Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Hatsuko Mary Higuchi Interview
Narrator: Hatsuko Mary Higuchi
Interviewer: Virginia Yamada
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 4, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-456-15

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VY: Okay, Mary, thank you for bringing these paintings today, and we're going to look at a few of these and if you could just about them and what they represent and why you painted them. And here's the first one, what is this called?

HH: This is called Sayonara Okaasan. I painted this when my mother was almost gone. I mean, she was pretty much gone by this time. I painted it because, during these last hours, we were always holding her hand. She would not let go, on the side of the bed, we sat next to her and all the kids took turns holding her hand and talking to her, telling her, "Thank you, Okaasan, thank you. Arigato, Okaasan." We talked about our life together, and all the wonderful things she did for us. This is how she was at this time, before she left us.

VY: This is a very beautiful painting, Mary. I think anyone who has lost someone, whether it be a parent or a relative or a friend this way, can really feel very strongly, looking at this painting. It's beautiful.

HH: This was at the point where she just wasn't eating anymore, she was just all bones.


VY: Okay, Mary, can you tell us about this paining we're looking at now?

HH: This painting is called The Marble Players. Just shows kids that were incarcerated. They still liked playing their American pastimes, sports, of playing with marbles. The only thing that they could really carry that was small enough, carry to camps. And I remember this was hanging at the Palos Verdes art gallery, and a man who was incarcerated came up to it and looked at it and said, "There I am." He says, "I remember doing this every day after school, during recess, I did this every day. There I am." And he was just mesmerized by this painting. And, of course, it says, "Instructions to all persons of Japanese ancestry. The following instructions must be followed." And of course they ended up in this prison. And while imprisoned there, every day when they went to school, they had to say, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America," and I did this in a child-like handwriting. But there's the barracks and the guard tower, and the children enjoying their favorite game of marbles. And even I played marbles. I had the boulders and everything and we used to play all the time, draw that circle in the sand and shoot for the marbles. And we used to be really good at this, and even the girls played as well as the boys.


VY: Okay, Mary, can you tell us about this painting here?

HH: Yes, this is one of my very first paintings, painting about the camps. I drew painted barracks and the guard tower. And I asked my mom, "What do you think?" "Okaasan, what do you think?" And she said, "Hanashitakunai, Hatsuko, hanashitakunai." "I don't want to talk about it, please, I don't want to talk about it." So I said, "Okaasan, can you write it for me?" So I gave her a piece of paper and pencil and she sat at the table writing it in Japanese, about camp. And I can't read it very clearly here, but it says, "Kyampu no koto omoidasu," makes her very sad, mainly because she thought about the children. What's going to happen to my children, kodomotachi? Kodomotachi, she said, "We would come home, and come home fighting and crying, and she said, "Watashi mo..." when we came home, she, herself, "Namida ga, boroboro," the tears came down her face as well. She just could not help crying, because all she kept thinking is, "What is going to happen to my children?" So after she told me the story, I painted the picture of her with these words, first the Japanese and then the English translation. And, of course my father and my mother's tags that they wore to the camp.

VY: Thank you.


VY: Okay, Mary, can you tell us about this painting, and who are the people in this painting?

HH: This is called Okaasan's Journey, my mother's journey. Here she is with her father, Tokujiro Suruki. She was born on May 17, 1916, to her mother, was Kinuko, I think, Kinuko Oshite. There she is, her antique car. This is the actual car, toy car that she was riding in, I had a photo of that. And when she was born, her mother died soon after she gave birth. And her father raised her 'til she was three, and then couldn't do it any longer, so he asked her aunt, my mother's... actually, my mother was raised by this aunt, the Oshites, and here my mother is three years old in Japan being raised by her aunt in Japan. And when she was twenty-one, she came back to America. She was born in Santa Monica, California, but then she came back to America when she was twenty-one. She worked at the Van de Kamp tuna company, seafood company on Terminal Island in San Pedro, California, and here she is, and these are her friends from the cannery. And I was able to meet this one a couple years ago at the Terminal Island picnic, and she remembered my mom. And I think I met one other, I think it was this one, the first one, I met her the year before. But they were able to tell me something about my mom. After she married my father, Goro Yoshioka, he was an Issei from Kagoshima, Japan. My mother was from Wakayama, Japan.

After a few years, they had two children, myself, Hatsuko, the firstborn, and then my sister Etsuko. And here's Hatsuko and Etsuko. We were incarcerated in Poston, Arizona. And my father is not in this painting because I didn't have a picture of him because he was working mostly as a cook in the camps. So this is Poston, Arizona, where we were incarcerated. And then this is a family picture of us, my sister Etsuko, Mitsuko, Hatsuko, me, my mother, and everyone thought we were sisters. [Laughs] And then my brother Tetsuo. We called him Tebo, poor Tebo, he was the only boy. I think it was very hard for him just to have girls around all the time. But anyway, that was our family, because my father had died soon after we came home from camp. So my mother raised basically the four of us through grammar school, high school and college. She sent all of us to college. Somehow we managed, but we all worked hard, working during the summer earning money to pay for our tuition and everything. And my brother, he was able to go to SC because he had the GI Bill. And the three girls graduated from UCLA.

VY: Mary, I'm curious, how long did it take you to paint that?

HH: I don't know. It's a bigger sheet, a full sheet of watercolor, so it probably took me a good week just painting.

VY: Only a week, okay.

HH: Yeah, well, 'cause that's all I did was devote myself to the painting.

VY: Thank you.


HH: This painting is called Naive Newcomers. The subject matter of these people, they were taken from a photo I had of my brother's funeral. He had died maybe a couple years before we were incarcerated, and it was a funeral picture with his casket, with the family, my mother, my sister, me, and my father. And these were all our friends and relatives that were in, at the funeral. I still remember many of them. But since it was taken a few years before we were incarcerated, they were all incarcerated together in different camps, I don't know exactly where they ended up. I portrayed them at a camp with the barracks and the guard tower. And it's called Naive Newcomers because not knowing what was going to happen to them or where they were going, they, of course, dressed up. They were dressed in their Sunday best. Boarding a train with the shades drawn and being so hot on that train. And when they'd come to the place, imagine what a surprise it was to see these tarpaper barracks. The soldiers with guns pointing at them. So this was going to be our new home, desolate, deserted, hot, desert-like. The heat in Arizona could be 120 to 130 degrees during the summer at Poston, and the day we arrived, it was 126 degrees. I found that out when I went to Poston, Arizona, pilgrimage, and a man that had gone the same time we did, from Reedley, told me it was 126 degrees.


HH: This picture, painting, is called Woebegone. It comes from a photograph I saw of my mother when she was about three years old being sent to Japan, of course, looking so sad, not knowing what's going to happen, what's in the future, being alone. She was with my dad, her dad, but he couldn't raise her any longer, so she was being sent to be raised by her aunt. So Mayeda was her maiden name, and these are the products that I saw that were selling at that time in the 1940s, White King detergent, and Gabrielle chocolates. And her name Mayeda with her suitcase ready to go. And I put her in the picture, painting, because that's how old I would have been going into camp.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.