Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Barbara Reiko Mikami Keimi Interview
Narrator: Barbara Reiko Mikami Keimi
Interviewer: Virginia Yamada
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 5, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-459-10

<Begin Segment 10>

BK: And then I started elementary school, went to First Street school. My dad found an apartment in Boyle Heights, East L.A.

VY: Oh, so your dad found an apartment -- is that where you guys went to, Boyle Heights?

BK: Yes.

VY: Initially, okay.

BK: And then I started First Street school. Well, I guess, I don't know if it just happened, but I went to school and then I made friends with, I think, the tallest girl and the toughest girl in my class, in my grade. And her name was Yolanda and she, kind of, more or less watched over me, I guess. She was very good athletically and I guess nobody messed with her. And she, I guess, kind of like took me under her wings. And then my other friend was, I think, one of the prettiest girls in my class, and she used to work in an office and I was working in the office with her and so we became friends. And so I guess they made my elementary school pleasant.

VY: And that was in Boyle Heights?

BK: Yes.

VY: Did you stay in touch over the years with either of those two?

BK: No. I can't even remember what the last name was. Because I know Yolanda was, I think she was Hispanic. And my other friend, I think her last name was Amadon, so I don't know if that's Greek or what. So those were my two friends in school.

VY: Do you remember anything else about Boyle Heights? It was a very diverse area.

BK: Yes. Well, I grew up like, I guess it's a block away from the Evergreen playground. And that was across the street from First Street school on the south side of the campus, and we lived on the south side, too. And so I used to spend a lot of time at the Evergreen playground, we did sports there and I also did crafts. I guess they had probably a good program that they would have summer vacation or camps, and I guess I used to participate in crafting and different things that they had there.

VY: Do you remember what the other kids were like?

BK: I don't really remember anybody specific, but I know that I used to hang out with this Mexican family because we were in an apartment so the daughter was married and she used to live in the next apartment. And so she had younger brothers and sisters that were my age, so they lived about a half block away so I used to play with them when we were outside. And then there was another girl named Helen that I hung out with. But once I went to junior high, I think they were out of the picture. I don't really remember even playing with them.

VY: So how long were you in Boyle Heights?

BK: Well, the thing is, we were there until I got married. Yeah, in fact, I went to Roosevelt High School, which was actually right across the street from where we lived.

VY: So you were there a long time. Do you remember the different kinds of foods that you ate? Did you go to restaurants or markets?

BK: Well, no. I know when I was in junior high, you know, my mom used to send me to Japanese school, and so I'd have to go, I used to go on Saturdays and then I think it would change to, like, I would have to go after American school. And so I don't know if this started like three or four in the afternoon, I'd have to go take the streetcar and they'd come into L.A. and Little Tokyo and go to Japanese school. Well, actually, and then I started hanging out in Little Tokyo because my granduncle that we used to be with in Huntington Beach, had bought, was the owner of the new Olympic Hotel on San Pedro Street, and my mother was head of housekeeping there. And so when I finished Japanese school, I would go over there, which was two or three blocks away. I guess... while we were in camp, that area was called Bronzeville. And then so when my granduncle got back the hotel, I remember they had a black manager running the hotel, Mr. Sweetwine, and his wife used to be the office manager. And so I got to know them, because I was there like every Saturday. And so I used to hang out in the neighborhood, I used to go to different shops (...). Like one was a florist shop, and I guess I used to just hang out, walking all over Little Tokyo killing time, and you got to know some of the merchants. But they're not there anymore.

VY: Well, at that time, who were the merchants?

BK: Well, there was always the chop suey house, the San Kow Low, and the five and ten cent store, Uyedas was there, (...) the son took over since then. It so happened that his sisters, when we were going to USC, they were there at SC, and so I used to talk to them. We never really hung out, but I was acquainted with them. At that time, we didn't really eat out. I mean, I guess it's to save money, so if we ate out, it was for special occasions like weddings or funerals something, and it would be Chinese food. And one of them was the Far East Cafe, that was a real common place that we went to.

VY: And that was in Boyle Heights or Little Tokyo?

BK: This was in Little Tokyo. Yeah, so in Boyle Heights, I don't think, we didn't eat out anywhere there. I mean, I know there was a market that was kitty corner to the corner we lived, and that's where I would go to get bread and milk and things like that. Eventually when I was in high school, I used to help there. I was the cashier, helped them wait on customers, or, I mean, it was across the street from the high school, and so I guess there was a lot of pilferage because the kids were coming in, try to sneak this or that out. So they wanted bodies there to, like, be watching. I mean, I wasn't able to do anything, but I guess they just felt that if somebody was there, they would think that they were being watched. So I worked there while I was going to high school on Saturdays or maybe an hour in the evening or something like that.

VY: Who owned the bakery?

BK: Well, it was a market.

VY: Market.

BK: Well, it was the Higashi family, and Min was the son. And he used to work the meat department. And I think his sister did the cashiering, and I guess she was married and when she was expecting, I guess he needed someone there to help him out. And so I guess he asked me if I'd come and help.

VY: And how about in Little Tokyo, do you remember any of the other shops, what they were like or what was there at that time?

BK: Well, there was the food mart, Enbun, and I used to go in there. Mainly I think I was at the florist.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.