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Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Bob Suzuki Interview
Narrator: Bob Suzuki
Interviewers: Brian Niiya (primary); Karen Umemoto (secondary)
Location: Alhambra, California
Date: December 1, 2018
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-452-1

<Begin Segment 1>

BN: We're here on December 1, 2018, interviewing Bob Suzuki at his home in Alhambra, California. And I'll just jump right in. We often start with asking about your family and parents and so forth, so I wonder if you could start with that.

BS: Sure.

BN: Tell me about what you know about your parents, where they came from. Just your dad was born in Japan?

BS: Right. My mother was born in Portland, Oregon, but she went back to Japan with her parents when she was still a baby. I was born in Portland, Oregon, but after I was born, my father worked on the railroad, got assigned to the wilderness of central Oregon as a section foreman, and the railroad actually provided him with a house. And so we grew up in the wilderness of central Oregon. The only way you could get to our home was by railroad. There were no roads leading into it, it was near the Deschutes River. I grew up there with my older brother and sister and my parents. Everyone spoke nothing but Japanese. So when we finally moved back to Portland, or to Vancouver, actually, which is across the river from Portland, I spoke nothing but Japanese. I didn't know a word of English. And so when the war broke out... oh, actually I spent some time in a nursery school in the area, and the teachers didn't know what to do with me because I didn't speak any English. And so when we were imprisoned in the assembly center in Portland, Oregon, I actually went to some classes in the rodeo stadium in that center. Our family was assigned to a horse stall in that center, and that's where we spent some six or seven months until the more permanent facilities were constructed in Hunt, Idaho, or Minidoka as they called it. So that's how my childhood went. I went to first through third grade in the camp at Minidoka. And I almost flunked the first and second grade because I didn't understand any English. But by the time I reached third grade, I was finally understanding English and I did a lot better academically. So that's part of my experience in the camps.


BN: We'll get back to Portland and Minidoka, but I wanted to ask you if you knew where your father was from.

BS: In fact, I was going to go back to that because he was born in Fukushima, which is north of Tokyo. But he was the youngest of, I think, about five or six siblings. His mother, when he was born, was very weak and could not take care of him. So they had his uncle and his aunt adopt him. They were very poor farmers, whereas his (real) father was quite well-off. And so he grew up thinking he was the son of the poor farmers. When he became older, he learned that he was actually a member of this wealthier family. But since he was the youngest in his family, he could not inherit any of the wealth, and so he decided he wanted to go to the United States of America. So his father funded that, but by that time, 1924, the National Origins Act was passed which prohibited further immigration from Japan. So he had to pay a captain of the ship who was bringing Japanese illegal immigrants into the United States, and he paid for that and they went across the ocean. And when they arrived in Seattle, the captain asked all the Japanese on board to get into the hold of the ship and covered them with coal. And the reason is because by that time, the immigration authorities had learned they were sneaking into the U.S. and would spray the hold with sulfur to get the people to come out. But the coal was a good filter for sulfur, so they were able to get in undetected. And then he came (ashore where) they had sort of an underground railroad of Isseis by that time, and so he was able to get a job on the railroad at that time. So that was his story of how he came to the United States as an illegal immigrant.


BN: That's an interesting story. So what year was that? It was after '24.

BS: It was about 1925, I think.

BN: And then what was your father's name then?

BS: His name was Magoshiro, the fifth son. Magoshiro Suzuki. He later adopted the name Mark because he was interacting with other Americans.

BN: About how old was he?

BS: Gosh, I'm not sure. I have to look that up.  [Narr. note:  He was born in 1902 so he must have been around 22 or 23.]

BN: And what about your mom?

BS: My mom was born in the United States, and when she was still a baby, her parents took her to Japan (where) she grew up.

BN: So what do you consider yourself, Issei?

BS: Nisei-han.

BN: Kind of in between.

BS: Yeah.

BN: And then how did your father and mother come to meet and get married?

BS: I think it was an arranged marriage.

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