Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Elsie Uyematsu Osajima Interview
Narrator: Elsie Uyematsu Osajima
Interviewers: Brian Niiya (primary); Karen Umemoto (secondary)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: November 29, 2018
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-451-1

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BN: So we are here in... is this considered Boyle Heights?

EO: Boyle Heights.

BN: And we're interviewing Elsie Uyematsu Osajima in her unit at Hollenbeck Palms. And I wanted to start, as we often do, wondering if you could tell me a little bit about your parents.

EO: My parents?

BN: Just a little background on who they were and how they came here.

EO: Well, my father came here when he was seventeen years old. He came as a student, and he graduated Pasadena High School, 1915, around there, 1917 maybe. And then went on to Throop College, and Throop College is now called Caltech. At Throop College, in 1917, the war broke out, and the U.S. Army took over the campus. So all the men on campus were cadets, army cadets, including my father, although he was Japanese. [Laughs] So he served in the army, he was a cadet 'til the war ended.

BN: And what was his name?

EO: Jiro Morita.

BN: And did he go overseas?

EO: No, he just stayed on campus and got the training.

BN: What was he studying at Throop College?

EO: At Throop he was studying electrical engineering. But in those days, curriculum was quite different. He had to study Greek. I don't think people have to study Greek here anymore. So it was a formal education, I think.

BN: And he graduated?

EO: No, he didn't. The war ended, and they had a counselor there for all the cadets as far as looking for work. And his counselor told him that "no white man would want to take orders from a yellow man," so, "Why don't you just not pursue an education?" So he quit school and he went to work with his uncle.

BN: How was his English?

EO: He spoke English very well. As a matter of fact, in Pasadena, he considered himself a liaison between Pasadena City (Hall) and the Pasadena (Japanese) community. He was quite active in the community.

BN: And then his uncle was already here?

EO: His uncle had a business where he took orders for Japanese foods and delivered them. And there was some law that was passed where a lot of the Japanese went back home, some immigration law. So he left, and my father took over the business, and that's what he did. Let's see, he was in Amanda Park, that's on the very east part of Pasadena, and then he bought a store, yeah, eventually he bought a store, market in Pasadena. So that's where we grew up.

BN: Do you remember the address or location?

EO: Yeah, 70 North Pasadena Avenue. And when they put the freeway in, I think they destroyed that part of Pasadena Avenue. Because it was only about a block and a half from Colorado (Boulevard), which is the main street. And there's a hill in Pasadena from Orange Grove down to below the hill? We were at the bottom of the hill in Pasadena.

BN: And then what about your mother?

EO: Oh, well, the families had gotten together, and I think he was supposed to be... in Japan the custom is if there's a family with no boys, they find someone to assume the name and marry the daughter. And she was the only daughter, and her father had a (school and a) tea ranch. And my father was the second son, so he was not heir to the Morita family money or land, so their families arranged that he marry her and take on the name Yamamoto. But that's what the family had planned, but after he came to America, I think he was encouraged to be more independent of family, and he got a job as a schoolboy and learned how to cook and stuff. Then when... let's see, I'm getting my sequences mixed up, but he married my mother. He refused to change his name, but he bought her a beautiful engagement ring and she came over and married him. And then they took over the business in Pasadena.

BN: About how long had he been here before she came over?

EO: Oh, he was here from 1915, I believe.

BN: And they got married in?

EO: Oh, probably about 1920, '21.

BN: Okay, so not that long.

EO: Not that long, because he finished high school and then went to college for a couple of years and then got married. The war (had) ended.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.