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

<Begin Segment 1>

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.

<Begin Segment 2>

BN: And then started having your older siblings.

EO: Yeah, I have two older brothers, myself and a younger sister.

BN: And you all grew up in Pasadena?

EO: Pasadena. My father bought a market on Pasadena Avenue and we all grew up there. When the war broke out my oldest brother was up in Berkeley, my younger brother was at PCC, I was at PCC, and my sister was at, I think, McKinley junior high school.

BN: How much older were your brothers?

EO: Well, Bill, we were born two years apart, so he was four years older than me. And my next brother was two years older than me, and then my sister two years younger.

BN: So all two years.

EO: Two years apart.

BN: What schools did you go to in Pasadena? Elementary, middle school.

EO: Well, let's see. I went to Lincoln grammar school, McKinley junior high school. Pasadena had a junior high school system, so you graduated junior high at tenth, and then you start eleventh grade in junior college. And I was in junior college when war broke out.

BN: So it was called junior college, but it was sort of like high school?

EO: It was called PJC (Pasadena Junior College).

BN: But it was really high school, it was eleventh and twelfth?

EO: Actually, compared to other schools, it was high school.

BN: But it was called junior college?

EO: Yeah.

BN: Okay.

EO: So since I graduated high school in camp, it was twelfth grade, yeah.

BN: Right, right.

EO: I finished (twelfth grade) in camp.

BN: You went to junior college first, then you graduated high school.

EO: [Laughs] In camp.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

BN: Did you have to go to Japanese school?

EO: When I was young?

BN: Yeah.

EO: Yes. My dad didn't think it was necessary, but my mother, she insisted. So (the Japanese school bus would) pick us up every Saturday, and we'd spend the whole day at Japanese school.

BN: Which school?

EO: What school?

BN: Yeah, which Japanese school?

EO: Well, the Japanese community opened their own school. My dad was on the board of directors, he was treasurer. And they started, I don't know where they got the money, but they had enough money to have a big building and a school. There was a tennis court on the property and they used that for basketball games, I think. So it was a pretty large space.

BN: How many years did you go?

EO: Let's see. Possibly 'til the war started.

BN: So were you pretty good at Japanese?

EO: Not really. I would frustrate my teachers because I spoke English at home because my dad spoke English. At school they have what they call hanashikai, that's a talk program, we all had to give speeches in Japanese. My Japanese had an English accent, which frustrated the heck out of him. [Laughs]

BN: So at home, your mother also spoke English, too?

EO: A little English, but she spoke mostly Japanese to me.

BN: But mainly your dad was...

EO: My dad is always English.

BN: ...encouraging English. That was fairly unusual for Issei at that time?

EO: I think it was unusual. That's why he saw himself as a liaison between the Japanese community and people at City Hall.

BN: Was he active in other kinds of community activities, Japanese associations?

EO: Yeah, the Japanese Association, and then I think he was one of the founders of the Christian church.

BN: This is a Japanese Christian church?

EO: The Japanese church on Kensington Avenue. But he and the minister didn't get along, the one we had, so he stayed away. He had friends, but his friends were... it's interesting, most of his friends were ministers from other churches.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

BN: So was your house one of those where lots of people were always coming by?

EO: His business was. So all the bachelors who had no place to go, they'd come over to the store, and they'd spend their time at the store talking to either my dad or my mother, and sometimes they'd eat supper with us.

BN: And the family lived in the same building? Was it one of those above or behind?

EO: Yes, storefront and two story house in the back. And a lot of the bachelors would come over and have supper. And we had a big dining room and a potbelly stove, and my dad would make the room warm by burning wood every night. So it was nice. It was like a social hour every night. [Laughs]

BN: Did your mom then have to cook for all these people?

EO: She cooked for most of them, yeah. Besides, we had roomers upstairs for extra money, and I think she cooked for them, too, they were down there eating. We were all eating together.

BN: And then was she involved in things like Fujinkai or other kinds of activities, or was she just busy with the cooking and...

EO: She was busy. She sewed our clothes, she cooked, she managed the store. Because the market was a neighborhood market, so she took care of customers who came in while my dad was on the road. And then she took care of the books on weekends, she washed and ironed, she had no help. When I think about it, she really worked hard.

BN: Did the children have to also then help with the store?

EO: My brothers helped my father deliver rice and stuff, and my brother still complains that he has a bad back because of the hundred pound sacks of rice that he had to deliver. And then, actually, I had it pretty easy compared to my brothers. And I helped my mother. Sometimes she'd be busy and ask me to cook something, and I'd cook what she showed me how to cook.


BN: You mentioned before that you played some tennis?

EO: Oh, I loved to play tennis. My father played tennis. He shouldn't have played tennis, he should have been home helping my mother. But on Sundays, there's a place in Gardena... it was actually swampland with two tennis courts, and the Japanese men would go there and play tennis, they loved it. And that's where my dad used to go every Sunday. And my mom, she'd go sometimes, but most of the time she'd stay home and be working. But I loved to play tennis. I used to hit the tennis ball against the garage wall. This is in grammar school. Then junior high school they had tennis courts, so (...) we would play tennis (after school).

BN: You must have been pretty good.

EO: Not bad. [Laughs] I used to enter the Nisei Week tennis tournaments. I once reached the finals, but I lost. So that was good.

BN: That's pretty good.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

BN: And then I also wanted to ask you about the Purplettes.

EO: Oh, yeah, we had a Japanese school. The girls got together and we formed our club, we called ourselves the Purplettes. And I don't know why we picked that color.

BN: I'm sorry, was it Purplettes or Purpleottes?

EO: Purplettes.

BN: Purplettes.

EO: That's a strange name, huh? [Laughs]

BN: So no reason that you could think of for that?

EO: I can't think of any reason we did that.

BN: What kinds of things did you do?

EO: Well, we mainly talked about boys. [Laughs] And I don't think we even had a party, but at Japanese school we'd get together and just talk. And so we formed our club.

BN: Was there a... a lot of times there would be a boy's club that was sort of affiliated. Did you have something like that?

EO: I don't think so. In those days, they had a boy's club in Los Angeles called the Exclusive 20s. And I don't think it was our group, but another girl's group had a dance at the Japanese school and they came crashing in, ruined it for everybody. And my former husband, Francis, he said that at one of the dances, he asked, I guess she was a girlfriend of one of the guys, and he didn't know any better and he asked her to dance, and they danced. They took him out and beat him up. [Laughs] Pretty rough.

BN: This is the Exclusive 20s?

EO: Hmm?

BN: Exclusive 20s.

EO: Exclusive 20s, yeah. So they were a scary group.

BN: Did you get to know any of them later?


EO: We heard they were going to break up the Exclusive 20s and send one to each camp, and we got one. I think his name was Nakamura, I'm not sure.

BN: Wait, so they really did that? They sent them to different camps on purpose?

EO: I think so.

BN: Wow, I've never heard that.

EO: And I think I met one of them, he seemed pretty nice. Maybe in a group he's different, but on a single basis, he was very nice.

BN: Did your group go to dances and so forth also?

EO: In camp?

BN: No, I mean before.

EO: Before? Well, we were kind of young, we were only fifteen, I think. So it was mostly talk. Talk and giggling. [Laughs]

BN: And your parents, how did they feel about your group?

EO: Oh, the group? I don't know even if they knew about the group. Because we just met at Japanese school, especially at lunchtime. That's when we organized our group.

BN: Did you keep in touch with the girls throughout, or did it break up after camp?

EO: Just broke up.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

BN: I wanted to then go to the wartime.

EO: Wartime? Sure.

BN: And then what, do you remember what you were doing or what happened on the December 7th day?

EO: I was home. I don't know what I was doing, but my brothers were also home, and they were shaking their heads, said, "This is going to be bad." So I went to school feeling a little timid about the whole thing, but nothing happened. But, you know, there was racism before the war ever happened. And when I went to junior high school, can I talk about my junior high? Like in Pasadena, the Japanese kids got together at the Japanese school, and then at McKinley school, the same group would congregate for lunch under a big roof, what do you call, a roof or whatever, a lunch area. The same group, they weren't mixing with the other students. I saw that, and I didn't like that for myself. I thought I wanted to mix with (other) students, so instead I got real active in student body affairs, and I got elected Girls League president, and I ran for student body secretary and I got on the student body. And I made friends with a couple of hakujin girls, and we had lunch together, which was great, but I just didn't want to be isolated from everybody else, and that's what that looked like to me.

So junior high school was great, but when we went up to eleventh grade, everything changed. Well, even in junior high school there was a white, rich clique. McKinley (was near) San Marino, and we were in an area where there were a lot of big homes. Anyway, those kids, they had their own kind of social life. They had assemblies and private parties, and they would talk about it on campus. They had that group, but there were so many others, it didn't seem to matter. And I knew some of the people in that group. But when we went to eleventh grade, PJC, the whole scene was different. All these people, and the people I knew in junior high, who served on student council with me, they didn't know me. In the hallway I would say hello, they'd turn the other way. It was really heartbreaking. And so for lunch, I looked for the group of Japanese who always stuck together, they were out in the backyard with the blacks. Both groups were sitting together, well, within their own groups having lunch. So me, without anyone else to eat with, I went out and joined them, and I ate there until the war broke out and we couldn't go to school anymore. So that's the racism in Pasadena. It was pretty strong.

I remember in junior high school, the teacher, woman teacher, she was in class telling (students) about citizenship, and then she made a point. She says, "Japanese Americans are not allowed to become citizens." So that really bothered me, so I said, "But my father's a citizen." Of course, he's an exception, but she just ignored me, wouldn't let me talk about it. So the racism was even among the teachers. It was a hard thing to fight.

BN: And just to be clear, your father was able to become a citizen because he was a war veteran.

EO: What's that?

BN: Your father was able to become a citizen because he was a war veteran.

EO: Yes. In 1936. He had a high school friend who became a lawyer, and he really took care of my dad. He told my dad that, "Now you can apply for citizenship because it's open (to army veterans)." So he helped my dad become a citizen. And my dad was so proud to become a citizen. After he got his citizen papers, he posted... you know, our market had a center post to hold up the ceiling stuff, he posted his citizen papers on the post so everybody could see.

BN: And then going back to the wartime, what happened with him and the store and so forth?

EO: Oh, one of the neighbors wanted to try running the store, so my dad said okay. But the thing is, the neighbor couldn't make a go of it, so after about two months, he let it go, and so it was just vacant during that whole time, during evacuation. But my dad was still making payments on the property. And my older brother was drafted in the army and he knew about my dad's situation, so he sent his father (army) money to help pay off the mortgage, so we were able to keep the place.

BN: Was your brother drafted before the war, or this is later on?

EO: Later on. So after he finished the University of Nebraska, he got his bachelors, and then he went on... I think that was it. He was drafted, I think.

BN: We'll get back to that. So your father was kind of this community leader, but he was not arrested, he was not one of those who was interned, then, like many of the other Issei.

EO: No. In fact, City Hall liked him so much, they asked him and Nobu Kawai, he was president of the JACL of Pasadena, to serve on this committee with Mrs. Milkin, (wife of Dr. Milikin of Cal Tech), on some kind of committee to oversee the evacuation process, something like that.


<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

BN: And at what point did your family then understand that you were going to be, that you were going to have to leave and sell the store and so forth?

EO: That we would have to move? Oh, same as everybody else when they found out. And actually, my dad tried to be independent of the camps and have his own group go, but it didn't work out.

BN: Oh, you mean to leave to go to the...

EO: We'd evacuate, but go someplace else. But that didn't work out. And it's just as well that he didn't, because I had to finish school yet, and so did my brothers. And my brothers really didn't stay in camp long, because it was my father's... I think that was his first concern that his boys stay in school. So as soon as we got into (camp), we moved to Arizona, I think the University of Lincoln was the first campus to open up to the Japanese students. So right away they applied, accepted, and they didn't spend more than two weeks in camp and then they went off to Lincoln. That was my dad's main concern, and that was taken care of. So they don't know much about camp at all.

BN: Right. But before you went there, your family went to Tulare, right?

EO: Yeah, we went to Tulare, and we stayed there a few months, I don't know how long.

BN: What do you remember about leaving and going to Tulare? Do you remember your feelings on that day when you had to pack up and go?

EO: Oh, the day of evacuation, we all assembled down at the Pasadena railroad station. For me it was very humiliating. I remember being on the train, and the train passes through Colorado Street because that's the main thoroughfare. I look up the street and I see my piano teacher waiting at the crossroads. He's waiting for the train to pass, I didn't want him to see me. Because we were being carried out of Pasadena in a disgraceful way, I mean, we were being disgraced, actually. So I turned my head so he couldn't see me, because I felt humiliated. That was a bad day. [Cries] Okay, you want to change the subject?

KU: Elsie, I know this might be hard to recall, you know the very difficult days, and we appreciate your sharing.

EO: It gives me a chance to express myself, and I appreciate that, I really do.

KU: I know a lot of things were probably running through your head on that train ride.

EO: Hmm?

KU: There were probably a lot of things running through your mind as you were on the train and going to camp. Do you recall at all what was running through your mind that day?

EO: No, I don't. It's just that the sight of my piano teacher just shook me up. Otherwise, no one knows me, as we're going through town. So my best girlfriend, she was on the same train, so it was good. She and I talked a lot.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

BN: The whole community, basically, was all going to Tulare together.

EO: Yeah.

BN: Do you remember what your feelings were when you arrived and first saw?

EO: No, I think more curiosity than anything.

BN: And I think as far as I could tell, the Pasadena group kind of came last and was already full.

EO: Is that right?

BN: Was that not your recollection?

EO: You know, I really don't know. And being a teenager, I was probably looking for different things than an adult.

BN: Do you remember which block or which...

EO: I think it was 61-B.

BN: And was it other Pasadena people that were all together there?

EO: No, I think we were scattered, they scattered us. My girlfriend, she was in the next block. She was in Block 61.

BN: Were you in a barracks? Because Tulare was one of the camps that also had horse stalls.

EO: No, Santa Anita had them.

BN: Right.

EO: They had horse stalls in Tulare, but we weren't in one.

BN: You were not in one of them.

EO: Yeah.

BN: Did you go to any sort of school there?

EO: High school, I went to high school. I graduated high school.

BN: Right, that was at Gila. You graduated high school at Gila?

EO: Gila, yeah.

BN: But at Tulare, was there, did you go to school at Gila also?

EO: Where? Tulare?

BN: Yeah, at Tulare.

EO: No, that was just a temporary stop.

BN: Because it was summer also, so you didn't go to school there. Do you remember what sorts of things you did there, at Tulare?

EO: They were organizing classes for young people at Tulare. And everything was sort of on a temporary basis. So I remember going to a few classes, and we didn't stay there long, less than a year. But at Gila, we had a regular high school, lot of teachers, and we were the seniors. I want to tell you something about myself. We were seniors, we found out that we would not have enough money for our school annual, so me and my group decided to do something about it. So I asked the administration, "Can we have a carnival?" because we wanted to raise money for our annual. And they said okay, so we started planning a carnival for the camp. When the principal heard how big we were planning it, they got kind of scared and they had someone monitor us after that, but we went ahead with our ideas. I forgot what we sold, but we were selling things, and I asked my girlfriend, and we took one barrack and made a ghost house out of it. So people would pay their money to get scared, and they went through that, they paid money for that, and we had all kinds of things. We raised a lot of money. I have proof from my annual, in the annual people wrote, "Thank you for being chairman of the campus carnival," and all that kind of stuff.

Anyway, about that time, too, my English teacher asked me, "Elsie, would you like to go to college in Nebraska?" I said, "Yeah, I think so. My brothers are in Nebraska." So he says, "Well, I'll see if I can get a scholarship for you." And he applied for me, I didn't do anything, he just took care of it all, and what do you know, I got a scholarship. It was a part scholarship, part work contract, which was great, because I worked for my way, too. So that's how I got to Doane college.

BN: And before we get there, I wanted to kind of circle back a little to Gila. Which camp were in you in in Gila?

EO: I don't know. I saw the question --

BN: Because there were two camps, right?

EO: -- and I can't remember, one, I think it was two. But I'm not sure. It's the camp where all the people from Santa Monica, no, Santa Maria and Guadalupe ended, and also Pasadena. And I think it's Camp 2.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

BN: So anyway, with Gila, there was the two camps, Butte and Canal, and you think you were in Butte, you said?

EO: Yeah.

BN: And you were talking about movies.

EO: What?

BN: You were talking about movies?

EO: Yeah, they were all shown at Butte. That's where our graduation ceremony was also.

BN: So you did graduate in high school first?

EO: Then I went to Doane college.

KU: Do you want her to say, "I was at Butte"?

EO: What?

BN: Sorry, can you say which camp you were in?

EO: Oh, I was in Butte Camp, Gila, Arizona.

BN: Do you remember your address?

EO: 61-B, I think.

BN: That was for Gila?

EO: Gila.

BN: Okay, so that wasn't Tulare.

EO: Oh, I said that for Tulare? I think it was Gila. I don't remember Tulare.

BN: You were not there too long. At Gila, do you remember what your parents or brothers did? Did they work?

EO: Oh, well, my brothers never stayed in there.

BN: Yeah, 'cause they were there a very short time.

EO: Hmm?

BN: They were there very briefly.

EO: Very short time. And my dad's a politician. Since he speaks English, he went to the director of the project and became friends with him. They asked him to be... I don't know if he volunteered or what, but he was a truant officer in the school. So that's what he did. But the director tried to help him get into... he applied to be a Japanese instructor in Minnesota, and his friends also applied. He was accepted, but it depended on FBI clearance. His friends were all cleared and they got to be instructors, the FBI wouldn't clear him. No one knew why, and I thought about it, and I think I know why. My dad, we lived in a white neighborhood, and one of the people in the neighborhood was a white bachelor, and he was a Communist. And he talked my dad into subscribing to the Daily Worker. So they probably saw that on his record, that he subscribed to the Daily Worker. That would be kind of suspicious, I think. So that's why the FBI never cleared him, I'm sure. He'd never read the magazine, he wasn't a Communist, and he never read it, but he did it as a favor to a friend.

BN: You mentioned he was kind of politically active. Was there any... because in many of the camps, there was tensions between the pro-Japan and more patriotic Issei who took more of a patriotic stance, and your dad seemed to be in that second category. Did he ever get into any trouble in camp?

EO: No. I think everyone knew he was very pro-American.

BN: But he didn't have run-ins with the pro-Japan Issei or Kibei that you know of?

EO: No, nothing like that. What impressed me most about my father, is when we first went to Tulare, he started a morning exercise class. He had about two or three Isseis when he started. By the time we left Tulare to go to Gila, it filled a whole football field practically. I saw that, I was impressed. I thought, doggone... [laughs]. And so when we went to Gila, he continued with his exercise class. But there were Niseis and Isseis both, every morning they'd go out there.

BN: Quite a leader.

EO: Hmm?

BN: Quite a leader.

EO: I guess. [Laughs]

BN: Was there any discussion in your family regarding the so-called "loyalty questionnaire"?

EO: My sister says she remembers hearing my father talk to my two brothers about it. And they were going to, were not going to say "no-no," they were going to go if they were drafted.

BN: So everybody answered "yes."

EO: I guess they answered "yes."

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

BN: Now, your brothers had left and gone to Nebraska, and you had gotten this offer to go to college there. How did your parents feel about possibly leaving now on your own?

EO: Oh, they were happy that I would have a chance to go to college. And as soon as they could, they found jobs in Omaha, Nebraska, so they left camp, took my sister, and the three of them started out in Omaha. And my sister really hated Omaha, the family they worked for. So they found work in Lincoln, near the university, very nice family. And my dad did the yard, my mother helped with the house, and my sister was just able to stay there, so they moved. It was great.

BN: Were you all... I don't know anything about the Nebraska geography. Were you all pretty close together?

EO: Well, it took me maybe an hour to get to Lincoln from Crete, I'd take a train. So it was very convenient.

BN: So you saw them fairly often.

EO: Yes.

BN: But you left, your brothers left and then you left first before the rest of the family.

EO: Yes. Because Helen, my sister, had to finish school, and she finished. Oh, no, she finished high school in Lincoln, that's right, they left fairly soon.

BN: How was the reception, or how was your reception when you got to Doane? Were there other Nisei there?

EO: Yeah, there were two Nisei women, one Nisei man, and one Nisei, I think he was a divinity student. I think he was there from before.

BN: So you weren't the first.

EO: Oh, no. But after I came, there were no more coming. And I think all of us, it was an easy adjustment. It was a religious college.

BN: So how did the other students and the faculty react to you and the other Nisei?

EO: Oh, they were all very nice. And then they had a naval program there, officers' training program. And all these sailors, with one black sailor. And actually, remember the uppity crowd at McKinley junior high? Well, one of the men there was one of the uppity students. [Laughs] He was very friendly, he said hello, but I knew that was him, I mean, he would (not) go beyond that. And I don't think he approved of my dating the sailors, but I did. They'd take me to the movies or something. [Laughs]

BN: So you dated the...

EO: I dated white sailors, officers.

BN: And there was no issues with that?

EO: No. There was a sailor who was six-feet-four, he was the tallest sailor there, he asked me to go to the movies and we walked down to the movies. He's so big, my hand, walking down the hill like this. Anyway, it made the gossip column in the campus newspaper. [Laughs] So I think I was accepted, socially.

BN: Did you have... many Nisei students had to give presentations in the community or lectures or that kind of thing. Did you have to do any of that kind of thing?

EO: Nothing like that.

BN: So you were just kind of one of the students.

EO: There's only one sailor made a remark to me once, and he thought it was because I wasn't paying my own way at the college. Because I was working in the kitchen, serving. But one night we all went out to a coffee shop, and I was ordering some stuff. He made some snide remark about my spending too much money when I can't afford it. And I'm sure he thought that I wasn't spending my own money, I was spending scholarship money. So I didn't say anything, I just ignored it, but I heard it.

BN: But you were working, you said.

EO: I was working. He knew I was working.

BN: What was your job exactly?

EO: What's that?

BN: What was your job?

EO: Oh, I worked for the library, I helped repair books. And then they tried me out, I'd do the weather reports, but I wasn't very good, so they let me go. [Laughs] And then what else did I do? I did some typing, but it was mostly library work. Oh, and I worked in the kitchen. So when the line came through, I would serve mashed potatoes or something. Oh, you know who was in the line? Johnny Carson. He was one of the naval students.

BN: Did you know him at the time, or did you find this out later on?

EO: Much later. I mean, I knew him, but I didn't know him well, I just knew of him. Because he used to entertain, he had a little show or something, so I knew of him. And then later on, years and years later, he becomes a big star. That's him. I used to serve him mashed potatoes. [Laughs]

BN: And then what was your living situation?

EO: What?

BN: Where did you live?

EO: In the dormitory, so that was nice. I had my own room.

BN: No roommate?

EO: I didn't have a roommate.

BN: And then what were you studying? What was your major?

EO: Major? I think it was English. Wonderful professor. First thing he did, first class, he taught us how to think logically.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

BN: And then, did you graduate?

EO: Hmm?

BN: Did you graduate from Doane?

EO: No, I got married. [Laughs]

BN: How did you meet your husband?

EO: Well, University of Nebraska opened up to the Niseis, and he's one of the first Niseis that went to Nebraska, too. All the people who were in college tried, I think. And then he went off to Syracuse, Syracuse school of law. And I only met him casually, but I'd get these little presents with no name on it. And then finally he reveals his identity, and he wanted to come visit me. So he came and visited me and he started courting me. [Laughs]

BN: And what was his name?

EO: Oh, Francis Uyematsu. And my mother kept pushing me, pushing me, "Marry him, marry him." [Laughs] Because in the old days, before the war, when my dad used to do the routes of the farms in the San Gabriel Valley, they had a nursery in Sierra Madre, 7 acres. And they had a foreman who lived in a little white house, and my dad would go up there and take over food orders, so they delivered every week.

KU: Can I ask a question about your English major?

EO: Yeah.

KU: Why did you choose English, and did you have some career goals in mind at the time you were studying?

EO: Not at all. I didn't have any career goals, because I knew I'd be getting married, at least in those days. We weren't thinking about careers then. Well, maybe you, but not me.

BN: So your parents were very approving of your getting married.

EO: Oh, my mother wanted me to marry.

BN: Right. And did you get married in Nebraska?

EO: No. He proposed and we waited until we moved out here. We both moved out here first.

BN: Wait, but did he then go to...

EO: What?

BN: Did he then go to Minnesota?

EO: Oh, what happened was, I think he proposed because he was going to be drafted, or he was drafted. So he moved, he left law school, and we both... I can't exactly remember, but we both went to Pasadena, California. They made a big fuss when we were the first Japanese there in Pasadena since the war started. So I was getting a marriage license, so they took pictures. Anyway, we got a license, and then we had a small wedding at the Congregational church there in Sierra Madre. And we moved into what used to be the foreman's bungalow, we moved to that place.

BN: What was your wedding date?

EO: Date? May 14, 1945, I think.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

BN: So you really were one of the first to go back.

EO: I guess so. And I wanted my girlfriend, she was still in camp, to come out and be my maid of honor, but she couldn't, it was too difficult. So we started married life in 1945.

BN: Were you aware of... because Pasadena was where William Carr, were you familiar with him?

EO: It was what?

BN: William Carr?

EO: I've heard of William Carr.

BN: He was one of the ones fighting against restrictive housing covenants of Nisei in that area. Esther Takei was famously the first student to move back to Pasadena.

EO: Yeah, that was later. She was the first Japanese student.

BN: Yeah, that was actually in the end of '44. Were you aware of...

EO: I read about it in the papers. Who's Carr? Was he the one fighting against...

BN: Yeah, he was trying to fight restrictive covenants to allow Nisei to live in areas of Pasadena.

EO: Oh, yes, I think I've heard of him. Yeah, he and his wife, very active.


BN: And then your, Francis's family --

EO: What?

BN: Francis's family, you mentioned, had a nursery in Sierra Madre.

EO: They had a nursery in Sierra Madre and Montebello.

BN: How were they able to kind of keep it through the war years?

EO: They had a lot of land in Manhattan Beach, Sepulveda Boulevard frontage. And they would sell pieces of it to keep going. So this man named Wally Naphus, he was a business manager, he ran the nursery, I believe, while everybody was in camp.

BN: So they (owned the) land even before the war.

EO: What?

BN: They owned land before the war.

EO: Owned lots of land.

BN: Was it that, it must have been registered in the names of their children or something? Or how did they own that?

EO: They owned it, other than the father owned it, the family owned it. We came back from camp, and we moved from Sierra Madre to Montebello. I believe they owned 167 acres. But that's because they had sold some to keep going. The heartbreaking thing is... well, I shouldn't talk bad about people. [Laughs] Well, Francis and his father were here living in California. They still had the business manager, and he talked... I don't know who he talked to, the son into it or the father, to sell the whole piece. The only way I found out is there was a receipt on the table for the land, and Wally Naphus's name was on there. So he was involved in the sale. When I saw that, I got so mad. That was their security. And I guess he told them they need the money to run the nursery. I don't know. The nursery's gone. [Laughs] My husband wasn't a businessman, I don't think.

BN: Was there a connection between that nursery and the Descanso Gardens story?

EO: Yes, when the war came, the Sierra Madre place was all camellias. They had two hundred thousand camellias, and he used to grow seedlings, those are new types of camellias. He had a lot of those. Manchester Boddy liked camellias. He was the publisher of the Daily News, and he came up to Sierra Madre and bought everything. And my husband's father sold everything because he had to move. So (Body bought) everything, even the little new seedlings, which he renamed in his family's name. His wife is named something, his daughter has another name on another camellia. And the camellia yearbook came out with a special camellia (edition) book because they got mad that the credit was taken away from Uyematsu for the seedlings and named other things. And they had a special edition. I think my daughter has one of the books.

BN: And then what happened with that collection?

EO: They had it. I mean, we weren't around. It was sold, everything.

KU: Can you say that again?

EO: What?

KU: Can you repeat that, because I interrupted by taking the glasses?

BN: Oh, sorry, what happened with the camellias?

EO: Oh, what happened to the camellias? They're all in Descanso Gardens. The ones that were bought, all in Descanso Gardens. And they put a plaque up for Uyematsu, and that was up there in the beginning. So they gave them credit for that. And then, years later, as recently as maybe five years ago, maybe five years ago, his picture's still there, but they changed the narrative, and they included San Gabriel nursery. So evidently, San Gabriel nursery had their own camellias sold to him also.

BN: Was that also a Japanese nursery?

EO: Japanese. So now he shares credit. [Laughs] We were wondering, what happened? What happened? So my daughter wanted to try and find out, closed lips. No one would tell her anything. We just want to know what happened, they wouldn't tell us. It's a mystery. [Laughs]

BN: You can still go see the camellias today.

EO: Yeah, you can still see the camellias.

BN: So you come back, and now the land is sold. What did you and Francis do then?

EO: Well, we still had Montebello (and) Sierra Madre. Oh, you mean the big land? Well, he had more money now to operate the nursery.

BN: So you and he were operating the Sierra Madre?

EO: Well, let's see, when we were first married we were in Sierra Madre. And then after Amy was born, we stayed in Sierra Madre about a year. We moved down to Montebello so he could be closer to the business office. So we lived in Sierra Madre about (three years and in Montebello for about five years).

BN: (...)

EO: They claimed eminent domain on the Montebello nursery because the high school needed a football field, they didn't have one, and we were right across from the high school. Just seemed natural that it belonged, so we had to sell the Montebello and go (back) up to Sierra Madre.

BN: So were you also working in the nursery then?

EO: I never worked in the nursery. I was, I guess in Japanese they call you okusan. I didn't work. I had a very easy life. [Laughs]

BN: But you had children.

EO: I had children, yeah.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

BN: Now, what happened with your parents?

EO: My parents, okay, when they got back, it was a different story. The place was a mess, because no one lived there, and the basement was ransacked, so they lost a lot of stuff.

BN: But they still owned the building?

EO: But they had the home. And they rented the upstairs to about two or three families, because there was no housing. And one of my girlfriends' father, when I went over one day, he was on his hands and knees crying, begging my dad for a place to stay. My dad said, "I don't have any more space. How can I house you?" So he must hate my father, but under the circumstances, my dad said that's all he could do. But there must have been a lot of families like that, no home. That's what makes me so mad. Because the government took everybody's houses away, why didn't they provide houses when they came out? They closed the camps, that's the least they could have done. They didn't do it, I don't know why.

BN: What did your father and mother do for a living at that point? Because the store was kind of gone.

EO: Oh, yeah. They needed money, so my mother went to clean houses. My sister cleaned houses, and my father gardened. He didn't have money to start a new store. And my sister, one of the ladies accused her of stealing something from her, and that made my mother so angry, she made a special trip over to that lady, and she says, "I didn't not raise my daughter to steal." Told her off. [Laughs]

BN: Did your father retain, he was such a patriotic man, did this whole experience kind of change him in that way, or did he remain...

EO: I often wonder. He's very, still patriotic, very patriotic, but the contradiction, I don't know. I know he was very active at city hall after the war, and he helped start a sister city with some place in Shizuoka. In fact, they gave him a (monument where it stood in the Mishima Sister City Square). He came home changed, though. All he did was brag, brag, all the time. He wasn't, I don't know, he was just different.

BN: Did your mother, after '52, Issei could become citizens. Did your mother become a U.S. citizen after that?

EO: She did, she became a U.S. citizen. She studied, she got to know her history. They were still very active in the sister city program, and they took care of all the students who came, let them stay at the house.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

KU: Can you talk about, after you came back from camp, I mean, after you came back to the West Coast, you were married, and then you began starting your family. Can you talk a little bit about your family, like how many kids you had and how it was raising them in Montebello?

EO: Oh. Well, after we were married, we moved to Sierra Madre, and we lived in the house where the nursery foreman used to live. And it's this tiny bungalow, and no neighbors around, because I'm surrounded by greenhouses and plants (...). So what happened was, I was by myself a lot. So I started reading, I did a lot of reading, and I liked reading the Modern Library series, I don't know if you're familiar with that. But they have the classics, so I read a lot of Russian writers, Dostoevsky, not too much Tolstoy, but mostly Dostoevsky, and it was an education in itself. I think it was Crime and Punishment, that book. It went through a thinking process of some of the people, and you kind of learn how to think, maybe. But anyway, I think I learned a lot of logic from reading that book. Anyway, I was being educated myself. But, see, there were no distractions, there's nobody around but plants and workers, so I just read. I read an awful lot. And when we moved to Montebello, that was different people around, I got involved with a lot of stuff. [Narr. note: There was a Japanese American community where my husband and I made many friends.]

KU: You had your first... can you say how many children you had?

EO: I had Amy, my first daughter, in Sierra Madre, at the Pasadena Huntington Hospital. And then Mary was born also in Pasadena, and she was born right before we moved to Montebello. So they both had their childhood in Montebello up to about kindergarten, first grade. Montebello, my husband had money, so he let me design the house I wanted, so I designed a house, I worked with a draftsman. And I like to look at buildings anyway, so I designed a little house, I went to the draftsman and he carried out the plans. And I read about a new heating process. You have pipes in the concrete floor, and you heat the pipes and it makes your floors warm. So I had that. So that little house was kind of special, not too many people had radiant heating. [Laughs] So that's where Amy and Mary grew up. And I used to shock my friends because I let them do anything they liked. Well, like children aren't allowed to draw on the walls, I let my daughters draw on the walls. And they went crazy, they drew everywhere. [Laughs] And people would come in and they're shocked. But I'm glad I did it, (my girls have) asked me, just in the last three years (...) why I let them do it. I don't know. I think I just wanted to let them express themselves, but it didn't hurt them.

KU: They're both very artistic now, I mean, how do you think that...

EO: Oh, expressive, maybe.

KU: Oh, no, they're artistic.

EO: Are they artistic? Oh, yeah. Well, most Japanese are, don't you think? Artistic?

KU: In one way or another.

EO: Yes, I think so.

KU: So as you were raising Amy and Mary, you said you got involved in different community activities in Montebello?

EO: This woman, Amy Kobayashi, she wanted to start a women's club. She and her close friends contacted a lot of women, Japanese American women. And so she called a meeting, I went to the charter meeting, the first meeting, and got involved. So she was our president for the first year, and the second year, I got elected president, it was a service club. And then I got reelected the third year, and then after that, I think we had to move back to Sierra Madre and I had to leave, I couldn't participate as much. Because Montebello put a, we had to move. The high school needed more property, and we were across from the high school. And I understand there's a football field there now.

KU: Oh, so you were forced to move by the city.

EO: Forced to move, and for a while I used to drive all the way down to Montebello for their meetings, but after a while it got to be too much, because it's at night, so I quit the women's club. But they were going strong for a long, long time.

KU: So when did you move back to Sierra Madre?

EO: Let's see. I think Amy was about five or six.

KU: So you didn't live in Montebello for more than several years.

EO: Yeah, just several years.

KU: That must have been hard to leave the house that you designed.

EO: Oh, that's okay.

KU: Can you just tell me what kinds of activities the women's club organized?

EO: When I was president, we had several charity dances at the Roger Young Auditorium, we raised money for different causes. That's what we did.

KU: What kinds of causes?

EO: I think one was for that hospital. I can't think of the name, it's a big hospital. It's been so long, I don't remember.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

KU: So what did you do once you moved back to Sierra Madre? Did you move back to the nursery property?

EO: Yes. Well, we built a house in the front. And I understand that while it was being built, there was a petition going around the neighborhood, they didn't want any "Japs" in the area. There was a special street in Sierra Madre, Grove Street, that's where most of the Japanese lived, one block full of Japanese. What was I doing up there? [Laughs]

KU: So the petition was specifically for you, for your property.

EO: Because they could see the house going up.

KU: So how did you and your husband respond to that?

EO: We didn't do anything, just moved in. And even before, when I used to live in the little white house, he was new to the area, and he hired a man named Remington Stone to be the bookkeeper up at Sierra Madre. And Remington Stone was a longtime Sierra Madre resident, and he belonged to the... what's that business group?

KU: The chamber of commerce?

EO: It's not the chamber of commerce, there's another name...

KU: Rotary?

EO: I think it's the Rotary Club. He invited him to the luncheon so he can meet the other businesspeople in Sierra Madre. He took him to the luncheon and my husband was snubbed. So there was a lot of racism still going on, yeah.

KU: How was it to raise your children then, in that kind of environment?

EO: Well, like my daughter said, people are nice to you at school, but she was never invited to their homes. So there was a wall.

KU: So both Mary and Amy went to UCLA.

EO: Yes.

KU: In the '60s when all of these protests and civil rights movement was going on at the time, were you in touch with all the activities that they were involved in during that time?

EO: Somewhat. Like the women's movement, I think that was starting to get stronger, and I was very (...) supportive of that movement, yeah.

KU: How did that affect your life?

EO: I never thought about it, but I want to tell you something about what happened at the center. This is in the early '70s, Alan Nishio was appointed director, and he and Morgan and a few people decided we should have a national conference on Asian American Studies, and they announced it at one of the meetings. And then they announced who was going to be on the committee, and I noticed not one woman's name was mentioned. Did I tell you this? Not one woman was mentioned on the committee. So they had their meetings, Morgan was charged with getting certain halls and this and that. And of course, he doesn't do it, he tells me to do it and I do it all. And then (...) they planned on having this booklet with all these research papers. So when people attend the convention, they will pass it out to each (delegate), and they (would) have all this good reading material. And they planned everything, they invited that senator from Hawaii, the woman, Maxine?

KU: Patsy Mink?

EO: I think it was Patsy Mink, yeah, she was the guest of honor. The day of the conference, this is in the afternoon, now, of the conference, about two or three hours before it opens. I was working, and I go downstairs and I see this table, just stacks of things to be passed out, it has not been collated. I don't know who was in charge or what. I see that, so I go down to SCP, and there are guys always lounging around, I got about three guys, and the four of us collated every one so it would be ready to pass out. Now, after the conference, Alan had a post conference meeting, a critique. I should have volunteered and attended; I didn't. You know how Nisei women are? They stay quiet? That was me. But I wanted to point it out, too. This is an opportunity to tell you. But, you know, I think a lot of men, they're not detail oriented while a woman might be. Somebody should have taken responsibility for that, I don't know who.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

KU: Can we go back to how you got to the center to begin with? So how was it that you came to the center, and was that your first job?

EO: My first job. My whole married life, my husband gave me an easy life. I think what started the whole mess was when we built that house in Sierra Madre, he asked for his own bedroom. That crushed me. I said, "Fran, that's when we talk. We talk things over every night. We won't have that." I guess he just laughed it off, he had other plans, I think, I don't know. Anyway, so that was that. And then a few years later, I met somebody I really liked, and he liked me. And we were seeing each other secretly for a long time. When my husband found out about it, he moved back into the bedroom but it was too late, too late. So I finally divorced my husband, and I didn't ask for any money because I humiliated him. Because a lot of people knew we were seeing each other, I think. I humiliated him and he didn't want to give me any money, so he gave me fifty dollars alimony, that was it. And my husband, my new man, he left his wife, but he was poor. [Laughs] Very poor. But together we could make out, so I was looking for work. And Mary told me, "Mom, they're looking for an administrative assistant at UCLA. Why don't you at least go down for an interview?" I went down and Susie Wong was in charge of the committee, Denorah Gill, Laura Ho, mostly women. Those are the three I remember most, they were the strongest. And they wanted my background. And I told them I did a lot of volunteer work. Oh, also, I wrote a column, newspaper column, and I wrote it because my Nisei friends, all they talked about was getting a car, how much it cost, I mean, consumerism just really involved them, and I didn't like it. I wanted to talk about other things. So I thought with a social column, I could write about social events, and then every now and then put something in that I really want to talk about. So I did that.

KU: In what publication was that?

EO: Kashu Mainichi. And I knew the publisher, he was very nice. He liked it so much he started paying me. [Laughs]

KU: And when did you start this column?

EO: "On the Town." "On the Town with Elsie Uyematsu." That came out once a week.

KU: Do you remember what year it started and how long you did that?

EO: Oh, gosh. Let's see, I started work at the center in '68. Maybe around '60, 1960? 1959 through 1960, around there.

KU: And how long did your column run for, how many years?

EO: Oh, I think over a year, not much more. I got tired of doing it. But I saved my columns while I was at the center, Bruce (Iwasaki) and Steve Tatsukawa?

KU: Bruce Iwasaki?

EO: Iwasaki. Bruce Iwasaki and Steve, they wanted to start a column, so they asked to see mine. So the one I was most proud of, I let them have it. Now I don't have it. [Laughs]

KU: Do you remember what that was about?

EO: I'm not sure, but it was more about human values. Most of my columns were about who was there, you know, the social column type, but I did mention other things.

KU: In terms of human values, what was important at that time for you to write about, that you felt you wanted to write about?

EO: I don't remember.

KU: That's okay.

EO: But it was not what I usually wrote, it's what I wanted to write. [Laughs]

KU: So you were talking about the interview that you went through when, Laura Ho and Denorah Gill, you were being interviewed for the job.

EO: Yeah. And I told them about my service background as a club woman, and then I told him about my writing, my column. And I told them about my reading, and I (read) Diary of Malcolm X. I think that's what did it. So that was it.

KU: And what brought you to the Diary of Malcolm X?

EO: A lot of people were reading it, that's why I wanted to read it.

KU: And what did you learn that was meaningful to you at the time about his life?

EO: Well, for one thing, I didn't realize what the black people had to go through. It was an eye opener in that sense. That's all I can say about it.

KU: So you got the job, and how did you feel about that?

EO: Oh, I was really happy. Because with my background, I wouldn't even qualify for a clerk typist job. [Laughs] So it really just meant the world to me. And it meant that I had a living wage, and I had the man I loved, that was it. So the next twenty years were very happy.

KU: And how was it for you as a Nisei having gone through what you had gone through and lived the life you lived, to come to a campus and come to a program, a brand new program, the Asian American Studies Center, that was birthed out of the Civil Rights Movement? Because a lot of Nisei had tended to be a little more conservative.

EO: Yeah, my boyfriend was put off by it; he didn't understand it. It was coming, that's all. It was bound to happen, I think. History, yeah.

KU: In what way?

EO: People were starting to speak out. They were getting tired of the way things were. Finding our voice.

KU: Your daughters both played a big role in that.

EO: What?

KU: Your daughters, Amy and Mary played a big role in that.

EO: Oh, thank you. I'm proud of them.

KU: Did you talk a lot about politics with them at the time?

EO: I don't remember. Their father was very well educated, and it was interesting to hear his views on a lot of stuff. Of course, his views and their views are different, but it was good.


EO: I want to tell you something, too, about my husband.

KU: Which one?

EO: My first one. Because my second one was not educated, he went to high school and that was it. But my first husband, he went to the University of Chicago, and he had to compete with boys who went to special boy's schools. Anyway, when I first started working at the center, Philip and Yuji were curious about my husband, so they invited us up for dinner. And after dinner, the three of them, I don't know they got to talking. And they were checking him out, I guess. Then when we got home, I asked him how it went, you know what he called them? He says, "Those two are intellectual snobs." [Laughs] Intellectual snobs. They were trying to trip him up on something, I think. That's crazy.

KU: So this was before, while you were still married, of course?

EO: Yes, while we were still married.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

KU: So can you tell me about the early days of the center? Because you saw the center grow from the ground up.

EO: Oh, yes. I can tell you bits and pieces. In the early months, Philip Huang, Yuji Ichioka, and Morgan Chu, they were a threesome. They did everything together. And so people would say they were poker buddies. And to tell you how close they were. In the first few months of the center, administration took $15,000 away from our budget. So I went to Philip and told him, "They're taking $15,000 away from us," so Philip, what he did, he made an appointment with the vice chancellor, and then he took Morgan and Yuji with him, the three of them went together to meet with the vice chancellor to get the money back, and they got money back. But to include Morgan, I was thinking that's amazing. He was a student. Or maybe it was better, because it was the student center anyway.

KU: Can you tell me about the role of students in setting up the center?

EO: What?

KU: Can you tell me a little bit more about who helped set up the center? You said that it had a budget of $100,000?

EO: Every year.


EO: I give a lot of credit to Professor Huang. Because, well, our first staff meeting, he announced that the center was only getting $100,000 a (year).

KU: A year.

EO: A year. If we hire regular staff, it'll break us. So we have to hire students, and that's what he planned on doing. And he had a classification for them. So I knew that every student I had going to be having a lab assistant one step three, that was the pay rate. So it was kind of low, but students were happy with that, I think. And besides, a lot of them would have worked for free, I think. So it staffed by students, mainly in the beginning, lot of students.


EO: As administrative assistant, I was coordinator for the center management unit, and I knew all my assistants would be students, that was great. And I learned from them quite a bit. [Laughs]


EO: And then, let's see, what happened? After about a month being there, Phil asked Yuji and I to go up to his office in the history department, because he says we still have a proposal to write. So every day... was it every day? It might have been every day after work, we'd go up to his office. And he would pace the floor and recite what should be said. And Yuji would be kind of like the editor to see that everything was correct, I think, and I would be typing. And we did that for about two weeks, and it was ready. I was surprised at how fast it was approved (by the academic senate). It didn't take long. You know, in academic circles, sometimes things take a long time. It was sent in, I think, no more than a month later, it was approved, and we were established as a center.

KU: So I saw the proposal, I saw the proposal, and there was kind of a coordinating committee for the development of the proposal?

EO: Oh, well, they were students. They had notes from the committee, and I asked Stuart Kuo about that, he says, yeah, Philip worked with the students and they developed all these notes, and I guess that's what they're talking about, the notes. So it was, I think the students with Philip, he knew his way around. Because I think he designed other research centers. So I want to make sure his name gets mentioned because I never see his name mentioned. But you know he and Yuji had a big, I don't know what the disagreement was, but they used to be so close, and then they split.

KU: When was that?

EO: Hmm?

KU: When was that? Was that early on in the center?

EO: Early years, first year. I don't know what happened. And what made it even worse, well, something happened between then, and then after that, there was this student reception that was coming up, and Yuji had been in charge. We got the refreshments and everything, the place, nobody came. So that even added more, and so Yuji, after that, he resigned as assistant director. Now he was just doing research. And soon after that, Philip quit. So I don't think they talked to each other or anything. I don't know what happened.

KU: So who came into the directorship after that?

EO: What?

KU: Who became director after Philip? Philip was the first director?

EO: Alan (Nishio) was appointed, I think. He was the next director. Then after that, oh, Lucy. Okay, while Philip was director, he showed me this file, he was looking for a (permanent) director for the center, he said this is nationwide. So all I could tell is he was the only one doing it, 'cause he showed me the file, and then he told me he was going to pick, this is the one he thinks is going to be good. So he sent for her, and she came out, and I guess she met everybody, and I guess they accepted her. She was offered a position in sociology so she could spend one-third time as director of the center. And I think he talked to her a lot about the center because one of the first things she did as a director is she had a meeting of everybody. And that included Asian students from the opportunity programs in the first floor. They were all invited, plus the other activist students. So the students all had a say in how the center should be organized.

KU: This was Lucy?

EO: Hmm?

KU: This was Lucy you're talking about?

EO: What?

KU: This was Lucy Cheng?

EO: Lucy Cheng. Because she came in, I think it was 1972, something like that. But she was our first director, I think.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

KU: So if you look at all the changes that took place over the center in your twenty years there, do you feel that the center kind of stuck to its roots, or do you think the center changed and developed and evolved over time?

EO: Well, I'm not too familiar with the center now.

KU: Oh, no, during the twenty years you were there.

EO: Oh, how it evolved? Oh, I'm impressed. Because early on, in the first few years, they had a master's program in Asian American Studies. That attracted people. They were looking ahead. So whoever the leaders were in those days, I thought they planned well. I think so.

KU: Are there any other memories that you have about the early days of the center that you think are important for people to understand about the center and its formation?

EO: Oh, well, the students had a lot of say-so, I hope they still do. Because they are the lifeblood. They're the future and the lifeblood, yeah. I don't know how the other centers are doing. The only time we kept in touch with... I used to be friends with the administrative assistant at the black center. But they weren't as political, I don't think. They should be. [Laughs] What's amazing to me is the money that the center's getting, all the donors. It's amazing. I think Don started it. Yeah, it's great. [Laughs]

KU: Yeah, we wouldn't be doing very much without the donors' support.

EO: Yes. It's good. It keeps the community involved, too.

KU: So do you have any reflections? When you reflect upon your years at the center, because you spent your entire career there until retirement at the center. When you reflect upon...

EO: Oh, when I reflect on it? When I think about the center?

KU: Yeah, when you think about the center.

EO: I'm just amazed it has grown. Grown so much.

KU: And you grew, too. So can you talk about your own personal growth at the center?

EO: My personal growth? I don't know. [Laughs] Personal growth... I got savvy about money. Being on my own, I subscribe to investment letters and picked the ones I liked, and I'm happy I did that. I'm very comfortable now, I don't have to worry about money anymore. But that's because I left a marriage, a safe marriage, and I had to look out for myself. And I found out I'm able to do it. [Laughs] So for me, it's a revelation. And I'm happy with my two daughters, very proud of them. So I guess it's a happy ending.

KU: Well, I hope you realize the important contribution you made.

EO: Oh, thank you. I don't know. It's nice, I see old, like Susie Ling, she's kept in touch. It's been nice. That's it.

KU: I have one more question.

EO: Yes.

KU: If there are any people, events or "ah-ha moments" in your life that helped shape who you are?

EO: Who I am?

KU: Yeah. What would those be? So events, people, influences, "ah-ha moments" that you feel really helped shape who you are?

EO: I think a loving father helped me a lot. He made me feel special. I think that's the key. When I graduated junior high school, he's the one who wanted to take me shopping for my graduation dress. And then when we had my picture taken with my graduation dress, he's the one, he insisted on ironing the skirt. He made me feel special. I think that made a big difference.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.