Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: June Yasuno Aochi (Yamashiro) Berk Interview
Narrator: June Yasuno Aochi (Yamashiro) Berk
Interviewer: Brian Niiya
Location: Studio City, California
Date: December 18, 2018
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-453-16

<Begin Segment 16>

BN: So now you're active in the community and all these different things, and at that time you were not. What kind of brought you to that?

JB: After Reagan signed the EO9066, it was not, shortly thereafter, I quit Bel Air and I went to work for KCET, and the riots happened.

BN: So '92.

JB: Yeah. The museum just opened. Or was it?

BN: Yeah, the museum literally opened the day the riots broke out in 1992.

JB: Oh, really? So anyway, I didn't work for the museum.

BN: At that time.

JB: But I went to work for Rebuild L.A., which was Peter Ueberroth and Barry Sanders. They were my boss, so I worked as a secretary there at Rebuild L.A., and it was sort of like Tom Bradley and the board of directors were a hundred people on the board, and it was to revive South L.A. And it was a good idea, and I think Peter Ueberroth was a great leader, I really liked him. And I worked for Barry Sanders as the co-chair. They were really good, they were really trying to help, but I think politically Peter Ueberroth stepped on some people's feet, and he got into a war like with the city council. Even as he tried, he ran into roadblocks along the way. Well, it was supposed to close anyway in a couple years or three years. And so after they closed, I opened up a boutique here in Studio City called Satori, and then the earthquake happened. So then I went to work for, I was out of a job, so part of my store was at Yaohan downtown in Little Tokyo. And then I heard Irene needed a secretary, so I went and applied and that's how I got to Irene's secretary. I didn't know anybody.

BN: You didn't know Irene?

JB: Uh-uh, no. I didn't know anybody there. And being out of the community for so long, I just sort of thought this is about time I started to give back to the community, and I think that's where... you know the Japanese how they say you're born with on, giri and gimu? I remember hearing that so much from the Chrysanthemum and the Sword. And I think I was really conscious of that and giving back to the community, so that's how I sort of started getting back. Being Nisei Week queen, I think I felt an obligation to give back to the community. And so even now, today, my volunteer work has to do with giving back for my parents who are no longer here. It's a way of caring for my parents who are no longer here. So for me, it has that kind of a satisfaction, so that's probably why I'm so involved now.

BN: So things like Santa Anita, Tuna Canyon, can you talk about how you got involved?

JB: Well, working for Irene, she was really inspiring to work for, really enjoyed working for her. And met a lot of people through her and the Senator. And she was an inspirational person because she had so much energy. I never heard her say, "I'm tired," I never saw her yawn. And I think I've had the great opportunity for working for extraordinary people like Kansuma, Min Yasui, Irene, and I've learned from each one of them, they're such giving people. I think that's what I admire most about all of them. [Phone rings] They gave much more than what they had to gain, and I think each one of them were so inspiring. I think that's why I learned from them that you gain a lot, you become happy because, if you can do anything. And I think Irene taught me that, and I think Min Yasui taught me that, and I think Kansuma taught me that. Barry Sanders at Rebuild L.A., Peter Ueberroth, all those people just really were inspiring people to work for. That's probably why I'm still able to enjoy the people that I met before and the people that I meet now.

So I volunteer at the, what was formerly Keiro retirement home, it's now Sakura Gardens retirement home, I have two classes there. I have a knitting class which I really don't teach them how to knit, just serve tea, and my other class is called Talk Stories, and they're all senior women older than me in their nineties now. And each one of the women that I meet in my class, they have so much to say. And it's just fun to hear their stories, so I do that. And then I started a Nikkei Women's Legacy Association with the thought of giving back to the community, and to somehow do kindness in the community, however that comes out. So we did some programs. But then the mission that girls wanted to follow was different than what I wanted, so I left, and they continued on with their mission of supporting Nisei Week. I didn't feel that that was my role.

So I'm just doing volunteer work on my own. Koreisha, the senior food program in Little Tokyo, these people live in Little Tokyo Towers or Little Tokyo, senior homes around Little Tokyo, and they have hot lunches every day for them. And I've really been amazed at the people that work there as volunteers are all from Japan, no Niseis. I'm the only Nisei. And I'm just amazed that these people that come day after day to volunteer, are so dedicated. They'll take a bus and come from far distances just to volunteer. So I enjoy working there.

So then Tuna Canyon, just from being at the museum, my sister's father-in-law was in Tuna Canyon. And then when Kanji started talking about Tuna Canyon, I became very interested in that. And from there, we've got a grant to do interviews of descendants, so we're doing that. So that's where I am today.

BN: How many interviews have you done?

JB: We've done maybe... under the grant we've done fourteen. We have about ten more to go. Before the grant, the museum was generous enough to do interviews for us, and they took the cost of it. And we did about twenty there, so all in all, maybe about thirty-four. But we still, in all of our exhibits, and just talking to people different days, we come across names almost every day. And right now we're about 174 names, so we need a lot more grants if we want to do more interviews.

BN: What drew you to Tuna Canyon? Because this is something that was almost unknown just a few years ago.

JB: Right. Yes, I saw an article in the L.A. Times that caught my eye, and I didn't know anything about it. And then, like I said, my sister's father-in-law was in Tuna Canyon, Reverend Tsuyuki where my parents used to worship, he was in Tuna Canyon. And little by little I heard of different people who I knew were in Tuna Canyon, even though my family was not involved. I thought this story has, I was so surprised that even I didn't know about it. And so many people don't know about it. They hear about EO9066, but there is not too much that is told about these U.S. Immigration and Justice camps. So I feel this sense of satisfaction in finding these descendants and hearing their stories and trying to promote that story of what happened to these people.

BN: And then were you involved with Santa Anita?

JB: Yeah. We had a Santa Anita reunion, Santa Anita committee, and Bacon started it. But Bacon says, "I'm not from Santa Anita."

BN: Bacon Sakatani.

JB: Sakatani, whose father, in fact, was from Tuna Canyon. So there's Bill Shishima and Hal Keimi and Mor Wada, and several of us, Min Tonai, who are from Santa Anita. So nobody wants to be president. So Bacon says, "I'm going to appoint a president, and you are going to be the president." I go, "Oh, okay." [Laughs] So that's how I.... then we had a Santa Anita reunion at the museum, it turned out good. So I've been to a couple of Santa Anita reunions, and it's always good. Wish we could do more. Wish we could have another reunion.

BN: There's probably still a lot of people around, it was so big.

JB: Well, the next reunion I'd like to do is my friend Takayo and I, Rusty Frank is, she has this swing club. So she did a program about camp dance, and so we've gone to several places to talk about how we learned how to swing dance in camp. And we've got that program that we do now that we talk to different groups, so that's been fun. And in camp, they had these dance cards that Tak Hamano gave to me, and people would write, they would go around the room and find girls to fill in dance number one, dance two. So found my sister's name on a dance card, and that was kind of exciting. So I'd like to do a reunion where we have dancing in camp, so the music of Glenn Miller, all those, Duke Ellington, Harry James. And even if the people can't dance, we could sit around on tables and listen to the music, and whoever, the young people now, the caretakers and the parents or the children can all get up and dance. I think that would be fun. But I haven't gotten that far yet.

BN: Better get busy with all your free time.

JB: [Laughs] Yeah, right.

BN: Anything else you'd like to add? I'm done with what I wanted to ask you.

JB: No, I think I've talked enough. [Laughs] I feel very, very lucky, very, very fortunate to have met so many wonderful people. And I love being a volunteer at the museum, and being a volunteer at the retirement homes, too. So it's hard to give any of it up.

BN: Thank you very much.

JB: Thank you.

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