Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Alan Nishio Interview
Narrator: Alan Nishio
Interviewer: Brian Niiya
Location: Gardena, California
Date: November 12, 2018
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-450-2

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

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BN: Then the war comes. What happened? I mean, again, you're not there, but in terms of what the family story was.

AN: Well, so my sister was born at the end of November, 1941, and then Pearl Harbor happens a couple weeks after her birth. And then it was kind of the anxiety of that time. Yeah, my dad kind of sold the store for not much money, so that's what happened. So the life was disrupted with that and then had to sell the store. We stored all of our stuff in the garage in the home that we were living in at that time, and were moved to Santa Anita. So that was during that period and that was before I was born, but that's kind of how it was. The goods that were stored in the garage when my parents returned, the garage had been broken into and everything was taken out, and so that was just kind of lost. And so that was the situation.

BN: So they went to Santa Anita first.

AN: They went to Santa Anita then while the barracks were being built at Manzanar. I don't know when they moved to Manzanar.

BN: Most people who went to Manzanar just went directly.

AN: Directly? Oh, yeah, no.

BN: Interesting. Where were they living?

AN: I think Glendale.

BN: Interesting, okay. That's fairly unusual. And then, okay, so Santa Anita, and eventually to Manzanar. You mentioned that your dad in particular had kind of a difficult time?

AN: Well, in camp... yeah, I must say that my dad and I never talked about those days. We did not have a very communicative relationship. But it wasn't until later that I kind of found what Manzanar was. I didn't find that out until I was in college. But we never really talked about camp. When I raised the issues, he just would refuse to talk about them, and then he passed away fairly early, when I was twenty-two, at the time when he died. So we were never really able to talk much about it, which is one of the major kind of misgivings I have, is the opportunity to get some closure on that. Because when I was growing up, my dad was a gardener, it was clear to me that he hated the job, he hated gardening. He did the minimum that needed to be done, and when we needed money he would take on more customers, when we didn't need as much, he would dump customers that he didn't like, and that was kind of it. He would work probably about half a day if we didn't need money, and then he would buy at the end of his gardening route a six-pack of beer, go into the garage, spend all afternoon in the garage tinkering, and then with his racing form at night, kind of looking at betting on the daily doubles. So that was kind of life. And I started going on the gardening route with him when I was eight, and so I would be going out on Saturdays and summer. So that was life for me, was whenever I was not in school, I was helping out with the gardening route. So I learned that part pretty well. As I got older, meaning about twelve, my father would start arranging the houses he was working at so that we would be in Inglewood around the time of the opening of the racetrack for the 1:30 or something like that. So he would dump the lawn mower, edger, etcetera, and then I would be mowing the lawn and edging and doing all the work. And then he would come back afterwards, and the deal was if he had won the daily double he'd give me some money. But it was our secret, my mom was not to know, kind of thing. And so once or twice a week during the summer when I was working on that, that was the plan is I just kind of did the yards while he was out there. And so he had his other gardener buddies were all out there. But he would only be there for like the first couple races, just to do the daily double and then would return. Then during that time I remember being on the route, and he'd visit some stores that were for sale, but would never have the wherewithal to be able to do that.

But when I was growing up, we very rarely talked. This was not a family that we had much communication, my mom and dad did not speak much. And so I just thought that was kind of a normal family way, is you just don't talk at home. You don't talk during meals, there was never any conversations about, "Well, how's school?" "How are you doing?" It was just kind of, people ate, so that was kind of it. And I remember going on the routes, and we just never talked. I don't remember any conversations we had on any of those things. And so what strikes me was that was my understanding of what a normal life was. The first vacation that I had, which was kind of like getting away, etcetera, was my honeymoon. It was the first time that I had ever kind of gone anywhere, and so it was a very different kind of lifestyle.

And the parts that struck me was especially as I was getting into high school and still helping my dad out, and we had customers that lived in the neighborhoods where I was going to school, so some of my classmates were there. And I was always deathly afraid that I would be running into one of my classmates as I'm helping my dad out gardening. So I remember sometimes I'd be kind of hiding in the truck, hoping not to be seen, etcetera, and know my dad picked that up, that was I not particularly proud of being there and having to do this kind of thing. And I'd always, when I was growing up, I just thought of my father as a gardener who hated his job, who drank a lot, did not communicate, and just was very silent and whatever. So that was kind of my understanding of him, and it was not until later that I had a very different story that my mom told me. Because my mom wouldn't talk about any of this stuff, but before the war they'd go out on Friday nights to go to a movie, and there was a regular kind of routine of these kinds of things. And then my aunts and uncles would talk a little bit more about what my dad was doing, what he cooked and all those kind of things. So I saw a very different kind of picture of him prewar, and it was just not my father but also my uncles. Three of them, they kind of drank a lot in camp, and so they were all gardeners, they all died before... no one got past their sixties. And so they died early, two of them, including my father, from alcohol related things. And so that was kind of life. So I miss, one of the things is not being able to have any conversation about the role of the camps in terms of how it impacted his life. And this was before, so he died before I really was able to understand much about Manzanar. I learned what Manzanar was in my senior year in college, I came home that summer, asked him about, my mom and dad about what was Manzanar, they just didn't talk about it. So we didn't have that conversation, and the next year he passed away. So there was just no opportunity to do any kind of, getting a sense of closure around his life and our relationship.

BN: The uncles you mentioned, these are his brothers?

AN: Yeah. It was my mom -- I'm sorry, his sisters' husbands.

BN: Are they also Kibei?

AN: Yes, they were.

BN: You may not know this, but in terms of camp, were they "yes-yes," do you know?

AN: I don't know, but I assume they were "yes-yes."

BN: Yeah, 'cause they didn't go to camp.

AN: They didn't go, yeah.

BN: Then you mentioned also the stories that they would tell about your dad before the war. You said it was an arranged marriage, essentially. Was it your sense that they kind of got along?

AN: That was my sense, is that, yeah, they would go out on Friday nights and doing things, but it was... yeah, I can't imagine the whole thing. But they worked together in the store, there was a significant age difference, and so my mom was young and she had my dad's sisters, who were older, kind of bossing her around. So my mom was relatively naive, didn't know what was going on. So there was that part, but it sounded like... when my mom talks about my dad, it was in very kind of positive terms prewar, and then after camp, etcetera, it's almost a different kind of relationship, there was just no communication and things going on.

BN: Did you know your grandparents?

AN: Not well. I mean, they were here until I was... my dad's parents were here, they came back after the war, and then, so they were in Manzanar and then they went back to Japan in the early '50s. And so then after that, '54, I think, they went back to Japan and then I never saw my grandfather again. And then after my grandfather died, my grandmother came back to the U.S. and lived with us, so I got to know my grandmother on my dad's side fairly well. From my mom's side, the grandfather there, he was a carpenter in Seattle, then he went back to Japan before the war, and he died in Hiroshima right after the bombing. We lived in a village outside of Hiroshima, but he was part of the civil defense thing afterwards, and so he was helping with the recovery and then he caught pneumonia. And in the absence of medical services, he passed away. Then my grandmother lived in Kabe, the village home in Japan, so she never came back after leaving the U.S. in the '30s.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.