Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Alan Kumamoto Interview
Narrator: Alan Kumamoto
Interviewer: Brian Niiya
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 7, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-464-2

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 2>

BN: And then now let's switch to your mother's side.

AK: Okay. Well, my mother's side, my grandmother was from Kyoto, anyway, they end up in Tokyo, and the main thing with them was they were converted to Catholicism in Japan by the missionaries. They came through Angel Island in San Francisco, and he was working as a photographer helping to touch up photos and different things like that. He, after the earthquake, they decided to move across the bay to the Oakland side, because of all the fires. And then he was afraid of the various diseases that were taking place, so he moved his children, he moved himself and his family down to Los Angeles where he decided to open up a photography store in order to make ends meet, because he had seven children. He also worked for the Rafu Shimpo and helped to translate a lot of the Japanese stories into English. And eventually his daughter, my aunt Louise, became the first English editor, but he was always doing the translations because he was very friendly with the Komais and so forth.

BN: And then just for the record, what was his name?

AK: Well, he went by Peter Marie, P.M. Suski. He eventually, in 1913, went to USC and became a medical doctor. And he was more of a scholar, he was more of a researcher, so he wrote books on kanji, he studied Chinese, various languages. The medical things were in German.

BN: And then were he and your grandmother already married in Japan, so they came?

AK: Uh-huh.

BN: And then was he already able to speak English, or did he already learn English?

AK: He learned English already, so he was pretty versatile.

BN: Became a very prominent person these days.

AK: Well, but the issue was he was more of a scholar, so he was more of a recluse, so he wasn't an outgoing kind of person, and he didn't want to waste his time, so to speak, because he'd rather do discovery. So there's some things that my aunt Louise, I think she was probably the closest in terms of following him and so forth. He, Dr. Suski, was the one instrumental in helping to bring the Maryknoll order of Catholic priest, and that religious order, to Los Angeles. They were looking for a priest to hear confessions in Japanese and do services and so forth. And so the only order that was available or wanted to do this was the Maryknoll order of Irish Catholic priests. So they came, they had an office or headquarters in the U.S. in New York. So they sent some missionaries, so we were a missionary -- [coughs] -- excuse me. This is World War II, this is from the camps (in the U.S.).

BN: From the dust?

AK: The dust and the dirt, well, basically it's the scarring of the bronchial tubes, and then when the mucus comes up, it gets stuck because it just doesn't flow through. So we're trying to figure out different ways. Anyways, one of the things about P.M. Suski is that he then got involved with Maryknoll and he was one of the committee that brought priests and so forth. And Maryknoll itself, at the time, it was sanctioned by the archdiocese, but it was its own entity. Legally, it owned its own property and so forth. So until later on, when World War II broke out, there's a story that says that the priest there said they would cooperate and so forth, and during that time, they would help the Japanese. But one of the things that they did was they said they would turn over their property to the archdiocese as long as they had permission to minister to the parishioners who were in the camps. So it was sort of an interesting exchange that took place there that most people don't know about.

BN: Did they not send a priest to minister to the Japanese in the various camps?

AK: Well, a lot of times they would be local, like we were in Heart Mountain in Wyoming, and the priest from Powell, the Caucasian priest would come. But the Japanese priest would come to visit, and so it would be a big occasion so many times a year or whatever, for the person, I guess, to take the train to come and so forth. And then that would always be a Japanese-speaking priest, so people would enjoy that and so forth.

BN: Now, where was your mother in the birth order of the seven?

AK: Let's see. One, two, three... one passed away and then my mom, and then Clara. So it would be Julia, Louise, Margaret, my mom, Flora, and then you had, I guess, the two boys. Let's see, I missed one of them, Clara, I don't think I mentioned Clara. And the, because it's Clara, then it becomes Joe and then Elmer. So Joe was the oldest son, and Elmer was the youngest. Elmer moves from Los Angeles to Indio, California, and he and his brother-in-law get into various businesses and so forth. But the Sekemi family that he married into, were basically farmers out there, so they owned massive pieces of land.

BN: And then I have to ask you, Suski obviously is an unusual name. Do you know the origin of how that came about?

AK: It used to be Suzuki, and then my grandfather said he's in the U.S. and Angel Island, and then he just shortened it. Usually at the time, with the person, I guess, registering person, couldn't pronounce it or whatever he or she would butcher the name. And that would be the name that ended up on the rolls.

BN: So the obvious question is, how does your Buddhist father and your Catholic mother, how do they meet and eventually get married?

AK: Everybody was... if you look at the schematic of where they grew up, my dad actually grew up around the corner. And on the street where my mom lived, which was a block away from where my dad lived, there was the local little school, the grammar school, there was a Japanese school and so forth, so everything was all within a few block area. And they would meet each other because all the kids hung out together.

BN: And were they the same age?

AK: My mom was a little older, actually, by around two months.

BN: So pretty much the same.

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