. Yeah, yeah. One time we put a live snake in her desk, and another time we were hiding on top of the roof of the school throwing snowballs at her. [Laughs] We were having fun. I think nowadays they'd put your ass in jail for some of the stuff we did. We didn't go to school a lot during the summertime. That was reserved for going out in the desert, checking out what the semi were doing, rattlesnakes and the turtles and coyotes.


MN: Let's go back to camp, and let me ask you, we were talking about school, and you mentioned you had this one Japanese American teacher. Now, when you, in your class, did you have any hakujin students?

Mo N: Yeah.

MN: Who were they?

Mo N: There were two that I remember. There probably were more. But one was the principal's kid, and I think another one was one of the camp superintendent's kid. So we had the camp administrative personnel's children going to school with us. So, yeah, they were, it would be interesting to hear their stories now, how they felt, because we hated them. They represented the power and they knew it. They lorded it over us every chance they got. So whenever we had an opportunity to fight back, that's what we did, we fought back. So they were getting picked on pretty regular. I mean, the story that, the three of us got together to talk about camp days. One scene that sticks out vividly in my mind is when after the draft started and people started getting drafted and shipped out, then we had heard that they had gone over to, I guess, North Africa was the, 100th Battalion, when they went to Italy, and it seemed like right after the curfew, the hell that was raised about the draft, the coffins started coming back. And the first batch of coffins that came back, there was a whole bunch of 'em. So they decided to have a regular, a real full military funeral for these soldiers that had come back. I think they call it a twenty-one gun salute.

And they sent this sucker out from Washington, this white boy, come out there, and they dismissed the school and told the instructor, "Let's all go out to the graveyard." And this fool sat up there and made this great talk about how "our boys died fighting for freedom and democracy." And yeah, I couldn't have been more than the second or third grade at the most. And me and the other two guys, we knew that was pure bullshit. So we were disgusted, and so we left and started walking away. Then when we looked up, we were following these two white boys. So, okay, let's see what they're up to. So we followed them, and we watched them set fire to the prairie out there. And we said, well, we'd better get the hell out of here. If they see us out here, for sure we'll get blamed for it. So we took off in another direction, out there playing and stuff like that. Next day, when we got back to school, then we hear that, "Oh, yeah, the two boys saw some Jap boys out there, Jap kids out there setting fire to the prairie," stuff like that. We said, "Bullshit, that was them." So then we decided that we were gonna confront them, and we had a good fight that day. Got into all kind of trouble behind that. But yeah, so it'd be interested to see what the kids... 'cause most of 'em were children of higher ups, people that were supposed to be lording it over us. We didn't like them at all.

MN: So when you had this confrontation, what was your punishment?

Mo N: Well, I don't know if it was exactly that punishment or not, 'cause I guess we were always getting into trouble, so bring our parents in. One of the things that they used to do to us was to send us down to a lower grade and make us feel ashamed. That's what they thought. But we used to just go down there and bully everybody in the lower grades. [Laughs] They never sent us to a higher grade, though. I never could figure out why they didn't do that. But they always sent us down to the lower grade. The teacher of the lower grade was, "Get them out of here. I don't want them here." [Laughs] I don't think, I don't have any real bad recollections about punishment in camp. If not, we'd just run out into the desert, deal with what comes up the following day when we went back to school.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: So you know, you and your friends went out into the desert. I always hear these stories about rattlesnakes and scorpions, wasn't that some of the dangers?

Mo N: That was the exciting part. We always went looking for those things. We used to like to find rattlesnakes, because one of the things that we used to do in our block anyhow, I think probably all the blocks had it, but we used to have a big pit, and you could go out there and find rattlesnakes and land tortoises and turtles. You stick 'em both in the same pit and let 'em fight with each other and stuff like that.

MN: How did you catch these rattlesnakes?

Mo N: Oh, with a forked stick. You get a stick like that and then a fork on the end, a Y. And then when you saw the snake, you mess with it until it struck and stretched out. As soon as it stretched out, you just put the stick right behind the next and pinned the head down, and you just reached down and grabbed it, grabbed the tail and the head, and you got a rattlesnake.

MN: Who taught you that in camp?

Mo N: I guess the older guys. Well, you know, they used to have rattlesnake drives where people used to, everybody in camp would go out and go catch rattlesnakes to give to the hospital. I guess they used the venom and meat, and it's supposed to be real good meat, strong meat for recovering people. So they probably taught us. Yeah, I don't know who exactly taught us.


MN: Now you have these memories, this incident where three of the kids in your block died. What happened?

Mo N: Well, they were building us a high school in the camp, and they were building the basement or the foundation or something, and they had dug down, and then I guess they were kind of slow in doing that, so all the local kids from the different blocks had places where parts of the pit were in your block's area, kind of stuff. And our block area was, they had caves going into the side into the hill, or into the side of the thing. Yeah, and then one day that sucker caved in and they came running back telling us that somebody was trapped down there, people were trapped, so we all ran over there. And when we got there, they were digging like hell trying to dig these guys up. My uncle was one of the people that got dug out, but three of the other guys never made it, three of the kids. So they stopped the construction on the high school, it was a bad omen. I went looking for it, the pit, when I went back this last time with my son, took him back there, and I couldn't find that area. But yeah... paid memories anyhow, paid tribute to all those people who passed away in camp.

MN: Now you have this memory of these two dogs in camp. What happened to them?

Mo N: Yeah, there was a... there was a whole lot of dogs in camp, but on our part of the camp there were two in particular. They're German police dogs, really good-looking dogs. One was a mutt and the other one was... I can't remember what the other one was. And they were black and white, or black and gray. And mutt died and we buried him in the block between 11-K and 9-K, that 10-K was an empty block, so everything that died, we took over there and buried there. And so, yeah, and it was real interesting, when I went to Wounded Knee, we came back, 1973 we came back and we went to camp, and I walked in that area, and this rush of memories came back so much, and those two dogs memories came back real clear and real strong. 'Cause I guess we used to play with them so much. Going to the mess hall, sneak food out to feed 'em and stuff like that. So yeah, I often wonder what happened to the dog that survived.

But yeah... yeah, there's another thing that I remember that sticks out in my mind, is that in the wintertime out there, these rabbits used to get together and they'd form these fairy rings, they'd form these big circles, and they'd have one big hole, I guess a he-rabbit in the middle, and these rabbits would dance, thumping. Yeah... and I remember one time watching them, a full moon night, watching them dance out there. But in our block, we had kind of a baseball diamond towards the empty block side, and they got out there in the middle of that field where there baseball diamond, they're all dancing, and they used to do that every winter. It was real trippy to see that, they did it or anything, I don't know. I've never read anything about it. But I know they'd do it 'cause I saw 'em all night. Yeah, that was real interesting. 'Cause these Ichikawa brothers lived in 12-K, I think they were from Terminal Island. But they were some rambunctious boys. And they used to go out to capture all these old, capture all these wild-ass animals out there. One story I remember clearest is that they captured three horned owls, big old owls. And so they put 'em in a cage and they were feeding them, keeping them. Well, something happened, and one day they got back to look at the cage, and there was only one owl left and a lot of feathers all over the place. So that sucker must have ate up the other two that were there. But these Ichikawa brothers were real famous after the war in Long Beach where they were shark wrasslers. Used to wrassle sharks in the water. Isn't that crazy Japs? [Laughs] Tough guys.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: Share with us about this incident you had, you boys were playing at the Amache --

Mo N: Oh, graveyard?

MN: Cemetery.

Mo N: Yeah, yeah. That was a real spooky kind of incident. We're out there playing, and you know the showers that come up like that, they come up real quick. And it wet the ground and then we were debating what we can do. We were playing out there near the graveyard because there was a hideaway lake, there was a lake out there and that used to be the watermelon patch out there. So we used to go out there and fool around, look for water moccasins in the creek down there and fool around wading in the lake. And then if you're hungry, went out and got some watermelons. So I guess on the way... so there was things to do out there, so we weren't too worried about getting too wet. I guess it wetted the ground, and so we went out to the graveyard and this hinotama came out of the ground. The chemical kind, scientific way of looking at this, that apparently when you put bodies into the ground and decomposition takes place, phosphorous forms, some kind of phosphorous gas forms. And if it gets wet, it comes out of the ground, and that sucker glows and glows kind of greenish. And shit, we saw that sucker come out the ground and said, "Oh my god, what the fuck is that?" [Laughs] I don't care what it is, I'm gettin' the hell out of here. So the three of us took off like a bat out of hell, boy. And the thing is that this gas is attracted to moisture. Right by our block, the next block 12-K, right next to 12-K was the water tower for the whole camp. The goddamn thing was going toward the water tower, so it looked like it was following us. So, oh, lord, we were so scared, man, running like hell, screamin' and hollerin'. [Laughs] That's when I realized that there were ghosts. [Laughs]

MN: Now when you were in camp, did you play any of the team sports?

Mo N: Yeah, played... I remember, distinctly remember playing baseball. I'm sure we played football and some of the other stuff, did some sumo.

MN: Where did you have the sumo dojo?

Mo N: Yeah, they had one towards the co-op, I think. We had a guy that was from the market, and he was a gambling man. And what he used to do was he'd make a ring right in our play area in our block, and all the kids would line up. We split into two lines and do a kohaku shiai, right? And then whoever won got a little money, that kind of thing. So that's what we used to do. With no professional training or nothing, we were just out there grunting. [Laughs] Little guys.

MN: Let me ask you about some of the holidays at Amache or Granada.

Mo N: Okay.

MN: What was Christmas like?

Mo N: Well, Christmas was a special time, I think, for us little kids, 'cause we could expect gifts and stuff like that. And most of the stuff was gotten either your dad or some male relative went out of camp and went to work, and when he'd come back for Christmas would bring back gifts. Or we did mail order stuff, ordered through the mail order catalog. So any kind of package that came to camp, came for you, you looked forward to that. So we used to look forward to those things, getting something special. But I think, I guess for little kids, I guess that was the most tanoshii one, right, Christmas, 'cause you were getting a gift. But the ones that were the most fun were New Year's, you did mochitsuki and did all of that. And the whole block participated, and yeah, it was just a good thing. It was just positive and feel good about being Buddhahead, and especially eating that fresh mochi. I don't know where in the hell they got that mochigome from. Oh, yeah, we used to get care packages from Japan. So that was always a treat, they'd send ame candy and stuff like that. You think back later, gee, from Japan? 'Cause after the war, we were all sending care packages over there, but during the war they were sending stuff to the Red Cross. That was always a nice treat.

And then of course the other big one was Obon, and that was usually tied together with an athletic event and the Bon dance. That's when the whole camp turned out, sort of thing. And like undoukai and then Bon Odori. Yeah, so used to have a lot of track events, dance. The thing I remember was that if you got out there and danced, then you got ice cream. [Laughs] I'm an ice cream freak. That was always fun.

MN: You know your parents, what did they do in camp?

Mo N: Well, I never knew this, but my mom told me, and other people have told me, that she was a kindergarten or preschool teacher in camp. So she took care of little kids. I hardly saw her, I mean, maybe come home and sleep. And my dad worked first as a cook in the mess hall, then he worked in the motor pool for the camp, and then he started leaving camp to work in the fields in Colorado outside. And then he was lucky 'cause he had worked out there in the fields in Colorado before the war, going out there. We have friends, relatives, so he went to work for them, Blanca Valley up there in southern Colorado. But yeah, so it was always cool when he came back, 'cause he always brought goodies with them. That was kind of nice. But when the war ended, he wasn't with us, so we came back to camp by ourselves, just me, my mom and my sisters. Of course, we had our extended family, so we kind of stuck close with them.

MN: Now when you were in camp, were you in any sort of talent shows or any sort of theater?

Mo N: Well, I think every block... we used to have movies I think once a month or something like that. And on special events or special occasions we'd be organized into groups and we'd put on a shibai. And so that's what we did every year. And most of the time, as I recall, we used to play 442. That they were over there, whatchacallit, so we were always fighting, killing Germans. We never fought any Buddhaheads. But I remember that was a theme that whatchacallit sent. And then everybody participated. You had the older guys were all the officers and all the big shots and then all us little guys were grunts, private soldiers out there.

MN: Now your family was still in camp when the war was over, and you have this memory of something you witnessed over the skies of Amache.

Mo N: Yeah. The three of us were playing out in the desert again, and we looked up, and there were nine planes coming, three flights of three, like that, one, two, three, coming over like that. And they were these Superfortress, big suckers. And we watched them open the bomb bay doors. "Oh, fuck, they're bomb our ass. Everybody go home." So we're running like hell, talking about, "Ain't gonna bomb us," here come these bombers. And so instead of bombs, all these papers started coming out. And on the papers was written, "Japan has surrendered." So running back into the block, telling the Issei men, "Nihon no maketa." "Uso, bakatare." [Laughs] Told us to throw that shit away, don't read that foreign propaganda. Yeah, we thought for sure they were gonna bomb our ass, man. Saw 'em coming, open up that bomb bays, Superfortress had, the thing about them, they're so big, right, they had two bomb bay doors on each plane, so to watch them both open up, I thought, dang, man. Yeah, we thought for sure our goose was cooked. Hauling ass to get home, so if we're gonna go, go with our folks. [Laughs]

<End Segment 11> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: So when did your family actually leave Granada?

Mo N: Well, people started leaving just before the war ended, when I guess the Supreme Court said that it was unconstitutional to hold us. Some people started leaving. I think some people starting coming back around May, April, May, pretty early. But we didn't leave until after, so August, September... maybe September, October.

MN: So how did it feel for you when you stepped out of camp as a free person?

Mo N: I was a kid. We got out of the truck and we already knew that we were gonna go, go back. We didn't know what that meant, didn't have nothing when we left. So we were just going back to California, just going back to L.A. Yeah, so we got on the train, went back, this time we got to see the scenery. And then stopped at Salt Lake again on the way back, too. We stopped at a couple, two places as I recall. That was out in the middle of some small town. And then we went up to Salt Lake again, got out to run around and we walked out there. In those days, we used to collect book matches, paper book matches... I think it was paper book matches. We used to collect something, we could run out there and collect on the ground out there, people would throw away. Like the milk bottle tops, people used to throw those away. We used to collect those 'cause we used to play games with them. But going back, remember going through the Grand Canyon and coming home... I don't remember coming into Grand Central, though, so maybe I was asleep or what. But then we ended up at Centenary, this church, again. That was a hostel where people could stay. So we stayed there. I don't know how long we stayed there. Long enough for us to be, come to the attention of the truant officer wanting to know what the hell all these "Jap" kids were out there hanging out when they should be in school. So the complaint came down, "You guys need to get into school," and stuff like that. But we moved out to San Dimas to stay with friends out there, who were caretakers of this orange ranch.

MN: Now when you were in Centenary, your father wasn't with you.

Mo N: No.

MN: Where was he?

Mo N: He was in Colorado, still working.

MN: And then so he joined the family when you were still at Centenary?

Mo N: No, no. We went out to San Dimas, and then he joined us in San Dimas. And when he joined us, then we had to come back, move back into town again, so he got a job as a caretaker for this estate, this big old house up on Pico and Arlington. If you notice, on that part of the thing, that's right by Country Club Drive, between Pico and Olympic, were these big old houses there. So we were at this Westchester, one block west of Arlington, a big house there, so we took care of that. We lived on top of the garage.

MN: Let me go back to Centenary again. Now right after the war, was the Centenary hostel still on Normandie?

Mo N: Yeah.

MN: And what was that like? What was the living situation like in the hostel?

Mo N: Well, all of them were pretty much the same. The sexes were separated, and we slept on the army cots like we did in camp. So it wasn't too different. And everybody assumed, knew that it was just temporary.

MN: So if the men and the women were separated, where did the kids sleep?

Mo N: Well, if you were small then you slept with your moms unless you're a girl, and then if you got old enough, then you slept with your dad on the men's side.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: So then you go to San Dimas, and what was, you went to school in San Dimas for a while. Do you remember the name of the school?

Mo N: It was in the town of San Dimas, that's all I remember. And mostly Mexican or Chicano and white, and a few of us Japanese.

MN: How did the other non-Japanese American kids treat you?

Mo N: The white kids, we used to have to fight all the time. Chicano kids were... well, I made my first friends there with the Chicano kids there. So for a while it was pretty tough with the white kids. Then after I hooked up with the Chicano kids, then we started to get back at those suckers. Yeah, it was not fun. I remember running home a couple miles, couldn't catch the bus. [Laughs] Yeah, it was right after the war, so there was a whole lot of animosity toward Japanese people. As to the whole society, when we come back from San Dimas and we moved into this Holiness hostel, and that was right across from Thirty-sixth Street School. I can remember coming home from school and going to my grandpa's shop, having the old black winos throw wine bottles and shit like that at me. It wasn't just white people; turned the whole society against Japanese people. And a lot of 'em resented our coming back.

MN: And then you said from the Holiness Church hostel you moved to the Arlington Heights area?

Mo N: Yeah.

MN: Which school did you attend there?

Mo N: Arlington Heights grammar school.

MN: What was the ethnic makeup of this school?

Mo N: Ninety-nine point nine percent white. That was still during segregation. Kids of color were instructed to go to... I forgot the name of that school, but there's a grammar school right above Adams on Western, right in that Dempsey Square area. And that's where the kids of color were told to go, "separate but equal" kind of bullshit practiced here in the city. But my mom, that was too far, all the way down to Adams from Pico up there, so she just said, "I want him to go to the nearest school." So I went, but I was the only one. Me and then a little bit later a Korean came. He was the son of a doctor or something. But we were the only two non-white kids in the school. Same thing, having to fight until you got some friends. So that's why for a long time I had this notion that I wasn't gonna have children, 'cause I didn't think this country deserved to have my kids. I don't want no kid to have to go through crap like that.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: And then is it around this time that your parents tried to enroll you in the Japanese language school?

Mo N: No, no. From there, we moved down to my parents' home, it was on Tenth Avenue and Jefferson, which was a part of the beginning of the Japanese ghetto there in the avenues. And at that time, I'd go from grammar school, I'd go to Sixth Avenue, then I'd go to Foshay junior high. And Foshay, I think he tries to... well, he does, he enrolls me in Senshin Gakuen, so I go there for a little while. And we used to have this mean old priest there who was the teacher, and he used to walk around with a big stick that they had, and you're supposed to stick out your hand and he'd swat you on your hand, and I put up with that for a little hot minute. But my friends used to come up and we'd be hanging out outside the window, "Come on." [Laughs] So I didn't last too long there, needless to say. Then I went to Japanese school at Centenary, Christian Japanese school. Didn't last very long there either. And by the time I got into high school, I took some private lessons with my auntie's mother, she was a Japanese school teacher. So me and my friend took lessons in Japanese from here for about I think maybe a semester. I don't think I ever got above the third grade if I got up that high. So today, most people that listen to me, I speak Hiroshima-ben, Japanese children, female children's Japanese. [Laughs] Since I learned it from my mom and my grandma. My Japanese is kind of yasashii. Those guys, the guys who learned it from their dads and stuff like that learned market Japanese, people working in the produce market and stuff like that, so they're pretty tough guys, or plantation Japanese. First time I heard a Hawaiian man talking Japanese, I thought, "Wow, what kind of Japanese is that?" [Laughs] Then I was told, "That's just plantation Japanese. That's the way all Japanese talk." Then I heard some of the guys from the produce market or listening to the fishermen. Didn't feel like Japanese no more. [Laughs]

MN: Now you also joined the Seinan judo dojo also.

Mo N: Yeah.

MN: What was that like, and what prompted you to join judo?

Mo N: Well, because everybody was going to judo. This is I think '48, '49, and the dojo had pretty much just opened up. Everybody I knew was going to judo, so naturally then I should go too. It was pretty exciting. And it was something that was us.

MN: Who was your sensei?

Mo N: Kuniyuki.

MN: So when you were growing up, what was your attitude towards Japanese culture and language?

Mo N: Well, I guess I looked down on it or I didn't think I was gonna need it. I mean, one of the things that I remember pretty distinctly -- and it wasn't told to me directly but it was told to the older bunch, older people in our community -- but the WRA solution to the "Japanese problem" was to disperse us, one family in every little nook and cranny in America, and in one generation the "Japanese problem" would be solved. Meaning that we would intermarry and disappear. Maybe for white people that might work, but we were people of color and, you know... America's colonial history, I mean, no way. So anyhow, okay, so a lot of us grew up not wanting to speak Japanese, looking down on Japanese culture, so we're looking down on our Issei parents or feeling kind of ashamed of them. And yeah, yeah, I mean, there's a reason why me and my friends didn't want to learn Japanese. I think that's a strong part of it, that thing about not feeling that it was any use, of any use, and that we were ashamed of it. So, yeah, so there's this inferiority complex that was just beat down into us in a strong way. And we lived it out by... my dad was involved with the kenjinkai, I never got involved in that. My dad was involved with the credit union, I never got involved with that. My dad was involved with the Japanese school, I never got involved with none of that stuff. Only thing I got involved in was judo, and I was glad I did that, at least I did that. Yeah, so I didn't know the consequences of all that for sure. I regret it now. And so with my son, we tried to involve him as much as possible so that at least he'll have some experience. So later on when he decides on his own what he wants to do, then he can decide, he has some experience. But very definitely we had inferiority complex. In Japanese they call it chikokenno, self-hatred.

MN: I know your father, when you folks eventually settled in the Los Angeles area, he became a gardener, is that right?

Mo N: Right.

MN: Can you share the story of how he first started to get his equipment?

Mo N: Oh, yeah, sure. When he was, after he got here, he knew that gardening was the easiest way for him to find work, that he had to, he had done a little bit of it before the war with his dad, so he had to, first he had to get a hold of a car so he could get a route, right? So he picked up an old '36 Dodge, and then he had to, this is when everything was still kind of rationed, too, right after the war. So then he had to go through all kind of ways to try to get a hold of this lawnmower. And he got the lawnmower and then to get an edger, got that edger, then he was ready to start his route, buy a hose and all that, and rake and stuff like that, those were pretty easy to get. But then as he started to get his route together, then he needed a power mower. So that's when it got real interesting. He had to go the, some police, there was a cop that was involved in it that gave him a connection, then they have to pay the guy for the asking price, then had gifts behind that, get the guy to give it up at that price. There was a... it was real interesting 'cause it wasn't straightforward just going out and getting the equipment, you had to go out there and get to know people and to make the connections, then you had to kind of bribe 'em to send it to you. So, yeah, but he finally got all his stuff together and he was driving around this old '36 Dodge going gardening. [Laughs]

<End Segment 14> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

MN: Now let me ask you about your high school, because you went to two different high schools, you started out at Dorsey. Tell me what the ethnic makeup of Dorsey was at that time.

Mo N: Probably ninety percent white, some black, some Japanese.


MN: We were talking about Dorsey High School. What was the ethnic makeup? You said it was a lot of, mostly Caucasians?

Mo N: About ninety percent white as I recall. And the rest was black and Japanese. There weren't any Latinos.

MN: And how did the different groups interact?

Mo N: Well, not very well. Being Japanese we stuck to ourselves, the white kids pretty much, right, the white kids were kind of stratified. There were whites that lived up on the hill, right up toward the Baldwin Hills who had money, and they were working class and middle class whites that lived in the valley with us, Jefferson area. They were mostly Western European Jews. And about the time we got there, the Jewish movement was from both the west side and from Boyle Heights to Fairfax. So they were transitioning, and that's the opening of the space for the Japanese to move in. Yeah, so that's what we were, so there was a lot of racial tensions when I was there, couple of race riots or racial fights. Yeah, there were still a lot of racial fights going on throughout the whole city. We were just beginning to integrate Mount Vernon and L.A. High. Dorsey was just... well, Dorsey because of the Jefferson, that thing there, that prong of people of color going west on Jefferson, there was always some presence of people of color. So when I was there, we had the first black student body president at Dorsey, and this guy comes from a real good family, strong family, who were athletes and scholars. The Carr, Carr family. But yeah, there was always shit going on. I was always getting into trouble, we had some bullshit, people calling, using the term "Jap" and stuff like that.

So when my cousin, when my blood came over to me and said, "Come on over to Poly and check out all these fine Japanese girls over there and see what it is." And all the guys I grew up with, my buddies, they all lived around Centenary, in that area right in there around Normandie, we were the furthest west, Tenth Avenue and Jefferson, came close to Crenshaw. And I'm the only one going to Dorsey. So okay, all of us who grew up going to Centenary. So I said all right, so I ditched school one day and I went over there and hung out at Poly, and I liked what I saw. So I got a friend, used a friend's address, then I transferred over to Poly. So I spent half a semester at Poly, enjoyed the hell out of myself. Ditched school, we were over at Roosevelt fooling around, and we got busted over there. Then they found out where I really lived. So they kicked me out of Poly, so I went back to Dorsey for one semester and I hated it. So I went back to Poly and talked to the vice principal and asked him permission to transfer back to Poly again. And he gave me his okay, so I came back to Poly, and my senior year was spent at Poly. It was, I enjoyed myself, appreciated that from the old white buzzard. Something you guys would never experience unless you were in Hawaii or Japan, but Poly summer school was the attraction of the attractions. All the Buddhahead kids in the county used to come to fuckin' Poly for summer school. So it was like Tokyo High School, it was Mecca. And so all of us growing up, so kids like my age, we knew most of the kids of our age group in the whole county. New people from up around Oxnard and up to San Gabriel, out towards San Diego way, so we got to know, people, everybody traveled to go to the dances, places and stuff like that, so we were really, yeah, we were into each other.

MN: So you know when you were going through high school, transferring back and forth, what were you majoring in?

Mo N: Woodshop.

MN: Why did you choose that?

Mo N: Huh?

MN: Why did you choose that?

Mo N: Well, I was gonna be a carpenter. And then one of my good friends was working at, he was a couple years ahead, was working at, we used to make rattan furniture out of bamboo, and was making a living doing that. I figured that's what I was going to, that's what I'm going to do, or work and make furniture or something, cabinetmaking. So I got into that, so it took three years in high school, two woodshop every year, all the way through. I had a good time. I took... give you an example of the classes I took, acapella choir, ceramics, boy's food, that was a joke. There was no boy's food, it was just food class, and those of us who wanted to take it had to join these girls in their class. So me and this other guy, we were two boys in an all-girls class, we had a good time. Eating all their food and stuff. [Laughs] I took tailoring and learned how to do sewing and doing some stuff, minor repairs. These are all the classes at Poly. I don't remember none of them classes over at Dorsey.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: Okay, let's go back to... you know, what I wanted to ask you is, when you were in high school, you joined the Constituent gang.

Mo N: Uh-huh, social club.

MN: Social club. Were you one of the founding members?

Mo N: No.

MN: How did this group form?

Mo N: Well, like I said, there was a bunch of us who grew up together on the west side who were at Centenary, we were going to church there, we played all the sports at Centenary, and we were going to judo. And the bulk of them ended up going to Poly from Foshay. And at Poly, that's when they decided to form a group. So they formed the Constituents, then right after they formed, then my blood came and told me about it, "Come on, come on to Poly and check it out." So that's why I went, and so when I went there, then I joined.

MN: So what was the age group of the Constituents?

Mo N: Well, their age range was pretty narrow, one or two years at most, difference between people in the group. But we had generational groups, and under us came the Junior Constituents and then under them were the Baby Constituents. On the west side above us was the Baby Seinans, they were a little bit older than us, and then the Seinans. And the Seinans go back to before the war. That's the district name.

MN: So why didn't you folks just join the Seinans?

Mo N: Well, I think, yeah, I often wondered about that myself. I think that when the Baby Seinans formed and made themselves distinct from the Seinans, I think that pretty much ended that whole thing around naming yourself after the district. And then the gang started to form, Baby Seinans were probably the first gang. Seinans were kind of a gang but they represented a district. So in the Seinans, now, there were people, age ranges from teenagers to thirty, forty year old guys coming up from the war and all that kind of shit. But the Seinans were people right above us, so maybe four, five years older than us. And then, yeah Baby Seinans, or two years, and then us, and then younger brothers, a lot of our people were the Junior Constituents and Baby Constituents. And the Ministers, the Ministers go one, two, three, that kind of stuff.

MN: But the ministers came out, I mean, way later than after the Constituents, right?

Mo N: Yeah, yeah.

MN: Now how many people were roughly in the Constituents when you were there?

Mo N: Roughly someplace maybe a dozen, two dozen.

MN: And who did you guys consider to be your biggest rivals?

Mo N: Black Juans, the General, those guys over there in Virgil. They called it "Japanese Hollywood," right, 'cause it's right on the edge there right by City College. The Virgil, 'cause that goes through different names, right? J-flats, Japanese Hollywood, there's another one they called it something. Yeah, I think J-flats is probably the more famous one. Black Juans go through generational thing, too, right?

MN: And you mentioned the General, that was Jim Matsuoka.

Mo N: Yeah.

MN: Was he pretty notorious at that time?

Mo N: Yeah, yeah. People knew who he was. We knew he was part of the enemy set. Yeah, they came over and shot up the guy's house, turns out they shot up the wrong house. He wasn't that great of a general. [Laughs] His reconnaissance wasn't too cool.

MN: So when you were growing up, was it common for, like, the Constituents and the other groups to hang out at Atomic Cafe at night?

Mo N: When we were in high school, no. Everybody had their drive-in restaurants that they hung out at. West side people hung out at Scribner's that used to be on Jefferson and Crenshaw, then they went over to Hodee's on La Brea and, what was that, Rodeo? East side people hung out at Rough Rider's? The one across the street from Sears, there used to be a drive-in across the street from Sears. Eastside folks used to hang out there, and some of the Virgil people, the Black Juans used to hang out there, too. I think maybe because they were making alliances with those east side people. But yeah, everybody had a place that was their turf, and when you went into their turf, you were asking for it. [Laughs]

MN: Now you mentioned the alliances, who did the Constituents have alliances with?

Mo N: We liked to brag about shit like that. Because we were kind of King Kong, we ruled the roost. We didn't have no alliances with anybody, but I'm sure we did. We were tight with some of the San Fernando people and so were the Black Juans.

MN: What about Gardena?

Mo N: Gardena was the sticks in those days. Went down there to go visit a young lady out there and go out to the farm. I remember going out to the farm visiting a young lady, didn't have enough money for gas so the family, the farm would have its own gas tank out there, fill up with gas out there, something like that. Yeah, yeah, it was still pretty primitive when I was growing up. But yeah, Gardena didn't have this big influx, it was still a rural community. But you'd go to a dance there, they'd have the dance at the... I can't remember, the community center or whether it was the city place. But they used to have a place, Bing Hall, we'd go down there, and you'd have kids all the way from -- young ladies, okay, I don't know about the guys -- young ladies all the way from about, oh, thirteen, fourteen years old, all the way up to in their twenties. And so you'd go out there, you pick your age group and you went looking for that. Long Beach was the same way. Most of the rural communities were like that. When you had a gathering, everybody came. It was only in the city where all the teenagers all got together, just teenagers and that kind of stuff.

MN: Did the Constituents have any alliances with like the black gangs or the Latino gangs?

Mo N: Well, kind of, but the wars were between ethnic group, within ethnic groups. We didn't cross over too often. About the only times it ever did was the race wars, then everybody would get together and go after the white boys. But yeah, we were pretty tight with people that we knew. We were tight with the Los Gatos, 'cause all the central city people over on Clan Country. Thirty-second Clan Chicano gangs were kind of under the tutelage of the Baby Gestapos on the west side. But yeah, we usually didn't mix all that much because, in that fighting stuff. You know, like sometimes the Chicano gangs would be invaded from El Paso and stuff like that, they'd come in car caravans, I remember going out there and supporting the Chicano, you know, local Chicanos against those guys. And the black gangs, everybody was afraid of Watts, those are tough guys, man.


MN: What did you guys do, Mo?

Mo N: Well, I think we were formed around social needs. On one hand there was a need for us to get together because everybody else had their gangs. Two, the socializing thing about getting to meet girls and stuff like that, it's always easier to do it when you're part of a group. I remember when we used to go visit the young ladies, sometimes there'd be a dozen of us all go to somebody's house, and parents didn't seem like they're bent out of shape, the girls were at home, so they're safe. And yeah, we didn't terrorize nobody or anything, you'd go there and hang out, laugh and have a good time, and get to know the young ladies. So that's the way we'd do it. I mean, and then some of us like the Big C, what we used to do sometimes, like they had the Shonien, the children's things, so we'd do fundraisers for them and stuff like that. But that's one of our big name to fame kind of stuff. If you ever interview George Nakano, he'll bring the picture out, show us presenting a check to the foundation kind of thing.

MN: It was in Crossroads, right?

Mo N: Huh?

MN: That picture's in the Crossroads, I think.

Mo N: Oh, is it? Could be.

MN: Yeah, yeah.

Mo N: Oh, Wimpy put it in there? Could be.

MN: But, you know, I always hear these fights used to break out at Nisei Week carnival, what were the fights over?

Mo N: I don't know. Probably girls or insult, talking smack. Everybody used to kind of line up around certain booths or people you had friends with, and you're just standing there looking at everybody walking by. And if you disliked somebody you talked shit to him. That's what young people do. [Laughs]

<End Segment 16> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MN: So let's see, you graduated from Poly High School, what year did you graduate?

Mo N: '54.

MN: So then after that, you attended Los Angeles City College, right?

Mo N: Uh-huh.

MN: And then, but then you didn't last very long. You went into the army in January 1955?

Mo N: Uh-huh.

MN: Now what prompted -- you actually volunteered. Why did you volunteer?

Mo N: Well, I wanted to get that GI Bill, Korean bill. When I got out, there wasn't any jobs when we were in the post-Korean War recessions. So there wasn't hardly any work out there, so everybody else was going to the school, was going to City College, so I figured I'll tag along, too. And I didn't know what the, what was going on, so I just enrolled in classes that they said to enroll in and stuff like economics. I didn't have the slightest idea what the hell it was about, so I was flunking my whole load. And here we were playing cards and talking with the people and stuff like that. So they said the Korean GI Bill was running out, so that if you wanted to get it, you'd have to get in the army now. So I went to advance my draft, and they told me if I wanted to advance, I'd have to wait 'til probably the summer. I was nineteen at the time... eighteen? I think I was eighteen when I graduated, and so I think the fastest you could advance your draft was probably around nineteen, something like that. So if I wanted to get the GI Bill, I had to advance my draft, I'd have to volunteer. And so when we asked that recruiter, when I asked the recruiter would I get the full benefits, he said, "Yeah." So I signed up. I did that completely on my own, too. My family, we were having family meetings and stuff, so we're supposed to share all our stuff, I just came in and told 'em, "I'm going into the army." They were pretty disappointed about that. But yeah, I went in January, then I found out that I was only gonna get benefits for the month of January that the bill covered. So then we started raising hell. I guess a lot of people felt like I did, joined because, like I did. So Congress went and extended it, so everybody who got in by January would get the full benefits, but that didn't happen 'til afterwards.

MN: So where did you do your basic training?

Mo N: I did my basic at Fort Ord, Monterey.

MN: Any of the non-Nikkei soldiers give you a bad time?

Mo N: No, no. This is after, like I say, this is after the Korean War, so the Japanese had a pretty good name by then. The U.S. was trying to build up Japan so that it'd be a foreign base to Asia, so they weren't beating us up too bad in the press and stuff like that. Where we were getting shit was in the civilian population on the street. I mean, it used to be that you'd take, I'd take my friends up to Fort Ord to take 'em back to base, and you couldn't eat on the white side of the tracks. You had to cross over to the colored side and find a restaurant or something to eat at, and I think it was the [inaudible], the people right in front of us that would be during the Korean War itself, they had that discrimination outlawed, at least while you were in uniform.

MN: Was that just in California that this law was enacted, or was that a federal law?

Mo N: Yeah, I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I just know that it happened here in California.

MN: And then after you did your basic in California, Fort Ord, where did they ship you?

Mo N: I went to Fort Sam Houston in Texas, San Antonio, Texas.

MN: Now, was Texas still a segregated state?

Mo N: Yeah. Yeah, that's right, when I got off the train, I mean, I'd heard all these stories from black folks that I grew up with, they talked to their families and listening to stories about the South, so I knew about the "colored" and "white" rooms and stuff like that, the drinking fountains, all of those things, the movie theaters. But when I got there, I realized where I was at and I thought, "Wow, where do I fit in?" We never talked about that when they were telling me stories. So when I got off the train, I looked up and I saw that sign, said, "white" and "colored." "Oh, man, where in the fuck do I go?" And I'm in uniform, but I don't want to take no chances in getting hassled. So I walked around the train station, I didn't go through it, I walked around it. Got out in front and hailed a cab and asked the cabbie to take me to someplace where he knew I would be able to get a room. And it was a sleazy white hotel, but that's when I found out that Asians were considered "white" in the South. Got into some trouble with friends, go to town, and couldn't go to the black side, so you go to the... I mean, to the white side, so you go to the black side, and you could go in, they wouldn't give you no shit about that, but other customers would. We went into one place and someone said, "What the fuck they doing in here? I can't go over there, why are they here?" and all that kind of shit. So we got up and left. But yeah, that was an experience. That was an experience. Although there was integrated sets after dark, where mixed crowds could get together and shit like that. I went to a couple of those kind of clubs, and that was kind of interesting. So I was there in Texas for about six months.

MN: And then from Texas where did you go?

Mo N: I went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

MN: And what was Kentucky like?

Mo N: Worse. Of course, we weren't in the deep South, that's still a bastard state, right? Texas is kind of a border state, too. But segregation was clearly there, I mean... but got a chance to see some, what poor whites were like over there. Pretty sad case. I mean, we went to, we had a Christmas drive, so we took some stuff out to the countryside there to these poor whites out there, and shit, live in a house where if you want -- a dirt floor, so if you fuck the dirt floor up really bad, all they had to do was pick the house up and move it to a new clear patch of clear dirt. Yeah, all them stories about only thing they know how to say is, "Where you going?" "Yonder." "Which way is west?" "Yonder," that kind of stuff. [Laughs] That really kind of, people didn't have any educational opportunities and stuff like that. And black people lived even worse than that. They lived in these goddamn, on the side of the railroad tracks or by the sheds of the railroad, the corrugated metal kinds of roof and stuff like that. Stuff was pretty, yeah, it was not nice.

MN: And then from Kentucky you were shipped to Germany and you were in the air corps?

Mo N: Airborne.

MN: Airborne.

Mo N: Yeah, parachute troops.

MN: What was that like?

Mo N: Scary but fun. [Laughs] I'd like to tell the story that the first airplane I ever went for a ride in I jumped out of.

MN: And how many years did you serve in the army?

Mo N: Three.

MN: What year were you honorably discharged?

Mo N: '55, '56... '57. December of '57 I was discharged.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MN: So after you were discharged, you returned to Los Angeles City College? And then around that time, Fidel Castro took over Cuba and the U.S. cut ties with Cuba in 1961, you'd just served in the military, how did you feel about all these Caucasians saying they don't want to go into the military?

Mo N: Yeah, yeah, I was dead set against 'em. I was a right-winger at that time. I felt like, if I had to go serve in the army, then they should go. So yeah, there was a lot of heckling and talking shit to them, yeah, draft dodgers. But at the same time, the Civil Rights Movement was coming along and Malcolm was starting to make his imprint on what the hell was going on and stuff like that. The black cats that I grew up with were running around with these big naturals, and I would think, "Wow, crazy, man." [Laughs] But yeah, Malcolm came to the City College campus and spoke there. He had the persona that he projected on TV, and his rapport when he talks to you face to face is a whole different set. He was just about the warmest most likeable human beings you ever saw, talking face to face. Even white people. He didn't put 'em down when he was talking face to face, it's only those assholes, those people that were trying to put him down and stuff like that on television and things like that that would just... that man was not afraid of nothing. He was a good role model. But yeah, so I changed my thinking about him, what he represented, wanted to know more about what The Honorable Elijah Muhammad was teaching and what it meant for black folks. And stuff started in the South, man. See that Bull Connor turning dogs and horseback people loose on those marchers on the bridge, yeah.

MN: So you graduated from L.A. City College and then you went to California State University Los Angeles for four years. What did you major in in Cal State L.A.?

Mo N: Chemistry.

MN: Now what prompted you to major in chemistry?

Mo N: Well, I had a mistaken, wrong information. When I was at City College, we took German, there was a bunch of us there, and the science language was German. We took German, I had just come back from Germany, so I figured I could speak a little bit. But I had this German teacher, this arrogant sucker, and he told me that I should take, I should not go into science because Japanese people couldn't think independently, and all we could do was copy shit. And I thought to myself, "Fuck you," and I decided I wanted to go into science just to spite this sucker. And at that time, I had heard that there was a Japanese scientist who had won the Nobel Prize, and I thought they said it was in chemistry. So I figured, okay, I'm going to go into chemistry, so that's why I went into chemistry. But later I find out that the cat, I think it was Kikuchi or something like that, but he gets it in physics. I had the information wrong. I think chemistry's easier than physics. But, yeah, so that's why I went into chemistry when I should have probably, if I was going to follow that line of thinking, I should have went into physics or something like that. But yeah, I graduated, I took all the classes that were available in chemistry at state college.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

MN: So when you were there, you went to your first demonstration at the Federal Building in downtown L.A. What were your protesting, and were there other Japanese Americans there?

Mo N: Okay, yeah. It was the Bull Connor incident. We had watched that on television. I was rooming with a white boy, Englishman... he was an Englishman so he was different from the American boys. But he saw that and he nutted out. Said, "Man, what the fuck are they doing? You don't treat another human being like that." And that was my sentiment, so he said, "Come on, let's go down there." Never been to a demonstration or anything, right, "Okay, yeah, let's go." So we charged down there. Oh, we had a personal connection, too. Some black guy that we knew during school, he... there was a whole series of demonstrations down there, so he had gone down there and got busted. That's when they deputized any white man in the street to come in and help them deal with these demonstrators and stuff around the Federal Building. So he got hauled in with the bunch that got busted by those vigilante types. And so we saw that and then we heard about our friend, right, being busted, so we went down there to protest him being busted, too. Yeah, so when we got there, I was feeling self conscious as hell, not knowing what to think, and I looked, and there were two other Buddhahead guys, two older guys. And later on I find out who they are, one was Chet Yamauchi of Classic Catering, and the other one was a social worker, Hawaii guy. But, yeah, so I felt better after I saw them, "Shit, I can go out there if they're out here, it must be okay." So that was my first demonstration and I went to a couple more after that. But, yeah, I'll never forget that thing about them turning, Bull Connor turning the dogs loose on another human being. They fucked them, yeah.

MN: And then while you were going to Cal State, you helped form the Alibi group? What was that?

Mo N: Yeah, yeah. It was a bunch of us that were getting ready to graduate or had graduated already, we're trying to figure out how we fitted in to this black/white confrontation that was taking place in the country, and what was our role, and what were we going to do. So all of us knew each other, and we used to drink together at holidays, and then we knew the guy who joined the Alibi, Ben Yano, he was a bartender over at Holiday. And he had this place where if you wanted a kind of nice quiet place to go, the Holiday was, if you liked to fight, that's where you went. [Laughs] Drink and fight and raise hell, right? So you went to Dry Gulch. So that's where we started meeting once a week over at Alibi, and that's what we talked about: how did we fit in? What was our role? We sure as hell weren't white, and our history said that we were part of an oppressed people. And we had people like the Brown Berets come in, different groups come in and talk to us, farmworkers, so it was a pretty exciting time developing new ideas, getting a better sense of who we were and things.

MN: So it's obvious Asian Americans aren't white, and then when you folks went and tried to go and help the African American community, what was their reaction?

Mo N: Yeah. I think their reaction generally speaking was that, "Thank you for coming, we appreciate the effort, but you need to take a look at your own community and see what's going on there." So that's what... that's what I did. One, there was, at that time, okay, this was during the period of the Rumford Fair Housing Initiative. This is when they knocked down all bullshit about white-only neighborhoods and stuff like that and contracts and things like that, made that illegal. And out of that grouping, the Asians that were participating in that initiative, they formed an organization called the Council of Oriental Organizations, and it was started by, initiated by the County, County Human Relations, John Saito. And so they received some money to do a survey in Chinatown and J-town. And in Chinatown, the survey was to include children and senior citizens, and then the survey in Little Tokyo was around senior citizens. So I got the job as a... I think I was the co-director or something like that. So we did this survey, and then with the results of that survey, I went back to our group and said, "Look here, man. You got all this shit going on with the Isseis and there's things that we could do." So a bunch of us moved from the Alibi and then we moved over to Crenshaw Square, a bar there, used to meet there, and we figure, if we're going to talk about J-town then we need to go into J-town. So then we try and switch it over to J-town and we used to meet at the Kaikan when it was upstairs on First Street, and that's how we started.

Then we went through this whole series of discussions and explorations. At first we thought what we want to do is develop a free clinic, so we had some nurses with us, too, in our group. So they went and explored around, what would it take to form a free clinic? Well, we had to get a 501&copy;(3), then we had to go and get some doctors. Then we found that there were some that were willing to come down and help us if we set the thing up. But setting the thing up became so involved with red tape and shit like that, oh, man, we ain't got the time or resources to deal with this. Then we decided, well, let's look at the hot meals program, people needing good nutrition, we were finding out people were fuckin' eating dog food, cat food and stuff like that. So, yeah, let's do that, so we tried to look around for that. And to build one of those, well, it's just... again, you got to have that number, 501&copy;(3), and you got to be able to have a kitchen and blah, blah, blah, and getting served by a cook, a nutritionist... all the bullshit that goes with that. And we didn't have enough sense, if we wanted to start something we just did it, to hell with all that rules and regulations. But we were young and dumb, and we wanted to do stuff. And then finally it ended up all the really important shit of survival we couldn't do.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

Mo N: So that's when we decided this idea, okay, well, they're trapped in their hotel rooms and they're trapped down here, they ain't got nothing to do, so let's try to at least make some enjoyment for their time. So that's when we started a free movie program, so anybody who came to the neighborhood in that area we told 'em a certain time and date, pay for coming to the movie. So it started like that, we developed mailing lists. And then we went through a whole lot of shit. We used to gather rummage, go out to the rummage sale, make money like that. So we never asked anybody for money. In fact, one of the lessons we learned was that one of the guys, we used to go ask for donations, and people would say, "Sure, we can give you money." But then sometimes you get some of these guys, big shot guys, said, "Oh, I'll give you some money, but you got to give me credit," blah, blah, blah, started laying down what they wanted for this money that we'd give 'em. And so we had one guy, Chuck, good strong young man, said, "Hey, man, are you giving it or what? What's your problem?" The guy took, said, "Okay, you don't want it then? Okay, fuck you." And he didn't say that, but, you know, that's what we were thinking. So when he come back, we talked about it, said, "Okay, fuck it, we're going to earn our own money. We're not going to go out there and beg." So we go out and pick up rummage, yeah, ask for donation for rummage and stuff like that, people give us stuff, then we'd go down to that Gardena, the Rodeum or something like that, go down there and sell, stuff like that.

Yeah, we found too that the people, the poorest people were the ones that would give the most. Whenever we went into Monterey Park, people would be slamming doors in our faces. We did that, we had that slammed in our face twice. Once when we were raising money, or trying to get stuff for the rummage sales from these more upper class folks, and then we raised the most stuff right in J-flats. Just knocked door to door and people would listen to us and say, "Oh, man, you guys are really helping people, aren't you? Here, let me get..." they'd go in the back, dig something up and bring it out. And we had the same experience when the Alcatraz occupation took place with the Native peoples, right? Said, "Oh, let's do the tribe and take some stuff up there to support them." So that's what we did. So went in the neighborhood and people gave like hell. We'd fill up a busload. We went up to Monterey Park and couldn't get shit up there. All these people with money, they were peeking out the door. They wouldn't even open the door for us half the time. But, yeah, so that's the Pioneer Project.

But then we used to our own fundraisers, and we raised enough money to support this old man, Mr. Nishimura, who was the organizer of the Goh-Shogi Club for the workers down here. They always had a Goh-Shogi Club for the businesspeople, but they were pretty snooty, if you know what I mean. So this was just a workers thing, Mr. Nishimura, he had left influences on him in his life. So he's saying, and we had this guy Sayama, who was a social worker for J-town.


Mo N: We got used to raising money on our own. We used to do these sukiyaki sales, sukiyaki dinner, and that kind of stuff. One year we made mochi and sold it, and that's the way we used to raise money. And when Mr. Nishimura said that he was running out of funds and running out of resources to keep the Goh-Shogi Club going, so we figured, "Okay, well, let's support the thing that he was doing." And so we developed the Pioneer Center right there on Weller Street. Yeah, that was real interesting. That was the fun part, we'd be working our ass off trying to get this place ready so we could open it up. But we knew that they needed the Goh-Shogi Club, 'cause the upstairs, second floor one was closed down. So we opened it up, the Goh-Shogi area up. The fucking Isseis would come in and push us out of the way, make demands about, "Let me in here, let me play this," and stuff like that. Sometimes we'd be locked out, we'd be beatin' on the door and those guys would be in there playing and wouldn't look up. You know? All kind of aggravations. [Laughs] We're sitting up there screaming at 'em and stuff. But we had a good time. But yeah, we worked our butt off cleaning the place up. And then finally opened, and that was the beginning of the Pioneer Center.

But if you read the official history, you wouldn't know that. Because Mr. Takeda, Paul Takeda, revised the whole history and took us out of the picture completely. It was as if those guys, the upward bound Isseis, or maybe they're Kibeis. These are the new rich. The Japanese Chamber of Commerce was the old rich, and these young guys that made their money after the war were considered upstarts. So they weren't listened to and looked down on and everything. So these younger ones, led by Takeda, wanted some leverage in the community. So they latched onto us, the Pioneer Center, 'cause we were also looking for elders to give us some legitimacy other than just poor Japanese, poor Isseis. They'd probably be fucked up like that. We should have had a big contingent of just regular poor Issei that were living in the area. But anyhow, so he came in, eventually maneuvered himself to become president, and then pushed us all out. Real clean job.

MN: So that's how all the Sanseis got pushed out? And there was accusations that you guys were Communists?

Mo N: We were, some of us. Well, maybe not yet, that was early on, not yet.

MN: And you guys started out in the basement of the old Union Church, right? Is that where you first started to clean up everything?

Mo N: No, no. That's where we did all our fundraising and stuff.

MN: And talk about the hanami the Pioneer Project had.

Mo N: Oh, yeah, yeah. That was the glory. When we started doing all of this stuff, things just rang a bell with people all over the city. So all of a sudden we had Pioneer Projects in Long Beach and Pasadena and the west side, Gardena. So we, every spring we'd go out and charter buses and go up and meet up there. So the last hanami we had, there must have been about twenty, thirty buses. We had over a thousand people out there. It was great, but we thought, "Shit, man, we bring all these people out here, we're gonna trample all the poppies down. Man, ain't gonna be nothin' left after we get through." We were freaking the local people out, too, "Goddamn Jap invasion out here," and all of that. [Laughs] We used to stay up and eat lunch at that park out there, that was named after that Mexican bandit? Miriana? No... Vasquez Rocks. Got a, that's a real nice park out there. We'd fill that sucker up with Buddhaheads, man. We're going crazy. [Laughs] But, yeah, yeah, that rang a bell, and the Pioneer Project's still in existence. So that was a great experience and a great push.

MN: And it brought you and people like Jim Matsuoka when you were really were kind of rivals.

Mo N: Yeah.

MN: Was it kind of hard to work with people like that in the beginning?

Mo N: No, I think all we were looking for was what we could do to help our people. I mean, the Panthers had pushed Chairman Mao, served the people lying out there in front, all this good work was being done by them, the Civil Rights Movement was talking about uplifting our people, and what we found in the community was that our people were wasted. We're downtrodden, there are people that... and this is the people that gave our community the reputation that still lasts, right? Honest, hardworking, feisty and beat down and did in. Because right after World War II comes the split, the beginnings of the Cold War and McCarthy era. So anything that was -- just like right now -- anything that was not America, patriotic, rah-rah oriented was looked down on and people crapped on it. And that was our people. Our experience was, can't go be rah-rah American shit, right? So, yeah, so the people in our community, the powers that be, the elite in our community wouldn't talk about none of this stuff. I mean, talk about the problems of the Isseis, I mean, the Chamber of Commerce had a half time social worker covering all of J-town. Good thing he was a good man and was open to us when we'd come down here and shit. But then JEMS, Japanese Evangelical Missionary Society, had, did some work, but that was it. So, yeah, so we have not only the problem, but we also have the tradition of rising to meet the problem and try to do something about it. But at least in those days we have a community. We don't have one now. So there's all those people hurting out there that are pretty isolated. That's the whole thing about the "silent deaths" and those kind of things actually mean something again to us through the redevelopment and all that.

MN: Let me change the subject for a moment and ask you about this political fellowship you got with Merv Dymally. How did you get this fellowship?

Mo N: I'm trying to remember that. I think, at that time, Miya Iwataki worked with Merv, and she put the word out that there was this fellowship available. I'm not sure why I joined that, though. Well, I guess maybe I wanted to see what it was like, so that's what I did. I joined it and then I was chosen, so I went to Sacramento and participated and I came back and participated and then I quit.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

MN: So in 1968, while you were a Fellow, there was this student strike at San Francisco State University, and then Governor Reagan came and spoke to your group. What did he say about the strike?

Mo N: Well, he came in at first putting it down. So we started firing questions at him about what would he do if he were in our place? And on a person-to-person level he was pretty personable. He ain't too bright, but he likes people, so he talked real straight, and so we talked. "What would you do if you lived here for..." Black Brothers are talking about, "Yeah, we've been here for, shit, three or four hundred years," we're talking about, "We've been here over a hundred years." Chicanos talking about, "We've been here forever." "And there ain't none of that in history. Don't you think that's unfair?" "Oh, yeah, that's mean." This fool was sittin' up here agreeing with us. I shouldn't say fool, he was just following the logic, right? But, yeah, so we got him supporting us and supporting the strike. That's when his aide come up, a black dude, "Governor, I think we got an appointment," and pulls his ass out of there. But, so that's when we learned that he wasn't too bright, that he was obviously being manipulated by people behind the scenes. But yeah, that was a real eye-opener.

But if you look at American history in the latter half of the last century, you see that this guy was the spark that pushed the counter revolution. We hadn't even gotten civil rights settled in when he countered that with the Bakke decision and started the counter revolution right away and took away all of the meat and strength of our civil rights struggle. Can't use numbers, we can't discriminate against white people, fuck. Years of discrimination and you can't reverse that one way? So that kind of stuff, and he took that and carried them white people all the way up to the presidency with that.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MN: Now you said after you finished this fellowship after a year, you came back to Cal State L.A. and you helped form the Oriental Concerns? What was that?

Mo N: Yeah, well, during the strike there was all this hesitation going on. And the JACL had a junior JACL complement, and they had money. So some of the young people... I don't know how I got to know them, but they were talking about, "Let's have a conference," so, "Okay, let's have a conference and call it 'Are You Yellow?'" I think it was '68 or something like that. And so, yeah, we had the conference, and all these Asian Pacific youth, mostly Asian or East Asian youth came forward and wanted to know what the hell was going on. And then we had Penny Nakatsu and some of the people from state come down and talk to them on what they were thinking. So that was real good. So that was the beginning of our organizing, and then we came up with the thing about we need to organize on our campuses, we need to organize around Ethnic Studies, we need to organize around, especially identity issues and our own, who we are and that kind of stuff, that's where the term "banana" and all that shit came out. So, yeah, I participated, not so much on a special campus level, but just generally speaking in terms of talking to groups and stuff like that about the need for us to come together and do that. And, shit, by the time we got done, every campus in Southern California had some kind of Asian component, Oriental Concern or something. SC had a hapa Asian Political Alliance. But yeah... and then from that it broke off, right, where segments of young people went out and started doing projects in the community on their own, left the campus and started working.

MN: But you also helped to go around the different campuses, and didn't you bring the Isseis and the older Niseis to start talking about camp?

Mo N: Yeah, to some of the classes and stuff like that, classes that were established, and we were able to take community people to the different campuses to talk.

MN: What were the reactions that you were getting from students?

Mo N: Good. It was always positive, people felt good. I mean, learning about their own history and shit and from their own elders, so it couldn't have been -- besides, if they had negative feelings about that, they'd have never took the class.

MN: Was it hard to find people who would talk publicly about the camps?

Mo N: Not really, not really. I mean, people that we had that were willing to were pretty strong people in their own right, so that they're, they'd go out and talk and stuff like that. One of the best guys was Ron Wakabayashi, the dad. 'Cause he exposed all of the bullshit. There he was, supposed to be a "good Issei man," bigshot, right? Head of the Kyogikai and all that kind of stuff. And this guy jumped ship and came after the cutoff. So no way he could come in legally, so he jumped ship in Seattle, got caught, got thrown back on the boat again, and come down to Los Angeles, got caught, jumped ship, got caught, put back on it again. Maybe he tried one more place, got caught, thrown back on the boat again, and the boat went down to Peru. And then he jumped ship and was going to try to get away there or he was welcomed, I guess, he was then. 'Cause they wanted Japanese laborers. But he said he saw them suckers, they put chains on like they were setting up [inaudible], he said, "Fuck that," he jumped back on his boat and got back, then he got up into Mexico and he jumped ship in Mexico. And nobody hassled him, he didn't get caught. So he got across, I think he was at the... you know where the Baja Peninsula comes all the way down, it's around, right around La Paz at the end, right across there's a Mexican city there. I forgot what the name of that was. But he jumped ship there and he finds out, right, from, I guess, local Japanese there that there's a trail from La Paz goes all the way up the Baja Peninsula into, around San Luis, the Arizona border up there. So gets away across and he starts up. He comes up all the way up and he makes it, all the way up. And the Mexican people were pretty friendly and they'd help, they'd sell them stuff, vegetables and fruit and stuff so he could survive. But he said that there were, you could see bones along the side of the road of the guys who didn't make it.

Gets all the way up there, and then the routine was set up already. So you're going up to there, then you get a job on the Mexican side of the border through a Japanese farmer. Then you go in there and you learn where you want to go, the streets, all of that stuff, so you get familiar with it and get a working knowledge of English so you could get through customs. Then you jump on the other side and maybe work a little bit, there's Japanese farmers on that side. And same thing, educate yourself, then you get on the bus and you go. And then customs people would come on, immigration people would come on and start questioning you: "Where you from?" "Los Angeles." "Where in Los Angeles?" "Boyle Heights. Oh, I live on First and Mott," right? Give 'em some line of shit, and if they go for it, then you're home free, you come into L.A. That was his story. All this crap about illegals, he was stone illegal, he was big shot in the community when he passed away. Yeah, made that journey up from, can you imagine that? I think that's almost a thousand miles. [Laughs] Shit. On foot? I know some other people that did that, too, man.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

MN: I'm going to change the subject again.

Mo N: Okay.

MN: We're still in 1968, and the East L.A. students, they had the Chicano walkouts from Roosevelt, Garfield, and other high schools. What was your participation in that?

Mo N: Well, for one, we supported the students and the aims of the walkout. And the aims were what we were fighting for on the college campuses: studies, the true history of the people, all of that kind of thing. Right to organize, Chicano teachers, all of that, the whole thing. And the PTSA of the school was mainly run by Japanese, they were honors students and blah, blah, blah, all that bullshit, right? So that the Japanese parents were the ones that were out there heckling the strikers and stuff like that. So since we supported the aims and the goals of what the students were doing, then we got out there and began to counter demonstrate and point out, tried to reason with the people that what they were doing was not good, right? I mean, at best they ought to just step back. No need to sit up there and fuckin' agitate or guess what people were saying, 'cause that's what we want for our people, kind of thing. So also to show the Chicanos that there were Asians that stood on their side, too. And, yeah, one of the things we always were cognizant of was that the main route for all demonstrations coming from Boyle Heights and East L.A. was down First Street. So they'd have to go to J-town, and they're going fuck up someplace else. The first place they'll fuck up is J-town. So we always had to put a Buddhahead face, and also when the demonstrations and marches came down, that they were the kind of people, hospitality people, give 'em water and shit like that. So, yeah, so we had to counter that right wing and that kind of boot licking thing that our community is famous for. Show that there was a dialectic there, and we weren't all any one way.

MN: Okay. Now, the following year, '69, you became involved with JACS, Japanese American Community Services, Asian Involvement. Can you share with us what JACS did... or let's start with how you got involved with JACS.

Mo N: Well, my involvement, I think, stems from my work with the JACL. I worked fairly extensively with the JACL because there wasn't anything else to turn to at the very beginnings of our movement. And they had an executive director for the Pacific Southwest District Council, a staff man named Jeff Matsui, who was really a progressive guy. So he formed the Ethnic Concerns Committee, and that was the civil rights group of that time, the JACL. And so we used to go around and hit up these Japanese businesses that were prejudiced, that wouldn't serve blacks and do all that kind of shit like Crenshaw Square. That Yo Tanizaki, those guys were all, yeah, trying to support the white man's thing, right? And doing all those mean things, so we'd go out there and talk to those owners there, and Yo, and different situations. So in process, the JACS board people, the JACS comes from the Shonien, the children's home. After the government closes it, there's money leftover and so there's a fund. The left liberals and progressives, mostly. There were some conservatives on there, too, but mostly formed that board, and so they're part of JACL, they're part of... if not part of Ethnic Concerns, at least sympathetic to it. So it's through that I get to know them on a personal level.

But what the JACS board did in order to modernize itself, then what they did was they co-opted two people, and one was Alan Nishio and the other was Miya Iwatake. So Alan and Miya suggest that they put some money out and have a office so that we could have an office to work from. That time we had Asian Hardcore, so we were doing stuff in the community, supporting the Pioneer Project and working with the drug abusing youth and stuff like that. JACS board considers that a good idea so they put some money together and they fund an office and they fund two staffpersons. One was a... one was a secretarial help, and that was Marlene Lee, and the other one was Ray Tasaki, and he was supposed to be the field organizer. So we had two paid positions and our rent paid, and then we bring on the Hardcore and other people and start recruiting people.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

MN: So you mentioned Asian Hardcore, what did Asian American Hardcore focus on?

Mo N: Drug abuse and people coming out of prison, at-risk youth on the street. So all the things that the community was finding real difficult to deal with, we tried to deal with. So we had a series of houses, 28th Street House, that was the apartment loaned to us by Dr. Noguchi, and then we were able to get a place in SC's redevelopment for a dollar a year, so 32nd Street School, 32nd Street House, and we had that for, I think, a year or two years. And we did communal living there, and we had a whole lot... we had a house full of druggies and everything else going on there. And we did serve the people, working with at-risk youth in the different outlying areas, working directly with people ourselves.

MN: Was this modeled after the Black Panthers?

Mo N: Well, we tried to, yeah, as best we could. The Black Panther Party was our role model, yeah.

MN: Did you have connections with Richard Aoki? Richard Aoki, who was one of the early Black Panthers?

Mo N: Well, we knew who he was. We didn't have a lot of direct connections. Richard was mainly an Oakland cat, but we knew who he was and we knew about him, especially through the Berkeley strike, Third World Liberation Front, one of the heads.

MN: Now you mentioned Thomas Noguchi, so can you share with us, in '69, Thomas Noguchi was fired from the Los Angeles coroner's position. How were you involved in that?

Mo N: Well, we had the JACS office, and whenever things came down in the community, I think our reputation was that at least you could go there and get a hearing, you wouldn't be turned down. So his case came, and Victor and the people from the YB really jumped on it, right?

MN: Yellow Brotherhood, when you say YB.

Mo N: Yeah, yeah. And so they supported him, and then when we heard about what they were saying about him, made him sound like he was some fucking crackpot Jap doing his thing. And pretty much it was said just like that. So we just, the whole community formed up behind him and going to his thing, his hearing every day and stuff like that. A lot of our people got radicalized in that process. And this guy was a pretty big guy, and they were picking on him like he was turd. So, yeah...

MN: So when you started to live in the collective, is that why, is it after that that Thomas Noguchi allowed you guys to live in his apartment?

Mo N: No, actually, he was renting to two people that we were friends with, and we just kind of took over their place. And then we kind of presented Noguchi with the thing, that, "Oh, yeah, we live in your place, and we ain't got no money." And what he said was, he let us stay there in one apartment, and we worked on cleaning up his yard and shit like that.

MN: So that was at 28th Street, right?

Mo N: Yeah.

MN: And then you moved to the, you said the USC...

Mo N: 32nd Street.

MN: And then after that is when the Community Workers Collective...

Mo N: Forms, yeah.

MN: In Boyle Heights, right?

Mo N: Yeah.

MN: And what was that like? How did you support yourself?

Mo N: Well, CWC was... well, the way it split up was that in the Hardcore, we had come and we had gone to Chicago and recruited this guy, Shiga Ono, he was part of the weathermen, and he was doing time at Cook County jail during the Days of Rage. And so we sent people, or people went up there and visited him on their way to New York, come back, so we made arrangements to get him paroled out to us instead of doing hard time in prison. So he was paroled out to us, so he came and he'd been trained by a whole bunch of different things, but he basically comes out of the Community Party Youth League. And he's trained by the Party school and stuff like that. So we're pretty impressed by this cat, and so he says that what we need is a separate place away from the Serve the People work, and you can't have that as a twenty-four hour kind of thing hanging around your neck. And so we hadn't experienced that, all we knew was we were directly immersed in Serve the People and Cadre Development. But he separated Cadre Development from Serve the People, so we said, "Okay, let's try it." That's when we formed CWC which was for Cadre Development. And Marlene refused to participate in that, and she helped form the New People's Hardcore with the understanding that anytime she needed help, we would go help her. She said it wasn't much help, and we kind of shined her on. Probably did. So we got into a more politically oriented study, and giving more direction to, political direction to the work that we were doing, and it was a great thing. So that's when I became really convinced that Marxism and dialectical materialism was the real, was the skinny in terms of how society develops.

In fact, it was at CWC that I go to Japan in 1971 to participate in the anti A and H bomb conferences at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We were in Hiroshima on the day, on the bombing, anniversary date of the bombing, the young people of the high school, or junior high school, that's the only thing that was left, and people were still in school, walk around with pictures of the kids that died from their school in the bomb. And it seemed like everywhere I looked, everywhere I turned, there were these lines of kids marching with these pictures. And it started to fuck with me. All these young people, all these children dying. And then that evening, they do this toro nagashi, too, paper boats, put the candle in there and put that on the river. I watched that for a while and I became overwhelmed by what I was sensing and feeling and seeing. So I went to a temple and I went into a graveyard where they had a bamboo thicket. So I went and sat down in the thicket, started thinking about, "Okay, how come all this shit is going on? What does this mean?" And, of course, the logical part of my brainwashing, part of the... Japan started the war, started with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But I know better, I studied American history and I know goddamn well that they were fighting over China, right? So apparently the U.S. was gonna rip off China. So I knew that that was all right. But the conclusion was that the imperialist war of aggression is not healthy for the people or anybody. I became a stone anti-imperialist from that day forth, and I will never, ever back off on that.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

MN: Okay, so you mentioned, we talked about the Collective, you mentioned Alcatraz a little bit earlier, but if you could share with us a little bit more about when they took over Alcatraz in 1969, how did the people down here, how did the Japanese Americans down here support them?

Mo N: Okay, well, we put it out that we'd already developed somewhat of a reputation in terms of what we were about and stuff and who we were. So when we put the call out, the people who really responded were the Isseis. So like I said, we had a busload of goodies that we took with us, and we took it down to Alcatraz, and we thought we get on a boat and go for a ride and deliver the goodies. Well, it turns out that what we didn't know was that the Coast Guard had put a blockade on Alcatraz, so they weren't letting anything go in and out. And we further found out that there were Nisei fishermen from Monterey coming up with their boats and loading up with stuff at night and running it in to Alcatraz underneath the nose of the Coast Guard. So that made us feel real good, too, that the Japanese community, other parts of the Japanese community were in support of what was going on there. So we felt real good, and we felt that generally speaking, the Japanese community was -- at least the Issei community -- was okay with what we were doing. In fact, the Issei community has always been more progressive than the Niseis.

MN: And was this your first exposure to Native Americans?

Mo N: Yeah, that was probably one of the first things that we ever did, that I ever participated in Native American things. You know, it was always kind of something, that always touched a chord. I always think about why the Isseis really supported the Natives, and I talked to people about it, one, it's like very close to the land. Isseis could dig on that. And then they know the history, they know the people have been messed over, and they know their own history, experienced it themselves, so they're supportive that way. So, yeah, it's just... it's only us in this country, especially the Nisei, who've sold out our heritage in the main. Try to make the JACL dream come true, and we can become all white. Ha, ha, ha, joke, joke. [Laughs]

<End Segment 25> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

MN: Still, in 1969, you were involved with the Manzanar Pilgrimage as we know it today. How did you get involved in this?

Mo N: Well, like I say, we had organized all over the place, and Oriental Concerns, and the whole thing about civil rights and the Panthers, models were playing out there, so people were doing work all over the place, on campus and in the community. So we were holding a whole series of meetings to talk about, "Where are we going? What are we all about?" And this had gone on for quite a while, every weekend we'd have to argue our ass off. So it was pretty much figured, concluded that, "Let's do something practical that we can all get behind and do." And that's what, at that time, then this guy Jeffrey Matsui of the JACL had hired Victor Shibata and Warren Furutani as youth workers for the JACL, follow up on that 'Are You Yellow' stuff. And so they were going around speaking to different people, so they had a lot of travel kind of freedoms that most people didn't have. So one of the things that they looked up and found was Manzanar. And here was a concentration camp less than two hundred, three hundred miles from L.A. that a lot of L.A. people had gone to, and then there was this reverend that was going there every year since the camp closed down. So that inspired everybody, so that's when they decided, we decided as a group that, "Okay, let's do that." 'Cause that would go, everything that had been pushed down our throat. Forget the war, forget about camps, try to be American, try to be white, all of those things.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.