Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ben Tonooka Interview
Narrator: Ben Tonooka
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 6, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-tben-01-0002

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MN: Now, in total, how many children did your parents have?

BT: There was five of us.

MN: I'm gonna go down the list and name them and say where they were born, and tell me if I'm wrong, okay? First born is Kazue May, born in 1920 in Parlier. Kazumi June, born 1922 in Fowler, you were next, Ben Yukio, 1924, and born in Fowler, Henry Noboru, born 1930 in North Fresno, and Harley Masaru, born 1932 in North Fresno.

BT: Correct.

MN: Were they all delivered by a sambasan?

BT: Yeah, I'm pretty sure.

MN: Now, what is your birth name?

BT: What?

MN: Your birth name.

BT: My, my birth name? It was Ben Yukio.

MN: So your parents gave you an English name when you were born?

BT: Yes, but my father forgot to put it on the birth certificate, so on my birth certificate it just has Yukio on there.

MN: Then how do you know your parents wanted to name you Ben?

BT: I asked my mother. But I grew up thinking that maybe some Caucasian farmers couldn't pronounce my Japanese name so they gave it to me, and that's... and then, I don't know, about twenty-five years ago or so, when my mother came to live with me, I was, I mentioned this. "Oh," he says, "your father must've forgot to put it on the..." [laughs]

MN: But they wanted to name you Ben at the very beginning, it sounds like.

BT: Yes.

MN: Now, your two older siblings, when they were born were they also given an American name?

BT: No. They gave it to themselves later on. But my two younger brothers were named Henry Noboru and, yeah.

MN: So by the third child they started to give both a Japanese and an English name.

BT: Yes.

MN: Now, what is the first language that you learned?

BT: English.

MN: How did you communicate with your parents?

BT: Yeah, that's, that's a good question. 'Cause, you know, we spoke English, except of course when we speak to our parents, then you had to throw in some Japanese. Yeah.

MN: So somehow you communicated with each other.

BT: Yes.

MN: When you were born your mother got sick. Can you tell us what happened, and who took care of you?

BT: Yes, this is something I just found out when my mother died. My sister was, started telling me about all the background. And when I was born my mother contracted diphtheria, I think it was, and she couldn't take care of me. So the lady at the boarding house took care of me, and fed me canned, canned milk.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.