Densho Digital Repository
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

<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.

[Interruption]

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.

[Interruption]

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.

<Begin Segment 2>

BN: What did your father do for a living?

BS: He was working on the railroad. He eventually worked himself up to become a section foreman. I think I mentioned earlier that he was given a home in the wilderness area of central Oregon.

BN: Do you remember anything from that period, or were you too young?

BS: I can't remember much, other than not being able to speak English at the time, and going to a nursery school where the teachers didn't know what to do with me. So they had me play with some toys during the day, I've got foggy memories of that.

BN: Do you know why they moved to Vancouver?

BS: Because I think he got a promotion, and they gave him a house in Vancouver, and that's where we lived just before the war broke out.

BN: So (he was) still working for the railroad?

BS: Yeah, but after he came out of the camps, he couldn't get his job back. So that's when he decided to become a farmer.

BN: Do you remember anything at all about December 7th?

BS: Oh, yeah, I have a pretty clear memory of the day after December 7th, because we were visiting the manager of a hotel in Portland. She was, what do you call those women who deliver babies?

BN: Midwife.

BS: Midwife, yeah, she was a midwife. She, in fact, delivered me when I was born. But I was sitting on the stairwell leading up to the rooms, and my folks were talking with the midwife, and I was sitting there waving an American flag. And all of a sudden this convertible with three guys, Caucasians, came to a screeching halt in front of the stairway. And they were looking at me and saying, "Little boy, come here." And I immediately sensed danger, and so I quickly got up and ran back up the stairs to my folks' room. And I think that if I had not done that, I would have been in real trouble. That's the one clear memory I have of that time.

BN: Do you remember much about what the family did in that in between period, between the attack on Pearl Harbor and getting removed?

BS: Well, I know they were keeping a very low profile. And I remember my dad being visited by the FBI, and apparently they were investigating the crime where a friend of theirs, who was still in the countryside, was killed when he was getting a haircut from a Filipino barber. He was shot in the head and killed as a reaction to what was taking place in the Philippines with the Japanese army. So they came to visit my father and ask him about this friend who was killed. That's one thing I remember.

BN: What happened to the house or where you were living?

BS: That was the company's house, so it wasn't really ours. So when we were evacuated and sent to the assembly center, we lost all that.

BN: Did he get, did he lose his job immediately?

BS: Yeah, he lost his job, as far as I know.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

BN: Do you remember actually the day when you actually left?

BS: No, I have no memory of that. I just know that we ended up in the assembly center.

BN: Which was nearby.

BS: In fact, we could see Jantzen Beach from our house by climbing up a little hill.

BN: Do you remember what section of the assembly center you lived in?

BS: I have no idea.

BN: But you definitely remember living in the assembly center?

BS: Yeah.

BN: Any memories of... you mentioned recently remembering going to school?

BS: Right. And the rodeo stand in the bleachers, they had us sit up, all the little kids, I guess I was in kindergarten. I actually remember being there for a pretty long period of time, I thought it was about eight months, but I was reading through your notes on the assembly center and they said it was only about four or five months. Seemed like a much longer time to me.

BN: And then you mentioned, right, that you basically don't speak English. The instruction, I assume, is all going on in English.

BS: Right. The schooling in the Minidoka camp was in English. And most of the teachers were Caucasian. But as I mentioned earlier, I almost flunked first and second grade. I think at the end of the first grade, they thought that maybe I was little retarded. And so I remember being asked by the teacher to go to the principal's office. So I went up there and (he) started asking me to play all these various games, I didn't know what the heck was going on. I later (realized) they were (probably) IQ tests. They thought I was retarded and were trying to test me to see whether I was, in fact, retarded. But apparently I must have passed, because I found myself in the second or third grade.

BN: So you obviously picked up English.

BS: Yeah. By the time I was in the third grade, I was finally learning English and speaking quite well, and doing quite well (educationally).

BN: Before we get back to Minidoka, I just wanted to finish up on Portland. Is there anything else that you remember about your time there?

BS: I remember having a bad toothache one night, and my father... I was bawling my head off and waking everybody up nearby. And so my father got the dentist to get up to look at me. And he was very irritated at me for crying so hard, slapped me in the face trying to shut me up. which really infuriated by my dad. But that's the only thing I remember about that time.

BN: Was this a Japanese dentist?

BS: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

BN: Okay, so at Minidoka, there were five people in your family.

BS: Right.

BN: Were you all in one room?

BS: Yes, we were in one room.

BN: Do you remember your address there?

BS: I think it was 36-6-C, that's the number I remember.

BN: And do you remember which of the elementary schools you went to?

BS: Sure don't.

BN: But you definitely did go there, first through third grade there? Were you involved in other things, Boy Scouts or other kinds of activities?

BS: Well, there was a couple other kids about my age that hung out together, kind of like a mini gang. And we played together a lot, that's all I remember.

BN: Were these kids you knew from before the war?

BS: No, met at the camp.

BN: Did your parents work?

BS: Yeah, in fact, my mother worked in the cafeteria, and my dad went out of the camps to work in the sugar beets. There were a lot of them that were sent out to harvest the sugar beets, because they had a shortage of labor because most of the men were recruited into the army. But one thing I remember is that my mother apparently was harassed by the other people working in the cafeteria because my dad had gone out of the camps to work in the sugar beet fields. They thought that was traitorous, and so they ended up having her fired. And I remember her coming back to our room in the barracks and crying. I'd never seen her cry in all my young life, because she was a very strong woman. But I remember her crying, and that remains fixed in my mind.

BN: And to be clear, they were perceiving your father's working the sugar beet field as helping the U.S. side.

BS: Right. I think there was a real divide between those who went out of the camps to work on the sugar beet field and those who didn't. They were thought to be disloyal.

BN: We haven't, we didn't really talk much about your mom. What was her name?

BS: My mom's name? Noriko.

BN: And then you said she was born in Portland, but was Kibei, raised in Japan.

BS: Right.

BN: Do you know how many years she was in Japan?

BS: I think up until she was about eighteen years old, came back to the U.S. with her father. Her maiden name was Okawa. She had two brothers here, too, they were my uncles.

BN: Did you have a sense of your parents' kind of attitude toward the situation? The fact that your dad's going out and working in the sugar beet field is kind of one indication. But in terms of where they saw their future and how they viewed...

BS: I know that a group of men, including my father, they smuggled a shortwave radio into the camps. They would be listening to see where the war was going. That's about all I remember.

BN: Did your dad speak English?

BS: He spoke broken English at the time.

BN: Did you have relatives in Japan that you knew of?

BS: Oh, yeah. We had, on both sides of the family, in Fukushima and Kumamoto. One is in the south and the other is in the north. In fact, I was able to meet both of them during my first trip to Japan in 1958, I think it was.

BN: Was there any knowledge of the infamous "loyalty questionnaire" that they first passed out?

BS: I only learned about that later when I studied Asian American history.

BN: But the fact that they stayed in camp until '45, I guess, is an indication they would have answered "yes."

[Interruption]

BN: Any other memories about Minidoka before we move on?

BS: Well, I remember... did I tell the story about the IQ test?

BN: Yes.

BS: Let me see if there's anything else I can remember from that period. I guess that's about it.

BN: Do you remember anything about your teachers? Where they all white or did you have Nisei?

BS: I think there were some Japanese teachers, but most of them were white.

BN: What was your impression, that they were pretty good? Did you feel like you got a decent education or did you feel like you were falling behind?

BS: I think I must have gotten a decent education because when we came out of the camps, I had gone through the third grade in camp and entered the fourth grade in the small rural community school. And I was certainly up to par, in fact, I was one of the better students at the time. So they must have done something right.

BN: You picked up English fine.

BS: Right.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

BN: You were there for about three years, and do you know why your parents chose to go to where they went to?

BS: Yeah. My dad looked into that, and he learned that the Japanese Americans living in Spokane, in that area, had never been interned because they were just outside the military zone. And so he figured that must be a good place, or a place welcoming to Japanese Americans. Though they didn't know how discriminatory they actually were, but that was the reason they decided to go there. And he couldn't get his job back on the railroad, so he decided he would try his hand at farming. He had never farmed in his life, but there was this guy that owned this piece of property in this rural community called Otis Orchards, which was about fifteen miles east of Spokane. And the owner of that land was also the owner of the Nash auto dealership in Spokane, that brand doesn't even exist anymore. But he leased the land to my dad, and my dad was basically a (tenant) farmer. And he farmed that land for several years, even though it was (very gravelly soil and) totally unsuited to the truck farming that he was doing. (...) (Anyway), that's why we decided to live in that area. (It) was a very small rural community, probably just a couple of thousand people lived there, and used to be mainly apple orchards. But that's where he decided he would take us.

I remember taking the train from the Minidoka camp, actually, Twin Falls was the nearest city, to Spokane. And when we entered the train, passenger train, we found that all the seats were taken. My mom was, at that time, several months pregnant, but no one would give us a seat. So the conductor told us we had to (stand) on the platform between the cars, and it was open to the air. And that was when they had coal driven locomotives, and the smoke would come down. By the time we ended up in Spokane, we were all covered with soot because no one would give us a seat inside the car. I remember that very distinctly.

BN: When you left, you were about nine?

BS: Yeah, I was six plus three, so yeah.

BN: Were there other Japanese American families in the area?

BS: There was only one other Japanese American family in that small community, and they moved back to California after a couple of years there. So by that time we were the only Japanese American family in that whole community. In fact, we were probably the only minorities in that community.

BN: How was the reception? How did you get along with your neighbors and the people in that community?

BS: Well, they treated us reasonably well most of the time. But I was getting into fights a lot (at school); because I would get hassled for being Japanese. It was kind of a tough time, at least during the first several years. When I entered the fourth grade, there were about twenty students in that fourth grade, and almost all twenty of us were in class together up until we graduated in the twelfth grade. So it was like one big family.

BN: Did you make close friends?

BS: Not close friends, but some friends. I was near the top of my class in all those classes, so they had to respect that. I ended up being elected class president and then president of the entire senior high school. And I often became very involved in athletics, so that gave me a lot of respect from the other students.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

BN: Now, you had two older siblings, a few years older.

BS: Right.

BN: What is your sense that their adjustment was harder or easier than yours?

BS: I would say it was about the same. When they graduated, they went to the local community college, which today is the Eastern Washington state college. My older brother at the time was also in the Air Force National Guard and they were activated during the Korean War, and so he met a lot of California Nisei. And after they got through, all of them went back to California, and a lot of them went to UC Berkeley. And so my brother and my sister decided to follow them to UC Berkeley, and that's where they went to college. And that's why I was influenced to go there as well.

BN: Did you and your siblings have to help out on the farm?

BS: Oh, yeah, every day. In fact, during the fall when we were still harvesting, they even had me take time out from school in order to work on the farm. That was hard work.

BN: What did they grow?

BS: They grew mostly vegetables and fruits and things like that, lettuce, radish, green onions, squash, you name it. One of the best things they grew was Hearts of Gold cantaloupe melons, the best melons you'll ever eat.

BN: Do you know how that was marketed?

BS: Well, they had a few produce markets in downtown Spokane, so we would have to take the orders into downtown Spokane, to the produce section. But certain things like those Hearts of Gold melons, they would actually ship to the East Coast because they were considered prime fruit.

BN: Do you know now many acres?

BS: They had about 30 acres all together.

BN: And this was leased, you said?

BS: What's that?

BN: You said this was leased?

BS: Yeah, that was all leased.

BN: Did your dad become a citizen?

BS: Yeah, he did. When the 1964 Immigration Act was passed, they forgave a lot of the illegal immigrants to allow them to become regular residents. I don't remember him ever taking the citizenship exam, but he must have, because he became a citizen. My mother was a citizen by virtue of being born here.

BN: While growing up in this small town, rural area, did you have other exposure to the outside world in terms of being able to travel places?

BS: Not really. In fact, the first time I really went outside the area was when I went to college at UC Berkeley because that was kind of a dreamland for me. That's one of the reasons why I decided I wanted to follow my brother and sister there. It was called Lotusland.

BN: So they would tell you about it?

BS: Well, no, I would see about it in the movies and in the media. So I had this vision of this Lotusland called California.

BN: Now, did your parents stay... because eventually all their kids, at least you and the older ones, moved to California. Did they stay out there?

BS: Yeah, they did. (In) my senior year in high school, they bought a property west of Spokane about twenty miles away from where they were. That was much more suitable to growing the crops they were growing. They stayed there until my dad retired. My mom died at a fairly early age, at fifty-five, when she was diagnosed with polycystic disease.

BN: Was it your sense that they did fairly well as farmers?

BS: I would say just barely made it. When my dad finally retired, they were able to buy a home in Spokane, which was a fairly good home. But other than that, I don't think they had very much.

BN: The other thing I was wondering is as the only Asian or Japanese American family in town, did they subscribe to Japanese American newspapers?

BS: Oh, yeah, they did.

BN: Did they kind of attempt to remain...

BS: There was a Japanese American community in Spokane. They joined the Christian church there, even though they had previously been Buddhist. They thought it was wise to become Christians, and so they started going to the Christian church there and they had a lot of social interaction with them.

BN: Because you said it was about 15 miles or so, so they were not too far?

BS: Not too far, yeah.

BN: They were the only ones in town.

BS: Right, right.

BN: Were you exposed to that also?

BS: A little bit. I used to go to some of their functions, weddings and other things like that.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

BN: So you now graduate high school in Otis Orchards. Was that the name of the high school?

BS: Yeah.

BN: Then you go on to Berkeley. What was that like for you? You had envisioned this place.

BS: Yeah, it was interesting because, like I say, I never knew very much about higher education, and I didn't apply to anyplace other than UC Berkeley. I didn't know Berkeley was supposed to be that hard to get into. But I remember having to take a, I think it was sort of an early SAT exam, and I remember my principal administering that to me one weekend. And he said, "Here's a test, you go take it," and he had me go into a room, take the test, and then I tried to get through it as quick as I could, I didn't know what the significance of it was. But apparently I did very well with it, because they admitted me to UC Berkeley. And so I went down there to join my brother and sister. We rented an apartment together, my brother and I, but we also boarded at a place called Euclid Hall, which was an all-Japanese dormitory. In fact, we had a reunion of people who had gone to Euclid Hall about two years ago, and I've learned that Euclid Hall was established because Japanese Americans were not able to get into any of the university dormitories or any other residential areas. And there was widespread discrimination against them from even renting apartments, I think. And so Euclid Hall was purchased by a group of Japanese American parents of these students because they couldn't get housing otherwise. And that's how Euclid Hall was established. I don't know if it's still... at that reunion we took a tour of Euclid Hall. I don't remember whether it was still under the same ownership or not.

BN: But at the time you were there, was it still, was that still the situation?

BS: Yeah, right. In fact, I had a number of instances of discrimination when I was looking for housing over the years. We would drive around the area around Berkeley to look for For Rent signs, and when we saw one, we would go up and see if we could rent that (apartment). They usually would say, "Oh, I'm sorry, we just rented that place." Then we would come back a day later and the same sign would be up there, For Rent. I remember, in fact, renting a place, the manager had said I could have this apartment, which was fairly close to campus, so I was very happy about that. And I told her I'd come back the next day with the deposit, but when I came back the next day, she said, "I'm sorry, I can't rent this apartment to you after all, because the owner does not want Japanese Americans living here." I mean, they were very (upfront) about it. In fact, it was so widespread that a black legislator from California, (William) Rumford, had an act passed that prohibited that kind of discrimination, but that was overturned by initiative. And it wasn't until the courts finally intervened and said there should be no discrimination on housing. But that was the experience that we had as students there.

BN: How were your classes and so forth? Did you go in knowing what you wanted to study?

BS: Yeah, I wanted to major in engineering but I had to take some mathematics courses first which were not offered at my high school. And so I had to take those before I would be admitted into the engineering program. The one thing I remember was taking a Speech 1-A class, which had about twenty-five or thirty students in it. And the teaching assistant who was teaching the class told us at the beginning that all of us were going to have to give a ten minute speech near the end of the semester. And that speech could be on anything related to education. And for some reason, I decided I would write my speech on education in the camps. And so I started doing research on it, I mentioned to you earlier, at the Bancroft library, and I was overwhelmed with the amount of material they had, because I learned later that they had the largest collection of materials on the Japanese internment of any library in the world. But the more I read these materials, the angrier I got because I finally discovered how outrageously violated our constitutional rights were when we were put in those camps. When I gave the speech, I was pretty (angry so my speech was pretty) hard-hitting, (...) and it was about ten minutes long, in fact, I still have a copy of that speech. And the instructor asked at the end of my talk, "Are there any questions?" Dead silence. And then he asked, "How many of you knew this even happened?" And there was (only) one student who raised (his) hand, and he was another Japanese American who had been in the camps. And so it really taught me something. It taught me how ignorant people were about this thing that happened, even though it was only about ten years after the event occurred. And so I remember that incident vividly over the years. That probably is what got me involved in civil rights.

BN: What was your grade?

BS: Grade was A for the speech and B for reading the speech instead of giving it by memory.

BN: At Berkeley, you mentioned you lived in this Japanese American housing situation. Were most of your friends also other Nisei or Sansei?

BS: Yeah, I would say so. The vast majority.

BN: And then did you work also?

BS: Yeah, I tried to work because my parents couldn't afford everything. And I did all kinds of things, cleaning houses, cleaning apartments. I even worked for a moving company once.

BN: And then how many years did you go there?

BS: I went there altogether first for four years, and then I was out for a year going to Japan, I was working for the navy, and learned that they sent a crew to Japan every so often, and they had a crew there at the time I was working as a summer job. And I extended that for a year in order to maybe go to Japan. And then I took another year to finish up after I came back, then I went on to get a master's degree.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

BN: Was going to Japan, that was your first...

BS: That was my first trip there.

BN: What was your impression of Japan? It was only a little over a decade after the war.

BS: Yeah, I was only about twenty-three, twenty-two or something like that. It was a mind-blowing experience. It was the first time I've been in a situation where everybody was Japanese. And one of the things I learned was your first language stays with you somehow. Because I was put in a situation where I was working with a lot of Japanese locals, and they all spoke Japanese, and very few of them knew any English. And so I had to communicate with them over a period of about two or three weeks. A lot of that Japanese I knew as a kid came back to me, and by the time I got through my six months there, I was speaking quite fluently. In fact, I would be in casual conversation with some of the locals, couple of them would stop me mid-sentence and say, "Where are you from? I'm trying to place what prefecture you're from, because you have the strangest accent." But when I returned to California, I called my mother long distance, and I just automatically started speaking to her completely in Japanese. And she was floored because she couldn't believe that was me, because she had never heard me speak that well in Japanese. But after about a year, I lost most of that, because you forget the vocabulary.

BN: Where in Japan were you?

BS: We were first in Yokosuka, which is near Tokyo. And then the first three or four months were spent there, and then the last two months, they transferred us to southern Japan, to Sasebo, that's another navy base. Yokosuka and Sasebo are both U.S. Navy bases.

BN: And then you came back for a year and then you graduated, and you continued directly into a master's?

BS: After I finished my master's, I was hired by the Boeing company and spent two years in Seattle, I worked for the Boeing company. And at that time I decided I would go on for PhD because I wanted to go into teaching. And so I applied to several schools and was accepted by MIT and Caltech, and decided to go on to Caltech.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

KU: Okay, so I thought I was asking a trivial question, but you're saying it's not trivial, why you chose Caltech over MIT.

BS: Actually, I had written to someone I had met at UC Berkeley in the graduate school, who had gone on to MIT as a faculty member. I wrote to him and asked him his advice as to whether I should choose MIT or Caltech. And he came back with a response saying, "Well, if I were you, I would probably go to MIT because you'll find it to be less rigorous and you will be able to enjoy your life more than coming to MIT." So Agnes and I discussed that, and she said, "I think you should go to Caltech because if you don't go to the school that is more challenging, you'll regret it the rest of your life." So I decided to go to Caltech, even though it might be a harder place to go. That was my response.

KU: Were you glad you did that?

BS: Yeah, I was, actually.

KU: Why?

BS: Because I received an excellent education, and I think that there are many aspects of Caltech that were really enjoyable.

[Interruption]

KU: Can you talk about what major you chose, why you chose the major? Because later on you switched your major.

BS: Well, after I finished my PhD at Caltech, I went to USC to join the Department of Aerospace Engineering. That was interesting because that was before the days of affirmative action, when you had to do all these national searches. My advisor, who was quite famous, called one of his former students who was chair of the Department of Aerospace Engineering and said, "I think you ought to hire Bob. I'll send him over for an interview." So I went there and talked with them, and the next day, I was given an offer to be an assistant professor there. But that's how searches were done, or so-called searches were done back on those days before affirmative action. And so that's how I ended up going to USC. But that was in 1967 when all hell was breaking lose nationwide, riots, assassination, the Watts riot that occurred shortly after that, which wasn't too far from where USC was located. That Watts riot, I think, had a real profound impact on me because I had the reaction, "Well, it's about time they reacted to their oppression and discrimination and racism."

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

<Begin Segment 10>

KU: You were saying that you were an assistant professor, you got the job with one interview, and there were lots of things going on at that time.

BS: Oh, yeah. The whole country was exploding with the Civil Rights Movement, the urban riots, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, all of those things were happening during that period of time. So there was tremendous social ferment, and both Agnes and I got deeply involved in all of that.

KU: Can you talk a little more about your involvement? Like what did you get involved in?

BS: Well, the first thing was the Title II repeal campaign. I was appointed chair of the Southern California Committee to Repeal Title II. And so I had to first mobilize people to get involved in that, and one of the things I thought I would do is to go to the JACL chapters and enlist their support and help in that effort. So one of the first places I went to was the East LA JACL. And so I met with them in somebody's home and started talking about the campaign and why we were undertaking this campaign and so forth. Then I asked for questions, and one of them said, "Why are you crying over spilled milk? That's past history." And another one said, "Besides, I had a good time in camp. Why do you want to bring it back up?" and so forth and so on? I realized, my god, they have to be educated themselves, because it wasn't really the JACL chapters that supported this repeal campaign, there were some Young Turks up in northern California who forced them to pass the resolution to support the repeal of this act. And so I learned a lot from that experience, and went on to talk to various other groups. I even went to give a sermon at the Unitarian church in Pasadena, they asked me to talk about the repeal campaign. And we also (solicited) resolutions passed by various city councils all over the place. And so that was a very intense activity on my part for a couple of years.

KU: For those who, a lot of the young people don't know what Title II really was and why it was important to repeal. Can you talk a little bit about that?

BS: Yeah, good question. Title II came up because during the urban riots of that period, the House Un-American Activities Committee conducted a hearing supposedly into the root causes of the riots, and they published a report called "Guerilla Warfare Advocates in the United States," in which they claimed that it was a Communist conspiracy that was behind all these riots, and that in future riots, they should round up all the rioters and place them in concentration camps. And they cited Title II of the McCarran Act of 1950 as their legal authority to do that, and that was caught up by Japanese Americans, these Young Turks, who said, "This is outrageous, we ought to repeal this law." That's what started the whole campaign. But as I say, I became very deeply involved in that, and got a whole lot of other people involved. It led, in fact, to forming the Greater Pasadena Area JACL, which consisted mainly of people like myself and others who had been involved in the Title II campaign.

KU: What was Title II exactly, in terms of the legal...

BS: Title II was part of the legislation... I can't remember now exactly, I think it had to do with civil rights. And Title II was part of that law which allowed the government to take action against people who would get involved illegally with the Civil Rights Movement, civil rights activities. And so there was Title I and Title II of the Civil Rights Act.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

BN: I'm wondering how you came to be involved. I mean, you said that you were asked to take this position, but how were you identified as someone who was interested in this? Were you active in JACL before? How did that come about?

BS: Well, we were involved in a lot of activities during that... that was the time when the Asian American Movement came to fruition. And so I can't remember exactly why I got involved except the fact that my past experience in the camps, and in that speech I gave in Berkeley, that all influenced me in terms of motivating me to get involved in that. I remember, I don't know if you knew Jeff Matsui, who used to be the regional director of the JACL. I remember sitting in his office with some other guys and talking about the Title II campaign which started in northern California.

KU: Edison Uno.

BS: Yeah, right. And Jeff looked at me and said, "Why don't you get involved? Why don't you direct this campaign?" And so I was put on the spot right then and there, and said, "Okay, I'll do it." And that's how I got involved, but there were a lot of other things that were influencing me at the time. But I also became involved in the desegregation of the Pasadena Public Schools, because that was the first non-Southern school district to be court-ordered to be desegregated. And so I was appointed to that committee, the advisory committee for the desegregation, and I was elected as the vice-chair of that committee. And I visited a lot of schools during that period of time, and became more and more interested in education as part of my efforts. And I discovered, while I was involved with that committee, that the funding for the effort at desegregation was through the Emergency School Assistance Program or ESAP, and that legislation said that about fifty percent of the people hired by the program had to be blacks, Hispanics, or Native Americans, (but) mentioned nothing about Asian Americans, and the other fifty percent could be whites. And so I said, "Look, where do Asian Americans fit into this whole picture, because they're neither white nor minority according to this legislation?" That's when I wrote to the Department of (HEW ) at the time, and that's why I had those documents I gave to you were my letter to (HEW) and to Mo Morimoto, then a presidential assistant to Nixon in the White House, and asked that Asian Americans be specifically designated as a protected minority under affirmative action. So that's one of the major activities I got involved in during that period of time. But there were many other activities we were involved in. That's also when I asked Bob Nakamura to get involved developing that exhibit on the camps, which made its rounds to a lot of other places.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

KU: Can you talk about, that was under the Asian American Studies Central. Where did that name come from and who was involved in establishing that?

BS: Well, we got a grant from JACL, and so I asked Kenyon Chan and Ron Hirano to get involved in that. I think they came up with the title Asian American Studies Central, because they wanted to serve as a resource for all the developing Asian American Studies programs, not only at UCLA but at various other institutions including Long Beach. And, in fact, Agnes and I got very involved in developing one of the first courses in Asian American Studies at Pasadena City College. We were able to recruit many of the people involved in the Title II campaign to team teach that course at Pasadena City College. An African American friend of mine who was, I think he was some kind of dean there, he arranged for us to teach this class on Asian Americans, and it was probably one of the first classes in Asian American studies anywhere in the nation. But it was interesting because we all taught various sections of that course.

KU: Do you remember what year that was?

BS: I would say it was 1970... I can give you a more specific date, because I still have the transcript of that.  [Narr. note: Checked my records and can confirm that it was in 1970.]

KU: Oh, that would be terrific, we really appreciate that. Can you tell me a little bit more about that first class? I think that's significant that that might be one of the first classes in Asian American Studies. Can you talk a little bit about the topics and why you selected those topics, do you remember?

BS: Oh, we would talk about the immigration, we'd talk about the internment, we would talk about... what else? Various subjects that are pretty common in an Asian American Studies curriculum. Can't think of all the topics.

KU: Do you remember who else came and taught with you?

BS: Yeah, the people who were involved in the Title II campaign, Harry Kawahara was one of them. (Kawahara) was a counselor at Pasadena City College. Who else was involved? Oh, yeah, Bob and May Uchida were probably involved. There were about ten of us all together.

KU: So you were talking about the Asian American Studies Central provided resources for budding Asian American Studies classes. Can you recall what some of the main activities were?

BS: Say that again?

KU: Can you recall what some of the major activities were?

BS: I sure can't. They collected a lot of different information and made it available to the various programs, but I don't really remember exactly what they were.

KU: Was that exhibit part of the Asian American Studies Central, or was that a part of Visual Communications?

BS: It might have been, I don't know. Bob Nakamura would probably know better than I do.

KU: And you were doing this, all of this activity when you were an assistant professor?

BS: Right.

KU: Mechanical engineering?

BS: Aerospace engineering.

KU: And how were you juggling all of that?

BS: It was difficult. In fact, I reached a crisis point where I had to decide either to give up all these activities and focus on my research and teaching, or change to another field. I agonized over that, and finally decided that it would be difficult for me to give up all the social activism in order to focus on aerospace engineering. So I decided I would start looking into other possibilities, and I looked into a program at the Claremont graduate school, which had this program where they were looking for people with PhDs (in various fields who) wanted to change to education. I said, this is ideal for what I'm looking for. But in the meantime, I visited with some friends and colleagues from Caltech who had gone to join the school of education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. And when they found out what I was thinking about and they said, "You should come out to Amherst," and talk with some people out there, "because they might be interested in having you come out." And so I went out there for a visit, and I met with a number of people. I met the dean for lunch after I had visited, and he said, "How would you like to come to UMass Amherst and join the school of education?" I said, "I don't think so." I said I wanted to stay in California. He said, "Well, we can make it easier for you," he said, "I can give you two graduate assistants and you can stay here for a few years and then go back to California." And to make a long story short, when I came back, he had sweetened the deal so much that it was very hard to refuse. And in the meantime, we got a call from a person at Claremont graduate school saying that I was their number one pick for this program. And I said, "Well, it's too late, I've already accepted an offer from UMass Amherst," that's how I ended up going there.

KU: And what position did you hold?

BS: Associate professor. But I had only been there about two months when the dean called me, the new dean, Dwight Allen, who came from Stanford, (told me that) the assistant dean for administration had just resigned, and he was looking for a replacement. He said, "Bob, I think you can do this job. You have a degree in engineering so you know mathematics." Like that was going to be the qualification for the job. But he was very forceful about it and I finally decided I'd better take the job or he would hold it against me and make my life miserable. And so I decided to take the job as assistant dean for administration.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

KU: Where were we now?

BS: I was asked to take the position of assistant dean.

KU: Yes, and you were at UMass Amherst for nine years.

BS: Ten years.

KU: Or ten years, okay. And you were in the division of educational policy?

BS: Oh, yeah, that was one of the divisions, right.

KU: So you were assistant dean and then you returned to the regular faculty?

BS: Right.

KU: Can you talk about what you had ended up focusing in on, on educational policy?

BS: Before I get into that, let me talk a little bit about one of the incidents that happened to me while I was assistant dean. I was in that position for three years, and toward the end of that period, there was a strike called by black and Hispanic students, most of them graduate students. There were about three thousand students in that school of education from all over the country, in fact, and they had recruited a lot of black and Hispanic students, lot of them with military backgrounds. And so they complained about not being paid by the school, and they decided to go on strike to protest this, and they shut down the school for two weeks. I greatly sympathized with those students because I knew the fiscal background of a lot of these programs, and so I talked to the other administrators about this, that I really think they have a point here. They refused to listen to me, and I finally asked my office to begin to collect information, and I wrote three memos about three different programs, which I thought had raised a lot of questions. I told the then-acting dean that he needed to really look at these memos and take some action. Well, he wouldn't listen to me, and I said, "If you don't do something, I'm going to resign and (...) take this to the chancellor's office." And he wouldn't listen and so I went to the chancellor's office and they had me meet with the legal counsel there. And in the middle of my conversation with the legal counsel, I get a phone call from Agnes, and I got on the phone and she said, "Bob, you'd better come back home and take a look at this," and she described to me that she had come home and the windows on the first floor of our (two-level) house (had been) bashed in with a note attached to the handle on the door saying, "Bob, lay off or next time it's you." I relayed this to the legal counsel and he said, "Bob, I think you're on to something." So I went home and all hell broke loose. Because then news got to the (local) press, (which published a story on the incident).  (The paper had) an ace reporter there who had just started. He later won a national prize. Anyway, so he started publishing articles on this. He did research on them, for example, he found that the honorarium paid to so-called consultants that I had documented in the memo, one of the memos, had listed social security numbers that he discovered had not even been issued by the social security administration, so that was clearly a fraudulent case. Anyway, to make a long story short, it resulted in the resigning of three deans, only one of them survived. They convicted one of the faculty members, and another faculty member got off because his father was a judge himself. Anyway, that was something that stood out as one of the experiences I had there.

KU: There were programs to support minority students, but somebody was defrauding those.

BS: Right, right, which was why they weren't being paid. It's hard to imagine something like this happening in an academic institution, but a lot of these guys were street thugs who had been recruited into the program.

KU: They were trying to get an education and went wrong.

BS: Right. It's even kind of unbelievable to me to this day.

KU: So that happened when you were the assistant dean. Did you end up resigning?

BS: Yeah, I ended up resigning, going back to being a full time faculty member. But as a full time faculty member, I also had more time to develop the programs, including the establishment of an Asian Faculty Association, which came about because a friend of mine, a colleague in another department, was being denied tenure. And so I told him what we needed to do is bring together some of the Asian faculty and see if they can help us with this. That's where my community organizing came in handy. And then when we got together, about six, seven of us, we discovered that all of them had similar problems of being denied tenure or promotion. And so I said, "Now we have to make this group of you bigger," and so we went to the (phone directory) and found there were about forty other Asian faculty on campus. We called a meeting of all of them and about thirty of them showed up and formed the Asian Faculty Association, which then joined later with the Black Faculty Association, the Hispanic Faculty Association, formed a Minority Faculty Association. This association had a lot of success in turning around a lot of personnel cases like tenure and promotion, and we also influenced a lot of searches for chancellor, vice chancellor, other positions. They would come to us asking for our advice. We also filed a class-action suit against the university as Asian faculty, to the U.S. Office of Civil Rights in Boston, and they decided to come out and investigate the situation, which greatly increased our influence over the administration. I also taught a course on Asian American Studies there. There were only about four hundred Asian (students) on campus, but about eighty percent of them ended up taking my course over the years. I taught that for about five, six years. I also developed one of the first multicultural education programs in the country, which I taught for several years there. We had a large number of students go through that program. In fact, we still have some faculty there that are continuing that program.

KU: What kind of program was it?

BS: Multicultural Studies. It was really combining the study of all groups, because I had the perspective that you can't study just Asian Americans alone, you have to also study other groups to see how they interact with Asian Americans. And so that's what I did with that program.

KU: It's kind of like an Ethnic Studies program around different groups?

BS: Right.

KU: Was it a degree program?

BS: No. Well, it was a teacher credential program. Because I had a lot of teachers going through that program. In fact, one year, a group of teachers from the Amherst schools came to me and asked me to teach that course through a grant called the Teacher Center grant. And I said, "Well, I have a better idea." I said, "Why don't five or six of you who have taken my course before work with me to develop the same course that you would team teach with me to teachers in the district?" So they decided they would do that. And we taught the course as a team, even had the assistant superintendent take the course. There were about thirty or forty people taking that course.

KU: And you said it's still around, so a lot of people have gone through that teacher training curriculum program?

BS: Right.

KU: Could I just go back a little bit? What came out of the complaint that you filed with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights? Do you know what their findings were, how that was resolved?

BS: Well, I think just the fact that they came to campus and reviewed matters had a big influence. Because it turned around a lot of personnel actions and so forth, and so I don't know if they felt the need to issue a report because the administration was already reacting to it.

KU: And was this complaint mainly about faculty tenure and promotion?

BS: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

KU: And then after your stay at UMass Amherst, looks like you came back to California. Can you talk about that transition and what made you leave UMass Amherst?

BS: Yeah. Well, by that time I had been at UMass for about ten years and I thought I would be buried there. But then an African American colleague of mine called me up and said, "You know, I received this letter recently from a childhood friend of mine who's become the president of Cal State LA, and he's looking for people to fill various administrative positions. Why don't you apply? You always talk about going back to California." And I said, "Oh, I don't know, I'm very comfortable here." But almost on a lark I applied, not knowing even what position I was applying for, because he said that they had several administrative positions open. Turned out they wanted me to consider graduate studies and research, Dean of Graduate Studies and Research. To make a long story short, I was selected to be interviewed, and I went to this area and interviewed with the people on campus and then with the president Jim Rosser. And when I met with Jim, we hit it off real quick, and a week later I got the offer to become Dean of Graduate Studies and Research. And so that's how I ended up going there.

KU: Can you set up that time that you got back involved in the community, and there was the Asian American theater program that you were involved in?

BS: Well, one of the programs we established at Cal State LA was the Asian American theater program with Nobu McCarthy. And she turned out to be just an amazing teacher, and she got Asian American students who were majoring in engineering and architecture and all these other areas involved in acting and really helped them develop themselves. It was a very successful program, and Nobu McCarthy was an amazing teacher.

KU: I didn't realize that was on campus at Cal State LA.

BS: Yeah, it ran for a couple of years. And I think UCLA might have asked her to come, and some other institutions, I don't remember.

Off camera: I think she might have went there after you left.

BS: Yeah, maybe.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

KU: It seems like you kept getting recruited to other positions, people recognized your good work. You were at Cal State LA for, what, four or five years?

BS: Four and a half years.

KU: And then it looks like you moved to Seaside?

BS: What?

KU: You moved to Cal State Northridge after that?

BS: Right.

KU: Can you talk about that transition?

BS: After I had been at Cal State LA for about four years, I decided maybe I would go on and actually apply for a position as a vice president. And so I sent out applications to three or four institutions and Cal State Northridge came up as one of the institutions that was quite interested in me. So I went there and interviewed, and I thought the interview went pretty well. I met with the acting vice president for academic affairs, and he looked at me and said, "You have an interesting background, but why would a laid back guy like you want a position like this?" I said, "Well, if you knew anything about my background you wouldn't ask me that." But he definitely had a favorite, he wanted one of his associate vice presidents to become the vice president. But the president overruled him and selected me as vice president.

But when I arrived on campus, one of the things I noticed was that they had this large counseling center with about thirty full-time counselors. And when I inquired, it turned out they didn't have a single Asian counselor. And I said to the center director, "How come you don't have any Asian counselors? You have a lot of Asian students on this campus." And he said, "Well, we've tried to recruit some Asian counselors but we can't find any. And besides," he said, "the Asian students seem to be pretty well adjusted on this campus." He rarely saw any Asian students coming for counseling. I said, "Oh, I don't know about that," and I continued to put pressure on him to hire an Asian counselor and they finally hired one after I had been there for about three or four years. And within six months, that single Asian counselor was overwhelmed with students, Asian students coming to see her. And so toward the end of the year, she went to the counseling center director and said, "You know, you're going to have to do something about my overload, because I'm staying 'til late hours of the evening in order to counsel these students. Either you're going to have to hire another counselor or have me cross train the other counselors. Well, they didn't have time to hire another one, so she cross trained the other counselors, a few of them, and had (her overload distributed) to them. And interestingly enough, they were able to counsel them as effectively as (herself), because she told them what to do and what to look for. And so with that small increase in diversity of that counseling staff, she was able to really increase the effectiveness of that entire counseling center. That's a story I tell often.

There were other things that we did there, we established the Hispanic business program, which, again, I had to put some pressure on the dean of the school to do something. So he said, "Okay, I'll see if the faculty wants (something) like this." Because it was based on the minority engineering program which had been very effective, both at Cal State LA and at Cal State Northridge. So he took a vote of the faculty and barely lost, so he wasn't able to implement the program, but I continued to put pressure on him and he finally got a faculty vote to mount this program. So after that I kind of lost track of the program. And then about three years later I got a call from one of the deans saying they were having a graduation ceremony for the first graduates of the program. So I went there and there were two faculty members there who had been strong opponents of this program. And I said to them, "How come you guys are here?" Said, "Well, we found out this program has been very successful." In fact, they found out the grade point average of these Hispanic students were higher than for the school as a whole, and so they became firm supporters of that program.

But there were various other programs we established. One was the Asian American Studies program. Couple of the faculty members, Warren Furumoto and Jorge Garcia came to me and said, "You know, we've been talking to Asian students, and they would really like to see an Asian American Studies program here." I said, "Okay, come up with a proposal." And so they did, and I approved it and took it to the president and he approved it, and so we started this program. But they wanted to hire the first... they approved it as a department, not just as a program. But we needed to find a department chair, and I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out who we can get, until I called Alan Nishio, I don't know if you know Alan. I said, "Do you know anyone that can serve as department chair?" He said, "Why don't you ask Kenyon Chan?" I said, "Why didn't I think of that?" [Laughs] Kenyon had left academia and was working as a full time psychologist, child psychologist. So I called him up and he immediately thought it was a good idea, and so he put his hat in the ring and he became the first chair, and the rest is history. Kenyon has kept in touch with me all these years as he became dean at Loyola Marymount and then acting president at Occidental and then became president at the University of Washington out in Bothell. So he's been a good friend.

KU: Both of you have helped so many people in the field. Was there already an African American studies, were there other ethnic studies?

BS: There were.

KU: But there just was an Asian American Studies.

BS: Right, there wasn't an Asian American (Studies Program). Now it's one of the bigger programs.

KU: And you said you also... so it makes a big difference when people in higher administration helped initiate it and support it. Did you feel that there was no resistance, really, at Cal State Northridge for Asian American Studies?

BS: There was no what?

KU: There was no real resistance from other parts of the campus?

BS: Well, not that I knew of. I'm sure there were, behind the scenes.

KU: So that's where leadership makes a difference.

BS: By the way, I didn't mention one program... well, I guess we'll get to that when we get to Cal Poly Pomona.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

KU: You said something about a Japanese language program.

BS: Oh, yeah. That was interesting because they had Japanese language and Chinese language was taught there, but only on a part-time basis. And I talked to the department, the language department, I said, "You guys ought to hire a full-time person there. Because unless you have a full-time person, you don't have anyone there to advocate for and recruit students for." And they resisted that and resisted that until they finally hired somebody for Japanese. And I got the same story. Within a year or two, they were backlogged with students, far more than their French program or their Italian program. And I think they hired even an additional faculty member in that area now. But that's so common now.

KU: So you were at that, CSUN for how long?

BS: What's that?

KU: How long were you at CSUN?

BS: Six years.

KU: And then you moved to Cal Poly Pomona, that was a pretty big promotion you got. Can you talk about how that happened?

BS: Yeah, well, when I went to Cal State Northridge, I told the president I would commit myself to at least five years as vice president. And so during my fifth year at CSUN, I told the president, "I'm going to start looking for a presidency because this is my fifth year." And he said he'd be very supportive of that. In fact, that's something I think people should do when they're in these positions and they're looking for a higher position, they should let the person they report to know that fact because otherwise they get very resentful and they may oppose your efforts. And so he was very supportive of it, and I applied for a handful of presidencies. I came close at Cal State (Fullerton) and I was told later that part of the problem I had in not being selected at Cal State Fullerton was the fact that in another search, the former chair of the board was on his deathbed when he talked to the vice chair of the board. This was... what's that woman astronaut? She was the first female astronaut, I forget her name now.

BN: Sally Ride?

BS: Who?

BN: Sally Ride.

BS: Sally Ride's father was on the board. He was on his deathbed when he asked the current chair to promise him to select a woman for the next presidency. And so they did, that was Norma Rees at Cal State... what was it called? It's in the Bay Area, forget the name of the campus now.

KU: Not San Francisco State?

BS: No.

KU: Hayward?

BS: Hayward, yeah. And it's now called something else, East Bay, I think. Anyway, she was then hired there, and the person who came close to, who was probably, would have been selected above her was Milton Gordon, who then was a candidate with me at Cal State Fullerton. And the vote apparently was very close, he got nine votes, I got eight votes from the trustees. And many of them felt they owed Milton the presidency since they had overlooked him and they chose Norma Rees, so that's how the politics often worked. Anyway, that's how I ended up going to Cal Poly Pomona.

KU: But it seems like Cal Poly Pomona was a good fit for you because of your engineering background.

BS: Yeah, as it turns out.

KU: So it seems like you made a complete circle.

BS: That's true. But one of the programs that we instituted there was the leadership development program for Asian Pacific Americans, which has now trained about four hundred Asian Americans for leadership positions. That was done in collaboration with LEAP, but that's still an ongoing program as far as I know.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

KU: You mentioned that you promoted a lot of college based diversity programs. Can you talk about that?

BS: Right. I had been asked when I was at Cal State Northridge to go to Cal Poly Pomona to talk to the deans there about developing their various programs based on the MEP model, which is really a peer... what is it?

KU: Peer education?

BS: Team based peer related program where they had to have peer study groups, yeah, that's what it is, peer study groups. It's based on that concept of peer study groups, and it's been very successful with engineering and science programs. So I talked to them about developing it in all the colleges. And when I went to Cal Poly Pomona, they had implemented it in several of the colleges. I asked them to keep improving it and extending it to other areas. So that's what we did there. But the other thing was we developed, established an International Polytechnic High School there, 9 through 12 and about five hundred students. It's been a very successful high school, and I was hoping that it would be replicated in the public schools in the area, but for some reason it just hasn't taken off. But the results from that school have been very extraordinary, very impressive. I don't know why they can't extend it, replicate it in other places.

KU: Is it like a pre-technical?

BS: No, it's based on project-based learning where students work in teams on various projects. For example, one of our projects was the design of a Latin American restaurant, and they had to do their own research on that, go to the library, go out in the community and talk to restaurant workers, go up to our school on restaurant or hotel management, talk to, learn as much about how to run a restaurant as they possibly can and then come up with a work plan for that, and then make an oral presentation to the rest of the students. That's sort of the learn by doing philosophy of Cal Poly Pomona, and it's a very effective model.

KU: You were there for over twelve years.

BS: Right.

KU: And it seems from your resume that you did really incredible work at Cal Poly Pomona in terms of fundraising, capital campaigns, actually building out the campus, and even extending beyond the campus to lead a revitalization initiative in the city of Pomona.

BS: Pomona, yeah.

KU: Can you talk about what was the reason, as the president, in that regard?

BS: Well, to really help with the economic development of that community, which is a very poor community, it really doesn't have to be that bad, but it is, a lot of crime. So we established a community development center off campus in that community. It was under the leadership of the dean of the college of arts, who has since gone. I don't know whether they're going to continue it or not.

KU: Not many universities were thinking that way, but some have begun to think about...

BS: What?

KU: University presidents were starting, at that time, to think about their universities as kind of the economic development engines. Is that kind of the thinking at the time?

BS: Yeah, I think so.

KU: And then I just have a last set of questions that are kind of looking backwards. So as far as your presidency, you were one of the first... you were the first Asian American president?

BS: No.

BN: Continental U.S.

KU: In the continental U.S.

BS: No, not really. There was Hayakawa at San Francisco State, there was the president and his successor Chao-Wei Wu, was also the president there. I don't know who else.

KU: Outside of San Francisco State, were you...

BS: What's that?

KU: Outside of, not counting San Francisco State?

BS: Oh, I don't know if there was anyone before me. Can't think of anyone.

KU: So I remember you were part of the Asian Pacific Americans of Higher Education, and I think you were always promoted or introduced as the highest ranking Asian American administrator in higher education.

BS: Oh, I don't know, there were other presidents around the country who were Asian. I don't know where they were at. They're a large number now.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

KU: And could I just ask you a little bit about your family life?

BS: Uh-huh.

KU: When you fell in love and got married and started a family?

BS: Yeah, well, we met at Berkeley, as you know, and we had our first child there. And that was when I was studying for my master's degree. Then we moved to Seattle, Washington.

KU: Can you say what your wife's name is and where she was from?

BS: Oh, you mean Agnes? Agnes Tsunako. As she transferred from the University of Hawaii to Berkeley in her junior year, I think. And her father was a minister, a Baptist minister, and she helped him write an autobiography of his life, which was self-published. I think she rebelled against his religiosity, because she no longer attends church. It doesn't help that she's married to me because I've never been that much of a religious person. I don't know what else you want to know. [Laughs]

KU: How many kids did you have?

BS: We had three. Our oldest is a boy, and he's fifty-eight now. And our second son is fifty-six, and then our daughter is fifty-three. They all live outside of this area. Our oldest son is living in San Mateo, our second son is in Fresno, and our daughter is in Portland, Oregon. And then we have five grandchildren, two with our daughter in Portland, Oregon, and one with our son in San Mateo, and two with our son in Fresno.

KU: And then we always ask a question that's kind of more reflexive, which is if you had to name two or three of the most influential people, events or ah-ha moments in your life, what would those be?

BS: I think Obama would be one of them. A lot of people out there.

KU: Or events, or just ah-ha moments that helped shape who you are?

BS: I think it's a coin toss between, on the one hand, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. They both influenced my life a lot, I think. I'm trying to think of an Asian American that also had that kind of influence.

KU: That's okay. What was influential to you about Martin Luther King? In what ways did they influence who you feel you came to be?

BS: Well, I think the fact that they really fought for the freedom of oppressed individuals really influenced me strongly. The one Asian American that I can think of that really influenced me is Bob Takasugi, the federal judge. He and I were very close friends, and I was definitely influenced by him. But I think Malcolm X was also influential because he stood up against the white man, and that was not common back in those days. And I think that rang a lot of bells for me.

KU: Is there anything else you want to share?

BS: No, I think I've overshared myself. [Laughs]

KU: Okay, great.

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