Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Floyd Shimomura Interview
Narrator: Floyd Shimomura
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 11, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-466

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is March 11, 2019, we're in Emeryville, California, at the Hyatt House. We're interviewing Floyd Shimomura, on camera is Dana Hoshide, and then interviewing is me, Tom Ikeda. And so, Floyd, I'm going to start off at the beginning of your life. Can you tell me where and when you were born?

FS: Well, I was born on March 13, 1948, on the Tufts Ranch, which is about two miles west of Winters, California, and it's on a road that's referred to as the Horseshoe. And so if you say you lived on the Horseshoe, then everyone in Winters knows where you live. Because there's a road that comes out of Winters, Highway 128, and it goes from Winters up into the mountains and it runs west. And the Horseshoe is a road that goes off from the main road and then just loops around and comes back (to it) again, but it's almost like a big box shape. So it kind of looks like a horseshoe on the map.

TI: And where on that horseshoe is the Tufts Ranch?

FS: The Tufts Ranch is on the eastern side of the horseshoe, coming down from the freeway, or the highway. And then I'll let you ask the next question.

TI: Well, so if I went to Winters and asked an old timer, and mentioned the Tufts Ranch, would people know where that is?

FS: Yeah, I think so.

TI: So tell me a little bit about the Tufts Ranch, or Tufts family, because, why were you born there? Why didn't you talk about that a little bit?

FS: Well, the Tufts family, the senior member of the Tufts family is named Warren Tufts, and his title is Professor Tufts, because he was a pomology professor at UC Davis, and in fact, he became the head of the department. And he lived in Davis and he had a son, and he was a junior, he had exactly the same name, Warren Tufts, Jr. And Warren Tufts, Sr., I think, got the farm around 1924. And UC Davis had an experimental farm out on the south side of Putah Creek, which is the opposite of where the Tufts Ranch was. So he was out at the experimental farm a lot, and I guess had the opportunity to buy this farm and acquired it.

TI: And so what was your family connection? Why were you born there?

FS: Well, (I was born) in 1948. Obviously that was about three years after the camps closed. My parents, after they left the camp, took a train and went to Sacramento. And then from Sacramento, they got a job in the Fairfield area, I don't know if you know where that is, but it's about 20 miles south of Winters, so it's pretty close to Winters but kind of in the next town, that area. And my grandfather knew one of his friends' son returned earlier from camp and became a foreman there for a big ranch, and hired our family to work on it. And they stayed in a little cabin there, it was pretty basic, but at least they had some place to stay. But after being there for about a year or so, Warren Tufts, Jr., contacted my dad and invited him to come back to the ranch.

TI: Okay. Now, before the war, was there a family connection to the Tufts family?

FS: Yes, they were our neighbors, because the Horseshoe goes south and then it goes west and then it goes north again. And the ranch that my father and grandfather lived on as tenant farmers was on the south side. So it's really the bottom part of the Horseshoe, and Putah Creek is on the south border of that ranch. So it's really a great property because the soil near, that's right near the creek bed, Putah Creek, it's like the richest soil in that little valley area. And my grandfather, I think, came onto that farm around 1921, and became a tenant farmer there. And then my dad was born in 1920, about the same time that they went on the ranch.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Okay, so it's interesting, so he settled there, your grandfather, and then, actually, a few years later is when the Tufts' came, you said, 1925 or something, so even preceded them, and they were neighboring farmers. Tell me a little bit about your grandfather, his name and why he came from Japan to the United States.

FS: Well, his name was Itaro Shimomura, and he grew up in Wakayama. And he came to California in 1906, and actually arrived in San Francisco like a month or so before the big earthquake. And fortunately, he was in the East Bay area, I think he spent some time in Martinez, which is probably only about 15 miles where we're having the interview now, north.

TI: Yeah, I actually know this area pretty well. After I graduated from college, I worked up in the Concord, Walnut Creek area and lived down here for about two or three years.

FS: Okay, then you know the geography. But then he moved on to Winters, because many of his friends who had left Wakayama (came) from the same little village (and) had gone to California and Winters and kind of wrote back that, "Hey, there are a lot of jobs here and there's opportunity." So he decided to come because he was kind of an orphan in a way and was raised by his mother. So he wasn't in a position to inherit anything, he wasn't the oldest son in that sense. So he decided to... well, about that time, the Japanese were fighting the Russians, that war was going on. He tried to get in the army, but he got rejected because his teeth were too bad. And one of his friends also got rejected, and so they couldn't even get into the army, so going to California was probably one of the better options. Although my father said that my grandfather's friend always laughed, because he told the person who rejected them, he said, "I thought my job was to shoot them, not bite them," the enemies.

TI: That's interesting, because about that same time period, just to show contrast, my grandfather on my dad's side also came. And because of the war, he came because he did not want to fight in the war, and so, in some ways, he was evading military service, because in his case, he was the eldest son and didn't want to fight, so he actually came, that was his reason. So it was kind of interesting the difference there. [Interruption] And so going back to your grandfather Shimomura, so he settled in this kind of rich farming area, what did he grow?

FS: You mean on the Horseshoe?

TI: Yeah, on the Horseshoe.

FS: They raised apricot and almonds, and when I grew up there later on, it was exactly the same type of trees.

TI: And so was he quite successful doing that? It seemed like if he was in this, with rich soil, it looks like he picked a crop that seemed to work really well there if it still went on and on for decades after.

FS: Well, it kind of depends on what period of time you're talking about. But I say by 1940, according to the census information, he was making something like eight or nine hundred dollars a year, which doesn't seem like a lot now, but in those days, if you were just a farm worker, you might make maybe three hundred dollars, a hundred and fifty. So he was making maybe two and a half to three times as much as just a day laborer. So I think by his standards, he felt like he doing okay.

TI: Now, did the family ever purchase the land, or was it always under a lease, or how did that work? I know the alien land laws prevented the immigrants from buying, but did the family, either with a corporation or with a Nisei ever try to buy the land?

FS: Well, before the war, like you said, they were prohibited from owning property because of the alien land law. And so he was basically a sharecropper and worked for a family called Stinson/Bassett, they were kind of two families that were like partners. And that was kind of the arrangement at that time, but then the Stinsons, they died around 1920, '21, about the same time there was this transition. So Bassett took over, the Bassett family, and he was already pretty elderly at the time. I'm seventy years old now, but he was like sixty and not in good health. And so besides running the farm and everything, they ended up having to do a lot of elder care there, and my grandmother used to cook for him. But he lived for about ten years, but in the late '20s, he was an invalid, and they said that they had to give him a bath, and he would wet his diapers or pants and everything, and it was a big job. So they did a lot for the farm, more than just being a tenant farmer, they were a full service, you might say, family. I think a lot of this came from my grandfather's training, because he actually came from a samurai family, because his father's name was Bunzaemon Shimomura, and you know, if you have the "emon" at the end of your name, it signifies that, I mean, that's a traditional samurai name. They don't name the kids that anymore because the samurai were abolished, but they came from that family. But the interesting thing, Bunzaemon, my grandfather named my father Ben Shimomura, and it's my belief that Ben is a shortened version of Bunzaemon, because he took the first and last letters and then the E is the "e." And I suspected that, and then when I was doing some family research on Japanese names, they said traditionally, the names of the sons would be based on the grandfather's name, but kind of derivative from it. So we never really understood that, but later on, through research, I think that that's kind of why my father ended up being called Ben. Because my grandfather was paying tribute to his father.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Before we go to your parents, I want to just touch a little bit upon your grandmother. So how did, on the Shimomura side, how did your grandfather meet your grandmother, and tell me a little bit about her.

FS: Well, I said my grandfather came in 1906, but my grandmother's family was already in Winters way before that, was part of that first wave. And my grandmother's father came in 1899 or '98, about that period of time, and established himself in Winters. And by 1912 or so, he was running a little boarding house there. And then he brought his wife and daughter to Winters to help run it.

TI: Oh, so they were in Japan?

FS: They were in Japan and they came, and then I don't know exactly how they met, but Winters is a small town, so he probably saw her at the boarding house, even though he was living on the Horseshoe at that time. But the thing was that her family was a samurai family, too, and so in those days, that made a difference, even though it had been abolished in Japan as a formal category. But the samurai families liked to still marry within other samurai families.

TI: And what was her family name, do you remember?

FS: Her family name is Uenishi. And I think her grandfather's name was Moemon Uenishi, so it had the E-M-O-N on it, which is a telltale sign. Because what it actually tells me is not only were they samurai, but they were of the same rank, because samurai had, like, six or seven different ranks.

TI: So have you ever done... boy, with that kind of heritage, have you done much family research back in Japan? It seemed like you can go back many generations and maybe understand the family tree.

FS: Yeah, I have, and I have a family koseki.

TI: That's what I was going to ask.

FS: Then I was able to get my grandmother's side, their koseki, and it has family members all the way back 'til 1815 was the earliest birthday. And then there's a list of that person's father, so we have the name, but we don't have exactly when he was born, but it was probably, maybe thirty years before that.

TI: And where in Japan was your grandmother's family from?

FS: From Wakayama.

TI: Okay, so they were both...

FS: And their villages are only about five miles apart.

TI: Okay, so I'm sure the families back then knew each other.

FS: Right. And I'm pretty sure that there was an arranged marriage at the time that went on.

TI: And so they met around 1912, I think, around 1912?

FS: It's when the women came from Japan to work on this boarding house. And the boarding house was right across the street from the train station, right near Main Street, but it's right on what they called Railroad Avenue. But there was a section of town, also near the railroad track, right where there's a railroad bridge that goes across Putah Creek. But my grandparents' boarding house was just outside of that area, about a block away, outside of that section, that block. And in 1915, the city of Winters passed an ordinance that made it a nuisance for any Oriental to live anyplace in the city of Winters except for Section 4. And there was a fine of fifty dollars a day for every day that this, quote, "nuisance" is not abated. It's a real interesting twist on the property law concept. Because it's kind of like if you have chickens or a real noisy thing, it creates a nuisance in the neighborhood, you can get it abated. But the obligation is on the property owner. So all of a sudden, this boarding house, which was, they were renting, boarding house, the property owner had to get rid of them to abate, quote, the "nuisance." And so that operation got shut down.

TI: Do you think that was specifically targeted towards your grandmother's family? Or were there others that were doing similar types of things?

FS: Well, you have to speculate on that, but I did look to see who the city councilman was who made the ordinance, and he owned a lumber company that was kind of across the street and across the railroad tracks on the other side, about a block and a half away. So I don't know if that had anything to do with it, and I don't know if they were targeting my grandparents' boarding house, or if it was a more general thing. But the fact of the matter is that most of the Japanese in that area didn't live in town, they lived out on the farms except for Section 4, which was part of town that was started by the Chinese immigrants before. But then after the exclusion act and everything, the Japanese kind of became the new labor force, and then ended up taking over the same buildings. And they had a general store there, and the Buddhist church had kind of a little temple. It wasn't the main one, the main temple was in Vacaville, but the Buddhist priest would come out once a week and have services and everything.

TI: And back then, did they have a Japanese school also?

FS: Well, they did in 1930, they built one. And there was also a fish market there, and then some boarding houses for the more transient workers who would just come in for the harvest season and things like that.

TI: Fascinating. I love stories like this about these prewar towns and how they were set up.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Going back to your grandmother and grandfather on the Shimomura side, any stories about their courtship that you can remember, or anything that, or just in terms of them as a couple getting together?

FS: No, they didn't really ever talk about that, but I'm sure it was more of an arranged marriage than anything else. And the interesting thing is, when I was doing some research, I learned that when the "picture brides" came over, that was one way of kind of circumventing the Gentlemen's Agreement. Because that was one of the exceptions to it. If you were married, and in Japan, you can get married and not even be in Japan as long as your family and everybody consents to it. So a lot of picture brides were coming from Japan, and the Japanese foreign ministry had a rule that said that there couldn't be more than fifteen years between the Issei. Because at some point, I guess they had some problems earlier when it was like twenty. And, because the girls really married young, like sixteen or seventeen, and so if there's twenty years' difference, it would shock the white community to have somebody thirty-six years old marrying, like, a sixteen year old, right? But anyway, the long and short of it is, when I was looking at the birthdays of my, of the two, I found out that the difference was like fifteen years and four months. So they couldn't do the traditional, if it was an arranged marriage, the marriage in Japan, and then she would come, because they couldn't meet the fifteen year rule. But since my grandmother's father was already here, he could bring her here, and then after she was here, he had to let her get two or three more years and so then she was old enough to get married in California.

TI: Oh, I see, okay.

FS: So, I mean, I doubt if there was any romantic courtship, but the traditional Japanese way with a go-between and all that probably happened, that kind of a courtship, which is more a family type of thing than personal.

TI: Well, and you mentioned your father, Ben, how many other children did they have?

FS: Well, this is kind of the sad part of the story, is after the two got married, my grandmother and grandfather, they got married in 1915, they had a baby about eight months later, who died at childbirth, and his name is Shigeru Shimomura. And I know this because they have a nice tombstone in Sacramento in the cemetery there, and there's a lot of writing on the tombstone. So my grandfather just went all out, even though he only lived like one day, the baby did. And the reason why he's buried in Sacramento is that's where the women went, because that's where the, you know, the women who help people with childbirth, there's a name for that, but it escapes me.

TI: Midwife.

FS: Yeah, midwife. There were Japanese midwives there, and so when you got to the point when you were just about ready, then you went over there and you stayed in this home, the midwife's home, and then you'd have your baby there. So they must have had a miscarriage or whatever it was in Sacramento. But the sad thing is that it was such a beautiful tombstone, I mean, it was about that big and that wide, that after the war, during the resettlement period, probably around 1947 or so, that tombstone was vandalized, because it was in this little section of the cemetery where all the Japanese tombstones were. And because it was knocked down like that, today, when you go to the cemetery, actually, it lies flat on the ground, but you can see the big crack that goes through the bottom of it, from left to right, when they had to put the thing back together again. You can see the point where they must have used a crowbar or something to kind of leverage it, because there's a big chip on the side that's gone. If it wasn't for that tombstone, the story behind it, probably wouldn't remember Shigeru's name. The other interesting thing was, I took a picture of it, and when I was doing family research, I found out that it had the old family address from Wakayama, the mother's address.

TI: Oh, interesting, they placed it on the tombstone?

FS: Yeah. Well, they did in this case, and I don't know if they always do it. To find your family koseki, you have to know the address, because that's how the system is, it's based on where the household is.

TI: That's interesting, it's almost like a document, this is how you can trace your roots back.

FS: It's really kind of, I had this eerie feeling, because I didn't realize it was the old address. So I took a picture of it with my cell phone, and we went to the local Buddhist temple there, that's been there forever in the little village. And we showed him the picture, and he read the address and even had the house number on it. And he says, "Oh, well, that's it right across the street there." I mean, you go out the front of the temple, and the street is a real narrow street, only like twelve feet wide, and there it was. It was an amazing thing, and I started thinking, my grandfather, he was sending a little message here.

TI: It's like a little clue or a breadcrumb or something there.

FS: Yeah. And there it was, just sitting there. Because most people who do that kind of research, that's the big problem, is they may know generally where their relatives came from, but you really have to know the address, because that's how they indexed everything.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So let's move to your mother's side, we talked about the Shimomura side. So tell me about your mom's family, like the grandparents on that side.

FS: Okay. Well, my mom's family came from the Turlock/Livingston area, and that was part of this so-called Yamato Colony that was set up by Abiko, Mr. Abiko, who was a real enterprising publisher and entrepreneur. And so my mom's family was, she was a Morimoto, and in that area, I think like five brothers or something named Morimoto came. And so like half the community is named Morimoto. [Laughs] So if you're a Morimoto from Livingston...

TI: You have this extended, kind of, family.

FS: Yeah, everybody knows everybody.

TI: But are they related? You said they were brothers? They were all brothers, right?

FS: I think they were all brothers or cousins, but they had the same last name and they came from the same place, they were related. But what happened was this Morimoto, who was the biological father, had five kids, and my mother was like the youngest. And she was born in 1922, and her father died just before she was born. He was in a tractor accident, he was working out in the field, and somehow the tractor flipped over on him. And so her mother, whose maiden name was Miwa, M-I-W-A. So there she was with, she had five kids, and now she was a widow. But she had a certain personality, because she lived to be into her nineties, so I knew her.

TI: You smiled when you said that.

FS: Yeah, she is very friendly and bubbly, and she just loves gossip and everything, and she actually does a lot of matchmaking, because she's good at that, she knows a lot of people. So she's very personable and interested in people and gossip and all that. And so here she was, a widow with five kids, and so you would think, "Boy, that's going to be kind of tough to find a new husband, right?" But she did find another husband, and his name was Sam, but he was a little bit older Issei, and he was the opposite kind of a personality, he was very kind of shy and reclusive, but very hardworking kind of guy, didn't complain or anything. And he was a little bit artistic, too, because he could do wood, and in camp he made some camp art that we have.

TI: About how old was your mother when her mother remarried? Because she was the youngest, I was just curious.

FS: Yeah, I don't know, but I don't think that she... or how old was my mother?

TI: Yeah, your mother?

FS: Probably two or three years old.

TI: Oh, so quite young. Okay, so she didn't really remember, then, her biological mother.

FS: No. And she really loved her stepfather, I guess you might call him. Because she was the youngest, so she was spoiled, she was the little favorite. [Laughs] And so that's where they grew up, in that area. But the thing that was different was that because this was part of the Yamato Colony, they were able to own their own property. They had some kind of co-op system there.

TI: So they were able to do it through some other legal entity? Not as individuals but through a co-op or corporation or something?

FS: Yeah, because Abiko bought all that property and then divided it up and sold it to different families. But somehow, I think maybe part of that was to circumvent the alien land law, that was kind of one way of doing it, because the corporation owned it. And it took a while before the state legislature plugged all the loopholes, right? [Laughs]

TI: Oh, that's interesting, I'm going to look into that.

FS: Yeah. But that made a big difference after the war, because they had a little farm to come back to on my mom's side.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Well, so tell me how did your mom and dad connect or meet? Where was that?

FS: Oh, they met in camp, because when they had, when the incarceration happened, the people from Winters on the Yolo County side of Putah Creek, all the Yolo County went to, first they went to the Merced fairgrounds, and then ultimately to Amache. And then the people from the Livingston area, Turlock area, they all went to the Merced fairgrounds and then they went to Amache, too. And so I asked my dad about how that happened, so they were in the same camp, but they were not next door neighbors or anything, the Livingston people were like half a camp away from where they were. But what my dad told me was that the people in Livingston, they had their own volunteer fire department before. I guess the Abiko outfit, they had their own little fire department out there. And so at camp, when they decided that they needed a fire station, and I guess every camp had to have a fire station. They noticed that there was a bunch of guys from Livingston who had fireman experience, so they all got assigned to the fire department. And the fire department was part of, like, where the motor pool was, and then my father worked in the motor pool. And my mother, she wasn't a fireman, but she worked in the dispatch office there. And so that's kind of how they met, at the dispatch office.

TI: So do they, have you heard any good stories about the courtship in camp between your mom and dad?

FS: Well, they knew each other, and I don't know about their unofficial courtship type things. Because even in those days, the families had to set marriage up. My mom was very good-looking, or I should say she always has been very good-looking, so she was always popular with all the guys. And then because she was the youngest and she was good-looking, she was a little bit spoiled and vain. My mom passed away a few years ago, so I'm just telling it like I heard it. [Laughs] But my father, he was very interested in her, so I guess they send, like, little feelers out to make inquiries.

TI: And how would you describe your father?

FS: He is, you mean in terms of...

TI: Personality, demeanor, how he carried himself?

FS: He's kind of a quiet person, and he's not real outgoing, but I don' think he would be real good courting a girl or anything like that, because he'd be kind of bashful. On the other hand, I think if he sees somebody that he's interested in, that he can get over his bashfulness, that kind of thing. So he kind of focused on in her, and at first, after they made some inquiries, I don't think my mom was that interested in him. And then her family was trying to set her up with somebody else from that Livingston area who had better prospects, I guess came from a wealthier family and everything. But the thing was, he was kind of a... well, I don't know if he was a jerk or overweight, there was something about him that my mom was like, no, that's not going to do. So all of a sudden my dad started looking a lot better.

TI: Oh, interesting.

FS: Because I think there's a little window when a lot of pressure gets put on women or men to get married, so it was kind of like she probably had two or three different choices, and suddenly she kind of decided that, hey, maybe my dad wasn't so bad after all. Because he was pretty good-looking and had nice black hair, wavy hair and everything.

TI: So did they get married at Amache or after the war?

FS: They got married in Denver, Colorado, and I don't know exactly how this happened, but for a while my dad left camp and worked in Oklahoma City as a mechanic or a grease monkey as he used to say, for a Chevy dealership, and because he worked in a motor pool, that was his training. And then he came back to the camp a little bit before it closed, and then moved to Denver. And then, by then, I think my mom had moved to Denver, too, so then they decided to get married there, but this is even before the camps finally closed down. I think at the end of the camp period, things loosened up a lot more in terms of being able to get out and everything, especially when it looked like Japan was kind of going down, it was just a matter of time before the war was going to be over. So they got married in Denver, and I see all their happy wedding pictures and pictures of them and their best man, maid of honor standing in front of a car and everything.

TI: So did it look like a, almost like a traditional wedding with the white dress and suits and everything?

FS: Right, yeah. So whether or not they turned them in to the photographer after that was over, I don't know, but they looked good in the pictures. [Laughs]

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So after they were married, did they stay in Denver? Or continue the story, I'm curious...

FS: Yeah, they stayed in Denver, and I think my mom, she did housework and sewing and some things like that. And my dad worked in the produce market, and a lot of his friends did that. One of the things that he told me was that when you work in the produce market, he saw all the Winters apricots, went through there. And so it always kind of made him sad to see that fruit, because he said, "Hey, this could be from our old farm."

TI: Which is a good question, so what happened to the Winters farm? Because I know it was like sharecropping up to the war, so did that just, someone else just take it over or what happened?

FS: Well, remember I said the Bassetts took it over. But by 1942, in that period of time, all the Bassetts had passed away except Mary Jeanette Bassett. So her initials were MJB, and I remember that because on all the fruit boxes, it had MJB written on it when I was a kid, I mean, the boxes were still there because they were still functional. And I always wondered, what's MJB? Are they talking about coffee, or what is it? And they said, "Oh, that's Mary Jeanette Bassett, she used to own this place because she inherited it." And this is a story where she came from a very, she was a teacher in a private school, and she went to Vassar. And her mother was, also went to Vassar and was the president of the Vassar Alumni Association or something. And would go around the country and make speeches because she had this great public speaking ability. Although I saw a picture of her, and so she must have been a really great speaker, because in terms of appearance and everything, she's not real photogenic or anything. But her pedigree was impeccable. She was related to, supposedly, one of those original people who, like early colonists.

TI: Like the Mayflower kind of thing?

FS: Yeah, I don't know if Mayflower, but that same War of Independence kind of family, and that one of her relatives was head of Interior during the Lincoln Administration. So very well connected, and they had judges and railroad people in their family, and they had property in Iowa, too. But then that whole family died out.

TI: Except for Mary Jeanette?

FS: Yeah. And so Mary Jeanette was not only a teacher, she was a poet, she wrote poetry. So then she was single, too. So what happened during the war was she was the owner, and so she got somebody, a person named Dudley Sparks to kind of manage it, he was like a guy who lived there and was like a jack of all trades foreman type of guy. I mean, he never owned anything, but his family had been there a long time. They were always being foreman or doing something for somebody. So he was put in charge of it, and so he basically ran that thing. And actually, Dudley Sparks drove them to Woodland when they had to get on the train to go to camp, took them in the car. Because I asked my dad, "How did you get to Woodland?" And he said, "Dudley Sparks." So Dudley Sparks must have been a good friend though, because he was a friendly, I think he was a nonthreatening type of person. Because you wrote my name down here, Floyd Shimomura, but my middle name is Dudley, Floyd D. Shimomura, and that's how I got a very strange set of names there. [Laughs]

TI: And so was the understanding that when the war was over, the family would return to help with the Bassett land, or what was the thinking?

FS: No, apparently there wasn't any kind of understanding like that, because they ended up in Fairfield, and then they worked on the Tufts ranch for about three years, that's when I was born there.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Okay. So how long were they in Denver, or when did they move from Denver to, I guess, Winters, or back to Winters?

FS: Well, as soon as the camps closed, they moved back.

TI: So 1945?

FS: Yeah, 1945, because I think the camp closed, like, in September, in the fall there. And they came back on a train, and they stopped in, they got let off in Sacramento at the train station there. And they walked about five blocks to where the Buddhist church was at that time, and they slept on the gym floor with all the other people who'd come in. So the church gave people blankets and things like that. And you weren't supposed to stay there real long, but you could stay there for maybe a few days or a week until you could find something more permanent. So they got there, and then my dad and my grandfather and grandmother on his side, they were all together. But my mother, okay, her family came from Livingston, and they had a little farm, and they had a car, too. So when they went to the train station, she was pregnant with my older brother, and so they swooped in and picked her up and brought her back to Livingston, and she stayed there until she had the baby, my brother. So she always lived this little charmed life here. [Laughs]

TI: She was taken care of by her...

FS: She was taken care of. I don't know, she must have been, she was always the baby of the family, and her mother took good care of her. And the mother, she was like the matriarch of that family, so she could get, if you needed a car, she could get one of her boys to do it, because she had three boys and three daughters.

TI: So these are your uncles and aunts.

FS: Yeah, all my uncles and aunts on my mom's side.

TI: Boy, when I'm thinking about that, it must have, just like a massive clan for you on that whole side.

FS: Yeah, it was.

TI: The Morimoto, there's not only the direct uncles and aunts, but then that extended family in Livingston.

FS: Yeah, one of her family, members of her, one of her cousins who was a Morimoto, I believe, married a Koda, and her name was Jean Koda, or Jean Morimoto and then she became Jean Koda. So she was part of that whole rice outfit, and actually became very wealthy.

TI: This is, I'm sorry, your aunt?

FS: No, she wasn't my aunt, she was my mom's cousin. You were talking about the big clan out there, well, she was part of that, and of the girls, the one who really did the best. So my mom was really proud of her and talked about her all the time.

TI: So you mentioned your mom was pregnant with your older brother. Let's just talk about your siblings now, so tell me, you had one brother and two sisters?

FS: I had one brother and two sisters, that's right.

TI: So why don't you give me their names? So your brother's name?

FS: My brother's name is Sam Shimomura. Well, they were all Shimomura at that time. And then I was the next one, and then my next sister was Susan, and the next one was Linda.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: So what I want to now just talk about is more now your life, and your memories of growing up in Winters. In particular, I think I saw in one of your slideshows, your slidestack, and it appears that right after the war ended, Winters wasn't a very welcoming place for Japanese, that there was a very anti-Japanese sentiment there. And this is the area you're growing up in, so I just wanted to, first, was that something you had to deal with growing up? Was there racism?

FS: Well, I was born in 1948, so during that period, there still was a lot of hostility. But by the time I went to school, like kindergarten, it was like 1953 or so, people had calmed down a lot and things were okay for me. Plus the fact that my parents never really talked much about all the bad times in camp and everything, so they were operating under the traditional Nisei view, is that that's the best way to raise the next generation without burdening them with all these bad memories. But that period that you're talking about, the initial resettlement period, that was when Shigeru's tombstone was knocked down. And like even Winters, on VJ Day in Winters -- and this was true all over the place -- the people, there was this big euphoric celebration that people had. And even in little Winters, people often went down to Main Street and they danced in the streets, they were so happy. But then that night, in Section 4 where all the old Japanese buildings were, it all burned down. And so in the little newspaper articles they wrote about it, they reported that there was a fire in that area and things were burnt. But they said they never could find out, knew what the origins of the fire was, and that was it. And in hindsight, I'm thinking, well, there's a big celebration there, and it's nighttime, and they have this big fire. It's incomprehensible to me that no one would know who those guys or girls were who set the fire. I think half the town was probably down there celebrating.

TI: And burning the place down.

FS: Yeah. [Laughs] So I don't know if there was any... well, there probably was some hostile intent to it, but in terms of sending a little message about whether you're going to be welcome or not, I mean, the first people who got back said, "What's it like?" and they said, "We're not welcome here."

TI: Did your dad ever talk about that?

FS: No, he never talked about that, and I didn't learn about that until actually only five or six years ago. Nobody in Winters talks about it either.

TI: How about your mother? You said she passed away a couple years ago, so she was alive at the end, when you found out about this. Did you ever ask her about that?

FS: No, I don't remember talking to her about that, but she wouldn't have even known what those buildings were like, because she wasn't there 'til after the war was over.

TI: But just what the community was like.

FS: Well, there was also a photograph of a sign that says, "No More Japs." And it's on a tree right in back of the city limits sign, so that's not exactly putting the welcome mat out for people. And that's really why it was so extraordinary that the Tufts family was willing to have us back. Because I read in the newspapers later on that, in the old Winters Express, right after the end of the war, they had petitions going around where everybody pledged they weren't going to hire any Japanese, sell them any products from the store, and they divided up the Winters area into little, they had little one-room schools like Apricot District or Olive or Wolfskill or Junien. And so they used those as little geographic things, and they had a little captain for each one, who was going to go around and get everybody to sign the petition. And in the article it says that it was nearly unanimous, everybody signed it, but then they said there was always a few who wouldn't sign it.

TI: And you're seeing this in the local newspaper?

FS: In the local newspaper. And the thing is, that's another thing that I only saw later on, probably after I went to college and was doing some research. And the names of some of the people who were like the captains, were like the parents of some of my best friends and everything. And one of them was real active in the church, and he would come to, and liked to sing. I remember he used to sing, "Oh, I Want to be a Christian in My Heart," that was his, he always sang that song. And now that I think back on it, I thought he wasn't a very Christian-like person, or maybe he was repenting at that point, but I doubt it.

TI: That's interesting.

FS: But one other thing, talking about Section 4 that got burned down, I did mention that they built a Japanese school in 1930 there, so there's a whole bunch of kids now that were born in the '20s. So they raised some money, like five thousand dollars, to build this Japanese school which had a little auditorium and room for maybe three classrooms and a little kitchen area and everything, restroom. And they put that in the industrial area, because everything else was like a warehouse or lumberyard or something, and then you had this Japanese school, it was kind of in back of the warehouse, but that was not burnt down. And the story behind that was, in 1943, in the middle of the war, Winters High School burned down. There was a fire in the furnace, and so the high school burned down, and so they needed classroom space. And the old Japanese school, even though it was across the railroad track, was only like three blocks from where the high school was. So it became like the obvious fallback when you needed something right away. But the people who went to camp, they used that to store a lot of the things that they couldn't bring to camp, so it was being used as a big storage thing. So the school district took that building over, because everything was so well labeled and everything, you know how Japanese are, they were just meticulous, all stacked up.

TI: I heard that they taped the floors so they know where the places are.

FS: Yeah. So the school district could identify where all the people were, 'cause they were almost all sent to the same camps. And so they shipped all that stuff to the camps to get rid of it, they didn't throw it away, but they got it out of there. And I still have the big trunk now that they sent to Amache from there.

TI: Well, in some ways, they're fortunate. I mean, I was waiting for the story, to hear that they just ransacked it or they stuck it someplace...

FS: No, these are government bureaucrats. But they did that, because I asked my dad about that, and besides this big chest, they sent stuff like an ironing board, and they would write the camp number, the family number on it and ship it to Amache. But when they got that stuff, I said, "I bet you were pretty happy that the school district, they paid for it and they shipped all the stuff to you." And he said, not really, because they had hardly any room at camp, were so small. But the other thing was it gave them the feeling that they were going to be there a long time, because when you go to camp, you always think that, okay, maybe a couple weeks from now or next month you'll be going home and you can reclaim this thing. But when they get that stuff that you left behind and they sent it to you, it's kind of like...

TI: Don't come back.

FS: Yeah, don't come back. There's nothing... so it was a very bittersweet thing for them.

TI: Yeah, going back to that building, so the school burns down, they take over, they use that. When the war ended and the Japanese started coming back, where they able to get the building back or what happened then?

FS: Well, there was a shortage of lumber and building materials, so it took them 'til about 1952 or '51 to build a new school, new high school. So they occupied that for like eight years during the war, and then 'til about 1950 or so. And so they did return it, and my dad said they cleaned it up real nice and they painted everything and fixed all the windows. And so it was in very good shape, except we had all these kids going to school there for eight years. But they didn't pay a penny in rent or any kind of compensation.

TI: Oh, that's interesting. You ought to hire a good lawyer, maybe go back and see if you can get something. [Laughs]

FS: Well, you know, there's a story, okay, and I could never verify it, and it was actually told by the son of one of the publishers of the local newspaper, that a Nisei came back and he was dressed in a uniform and everything, and he went to the school board meeting and requested that the Japanese community be reimbursed for the use of, the rental value of that. And he was an older Nisei, and I think he was in the MIS because he could speak Japanese. And then after the war, he relocated to Livingston, same place where my mom came from, must have married one of my mom's friends. But because he didn't work in Winters anymore, he was one of the guys who was kind of in charge of that building where they left, and that he came back and was the one who made the request. Because he didn't have to live there, but he got turned down flat, it was like a nonstarter. So that's always kind of, that made me feel... I've been always so proud of going to Winters High School and everything, but there was a little sadness there.

TI: Yeah, it would seem that they would kind of, today, want to somehow make amends for that, or do something in terms of acknowledging that or doing something.

FS: Yeah. And I think they're kind of rebuilding the school now, so this might be a good time to make a request.

TI: Yeah, or just get the local newspaper to run a story about it.

FS: But it's funny, it's that they named that school, they never called it Winters High School, they call it Victory High School. And even in the yearbooks, if you look at that period of time, you don't see any picture with the buildings in it. So I don't know, this is kind of just a sensitive thing there amongst old timers.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Well, and you were the valedictorian of this high school in 1966. Were there very many Japanese classmates of yours?

FS: Just one in my class. And there were a few older and younger, but let's say, four classes, there might be maybe five Japanese Americans in the whole high school. And so the community used to have maybe two to three hundred Japanese living in that community, maybe fifty families or so, permanently, residents. And then during the summertime, a lot of workers came from Sacramento, Japanese, to work on the farms, and so the population would get a lot bigger for a few months. But after the war, I think it dwindled from like fifty families to maybe eight or ten, and many of those left as soon as they could find jobs in Sacramento or some other places, because they were just working on farms. So the community basically was decimated. I mean, I didn't really understand that when I was a kid, I just always assumed that this was about the number of people. But when I went to Japanese school, I should have wondered, gee, how could eight or ten families afford to have a building like this?

TI: That's true, because you grew up with this big building.

FS: Yeah, it's like of like, after the light bulb goes on, all of a sudden you realize that you're walking by a big clue, but you never even asked yourself that question.

TI: Now I'm curious, has there ever been any, I guess, what's the right word? Pressure is probably not the word, but encouragement for you to return to Winters, as kind of one of the sons of Winters, that dwindling community? Because I'm guessing the community's saying, all our young people are leaving the farms, leaving the area.

FS: Almost everybody did leave except a good friend of mine, Dennis Hiramatsu, became a dentist and practiced in Winters. But you're talking about, when I was growing up, is that Winters has this event called Youth Day, it's a day in the spring when the students elect, like a mayor and city councilman, and they kind of, on an honorary basis, they kind of take over the city and they have a big parade and everything. And it's been going on since like 1932 or something. And even though there were just very few Japanese Americans going to school, one of my older brother's friends, Don Dote, he was elected Youth Day mayor in 1964, and then I was elected Youth Day mayor in 1966. And I think two years later, Mervyn Kato's (brother, Staneley Kato), was elected mayor. So I think attitudes have changed, because that would never happen. I mean, even when the community had two hundred people and fifty families, they never got elected Youth Day mayor. So if any of my classmates are watching this, I had a good experience in Winters. But that reminds me of this autobiography that I wrote when I was ten or twelve years old, like in the seventh or eighth grade. Because I just couldn't believe when I found it a couple weeks ago. I mean, when you're in eighth grade, you haven't lived long enough to have an autobiography, right? [Laughs] But I got an A-minus, or I got an A on it. And I wrote about, "I was born on March 13, 1948," and that was my aunt's birthday, and her name was Florice Kuwahara, that was my mom's older sister. And like those Livingston people, we always felt like they were a little bit richer and wealthier, they had a nice car and everything. So when my mom's time got near, especially since there was a history of problems at childbirth, my aunt came down in her nice car and was ready to whisk my mom to Sacramento to a hospital, not a midwife. And it just so happens that it was going to happen just on her birthday. So they were waiting the last few days and they said, "We're going to name this baby Floyd, or Florice."

TI: After your mom's sister.

FS: Yeah. Because my brother was already a boy, so they were hoping for a girl this time. But I fooled them, so I was a boy. So instead of Florice, they changed it to Floyd.

TI: And is this all in your autobiography when you were in eighth grade?

FS: Yeah, I read that in my autobiography and it reminded me of that. And it also reminded me that I really struggled in school. I didn't really learn to read until I was in the fourth or fifth grade. And then all of a sudden a light bulb went on, and I could start reading. And then instead of being in the slow group, I got into the fast reading group. So I talked about that in my autobiography, and now I think I had dyslexia or something like that, because my granddaughter had that. And she had real trouble kind of reading or doing math, because these are symbols and things get turned around. I don't know if you know dyslexia.

TI: Yeah, my daughter is dyslexic.

FS: Yeah. So it doesn't have anything to do with how smart you are, but it's just that your mind, the circuitry of your brain or something kind of twists these symbols around. And I think that, in time, it's possible for your mind to make an adjustment and workarounds, so then it starts to work. But I talked about that in my autobiography, and then I also talked about how I sold a bunch of magazines and I won this contest, and then that built my confidence up. So I even ran for public office, I ran for president of the grammar school I was in. And I had a little campaign strategy, this was stuff that I had totally forgotten, like there were five candidates for president, and then for all these different offices. But I made a deal with the most popular girl in my class, because she was running for secretary, and I made her my campaign manager, and then I supported her for her thing.

TI: So you had a little ticket going on. [Laughs]

FS: And then on election day, I had little cards made up with my name on it, "Vote for Floyd," and then my campaign manager came up with a slogan, and she said, "You'll never be annoyed if you vote for Floyd." And we both won. And so at the end of it I said -- oh, and the other thing is that I got my award for the magazine right at the assembly just before they voted.

TI: So what award is this?

FS: I sold the most magazines.

TI: Oh, the most magazines.

FS: And that was like, if you're a candidate, the timing of it was just great. And at the end I said... I really felt like my confidence level was very high. And then it seems like not only stuff that I worked on helped me, but then other people helped me and other circumstances helped me that I had nothing to do with, I mean, I couldn't control it. And so I said basically the equivalent of, I just felt like I had good karma going. I didn't use those terms at that time. But then I ended it saying, "But maybe this is just the beginning of something else, even greater things."

TI: Well, that's what I was going to ask. So that something else, either an autobiography, or can you recall what that other thing would be? I mean, did you think about what you wanted to become?

FS: No, but based on that autobiography, I had this feeling like I was being prepared for something. Because it's one thing for the things that you can control and plan to do just to succeed, but when other things happen that you had no control over, and then people help you, like my campaign manager, maybe one of the teachers decided, "Well, let's give Floyd his award just before everybody votes." I mean, teachers can do stuff like that, right? They want to tip something. You start feeling like you're on a roll here. I wasn't a very religious person so I didn't feel like God was intervening or anything.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: This is actually a great segue into your connection at the JACL. Let's just touch upon this. You went to, after you graduated from Winters, or is it Victory High School or Winters High School?

FS: Well, Winters High School.

TI: Winters High School. You went to UC Davis and you majored in economics and Japanese. And I'm going to go over this faster because I want to get to the JACL. Then after that, you went to the UC Davis Law School, you were the editor of the Law Review, and you graduated in 1973.

FS: From law school.

TI: From law school.

FS: But one thing that you skipped over that I think is important is, during my junior year I went to Japan and studied on the UC Education Abroad program, and I studied Japanese language. And that was in the 1968/69 school year, that was the year that they had the big massive strikes, Japan student strikes. I don't know if you remember it.

TI: So in Japan they had massive strikes?

FS: Yeah, they did.

TI: It was such a turbulent time in the United States in 1968.

FS: Yeah, it was, and it was turbulent there, too. It was the year that the U.S.-Japan security treaty was going to come up for ratification, and both the right wing and the left wing opposed it for a little bit different reasons. Because the right wing wanted Japan to be independent.

TI: And maybe start their own military?

FS: Yeah, do their own military thing. And then the Communists, they don't like the United States because it's a capitalistic system, so it was a wild time there. But I really got to know Tokyo, and I watched Japanese television, and then I met my relatives then. And there's a picture there of our family, and my grandmother's sister went back to Japan, and so those are the two strands of our family now, my grandmother's side, which I'm a part of, and then her sister went back and that's the side that I visited. And the reason why I think it's relevant is that in the JACL period, besides redress, this whole U.S.-Japan issue was important.

TI: Right, I want to get into that, because that was kind of, there's a lot of U.S.-Japan trade friction happening during that time. We'll get there, but before we talk about JACL, I guess a basic question is, when did you finally start understanding what happened to the Japanese American community during World War II? This is something that you started studying like in high school or college, or when did you first learn about this?

FS: Well, when I was an undergraduate that was also the period when they were starting Asian American studies. And at Davis, Davis was one of the leading, earlier school. And the faculty didn't really recognize it as being a true academic subject at that time. And so they got the anthropology department, and they created this little thing, and so Asian American Studies was kind of put in there.

TI: In anthropology?

FS: In anthropology. And it had to do with community development and that type of thing. But anyway, there was a guy there named Isao Fujimoto, and he was very active, and he had some classes, but then he had a lot of, just little events where people would come in and show slides and pictures and talk. And when I was at that, one of the slides they showed was that picture of that city limit sign of Winters.

TI: Oh, the Winters.

FS: You know? And they showed that, and I was just so shocked, because at first I thought that sure looked like it said Winters on that sign, but maybe it was some other town, you're kind of half in denial. But then after it was over, I went over and looked at the slide again, and sure enough, that was Winters. And I thought, boy, that earlier period was pretty rough. And that's when I kind of, started looking into what really happened. And I think that's kind of when the awareness thing was starting to go up in my head. So that's, what, late '60s and the war in Vietnam was going on, and that's another reason I went to Japan during my junior year. I think it was kind of an identity thing and also there was just so much going on in the United States, the anti-war things, I just wanted to get out of that. Although I went to Tokyo and they had these big student strikes, so it was, if anything, it was a lot more brutal.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: What did your family, your parents think about you going to Japan for a year like this?

FS: Well, they were okay with it. Because at that time, the exchange rate was three hundred and sixty yen to the dollar, it was artificially maintained. So the dollar was really strong there, and as it turned out, it was cheaper for me to go there a year and live in a Japanese dorm than it would to stay in Davis and live in an American dorm. And once the financial side of it, my dad had no problems with it, because it turned out to be...

TI: Study abroad's cheaper?

FS: It was cheaper. But the unintended consequence was -- and this happened a long time later, after my grandfather died, because he died in 1983, and he was three says short of being a hundred years old, is that my dad told me that the only time that he had ever saw his father, Itaro, cry, was when I went back to Japan. So I often... see, because he never went back to Japan, so that was a big thing for him.

TI: Oh, and he was the one who left the clue, too, or we talked about his first son who died and he put the address on the tombstone.

FS: Right. And I think he would have wanted to go back to Japan, but when you go back to Japan, those guys want to go back looking good and being successful. And 1940 he was doing pretty good with the eight hundred dollars a month, but he got totally wiped out. Then you reach that age where you don't have time to bounce back.

TI: But then now his grandson returns to Japan as a college student, later on, you go back to Japan, you meet the prime minister.

FS: See, that was them. That was it, is that he knew I was going to go back and visit my grandmother's sister, so I was going right back to his area. Because when I met my grandmother's sister and her husband, my grandmother used to send food and clothes and sugar and coffee and stuff like that back to Japan right after World War II. Because they were really destitute then, I mean, everybody in Japan was like that. So when I showed up, my grandmother's sister... well, my grandmother, she was a real bubbly person and everything, but her husband came up to me and he grabbed my hand like this and he said, he gave me this real big exaggerated shake, and it was like, what's going on here? Because you're not expecting that. And then I thought, well, maybe he doesn't know how you're supposed to shake hands right. But he said, "I always wanted to thank your grandfather, Itaro Shimomura, when he returned, for everything he did for us." And so I was the representative now. I kind of think that's what my grandfather had in mind.

TI: As I listen to this story, it must have felt like such an honor for you to do that, it's almost like completing a circle.

FS: Yeah. But at the time, I didn't have that feeling. But afterwards, when I got a little older and I understood how my grandfather felt about it, you know, when you get a little older, you get more perspective on it, because I'm a grandfather myself now.

TI: No, as you tell the story, I'm in my sixties, and I could feel... I could see how that would feel for your grandfather. I think my grandfather would feel the same way if one of his grandsons were back.

FS: Yeah, because that was a funny thing, because that reminds me of when I was there, my grandmother's sister said, "Hey, Floyd, let's go for a walk, sanpo shimasho, you know." Okay. So she went around and visited, saw one of her neighbors, and they said, "Oh, this is Floyd from California," and so I got invited in. And the daughter came out and served us tea and everything and sat down and had a little chat, that was fine. And then walked a little bit more, and then exactly the same thing happened. Then the daughter comes out, and they're all so awkward, I mean, they couldn't speak English or anything, and got the feeling like they didn't really want to be there. But I was real thick. It wasn't until I got to the third one that suddenly the first two, okay, but when it happened three times in a row, even I started thinking, hey, there's a pattern here. Of course, my grandmother's sister saved the, takes me to the biggest house, they have a swimming pool and everything, that's the third and last stop. So she saves the biggest fish for last, right? But by then I'm suspicious, so I'm really awkward sitting down now. So that was...

TI: And just, maybe more explicitly, what was your grandmother's sister doing?

FS: Yeah, I guess she thought that I was being sent back to Japan to find a wife or something, and, because I guess that was how they used to do it. But the thing is that they would always introduce me as, "Oh, you remember old Itaro went to California? Well, this is his grandson who just came back, and look, he's a university student, goes to the University of California and speaks good English." Which, at that time, was kind of a rare, prestigious thing. And they always go, hmm, like, "Old Itaro must have did pretty well over there." So I kind of think that that was part of this thing that, even my grandfather must have anticipated that I would get taken around the old neighborhood.

TI: That's a good story.

FS: Anyway, that was... but it was one of these things that, at the time, I had one experience with it. But then with time and knowledge, you have a totally different perspective on it, so it's experience and memory that kind of grows with time. What you did doesn't change, but your awareness of what it was changes.

TI: Especially, as you said, you are now a grandfather, right?

FS: Yeah. And so that was... another thing that, her husband had a son that, we went to the beach, and this was my grandmother's sister's son, beautiful beach, and they said, well, after the war, the Americans came and they landed all these military equipment on the beach, and they had soldiers there. And the soldiers would drive, ride on jeeps and everything, and they would give us candy and throw us candy bars and everything. And he says, so I was so happy I got this candy bar, and I brought it home and showed it to my mother, and she said my mother was so embarrassed and told me never to do that again. So I asked my mom, "Why?" And she said she was afraid that a photographer would take a picture from the army, and then it would be in the newspaper in the United States and her sister would see it, "and it looked like you were begging for candy."

TI: Wow, such a proud woman.

FS: Yeah. But the possibilities of that happening seems like it's pretty rare, but hey, that was her mindset.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So let's shift gears, and tell me how you first got involved in JACL.

FS: Well, my parents were members of the JACL, and primarily because of the health insurance program that they had. But when you become a member, you get the Pacific Citizen every week. So it used to come in and then it was just like it was always laying around someplace, and then when I got a little older, like in high school, I actually started reading. And I learned a lot about World War II and 442nd and things like that, and I learned a little bit more about camp, but even in the PC at that time, they really don't talk about what the camp experience was.

TI: Why do you think that was? I mean, there was no censorship.

FS: Yeah, I think there's a couple reasons. One is everybody knows how bad it was so you don't have to remind people of that. But to the extent that they would talk about camp, it would either be like a reunion thing, or they have some pictures of people at a dance or something like "Remember When." So it wasn't like they totally ignored it, but what they focused in on was more the happy side of camp. And there was no focus on, gee, it was bad, we were victims.

TI: There's this injustice that needs to be...

FS: No, they didn't focus on that. And then the 442nd and 100th, those guys were all heroes. So at that time, I learned about the JACL, and also I was thinking, gee, what an interesting time to live through. Because I thought, gee, being in the 442nd, that sounds like it would have been a real cool experience. I mean, now I don't think that way, but when you're in high school, you're thinking, that would have been a real opportunity to do something for the community. But then I said, well, that was the old days and now the community is going down. So I said, by the time I get big, there will be no real community. There won't be anything left to do, of that same kind of heroic thing. So you can see kind of where my mind was at that time, that I really wanted to do something of that same magnitude. But I just felt like the time for that crisis period had passed, and so everything would be just more day to day kind of thing, maybe individual achievement in your career as an artist or whatever. But no, I had no conception of the redress campaign or anything like that.

TI: Well, you're just getting involved in, it seems like the local chapter level.

FS: Yeah, you know. Like the local chapter level is that they have a crab feed in February and a picnic in June.

TI: So then what happened? What turned the light bulb on in terms of getting involved with the national level?

FS: Well, then after I went to university, I learned more about what happened in World War II. And then after I went to Japan, I got a big review of what happened in Japan during the war and how poor people were. I mean, we suffered, but they suffered, too. Not only that, they had people dropping bombs and everything. It was a bad place all over. I mean, it was so bad that, as poor as we were after we got out of camp, we were sending them stuff. And I started thinking, boy, they must have really been hard up, because we had almost nothing ourselves, right? So I think my whole thinking kind of widened and deepened a little bit more. And then I learned more in law school about the law and the Constitution. And although they did hardly anything on the internment cases or anything, it was like a little footnote thing. But after I graduated, I moved to Sacramento and I took a job at the state attorney general's office and I joined the Sacramento chapter of the JACL. And there was a guy named Percy Masaki there, who was in real estate, and he was like Mr. JACL. And he kept all the books and records and money and everything, and then after I was there two years, he said, "Hey, Floyd, you want to be president?" I said, "I don't really know anybody, or I don't know what to do." And he said, "Don't worry about that. I know everything, I'll help you. You'll do a good job." And so I said, "Oh, okay."

TI: You were like in your late twenties at this point?

FS: Yeah, well, I was twenty-five when I graduated from law school, so I was maybe twenty-six or twenty-seven. And became president. And then after I got sworn in, I was meeting with Percy and I said, "What do I need to do?" And he said, "You only have one thing that you have to do as president. Just remember this and you'll be okay." And I said, "What is it?" He says, "You have to find your successor." [Laughs] And that's when I kind of had this feeling like I was probably the sixteenth person that he tried to get to be president.

TI: Well, I was going to say, it does feel extraordinary, I'm thinking back to that time, this is like mid-'70s. And at least in Seattle, the Niseis weren't that willing to give up their power, right? I mean, a lot of times they really wanted to control things like the JACL or the other JA organizations in places like Seattle and Sacramento. And that as a Sansei, it wasn't that, you make it sound like they didn't want it, but in many ways, didn't they still want control?

FS: Oh, they always knew they had the control. I mean, Percy really was the president, right, I was just like the puppet here. But, see, that was okay with me, because he knew what I was supposed to do, so he made me look good. But I think the other thing is I was a lawyer, and Bob Matsui, who later became a congressman, he was the chapter president maybe four or five years before me, and so they saw me and they said, okay, we'll get another guy like Bob Matsui, because Bob was a good president and these young lawyer types are always real ambitious and energetic and want to do something. But I always had this concern, it's like nobody knows who I am, because I grew up in Winters, I didn't grow up in Sacramento. I mean, how do they know, why trust me with this kind of job? So when I used go to around and talk to people and introduce myself, like, "Hi, I'm your chapter president, my name is Floyd Shimomura," they always would ask me, "Oh, where are you from?" I don't know why, they don't ask me what I do for a living or anything. And I said, "Oh, I'm not Sacramento, I grew up in Winters." And they go, "Oh, okay." And I got the feeling that, like, "You're okay now." I didn't have to tell them anything else. And later on, I ran into a couple people who used to live in Winters. So in hindsight... at that time I didn't know about VJ Day and all this stuff that happened in Winters, and the "we don't want Japs" signs and everything. But thinking back on it, I think what their thinking was, anybody that grew up there, he must be one of us.

TI: Interesting. So you think he had, like, street cred by...

FS: Like I came out of that place.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: But then, the mid-'70s, but the thing that still astounds me, so a few years later you're elected vice president of public affairs at the national level. So one thing in terms of the story you told about being asked to be president of a local chapter, but now to be on the board and the vice president of public affairs at the national level, how did that leap happen?

FS: Well, when I was in eighth grade, I would say there are some things you can control, and there's other things that happen that really help you that's just totally fortuitous, right? Well, it just so happens that 1976, the national JACL convention came to Sacramento, and we were the host chapter.

TI: And you were the chapter president?

FS: Yeah, and I was the chapter president. See, Percy never really told me that. He said, "Oh, this year is going to be a little special, we have a few more things you have to do because we're hosting the national convention." And they had a convention chair, so it wasn't like I had to do the convention. But at the convention, if you're the chapter president, at every dinner or event, you get up and you greet the delegates or you make a little statement, and then you always get to sit at the head table, and now you get to sit by the national president and all the officers, so it's kind of a high visibility thing. And so being the chapter president at that time kind of introduced me to, the organization got to know me. And I was very distinctive, because I was so darn young that it's like, "Who the heck is that guy?" They said, "Oh, Floyd Shimomura, he's from Winters." And thinking, "Oh, okay." But then they remembered what my name was, because I was, like, twenty-five years younger than almost everybody else on the national board and everything.

TI: So going back to your friend Percy, he kind of knew this. I mean, he, not set you up, but he wanted you to have this visibility because he knew with the national convention, he knew all these things would happen, right?

FS: Oh, yeah.

TI: So it wasn't like, just, oh, I'm just finding someone. He had this figured out.

FS: Maybe he did.

TI: Because now, as you look at your path, I mean, it's almost like, if you were able to talk to him, said, "Yeah, if I got Floyd in this position and people saw him, it would set him up for this and this and this." I mean, that's what it feels like, as I hear the story.

FS: Maybe, because he talked me into doing it another year. Because usually people only do it for one year, so I did it in '66...

TI: '76?

FS: '76 and '77. And in '76, as you know, that's when 9066 got repealed by President Ford. So JACL was kind of getting into the pre-redress thing, and there was an apology, and Michi Weglyn's book was published in '76. But the other thing that happened in '76 was Edison Uno passed away late in the year. And he was the chair of the Northern Cal Civil Rights Committee, this is on the district level. And Jim Murakami, that following year, the second year was national president, appointed me to that committee and also to replace him as the chair of that committee.

TI: I'm sorry, who was this again, who did this?

FS: Jim Murakami, he was the national president at that time, from Santa Rosa. And so I said, okay, I'll do that. Because he figured that I might know something about civil rights law or something, which I really didn't. But at that point in my career, I always said yes. So I got on that committee, and that's when I started learning all about the repeal of 9066 and the apology and everything, and the discussion about it. That's really where I learned a lot about redress, because then Edison always was this redress person. So people would ask me about redress, like I knew everything Edison knew. So I had to get them to bring me up to speed, like what did Edison do? I know that he made some speeches, but they said, "Oh, he's working on a resolution to take to the national council." And there was a bunch of other people who were interested in that, so in my mind, a resolution is like a document that you draft. So I said, "Oh, I can do a resolution, I'll help them draft it." But in that process, I learned a lot about redress and what the issues were. And the main thing that I learned at that time was everybody was so happy for the apology from President Ford, but you know, it was not satisfying. It's like, okay, he repealed that and said he was sorry, but why is it that I don't feel like that was enough? And people said, "We got to get money, not apology." Because without money, that's not sincere. I mean, it's too easy. They can't get us off their back just by saying, "I'm sorry," and then we're going to say, "Okay, thank you, we'll go home now." And so that's kind of where it became real clear that an apology wasn't enough, but that the system felt guilty or responsible, or was kind of conceding that what they did was wrong, and was willing to give you something. But now we're thinking maybe we're aiming too low there, right?

TI: And this is in this, like, between '76 and '78 timeframe?

FS: Yeah, this is the buildup to the '78 convention, which ended up, it was the resolution where, instead of just talking about, wouldn't redress be nice, this resolution came up with the $25,000 per person and the apology. But the real thing, difference, was they instructed the national staff and the national president to implement it. That was, no more talk now, this was action. And so that's the same convention that I got elected vice president of public affairs. So I was kind of, I don't know, it was kind of like momentum, because I was sitting in Edison's position, and then I drafted the resolution, then I was the one that went around explaining to people what was in the darn thing.

TI: Oh, so you drafted the resolution?

FS: Well, in JACL, no one ever does anything by themselves, but I was on the committee that, I wouldn't say that I drafted it, but I helped them put in the proper form, maybe.

TI: Right, so because of your training and knowledge and your connection...

FS: Yeah, there was a committee, and it was a pretty simple, straightforward thing.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Okay, so Floyd, I want to pick it up at the 1978, it was that Salt Lake City JACL national convention. This was the year you were elected to the vice president of public affairs, but then also the resolution, the redress resolution. And I've heard about this resolution from the perspective of people in Seattle who worked on this, because back then, Seattle was really active, the chapter. And I think they, in fact came up with, or were advocating for like a number and things like that. Tell me a little bit about that resolution and what it really called for at that point.

FS: Well, the primary thing was, the number was 25,000 dollars, and there was an apology, but then there was also a trust fund aspect to it. And the question of whether we should even ask for money was kind of controversial. I mean, all the people who were for redress were okay with that, with the money. The problem was with the people who weren't involved in redress but thought that that would create backlash.

TI: That was pretty much the rest of the community at the time. [Laughs]

FS: Yeah. But the thing is, they never organized and came in and fought against it. They weren't at the table, they just were out there worrying about it and maybe monkuing amongst themselves. So for all the people who were for it, then there was the question of whether it should be $30,000 or $50,000. But anyway, 25,000 dollars...

TI: Well, so I want to ask you about that because I'm not sure exactly the timing of this, but I was kind of going through some of your materials and things, I mean, you actually did some research on the issue of monetary compensation from a government. And this was even before, I think it was before you got involved with redress, or was that about the same time? You wrote a paper on it.

FS: I did write a paper on it, and it actually started when I was at the attorney general's office and I worked on something where, something happened in California where the court ordered the state to pay some money, a lot of money, but nothing like the billion dollars that we were asking for redress. But for political reasons, the legislature didn't want to pay it. And so I had to do research for the office on what was the power of the courts to force the legislature, and then obviously one answer is, well, they really can't, because the legislature's power to appropriate, the courts can't usurp that. But there were other things that the court can do for somebody who won't pay money. I mean, you could repossess somebody's car or house or building or something, so it's like, well, can they repossess the state capitol or some state office building or a state park property? There are other ways that they can, of course can... and the law said, no, you really can't do that, because that's, in effect, taking money that was appropriated for one purpose, like a park, and now you're using it for another purpose. So that got me into this whole question of, well, a little light bulb went on in my head that the courts only have a limited ability to get people to pay, or the government to pay, at the state level. And when I did research on the federal level, it was exactly the same. And so part of the research, the lesson of that is why JACL never really ever considered filing a lawsuit for money. Because the bottom line was, even if you got the court to award you 1.6 billion dollars, you've still got to go to the legislature to fund it. So if you go to court, you might lose, and you probably will because the court has, they have sovereign immunity on that. So it's useless to go to the court, because in the end, you're going to have to convince the legislature, or Congress, to appropriate the money. So let's cut to the chase, it's a political question, and if you can't get them to appropriate it straight up, you're not going to get them to appropriate it even if you have a judgment.

TI: Interesting. Did you ever have this conversation with William Hohri, with NCJAR? Because he went through the, his stance was, let's do the judicial process.

FS: No, I didn't. I never even thought to do that, because his whole thing... well, he was suspicious of JACL to begin with, so if I went up and tried to talk him out of it, it's not going to do any good. I have no credibility with him.

TI: Well, you had done this research, though, right? William Hohri was -- I mean, I interviewed him, smart guy, really articulate.

FS: But see, he -- and I don't question either his intelligence or... and there was a thing where he didn't like the idea of going and begging Congress for this money. What he wanted to do was go into court and cram this down. But his misassumption was, is that the court didn't have the power to do that.

TI: Yeah, this is the first time someone made this compelling case.

FS: And so, and if they did do it, it would have set, like 250 years of history and colonial history, and that's why Donald Trump's not going to get money for his wall, either. It's just not going to happen.

TI: Without Congress sort of appropriating that money. So it's really their role, their responsibility.

FS: Yeah.

TI: So that makes sense, because I remember having this discussion with William Hohri, and there was a compelling case that, wow, it's the law, and so that's for the courts to decide. But you're right, for the money, if you really want money, that would have to come from Congress.

FS: Yeah, if you want an apology or repeal of 9066, you go to the President, and if you want a conviction overturned, then you go to the courts, if your name was Korematsu. But if you want money, you've got to go to Congress. I mean, that's just the way it is. So you just have to take the most direct route, right? So the question is, talking about my research, because, see, in Congress, there's no statute of limitations. And also, there's a specific clause that talks about people's right to petition Congress to redress grievances, and that has always meant to go in, including getting money for any damages that you think the government has done to you. So there's a constitutional basis to go directly to Congress. But when you go back for historical analysis, you have to go back to the Civil War period, when part of the United States was under military rule. And during the Civil War, the Union armies would go in and round people up and put 'em in these little detention things, they would confiscate property and use it. They'd take the pig and eat it, and take the wood and put their soldiers in people's houses in the South. So when the war was over, there was a lot of people who said, "Hey, I was done wrong by the Union army." I mean, everybody, but particularly like, "Hey, our family actually supported the Union side, but then when they came in here, and we told them, 'Hey, we're on your side,' they took our stuff anyway." I mean, these are the kind of equity arguments they would make. So they would have what they call claims that they would file, private claim bills from the Civil War. And you can go through the congressional records and you can see them. And, in fact, part of the budget, they put 'em all together and they would total it up, and Congress could vote on it.

TI: So there's a precedent.

FS: Yeah. But the thing I was interested in is when was the last Civil War claim paid? And the research that I found was it was in 1907, which was, Civil War ended in '65.

TI: Right, so about forty years after.

FS: Well, it was actually, yeah, it was forty-two years, okay. Now, when did World War II end?

TI: 1945.

FS: Okay, and if you add forty-two to that, you come out with...

TI: Eighty-six.

FS: Eighty-seven. So I knew that we were running out of time. It was like good news and bad news. It's like, hey, you could still do it, because in the Civil War, there was the last claim, forty-two years later they were still paying it, and we're still within forty-two years, but that's 1987. So we're 1978, 1980, we're getting up on that, so we still have time, but we don't have lots of time.

TI: But although you said earlier, when you said there was no statute of limitations.

FS: No, there is no statute of limitations, so there's only historical experience here.

TI: So when you get beyond the scope of what's happened before, then you're, like, in unknown territory is what you're saying?

FS: Yeah, and we got it in '88, right? So we pushed that line now one more year. There's nothing that says they can't do it, but you look at...

TI: So reparations for slavery, for instance...

FS: It's like looking at Olympic records, you see how many people have run the mile and what person did it the fastest, and so there's nothing that says you can't run a mile in a minute, but no one has been able to do that. And so you look at historical precedent, and that's the closest we can get to the same kind of situation where part of the United States was put under military rule and the military did things, and people got rounded up. But after forty-two years, no one was ever able to get any more compensation.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So going back to the resolution, 1978, what was the reaction of people? Or maybe "reaction" is not the right word. What were people thinking in terms of the likelihood of it happening? I'm thinking of, Mitch Maki, in his book, I think he calls it the "impossible dream," and he's talking about those early days of redress. What were you thinking and others internally at JACL?

FS: I think by the 1978 convention, the national council, the delegates, they were ready for it. I mean, it wasn't like it was a close vote. It wasn't unanimous, but it was very strong. It's like, we've been talking about this for eight years now, now we've got to do something. But that's kind of the delegates. Now, there's a lot of people, JACL members and other people in the community that, they weren't up to speed yet, so I'm not sure what they thought about it.

TI: But how about you and the ones close to it in terms of just, is this really going to happen? I mean, happen in terms of passing.

FS: Oh, I think everybody knew that it was a long shot. But that didn't really matter, because for us, it was, we weren't doing the smart thing, we were doing the right thing. And for the people in that campaign, redress was a quest. A quest is something where you go out and you search and you try and get something, when you're not even sure exactly where it is.

TI: So is that the feeling? That's what I'm trying to understand.

FS: I think that was the feeling.

TI: So it was almost like, this is almost like tilting at windmills.

FS: It was kind of like that, and then there was this feeling -- this is my personal feeling, okay? Because by now, my thinking on this has really matured, and I was getting into that really pissed off kind of attitude. The more you learn, it gets to you. And it's kind of like, to not do anything would be dishonorable. That if we don't get it, which was probably highly likely, at least our children can't say that we didn't try. And if there is no redress, it's not because we didn't try to get it or demand it, it's because Congress wouldn't give it to us. I mean, it's just kind of like Victory High School, you demand it, and you try and get it, whether you get it or not, it's different. But the main point is that we tried to get it. And that was... there's a saying that virtue is its own reward, and I never really knew what that meant until I worked on the redress campaign. Because the people worked on redress, just working on it was the reward. You didn't actually have to get it, but it made you feel that you were honoring all the people who suffered. I think the only thing worse than that is not trying to get it. I really, it kind of gets down to it.

TI: Yeah, I like that. In those early days, who were the champions for redress in that, kind of that '78 to '80 biennium?

FS: Well, there were a lot of people, and some people are more visible than others, and I don't even know who all the people are.

TI: But the ones who impacted you?

FS: I would say that Clifford Uyeda, to me he's like, when I think of redress, he's the guy who, between 1976 and 1978, and then even after that, he wrote all these articles in the PC about redress. I don't think I've maybe read a lot of them... and a lot of it was just educating people on what happened and how bad it was, and then very systematically talked about all these different aspects of it. I remember reading that, thinking, gosh, how does he have the energy to research and write this stuff every week and get it published, and come up with other interesting things to say in his article? I mean, he was very committed to this.

TI: And so I'm trying to remember my JACL history, so Cliff, when was he national president, what period was that?

FS: He was president from 1978 until 1980, so in the same year they passed the resolution.

TI: It was just two years? For some reason, I thought it might be longer, but it was just the two-year period?

FS: Just those two years. Because in 1980, Jim Tsujimura was elected president, from Portland.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: And then in 1980, you were reelected as, again, vice president of public affairs?

FS: Right.

TI: So 1980 was also...

FS: The commission year.

TI: Yeah, that was the decision to go down the commission, not just the commission years, but kind of a decision the JACL had to decide, did we push for legislation now in terms of pushing for a redress bill, or go down the path of the commission hearings. So tell me your recollection of how that all happened.

FS: Well, I was on the national board, so ultimately the board had to make a decision on that. But we had a redress committee, and John Tateishi and a lot of people were involved in it. And because I was the vice president of public affairs, I kind of was, I went to those meetings to kind of monitor it and everything. Because in the end, I would be one of the people who would have to get the board to make a decision, so I wanted to feel like I really understood what everybody was saying. And there was a technical argument and then kind of an emotional argument. The technical argument is that you read the resolution, they said to go out and... they voted for a redress bill and they meant money. They didn't vote for a commission. That's what they said, read the resolution, you're supposed go out and get a bill that's going to get us an apology and money. There's nothing in there that talks about commission. But the counterargument, technical argument is, oh, no, this is just a step that we're taking in order to accomplish this. This doesn't tell us everything about how we're going to do it, it just says what the goal is. And as long as we take action that's consistent with reaching that goal, I think we're within the meaning of that resolution. And so I think from a technical argument, I think you could argue that both ways. But I think the real reason is that -- because this is the emotional thing -- is that there's a big trust element here. And JACL, because its strategy during World War II was to acquiesce in the government, to go along, not to resist the incarceration, and actually to encourage our boys in this and fight. So rather than fighting or resisting it, we were accommodating the government. And so, based on that track record, is that there was no history of JACL turning around and going after the government aggressively, that was not our history in general, at least, on our own. I mean, we joined the Civil Rights Movement and stuff like that, but the other people were spearheading it and we helped, but this is a Japanese American issue. So I think that there was... people, when they saw the commission, they're thinking it's like that fighter, he's just looking for a place to take a dive.

TI: Explain that to me.

FS: You know, there are some fighters that aren't really serious about winning the match, and so they're just looking for a way to...

TI: So end the match.

FS: To end the match. But then having somebody pretend like they hit them, and then they take a dive.

TI: Right, I get that, but I don't understand the connection to the redress hearings.

FS: Well, okay, it's the feeling that, not only JACL, but maybe even the Nikkei congressional people don't really want to take this issue on. So a commission is a way of burying the issue or maybe diverting it. It's kind of like bait and switch, you wanted this but then they try and sell you that.

TI: I mean, this is what several of the Seattle activists were, they totally felt betrayed on this.

FS: Oh, and I understand, it was because the trust factor was low. And so I understand that better now than I did at that time.

TI: And for the reasons you just mentioned, they thought the Congressional delegation didn't want to really go to the mat on this, and this was their way of deflecting it.

FS: Deflecting it or delaying it, and maybe everybody would lose interest at some time, or something like that.

TI: Including national JACL, they would say.

FS: Yeah, no, that's true. And I think that the JACL National Committee was very sensitive to that, and actually kind of shared the same view that they had to show that they were really tough. So they were, John Tateishi and most of the committee were really reluctant to go the commission route because... okay, this is another way of thinking about it. We were talking about how difficult everybody understood it was to get this issued. So a lot of it, the thing that people really think about in the back of their mind is, okay, if we go down, how do we want to go down? I mean, there's different ways of losing, right? And the people said, "Let's just take this straight up, take it to Congress, get a vote, either we win or we lose, but we gave it our best shot." That's a clean way of doing it.

TI: It goes back to the earlier argument, virtue within the...

FS: Yeah. But the problem with the commission approach is, one, even if you decide to go to it, one, you have to get Congress to pass the commission bill. Second, the commission itself has to review it and actually give you a favorable report, and the third thing is, even if they give you a good factual report...

TI: You still have to go to Congress.

FS: They have to give you a good recommendation. I mean, they could say, "We'll give everybody a thousand dollars or five hundred dollars." And so there was three different bad ways that it could end, and there was little question that, if we couldn't even get a commission bill, how do we expect to just turn around and say, "Okay, then we'll just go in and get another bill"? If we didn't have the clout to even get a commission, that would be the way it would end. Or if we did get a commission and then they didn't make the findings or give us a recommendation, it would end there, too. And I think everybody found that to be a very poor way of ending this. Everybody would agree, it's better just to go to Congress and get shot down than to lose on this thing. But the problem is, the congressional folks, they basically said this: "Are you guys really serious about getting redress, or are you just pounding your chest and wanting to posture on this? Because if that's what it is... and we're politicians and we understand that, then okay, we'll just put something in and try and get you a hearing and we'll just take our chances. But frankly, we think there's no way you're going to get it. Because most of these folks here don't even know that incarceration happened. But if you're serious about this, maybe this commission thing at least has a chance. Even that's a long shot, but there's a chance of winning. And we think we can get it done because we control Congress and the White House right now." And they were able to get it, because Carter was President then. But the risk there was, if it didn't work out, I felt like JACL was betting the company on that, right? If that's the way redress ended, that was the end of the organization. I mean, given everything that happened before.

TI: Because people wouldn't trust the...

FS: Yeah, the trust factor. And then the critics would just eat us alive. That's why there was great reluctance to go this way. But in the end, I think we decided that we had to also trust the Nikkei congressional people, that they were giving us the best advice, and they were actually trying to give us a way to win, not just a way to posture itself. And so we went with the commission approach, and I think the critics of that just sat back and said, "Okay, you get this thing done." And they did get, they get it. So they start thinking, all right, now you've got to get this commission appointed and then you've got to get recommendations and everything.

TI: And those things happened...

FS: Maybe you get it, maybe you won't. See, this is when a kind of a magical dynamic happened, is that after the commission got constituted, and then we got very good, favorable people on the commission, and then the commission started talking about the hearings that they were going to have, we in JACL that was... I mean, we were betting the company, we had to make this work, right? But I think that even the critics started saying, "Well, wait a minute here, we're not going to boycott these hearings. And besides that, we don't really trust the JACL to put the best case on it," so everybody jumped in and tried to make those hearings successful. Everybody did. And, to me, that was gratifying because then if we fail, I mean, if we tried to do it on our own and we fail, then it's like the Titanic going down. But if our critics joined us and they did everything, and we followed their advice, took all their suggestions about how we should argue and everything, and we all worked shoulder to shoulder and it went down, well, it's like we're all in the bathtub together, right? So it made it safer for us. And the thing is, the commission hearings, I thought were just a tremendous success. I mean, talk about unintended consequences, and normally those are negative things that happen. But I think the unintended consequences turned out to be all positive here. The community came out, and the hearings were... I mean, to me it was like going to a very sad funeral. It was very somber and people were crying, and that whole catharsis happened. And we got great media coverage, and nobody talked about, is this issue too old, too late. Because if you go to the hearings, hey, the victims are right here and they're still suffering. And then we got the great findings, and these findings, they discovered all the deception of the government and the reports.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: Yeah, before we get into Personal Justice Denied, I'm thinking of the arc of all this. So the JACL really encourages and advocates for the hearings, they happen, you're all part of this. The hearings go on, they're incredibly successful from a community standpoint, from an education standpoint, visibility, media.

FS: Yeah, on every level.

TI: And as those are, the commission's happening, at that point, you become national president, kind of at a, in terms of momentum, the greatest momentum ever, probably from the redress is happening. Tell me your decision to seek the presidency, the national JACL president of the board position. What made you decide you were the one at that point?

FS: Well, they have term limits, so you can only be a vice president for two terms, so you get termed out. So you have to run for some other position, so if they would have let me have, like, three terms as vice president I probably would have just been a vice president. But at that point in time, a lot of people wanted me to do it, for various reasons. And I happened to be from the biggest district, because usually it's the districts that solicit candidates for national office. And so the district wanted me to do it. And why did they district want me to do it? Well, I'd like to think that they thought I was the best candidate, but I think part of the reason was that after the redress hearings, NCRR and other groups got activated. And it was really an extraordinary time where normally in a volunteer organization, you're always trying to get people to join and do stuff for you, right? Recruiting... but we were in a stage now where this whole movement thing, we didn't have to motivate the community, the community was motivated. And, see, that's what happened, and hearings were '81, '82 was the year when they were doing the report, and '82 was a dead year. But you know, that's when the communities went out and got all their state employee redress things done or the county or city for employees that were fired during World War II. So there was a lot of activity on the local level. So really, it was a stage where we were channeled... as the leadership, we were trying to encourage and channel that in constructive ways.

TI: So with all that happening, and I can think of this, but I want you to say it. Why were you a good person to be president right now?

FS: You know, it's because I think the JACL leadership, they wanted to show a younger face. And because, frankly, NCRR and other groups outside the JACL who were interested in this issue, were largely Sansei­-based organizations. But for a lot of reasons, kind of cultural, generational, they didn't feel comfortable working on redress within the JACL structure. No, I totally understand that. And so I think a decision was made to, that I would be a good representative at the time. Plus, I think the old-timers thought, maybe correctly, that I was not a person that was hostile to the organization, that I was more of a conciliator, that I wouldn't do anything really crazy. But I can go out and maybe articulate what our position was. And in that way, it kind of helped the organization. I don't know, it's hard to say, but a lot of people wanted me to run, and I don't want to talk about the two other people who were my opponents, but let's just say that both of them were lacking in certain, they had some problems. So I kind of ran against a weak field. I mean, there were a lot of good people in the organization, Nisei and others, who, I think if they would have run, they could have probably beat me, but they didn't. [Laughs]

TI: Well, and you did your term, so what was the reaction? I think the headline, the Pacific Citizen, "First Sansei JACL President," "Youngest JACL President," all those things. I mean, what was the, after you were elected, what did you hear, what happened?

FS: I mean, there was the headline there, but actually on a day-to-day basis, people didn't really... well, okay, one thing did happen. Because I was elected at the convention, and it was down in Los Angeles, and after I was elected, everybody comes up and congratulates you and everything. But a lot of the Nisei women, JACL had women's auxiliaries and things like that at the chapter level. So there was kind of a segregated aspect, and the women really did a lot of work whenever we had a picnic or event or something, so they're indispensible. But they were very influential in the organization, they weren't always out front. But a lot of those women came up to me and I could tell they were looking at me like I was their son. But they also thought that maybe they were throwing me to the lions, because they said, "Don't let those Nisei boys push you around, Floyd. You just do what you think is right because you have the education and you know what you're talking about. And those guys, they don't know nothing." I mean, it kind of made me laugh when they said that to be, because these guys, they knew a lot. I had great respect for them, but some of these were the wives of very prominent people, so I guess they know these people real well. [Laughs]

TI: Well, but they were right, too. Because of your, even though you were young, you actually had quite a bit of experience by this time in the JACL, you knew how things worked, you understood the roots of the redress and the hearings, and plus, you had a legal background and had done research kind of in these areas. So you actually were poised to...

FS: Well, the education and the studies that I'd done helped me target the easiest, simplest way to achieve the goal.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: Well, so can we talk about, my next question was around the California compensation for the Japanese American workers who were terminated during World War II, and so it happened in California. I think it happened first in California, then I know it happened in Washington state and other places where the city, state, county levels, these things started happening. But I think you were, California was the first one. Can you talk about that a little bit?

FS: Yeah, that was engineered by Priscilla Ouchida, and from the Sacramento chapter, that was my chapter. And the other thing is that my mother-in-law was the state employee that was fired, she was among those. She'd just graduated from high school, she went to Sacramento, and she was working for the DMV. And then Pearl Harbor happened, and then a couple months later, like February or March, she said that they got a notice on a Friday that they were supposed to report to the auditorium at four o'clock. And then when she got there, it's like they were all like her Japanese American friends, and it's like, "What are we all doing here?" And that's when they were notified that they had all been fired, and people were so shocked. And you know, like when you were at your first job, your confidence level wasn't real high. So it just was really hard on my mother-in-law, because she said that she and her three friends, normally they took the bus to the DMV office. But after that was over they were all crying and they felt like they had been rejected from the whole community, not just her job, that they didn't even feel like they could ride on the bus, so they walked all the way back to their apartment. And she said they cried all the way back.

TI: So this was a personal issue for you, too, this wasn't just a compensation for the workers, I didn't realize this.

FS: Yeah. And a lot of these people were in the chapter, so it was a personal thing. But my picture is in that photograph, because I'm national president. I'll be candid and say I didn't do a whole lot of work on that, so I'm not... I mean, I was busy doing a lot of other things. But Priscilla really did a lot, and my mother-in-law was one of those that went out and contacted people, because they had to run people down where they were working and where their current addresses were. So she was involved in that.

TI: But the thing that it did, it created momentum.

FS: It did, and it was the first time the people got money, judgment, I mean, money compensation. So we went past the apology, and then it was a one-size fits all thing, each of them got five thousand dollars, whether they worked one day or ten years for the state. And, see, that was one of the questions that the commission was working on. I mean, what's the precedent for just having one dollar amount without individualized sizing or at least subcategories? But after this, the five thousand dollars that they got, it set a precedent that said that this was an appropriate way of doing it. And the other thing is, politically it showed that politicians could support a monetary compensation and not get killed in the polls for it, that it became politically acceptable. I think that was one of the most important parts of it.

TI: That's good, thank you.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: If I don't ask this question -- we're coming down to the end -- Frank Sato will be mad at me. So towards the end of your term as national president, in the last, I think it was probably in the last week or so, and the new incoming president is Frank Sato.

FS: Right, but he hadn't been elected yet.

TI: Yeah, had not been elected yet, that's true, had not been elected. So the convention was coming up later on that month. But there was a meeting at the White House that you and Frank attended with John Tateishi.

FS: Right.

TI: Tell me about that meeting.

FS: Yeah, it was totally unexpected from my perspective. But I got a phone call that said, it seemed like it was on a Monday, and they said, "Hey, we got a meeting at the White House on Friday, so pack your suitcase and drop everything and get on a plane and get out there." And so when you have a chance to go to the White House to talk about redress, I mean, somehow they found the money to do that. And the story was that Frank Sato was the highest appointee of Asian American ancestry of Governor Reagan, and he was the Inspector General of the EPA, and he frequently, he was part of a group that met in the White House frequently, I mean, at least monthly or so he would be in there, and he was the chairman of one of the subcommittees. Because Reagan wanted to cut government spending and make it more efficient, so he wanted to work right with the auditors and really make sure that they were always pushing, pushing, pushing on that. Well, through that contact, Frank got to know Jack Svahn pretty well, and Jack was President Reagan's top domestic policy advisor, and had also worked for Ronald Reagan in California, and ended up working for him for like twenty years during Reagan's political career. And he knew Ronald Reagan really well, and he was part of the, what they called the "California Mafia" that Reagan took back to Washington after he got elected president, people from his gubernatorial days. And so we went to the meeting, and at that meeting we gave him all, we had all this information that we used to pass out, and we were always updating it. And part of the things that we had in the packet was information about Ronald Reagan's 1945 speech that he made when he was Captain Reagan, not president, but just a young captain in the army, in the, I think, information corps or something at a funeral for Kazuo Masuda, a Nisei soldier who was killed in Italy, and he was a hero, too, the circumstances were heroic. Like holding off the enemy while people in his unit could retreat, and he did that a couple times, but the last time, he died. And so when Kazuo's body was sent back to California for burial, in Southern California, I think it was at Santa Anita, the people there refused to allow him to be buried. And I guess this upset General Stillwell in Washington, D.C.

TI: Right, "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell.

FS: "Vinegar Joe" Stillwell.

TI: And so, Floyd, I'm going to push you forward, because we have this story kind of already documented. But what I'm looking for is, so you gave Jack Svahn this information about the story, what Reagan had done, and how would you characterize the meeting in terms of the results of it? What was your feeling leaving that meeting?

FS: Well, Jack was very interested in it and said he knew a lot of Japanese Americans. But he was very interested in the Captain Reagan thing, and he felt like this was the issue that Ronald Reagan would warm to, and, in fact, he said in his opinion that if this legislation was passed and came to his desk, he thought that the President would sign it. I mean, this is based, not anything that Ronald Reagan had told him, but just having worked with him, this is like pure Reagan.

TI: And he said that during this meeting?

FS: He said that during this meeting.

TI: And this was August 10, 1984.

FS: Right. And ironically, Reagan signs the deal four years later on August 10, 1988, and so we had this meeting, it was positive, but at that time, neither of the bills had gone through Congress yet, and in fact, it would take another four years. But what we did know is after that meeting, Jack talked to the President about this at one of their weekly meetings of his top people, at least two different times, and reminded Ronald Reagan of his Captain Reagan speech. And I guess Ronald Reagan had a vague memory of that, but apparently he had gone to several funerals in his job, so he couldn't quite remember exactly what he said. But the amazing thing is that we had the text. So Jack Svahn became the advocate, because he brought it up a couple times with the President, and the President never disavowed or said he wasn't for redress, he always sounded interested, but then he was a little bit noncommittal.

TI: And this was critical later, because after Congress passed it, the bill was not veto-proof. And so if Reagan chose not to sign or to reject it, it would not have passed, so getting him to agree to this was critical.

FS: Right. Because there was a big faction on Reagan's staff was against it, and that's why a lot of this departments like State Department, OMB, the staff level sent out negative comments to Congress as it was going through.

TI: Just as a follow-up, Frank Sato has arranged for me to actually interview Jack Svahn, so I'll be doing that in the coming months, so that's something that we'll get more into the background.

FS: Good.

TI: Because this is actually new information that I think most historians have not heard.

FS: Right. The only reason why we know about it is Jack Svahn wrote a memoir and he talked about it. But then, not very many people read his book until recently, but now that Jack has talked about it, Frank feels like now he can publicly talk about this, where before, he kind of felt like it was like a confidential discussion with the administration.

TI: So, Floyd, we're at our limit here. Boy, there's another things I want to talk about, but maybe we're going to have to do another interview in the future, but we have to give up the studio for the next group. But just the one thing I want to do was, the reason I knew the date, August 10, 1984, was you brought a document that has that date. It's a document autographed by the full congressional --

FS: You want me to get it?

TI: Yeah, go ahead. Why don't you just hold it up? But it's the, after Personal Justice Denied was published, these two bills were introduced in Congress, these were the first redress bills -- not the first redress bills, but kind of the first redress bills after Personal Justice Denied on the House side and the Senate side. And it's signed by Senator Matsunaga, Senator Inouye, Representative Matsui and Representative Mineta. And the cool thing about this is they're signed to you, and again, the date, August 10, 1984, so that's how we knew that was also the date you met with Jack Svahn.


FS: This a gift to me when I was going out of office as national president, and it was given to me at the Sayonara Banquet. Even though there are some nice words about me on it, I really accepted this on behalf of the national organization. And I have donated this to the Smithsonian Institute, this is a copy of it, but the Smithsonian, I believe, thinks this is a very important, and I think one-of-a-kind document, because nobody else has this.

TI: On that we'll end the interview, so thank you, Floyd, so much.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.