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-1000-459-1

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VY: Okay, you know, let's talk about that. What kind of work did your parents do when they were here?

BK: Well, my dad was a chauffeur at that time. And then, after... so my brother was older than me, and so he was born there, I guess. And then...

VY: I'm sorry, so your brother was born while your dad was a chauffeur?

BK: Yes.

VY: Where did they live at that time?

BK: In Beverly Hills. And then when I guess I was going to be coming, they moved to Sawtelle, and my dad was still working as a chauffeur. And then after I came, then I guess they moved to Huntington Beach where my mother's uncle had a chili farm. He was in charge of the co-op, and he was more or less known as the Chili King of Orange County.

VY: Was that a nickname that people actually called him, knew him by?

BK: Yes, because I know we had an exhibit at the (JANM) museum, of the old farmers, and they labeled him with his picture. His name was Masami Sasaki, and they had a picture of him and under the picture it said, "Chili King."

VY: So that was your uncle on your father's side?

BK: My mother's side.

VY: Your mother's side.

BK: So he was my granduncle.

VY: Okay. And so getting back to you when your father was a chauffeur, what kind of families did he chauffeur for? Who did he drive?

BK: Well, the Bell family, I'm not sure, but then I know that... I don't know if it's the son or the grandson, ran, in the '50s, ran for assemblyman or senate or something. And so at that time...

VY: So you're talking about Alfonso Bell?

BK: Yes.

VY: Okay.

BK: And then I think the next family my dad worked for was the Thompson family, and it seemed like he was involved in the movie industry. And so from what my dad used to say, he used to take trips, and they would drive all over the place. So all the vacations and things, he would drive them to, like Grand Canyon or I don't know.

VY: He would drive the whole family?

BK: He never really mentioned the family, but I know like Mr. Thompson or Mr. Bell were the ones that he referred to, that, "We went here and we went there." Then when he quit the chauffeuring, then he worked on the farm for my granduncle.

VY: Okay, that's when he moved to work on the chili farm.

BK: Right. And so, at that time, we relocated to north Long Beach, which is, I think, the next city over from Huntington Beach.

VY: And so when was your... well, how many siblings do you have?

BK: I just have one older, or had one older brother.

VY: Okay, and when was he born?

BK: He was born in 1931.

VY: Okay, so was your father still a chauffeur at that time?

BK: Yes. Because I'd just seen pictures of them when they said, oh, this is when they lived in Beverly Hills. Because I think they lived above the garage at their home.

VY: At the Thompson family home?

BK: Yes.

VY: Okay. Did your dad ever tell stories about those times when he was driving Alfonso Bell?

BK: Yes. He (told) a lot of stories. I mean, you know, all the places that they went to, he says, "Oh, I've been there. I took Mr. Thompson there," or Mr. Bell, or whatever. And so I can't remember all the places they went to, but it seemed like he traveled pretty extensively, driving.

VY: He was probably looking at different properties and that sort of thing, perhaps.

BK: Could be. Because I know later on, after we came out of camp, we would drive down Wilshire Boulevard and then they would tell me, "Oh, this used to be all just open land," because that's when he was living there. And now they have all these insurance buildings and high rises and everything else, so it's completely different. So he used to always refer back to when it was empty lots.

VY: Yeah, the area's changed quite a bit over the years.

BK: Yes.

VY: We'll talk more about that, too. How about your mom? Did your grandfather ever take the family back to Japan at any point?

BK: Well, (my mom with) her parents moved back to Japan, that was it, they stayed there. Because he had, I guess, made enough money, he was a labor contractor. And so they moved back to Japan, and then my mother was educated there. And then my grandfather, (...) with the monies that he made in the United States, built a home in Japan. And that's where my mom was raised until she came to the United States when she got married.

VY: And what part of Japan is that?

BK: In Hiroshima.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.