Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: John Tateishi Interview
Narrator: John Tateishi
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 12, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-469

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

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is March 12, 2019, we're in Emeryville, California, at the Hyatt House. We're interviewing John Tateishi, on camera is Dana Hoshide, and then I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda. And this is actually a follow-up interview, John, that we did ten and a half years ago in Denver, and we had a fifty-minute interview where I really focused redress. So this interview is going to be a little different, we're going to start with your life history and the family history. When we actually get to the period where you start the JACL, we're actually going to take a jump, because I'm not going to re-cover the stories that we already did, and push ahead.

JT: Yeah, that's fine.

TI: So it might seem kind of weird to say, oh, he didn't talk about this or this. I just wanted to explain that. So let's jump in, because I didn't even ask this question in the first interview. Tell me when and where you were born.

JT: I'm an old guy. I was born in Los Angeles in 1939, in August of '39. So then the war broke out, I was about two and a half years old. And we lived in L.A., my parents had a farm and a store, produce store, and it was in Lawndale. And they decided they wanted to move to West Los Angeles, and they liked the community better, etcetera. So we moved to West L.A., which is where I grew up until the war broke out.

TI: And so help me, so what high school would that be?

JT: The high school in that area was University High. We went to an elementary school called Nora Sterry, named after this woman. And it was a very mixed kind of high school, a lot of Japanese kids, a lot of Mexican kids, working class whites. And then we went from there to what was called, in those days, junior high school, and that was a really interesting experience because that's where we separated. We were no longer part of a larger group, the segregation started once we got to junior high school because then we were going to school with kids who came from Bel Air, Brentwood... well, Brentwood had their own junior high. But Westwood and Bel Air, the rich kids.

TI: And so was it just geography? Because it was like you went to one school, but because of the boundaries of your junior high school, you shifted.

JT: Right. And the L.A. School District, which is enormous, I mean, bigger than almost any other school district in the country, if not the biggest, had very defined perimeters around areas. So if you lived in a certain area, you went to the schools that took those kids in those areas. Once we finished elementary school, we went across, literally across the railroad tracks into Westwood, and there we encountered a whole different kind of student body.

TI: And how was that for you? Because I've had similar situations, not necessarily that young, but I remember going from a very multiracial high school to the university, and that was the shift for me. But what was it for at that young age, going from a very multiracial school to something that was predominately white?

JT: What was interesting is that we came back from the war, I was six years old, very aware by that point in my life why we were in those camps. So I could sort of bridge between the younger Sansei part of my generation and those of us who are older, experienced World War II. So when we talk about the Nisei, I feel like I have this intuitive sense of the things that really affected them, the war years and after, and now we talk a lot about the silence, the pain, the wounds, as kids we didn't have that because kids are really protected. In camp, quite honestly, we had total freedom. If there were pedophiles, they didn't dare do anything with all us children around because within the borders of that camp, you screw up like that, you're dead. So it was very safe for us, we could roam the camps, but there was always the sense to me that we're here because we're Japanese, and all these white people would come in, like the teachers or the administrators, they leave at the end of the day, but we're stuck here, we can't leave. And it developed in me a sense of outside of that fence, America was there. In fact, I said to one of my brothers once, "I want go to America, I want to see what it's like." His response was, "Oh, you're stupid." But I had this sense of separation from what America's supposed to be, because I had already started school, kindergarten, nursery school, kindergarten in camp, and the teacher would talk about America as this sort of abstract place. And so when the war ended and we went back to Los Angeles, I had this idea that America was going to be a good place, and it turned out to be anything but. Because for us, as kids, going back to school, we encountered the mainstream population. In West Los Angeles -- I've always felt -- the saving grace for us was that there was a mixed population of Mexican and Japanese. We were there, and most of the cities were agricultural. I remember in West L.A., just about maybe a half a mile down the street, there was a family farm. This was not uncommon in L.A. in those days, pockets of family farms all over the place. So we were there earlier in West L.A., the Japanese population, and then Mexicans came to work the farms. So there was always this very comfortable relationship where the Mexican community, coming back from the war, they were the ones who welcomed us and said, "Come live among us again." And so we were there, but our neighborhood was working-class whites, and these were tough kids.

TI: Okay, so maybe it was that population that made it harder for you. Because as you were describing it, it was almost idyllic, like maybe that was a better America where you had Mexicans welcome you, welcome back, and the Japanese and multiracial, and then the junior high school was a different one, but you're now talking about the working whites.

JT: Yeah. And I used to get into fights, I mean, we all did. At one point or another... I guess I've always been sort of rebellious because I got really tired of getting picked on. I've always been a small guy, and so I was a target for some of these guys, typical of Japanese kids in those days, we all did judo. And not that I ever felt judo would ever help me, but I learned really early how to fight. I used to get my butt kicked, because these hakujin kids were so much bigger. And then I learned that it had to do with speed, it had to do with not being scared, or being able to face the fear. And I always thought one of the most important things for me was coming home with a bloody nose or a bruise and my father saying to me, "It's too bad," "Gaman," and all of the things that you say to a kid, but he would always say, "Just remember, you're Japanese. That means you're better than they are." And so I grew up with the sense that being Japanese was my advantage, that it made me better than the people who were trying to pick on me. So then I would go after them, and if some kid was picking on a Japanese girl, especially, I'd go over to the guy and just challenge him to a fight. And sometimes I'd run like hell and get out of there, but I learned that that was how you survived when there's that kind of hostility around it. With the kids, you could deal with that, but with the adults, it was difficult.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Well, when you made, now, this transition from elementary school to junior high school, and the way you're describing it, it felt like a very different environment. And so talk about surviving in this now new environment.

JT: What happened when we went from elementary school, where there was a certain kind of population of student body, to a junior high school that was divided by those of us who came from south, literally, south of the railroad tracks, and those who came from Westwood and Bel Air, the wealthy kids of Los Angeles. It was really different because that's where we began to feel the segregation. There was a kind of sense that you could not mix with these other kids. They came with, some of them came to school with chauffeurs, but they oozed of money. You could just look at them and know they had a different life experience. What's interesting, though, is because a lot of them came from very educated and well-to-do families, they were much more gracious. It wasn't like they went after us, it was like they just ignored us. So we felt, in a sense, second class, I mean, that's what they made us feel like. We and the Mexicans in school kind of hung out in different places, the Mexicans in one area and the Japanese kids in another. We all had white friends among the students, but at a certain point, you separate. And we understood that; they never talked about it, we didn't, but they were the ones who were kind of the popular kids, the kids who always were on the committees and did all things and got all the praise, and we were the ones who sort of, like after the war, you gaman, shikata ga nai, you just keep your head down and work hard and do well and prove yourself.

TI: Yeah, so this is interesting to me in terms of your childhood. So what's worse? Just being confronted by more of these working class whites just having it out on the streets, but at least it's direct, right? You know where they stand and you fight them, versus when you went to junior high school and high school, being treated like a second-class citizen, actually not being included, and just saying, almost this condescending kind of attitude, almost. From your perspective, what was worse?

JT: To me, it was worse in elementary school at that level, because it was confrontational with other kids. And you just had to kind of watch yourself, especially if, like me, I would say stuff to these kids. And I knew that they didn't like me, but I didn't care. I just figured out, this is my survival, this is how all of us get past whatever this is. I mean, it was, in very simple terms as a kid understands, you have to do this so they don't do that. And you understand the physics of it, and so that was hard, because it lasted for several years after the war. And you know with adults, when they turn on you, as a kid, what the heck do you do? And it wasn't just they would tell you to get out, they would actually go after you with words, and tell you you're really evil, you're bad, and all these really horrible things adults should never say to children, no matter how bad kids are. But that was how we sometimes were treated. This is not to say this is how life was, this is probably a small part, but in my mind, it becomes a major factor in how we had to cope with a lot of discrimination. You go to junior high school and high school where you have this dichotomy of wealth and working class, it's really different because it's not that they ignore you -- I had some really good friends. In fact, one of my best friends from the ninth grade through most of high school was a girl from Brentwood. And we were really close friends, and I don't exactly know why, but we have to sit next to each other, a couple classes, and it was, with her, it was really comfortable, as it was for me with guys, white guys. Because if you're Japanese in those days, and you're in white society, you don't mix. In fact, we knew you don't even ask a white girl out, you just don't do it, that's not the way things work, because it never happened. And with her, we'd go, I don't know, after school sometimes, go get a Coke or something. But the minute I crossed the barrier, it ended. And that was when I said to her once, something about, "You want to hang out Saturday night?" or something.

TI: You were asking her out for a date, essentially.

JT: That's what she said, "Oh, like a date?" I said, "No, no, no, not a date." I mean, you weren't allowed to be romantic with girls. And I said, "No, not a date, let's just to go Westwood and buy a soda pop or something," whatever you say as a kid. And so I went to pick her up, she lived in Brentwood, and her father wouldn't let her go out with me, and made it very clear by saying, "My daughter is not going out with any fucking Jap." And she's standing there. I was totally taken aback, she was furious, and said, "I don't care, we're going." And I told her, "No, you can't." And that ended the friendship; she was really self-conscious about it after that. And at school we would see each other and try to be normal, but it was never normal after that. Once you crossed that line, then it either works or it doesn't work, and this was just a social thing. It's like in high school, all the white kids went one way, we went another way. I mean, literally went in different directions. But when that bell rang at three o'clock, it was like, okay, all these things you do together, you don't do when you leave the school grounds.

TI: Right, so that's such a powerful moment where, in many ways, you crossed that line by going to, asking this woman out and going to the house, and then being very clearly told that you should not cross that line. What did that, how did that moment change you when you think about that? When you think back, did that change you?

JT: You know, I think I tried to just put it out of my mind. It was painful.

TI: But when you told that story, there was still a lot of verve to it, I could tell that.

JT: Yeah, it was a stunning moment in my life in a way a lot of things never happen. But it made me understand just where I stood. Not with her family, but where I stood in general in mainstream society. I really did feel like, okay, we're second class. I mean, this is like 1955, '56, I think it was. And I realized that's never a line you're allowed to cross, not if you're Japanese. And it would be years later that you would start to see mixed relationships, but at that point, it didn't happen. And it wasn't that her parents were that terrible, they were like a lot of other white parents with white daughters. And it's this whole cliche about your test of your tolerance comes when your daughter wants to go out with someone who doesn't look like you, and that was the moment for her, and she was as shocked as I was. I hid it better; I had learned you don't show this kind of thing. And I made the best of it as I could, and thinking, well, on Monday, I'll say hi to her, and it'll be okay, and it never was. It never changed after that. So that's part of what I carried with me as I was growing up. I mean, by then I was a teenager, and that plus certain other kinds of experiences that, to this day, are so vivid in my mind. And some of those have to do with my parents.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Well, actually, let's pivot a little bit, because I actually wanted to talk a little bit about your parents, so let's do this, and let's start with your father. So tell me a little bit -- and actually, maybe with your father's family, let's talk about your grandparents on your father's side. And just tell me a little bit about them in terms of where they came from in Japan and why they came to the United States.

JT: My paternal grandfather came from Shimane-ken. He was the second son, and he was yoshi, handing over a name or perpetuating a family name. My family is Arashidani, but he took the name Tateishi because of the custom. And being a second son, he knew he was not going to end up with all this land. They had money; they were landowners, so he was also a pretty adventurous guy, and this was in the late 1800s, 19th century, when Japan opened up to the West. And when immigration started and he came in, I think it was about 1890, he was sort of among the earlier ones, came to see what America was like and went back once and then came back to stay. My mother's family comes from Yamaguchi-ken, they also came from money, I mean, she came from money. I didn't realize just how much until one of my cousins who stayed in Japan, her family stayed in Japan through the war and after. She told me once, she came to the U.S. when she was fifteen years old, this is when I was in high school, we're the same age. She told me that when she came to -- this is years later -- that when she came to America, it was the first time she dressed herself. She had maids that did this, it floored me. But what struck me was, she said to me at one point, "You know your mother speaks a very different kind of Japanese, she's not a typical Nisei, and she's not Kibei, but her language, her Japanese is very different." You know, I'm a Sansei, what do I know about Japanese? And I started putting some of this together in my head about what Cindy had told me her family, her experience, about my mother's language. And then my father and my grandfather... and my grandfather, I grew up with my grandfather. He used to tell me stories about, "When I lived, when I was a kid in Japan..."

TI: This is your paternal grandfather?

JT: Yeah. He was my ojiichan. So I was really close to him, I always shared the room with him, he lived with us. So I was the one who always shared the room with him, so at night we'd be laying in bed, and he would tell these stories. And years later, I thought about it and I thought, "He had a lot of money," because he would talk about some of their properties, and where he would go to do something or another or a village they owned.

TI: But he left all that, right?

JT: Yeah.

TI: And so was he just, the adventure of it, or why did he leave?

JT: Well, one is he knew he wasn't going to inherit that, his older brother would. Plus, the allure of America. From both borders, the countries that are on the other side of those oceans, America has always been this land of, it's almost like magic. And he saw this as a place, in his mind, of real opportunity. He came to San Francisco first, and migrated down to Los Angeles, simply because of the population down there. And he bought land when my father was born, I mean, it's kind of like an old family habit.

TI: Well, did he buy land before the alien land law? So he was here kind of early, I was wondering if he got the land before the alien land laws, or did he have to navigate that?

JT: He had to navigate. Well, the alien land law wasn't enacted when he was first here. But if you were Issei, you couldn't buy land, people just wouldn't sell it to you. So he bought some property, some land, and saw that as the family's security. We lost all of that during the war, of course. So I grew up with him, and my father was very much his father's son, very philosophical, very reflective. My grandfather, as a little kid, he would meditate. And I'm sitting there with him, thinking, "How long is this going to go on?"

TI: Interesting, like the chanting kind of meditation or just quiet meditation?

JT: It was quiet. Every now and then he would make... we grew up Christian, but he was sort of a paradox. He was more a follower of Eastern philosophy in terms of the way he lived his life than he was a Christian. And he lived in the moment always, and was very centered, very calm. He found a way to find harmony in his life. And so when we went to Manzanar, he went with us. I got separated from my family.

TI: Okay, before we go there, I just want to stay with the earlier... so when you communicated with your grandfather, was it in Japanese?

JT: It had to be, because he didn't speak very much English at home.

TI: Okay, so as a kid, you spoke Japanese.

JT: Yeah. And then I remember, at one point, after the war, writing a letter to my mother's mother, my grandmother, my maternal grandmother, who was in Japan and writing it in Japanese.

TI: That's amazing.

JT: I couldn't tell you one character in Japanese. I'm classic Sansei, and I can understand some, I can speak some, but it's not a comfort level for me. But my parents were both Kibei, so they spoke Japanese at home, my grandfather spoke Japanese at home.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So let's talk about your mother then. Did your grandfather that you knew, your jiichan that you talked about, did he ever talk about your mother, his daughter-in-law's family in terms of who they were?

JT: No. We know very little about our lineage. I know some of it because my grandfather used to tell these stories. I never knew if these were actual real stories, or if they were kind of like a story he was telling me to get me sleepy. But he would talk a lot to me, so I knew the family had some kind of lineage. I found out later that our family goes back, I think it was traced back to the sixteenth century, but it's all very vague to me.

TI: This is, like, through a koseki type of thing?

JT: Yeah, yeah. In fact, it was when I went to Japan as part of the JACL delegation to meet with the...

TI: Nakasone?

JT: Yeah, Nakasone and Takeshita and the ministers, I think it was Takeshita who said to me -- he was number two at the time -- and he said to me, when we sat down, "Ah, Tateishi-san, you're an Arashidani." I was shocked. And he said... you know how the Japanese really do research? I mean, they really study. So they had files on all six of us in our delegation. Mike Honda was part of the delegation, Debra Nakatomi was part of it, Mike Mitoma. So anyway, there were six of us -- oh, Beth Renge, I don't know if you know of her. But they had files on every one of us, and I think the others were like me, learned something from what they told me about by lineage. And, in fact, Takeshita said to me, "Do you want to go see the ancestral graves?" Stupid me, I'm so Americanized, "Nah, I don't have time for that stuff."

TI: Wow.

JT: I mean, I realized later, boy what at faux pax that was.

TI: Because he probably had made arrangements and everything.

JT: I'm sure he did.

TI: Things you would do there, and have people there to meet you.

JT: Yeah. But, you know, to me, we were there to tell them, to give them a message that, "Your policies are screwing things up for us," the trade war and all of that. But that's where I realized that the stories my grandfather told me were probably all his way of saying, "This is where you come from," without saying that to me. And I think what he realized is, I would remember the stories more than if he just gave me this lecture, "This is your family's history." So I had these stories in my head, or I had, as I was growing up, and that's kind of what I would fall back on. When things got kind of tough, I'd remember some of that, I'd remember my father always saying, "But don't ever forget, you're Japanese, that makes you better than them," and I've always felt that. But it's part of my defiance, too.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Well, let's talk about your father a little bit more, because he's Kibei, so at one point did he go back? How old was he?

JT: My father was born in San Francisco, was sent to Japan for education when he was about five years old. Came back when he was about nineteen, so he is a true Kibei. He spoke mainly Japanese, he had very hackneyed kind of English, but with us he spoke Japanese, and we understood him. As we got older and we started losing the language, with a couple of my brothers he would talk to them in English, such as his English was. It was a mix of English and Japanese. With me, he kept talking to me in Japanese.

TI: So were you the oldest?

JT: No, I'm the youngest. I'm the youngest of four boys, and we were, between my oldest brother and me, there's a five-year difference. So it was one after another, and I was the last one. And my father, in fact, said to me when I was thirteen years old, I was helping him wash the car, and he says to me in Japanese, however you say it, "You know, you were the last disappointment." And I carried that for probably four or five years, thinking, "Oh, crap, this is what he thought of me." And my mother said, "Oh, no, it wasn't that he was disappointed in you, we were hoping for a girl. And when you turned out to be a boy, that was it, no more babies."

TI: Oh, interesting how you interpret that.

JT: Yeah. And he never told me that, he just said, "You're our final disappointment." And I'm thinking, well, I don't live up to my brothers, because they weren't disappointments. And I once told him, "You know, that was kind of mean of you." He didn't know what I was talking about, he didn't remember. Oh, you know, it's just this chitter-chatter you do with your father when you're doing something.

TI: But you carried that, thinking you were never going to be good enough for him.

JT: Yeah. And then I would think about all those situations I got in as a younger kid, that I was the one who was sort of the kozuro, and getting into trouble. And things like in school, if a teacher really demonstrated a lot of racism, like, "Japs are all really evil people," I would say something. I knew the principal's office pretty well. Not so much in elementary, because I didn't have the confidence or the wit about me to challenge a teacher. And teachers in elementary school are generally pretty nice, and there were so many Japanese kids, they were fine with us. It was when we got to junior high school that I started encountering that. I would stand up or raise my hand and say something, and get sent to the principal.

TI: So this great, because you are kind of this pattern of really standing up to things. I'm not sure exactly where that fighter, sort of, mentality came from, I mean, it came from the streets, your father, from maybe being the fourth son, having older brothers, but it's clear that you were, at a young age, a fighter.

JT: I think it's 'cause I kept thinking I'm the final disappointment. [Laughs] I don't know where it came from. Because my grandfather, who was one of the biggest influences on my life, was such a calm and peaceful man. He was a real classic Issei, he was all of these things, and we put the Issei on pedestals. We sort of glorify the Issei. A lot of them were drunkards and roustabouts, and playing around with women, but we forgave that part of their lives because we appreciated what they gave us.

TI: But it sounds like your grandfather, you still hold on that pedestal.

JT: Yeah, I do, except I did see him once drunk and smoking, and it shocked me. It was almost traumatizing, I sort of peeked in a window and I thought, that's Ojiichan and he's drinking sake and had a cigarette in his hand, although he never smoked. But that was what the Issei were like. I mean, my grandfather would do that when he went to visit a friend who owned a farm, and so we'd stay in one of the workers' sheds. And he would go to the farmhouse at night after I was supposed to be asleep, and I was awake and I snuck out and went over to the farmhouse and was looking through the window and there he was, drinking away. I never had seen a drink...

TI: And he was probably hiding that from you, too.

JT: Yeah.

TI: That's so funny.

JT: But that was the way we viewed the Issei.

TI: See, it's so different, my grandfather loved to drink. I remember going there, and I'm like five or six, and he's trying to have me drink whiskey, like taste it. And I thought, oh, this was just horrible that he could do that. [Laughs]

JT: I did that with sake. One New Year's, my father's friends came over, all men, and they're sitting and drinking sake. I was probably about eleven or twelve years old, and so I kind of snuggled my way in and I'm sitting there, and I asked his one man if I could taste the sake. My dad said no and told me to leave, these other men said, "Ah, let him have it." So I drank some, and I thought, "This isn't bad." So they gave me a second one, you know, these little cups. So I think, "Oh, I can handle this."

TI: And you just knock it back?

JT: Yeah, because I'd watch them. So I had a couple of them and then my dad said, "You should go." I got up and stumbled and fell, I couldn't get back up. [Laughs]

TI: And they all laughed.

JT: Of course, they're just roaring with laughter.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Going back to your parents, so how did they meet?

JT: Baishakunin. I asked my mother once, I was a young teenager, I said, "Did you marry Dad for love or for money?" And she said, "Well, we're not rich." [Laughs] And then I found out it was baishakunin. A lot of it had to do with their family backgrounds, why they were matched up. And those are the kinds of things, in my family anyway, we didn't ask a lot of questions. I mean, I think the Sansei generation has one huge collective regret, is not talking to the parents more about their history. Because there's such a void in what we understand about the legacy we each carry because of that silence. But for us, for me, my family, it wasn't about camp. We talked about camp at home, my father talked about it. And as kids, we talked about camp in school with our friends. And like a new kid comes in the neighborhood, first thing you ask them is, "What camp were you in?" and if they say, "oh, I wasn't, I was in Minnesota," it's like, "Get out of here, you're not one of us."

TI: Oh, did some of them try to hide the fact that they were in camp? I would think that, to another Japanese American, it would just be kind of a way to connect.

JT: Yeah, it was the way kids, when they meet, like high school kids, they always ask, "What school do you go to?" Adults, "What kind of work do you do?" There's that kind of introductory question that breaks, or either bonds you.

TI: Well, I see this amongst the Niseis all the time, they're always kind of saying, "So, what camp?" A lot times, before the war, where'd you live, and then the camp and all that.

JT: Yeah. But that, you know, for us, in my family after camp, we talked a lot about it. My father talked about it.

TI: So let's get into that more, because I want to explore that. So your mom and dad get married, what kind of work did they do?

JT: They had a farm. They had, as it turns out a fairly large farm in Lawndale. Well, it was agricultural. And they used to also own a produce store, and they sold what they grew in that store.

TI: And you said earlier that, back then, the family owned the land in your father's name?

JT: Yeah.

TI: So you guys were pretty well-off.

JT: You know, if we were, I never knew it, it sure didn't feel like it. But my memories start with camp. I have this vague memory of before camp...

TI: But just thinking before the war, fairly large farm and a produce store, probably had people working for him, and just thinking about your family background, and just knowing how to do that.

JT: Yeah, I mean, I think the fact that they both came from families that were landowners, it was a natural thing for them to do. I don't know if my mother's parents ever expected her to be out in the field working, but Nisei women get out in the field and they work, and they never monku about it.

TI: Even while they're pregnant?

JT: Yeah, life was different here. But I guess they had a pretty good life. I mean, my mother said, before the war, life was good. And for whatever reason, I don't know the reason, for whatever reason they sold the farm and moved to West L.A. I think they got tired of farming, I think my father got tired of it, and he became a gardener. In those days, Japanese gardeners were premium. They were the ones the really wealthy people hired. I don't know how it is up in the Northwest, But in Los Angeles, you look at all the biggest states, back in the '40s and '50s or before, the gardeners at every one of those places was Japanese. So they made pretty good money. I think my father just got tired of, kind of the life of being a farmer.

TI: So this is before the war?

JT: Yeah, we moved to, my family moved to West Los Angeles when I think I was about one years old. So I lived in that house for about a year and a half before the war started.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: So going back to your father, you had just touched upon this, and I wanted to get a little bit more. You mentioned that after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the community is, in particular, the JACL is trying to figure out how to respond to this, you mentioned your father was at a meeting where there was a discussion about this, and he had a different viewpoint than what others were proposing at that time. Do you recall that?

JT: You know, my father was always angry about what happened to us. He just thought it was so unjust. And the sense... apparently the sense before the war, I mean, when the war broke out, and all the confusion among the Nisei of what to do, I think there was already the sense of shikata ga nai, something is going to happen, we can't control it, and my father... I didn't know this about him, I had heard from a couple of other Nisei, who told me this about my father, not in a nice way, but that my father was adamant that we should resist, that they can't do this to us, we're Americans. The difficulty for the Kibei is they were very strong-minded. They grew up in a majority society they didn't feel second-class, they understood their place. They were, in some ways, as obsequious as the Nisei in the face of a white population. But within the community, they were tough, they were really outspoken. But when all this conversation started about, "What do we do?" The war and the rumors that were going around, and then the rumors started about an evacuation. And my father said, "No, we will not go, we have to stand up against this." And I was told by two different people that the objection was, if you don't do this -- and I suspect this was a JACL person saying this -- that there will be violence, they'll hurt us. And he said -- and this is what I found out -- he said that, "If they're going to do that, then let us stand up against the wall, let them shoot us, and I'll be one of the people standing." I heard that and I thought he was nuts, but wasn't surprised, that's how my father was. He always demanded doing the right thing for the community. My father was so tied to the community, and I grew up with that sense from him. My brothers not as much, one of them hardly. But for some reason, the osmosis that was created by his activities in the community, I picked that up very strongly, and this sense of, you grew up in the community, you have certain obligations, you take care of the community first, and you place yourself secondary to it. You're never a hero in the community, it's not allowed, it's not Japanese. You're guided partly by enryo, and you're guided by so many of the cultural values, honor and obedience, and the things that really matter, that's what guides you. So when he was at this meeting, there was apparently this one meeting that took place, which is what was reported to me by a couple of older Nisei, "Oh, your dad was a troublemaker." And that's where he said, "No, we don't go. We have to resist this and stand up against the government, it's wrong."

TI: And when did you find out about this?

JT: Oh, during the redress days.

TI: Didn't that just floor you to hear that story? I would have said, "Oh, my gosh..."

JT: Yeah, because there was a guy here in San Francisco who was Kibei at Manzanar, who used to, at meetings, when I started... with redress, I started in '75 as the Northern Cal District Redress chair. I inherited that from Mike Honda when he got too busy with his job.

TI: And you called him out at a meeting and said, "You're not doing anything."

JT: "You're sitting on your ass, Mike." I challenged him. And his in inimical way, he sort of laughed and said, "Yeah, well, that's true, but I'm also really busy with this other stuff," and basically that was what the exchange was.

TI: "Since you're complaining, why don't you do the job?" [Laughs]

JT: Yeah, "Smartass." So I grabbed at it, I said, "Sure, gladly I'll chair." And because the influence for me was Edison Uno, and I wanted to be part of this because I knew it was important for us. This was, for me, community. This was what this whole issue was about, about the community. So when I became the chair, I was doing a lot of work in the community trying to get the Nisei to understand why this was so important, and why they shouldn't resist it. Why it as important for us and the country, and that added "and the country" was what started changing that. And for me it was like testing the message.

TI: But what's interesting and this little lightbulb went on, I mean, in some ways, you were paralleling your dad's fight. Before the removal, he was saying, "We have to fight, we have to resist," and people were saying, "No, we just have to go along with it." In many ways, when you grabbed this job, you're pointing out to Niseis, "We have to fight, we have to resist," and people said, "Oh, no, we just want to go along with this."

JT: Shikata ga nai.

TI: Yeah, it was kind of like you were, again, continuing in your father's battle in some ways. Even though it was kind of interesting, because you were now part of JACL, just there's so many layers to this.

JT: Yeah. But that was part of what I think I inherited from him, is do the right thing, even though, for you personally, it may not be the comfortable thing to do. You have to step out there. And so part of what I was trying to do in the Bay Area as the district chair, was to convince people that this is something that we, it's an obligation. We have to give this to our children, it's the legacy we want to hand to them, not this sense of shame that we all lived with from 1940 to '45. And for the Sansei, we felt that same kind of shame. We never talked to hakujin friends about camp, we just would turn it off. Because we were really embarrassed and felt a lot of shame about it. But for me, it was about community always, and that's where I trust people. If they're community, I almost instinctively, inherently trust who they are because they come out of that experience. If someone steps in from outside, there is never -- I have never experienced that kind of level of trust with somebody who made, say the right words, learns how to mimic all that, but it's just bullshit. And so, for me, doing these meetings was really important to try to get just this one community here in the Bay Area to understand why this is so important. Also given the fact that the JACL, in the structure, this was the largest and the most active district. You come as Northern Cal, you can carry Southern Cal, you can convince them if for no other reason than it's competitive. Like you stick your nose up at them and say, "Well, we got our chapters supporting," so they would hustle their chapters. It was constantly that kind of thing. But for me it really felt like we had to do it here, this is where it had to start. So I would have these meetings, and there was this one Kibei guy who would get up and say, "You know your dad was a traitor?" And at first, I didn't know what to do.

TI: Because at that point, you didn't really know the story? Or you knew the story and you just didn't know how to react?

JT: I didn't know the story about the meeting before this whole thing started, the pre-evacuation meeting, and I didn't know how to deal with that. But you know, my background is, I'm a teacher, I was an educator, so you learn, as a teacher, how to do the dance. You get thrown off by certain things, you know how to deal with it. I mean, that's just experience. And so this guy would say something, and he was a Kibei, and he would invariably, every single time, he would talk about my father. So I sort of challenged it, but I found a way to cope with that and not have it disrupt what I was trying to do. He was trying to discredit me through my father. And the funny thing was -- and this jumps way ahead -- I'm in Washington doing all the redress work, and I go to the National Archives whenever I feel like I can take a break from being on the Hill, which wasn't very often. One day I thought, oh, I'm going to go over to Suitland in Maryland, where they have all the property files. I'm going through some files, and I come across this document that has "confidential" on it. I thought, "Why is this sitting in this?" And I pulled it out, this is like karma. I pulled it out, it's an informant's report where this guy says, "Our informant at Manzanar," and this description of the people he's nailing, and there's my father. Then I realized later, all these -- not all, but several of the people on that report, apparently he was following them in camp. When the riots broke out at Manzanar, all the people who got arrested were Kibei. My father was one, there was another man named Harry Ueno, and a couple of others whose names I saw on that report. So I could go to, I guess I could go to jail for having done this, but I stole it. I took it out of the files and I slipped it under my shirt and walked out with that. And I made copies, thinking, I'll make copies, I'll go back and I'll put it back, which I never did.

TI: And so where is this? Do you have this someplace in your files?

JT: Oh, I had about five copies in different places. So the next time I was back... and by now, I was the national chair. I was back in San Francisco doing a meeting, and this guy shows up with his wife, and I said, "Come on over here, I want to show you something," and I give him this report. And if a Nisei could blush and then turn a whiter shade of pale, he did. I thought he was going to have a heart attack. And I said, "You were an informant, you were inu in camp." I mean, the only thing worse you could be... well, there was nothing worse you could be. And so I said, "I'll tell you what I want you to do. Every time I have a meeting, community meeting, I want you to get up and apologize, and say that you were wrong about my father, and you had fabricated these stories." And he refused to do it, and I said, "Okay, the Nichi Bei, the PC, the Rafu Shimpo, every Japanese paper in this country is going to get a copy of this." And he just tears it up, I said, "Don't be stupid, I have a bunch of copies. That's not the only one I have." So at that meeting, he did that, he got up and apologized to me. But later he said, "You know, I can't be at every meeting." And I said, "Well, it's really interesting, because you've been at every single meeting I've spoken at, and made this claim. So I kind of figure you can figure out where I'm going to be, and I'll make sure it's announced in the local papers." And for a year, he showed up at every single meeting and made this comment.

TI: And what was the apology? What did he apologize for?

JT: He said, "You know, I said before that John's father was a troublemaker and had stirred up this problem, troubles in camp," and he said, "actually, I realized I was wrong," and that was it. And I was satisfied with that.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: And the incident we're talking about, the Manzanar Riot, this was a case where a JACL leader, Fred...

JT: Tayama.

TI: Was beat up, I think the report said, "By six masked men."

JT: Right. They were out literally to kill him.

TI: And he fingered Harry Ueno as one of the men. So the administration placed Harry and two others, I'm not sure if your father, but there were two other men placed in the stockade, and then this is where people started asking, because they felt that, essentially what you were saying, that Fred and some other men, the inu, they were the ones who were actually the ones that we had to fight against, and that Harry was a popular, I think he was head of the...

JT: Kitchen workers.

TI: Kitchen workers, and so very popular, which led to this riot. In the aftermath, I looked it up, twenty men were removed from Manzanar, including Harry Ueno, and sent to the Moab, Utah, citizen isolation camp, I think they called it.

JT: I called it an interrogation center.

TI: So is that what you're talking about? So the men who were fingered, someone informed on this group of, roughly, twenty men who were removed from Manzanar. Is that what we're talking about?

JT: The report I saw named certain people and what they said in this meeting, and apparently, at every meeting the Kibei had -- and the Kibei meetings were always at night, late at night -- he apparently reported on everything that was being said. He was a Kibei himself, so it was easy access for him. He was also a very loyal JACL person, which wasn't known at the time. And so he was kind of playing both sides. But it was during the riots that my father got arrested, and part of what happened, what he told me, was that he and Harry Ueno had discovered that the administrators were stealing food products. Harry found the master calendar, and so he knew what was being delivered, and certain things never showed up at Manzanar, staples, and they figured they're selling it on the black market. They both confronted the administrators, I don't know if it was Merritt at the time, whoever it was, it must have been Merritt. And it was around then that the riots broke out.

TI: But then what was the... did he ever talk about why Fred was, so he wasn't necessarily... yeah, I don't quite understand that connection.

JT: One of the things that happened in camp was the JACL became the contact point for the feds, because we had chapters all over California, and this is a way to communicate with the community. So the federal government selected the JACL as a communication point. That's why they knew early on, and had that emergency meeting, that there was going to be a so-called evacuation, and that was the cooperation meeting. They spread that information through their chapters or delegates about what was going on. So when the camps opened, the administrators decided they would have the JACL leaders in each of those camps become the governing body. They would be the ones to more or less �set up the infrastructure, the police, the fire department, if there was a hospital, the various kinds of jobs. The worst jobs, like digging the sewer ditches and working in the kitchens went only to the Kibei. Kibeis started getting pissed off, I mean, you know, they were stupid. And there was always this clash between the Kibei and the JACL anyway. So these JACL leaders, it was stupid of them, they should have realized that this was going to backfire. They exacerbated the situation in the Manzanar Riot, really sticking it to the Kibei. And there was a lot of anger at the JACL, and from the research I'd done, the intent was, they were going to go after Tayama, they were going to kill him. And I don't know who was in that raid party, but, I mean, a lot of them were running around. My father got arrested in a meeting with the camp administrator, and it was when the riots broke out. And so they kept him, I don't know where they took him, in fact, we never saw him again. And we found out from Mr. Ueno's wife, she told my mother that they were going up to Utah, they were being taken there. There was a black porter on the train who gave Harry pencil and paper, and he put an address on it and this guy mailed it. So she got the letter and told my mother that they're going to some camp up in Utah, they didn't know which one it was at the time.

TI: And was there any communication between your father and mother when he was away?

JT: Infrequently, but yeah, they did. And I know that they were writing to each other because she had photographs of us as kids, all dressed up in our Sunday stuff, to send to him. And I know it was for him at that time because it says, "To Daddy," and it's a picture of her and the four boys. So yeah, they were communicating. What was interesting, I found out later, in fact, not all that long ago, maybe in the past ten years, that my father was at Moab and Leupp, and was getting the crap kicked out of him because he wouldn't go along with the other Kibei. And one of the camp administrators said they needed to put him in isolation because the other Kibeis were, they were going to go after him. And so he got moved from Moab to Leupp, and the administrator there said, "It's not safe for him because he doesn't agree with the other Kibei." And they kept trying to get him returned to Manzanar, but Merritt would not have him. So what happened was the director at the Leupp camp, out of his own pocket, paid for my father to be sent to Topaz.

TI: Oh, interesting, Topaz?

JT: Yeah.

TI: I think the other men from Moab, didn't they go to Tule Lake?

JT: They all went to Tule Lake.

TI: And yet, your dad went to Topaz.

JT: He went to Topaz because the director there was a friend of the guy at Leupp, and he said the director at Topaz was writing to Merritt, saying, this man does not deserve to be here, he needs to be returned to his family, that he wasn't part of all this other stuff. And so finally -- and he had to convince Merritt, Merritt said no. Because as far as he was concerned, the troublemakers were troublemakers. But my father's situation was different. So he ends up at Moab and Leupp and getting his butt kicked by the other Nisei. And then goes to Topaz for his own safety, and the Topaz director is writing to Merritt, director to director, saying, "You really need to take this guy back." So finally Merritt agreed to do that, and the director at Topaz, out of his own pocket, paid for my dad to be transferred back to Manzanar.

TI: How did you find this all out? This is interesting.

JT: Files. And it's an interesting story that I knew nothing about.

TI: I mean, you could write a whole book about this.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

JT: Here's the other part of that that was interesting, I found out, and quite honestly, I owe a lot of this to the ranger at Manzanar. They're not like Smokey the Bear fighting forest fires, rangers -- you know this -- rangers do research. They're like academicians. They found out a lot of this information, but they also found out and told me -- and this shocked me -- you know Patricia? She and Rose Masters called me one day and said, "John, you need to sit down, we need to tell you about something." I thought they were kidding, so I said, "Okay, I'm sitting down." And they said, "We just discovered some files about your mother. Your mother was a "no-no." I tell you, if I wasn't sitting down... but I was shocked. And then one of them said, "Well, it goes beyond that. She renounced her citizenship." I thought, my god, my mother was a "no-no"? I never knew this. And my mother never said anything to me, through all the redress days. And I used to stop in L.A. to visit with my family whenever I was on my way back to California from Washington. And I would tell my parents what was going on, and at one point I was really struggling with the "no-no boy" issue, telling my mother that, "You know, the JACL really wants to eliminate them from any consideration. I think that's wrong, I really think, morally, it's wrong." They did it for a reason, and in my view, there was as much courage for them to sign "no," maybe more, than to answer "yes," which was the easy answer. And I said, "As long as I'm running this campaign, 'no-no boys' and renunciants and everyone, resisters, everyone is going to be included. But the "no-no boy" issue was such a big thing. I mean, we were still at the point --

TI: Yeah, but when you told your mom, no reaction?

JT: You know, like a mother, she said, "You just have to do what's right."

TI: But then when you think about her background, does it surprise you that she said "no-no" on question 27 and 28?

JT: Shocked me.

TI: Why? Why would that shock you?

JT: My mother was... she was a real classic Nisei, very accommodating, always taking care of others.

TI: So you're thinking even if she disagreed with the government, she wouldn't necessarily confront them.

JT: No, she wouldn't. I mean, Tom, this is a woman with four kids, one after another. I mean, age-wise we were really close. We never fought, we never argued. I cannot -- and I've thought about this for years, decades, trying to remember my mother yelling at one of us. Never, she never raised her voice. But she was also like a typical Nisei mother, who would say, "Well, I'm going to tell Daddy when he gets home." If you're a Sansei kid, man, you just straighten up just like that. You do not want your father made at you, especially not a Kibei father. So it would straighten us up, but I don't ever remember my mother speaking out in anger. She was a true Christian, she would always say, if something bad happened, she would say, "Oh, you know, just turn the other cheek." I'd say, "Mom, you turn the other cheek, you just get your ass kicked, they'll slap the other cheek."

TI: But couldn't she have been thinking -- I'm now just supposing this -- that if your father had not been taken away and he was at Manzanar, that as a family unit, he probably would have said "no-no," let's renounce our citizenship? And screw this country?

JT: You hit it exactly on what I think happened. My mother answered "no," she was separated from my father, he was at Leupp by then. And they had no communication, the questionnaire came out, she wasn't able to consult with him, so she's thinking, okay, this is how this man thinks. He has resisted this from the beginning, said it's wrong, and he will answer in defiance of the government, so he will answer "no." Well, my father answered "yes" to both questions, which shocked me as well. [Laughs]

TI: Yeah, see, that would shock me that your father...

JT: He was... oh, my father was so proud of being American. When you walked in his house, first thing you saw was this beautiful American eagle, carved of wood, I mean big, sitting on this cabinet. That was the first thing you saw, and he made sure it was placed right there. And that was one of the things he was really proud of, and he even had, I guess it was in the bedroom or his den, he had a small replica of an American flag in a frame, and it used to bug the hell out of me, I used to want to take that down and stomp on it.

TI: Well, on the other hand, now when I think about your dad doing that, it makes total sense. I mean, in many ways, he was more American than the other Niseis, that he stood up for his rights, he understood what his rights were, thinking as an individual, versus, in some ways, when I interview some of the men who fought in the 442, they reminded me of, actually, of being very Japanese in terms of how they just took orders, they did these things, it was to the death. I said, wow, that's almost like a, and they said, a banzai charge. It's like they were, in some ways, more Japanese than the draft resisters, which they stood up for their rights. And yet, how that was all turned around.

JT: It was all so complex. But my mother becoming a renunciant, I mean, she did renounce her citizenship. What I saw was, among the papers I was sent, was the interview she did with the, I guess there was an officer civilian agent who did an interview. This guy, he was a Jewish guy from Minneapolis, and he was so kindhearted, he almost led her through the interview of how she should answer. And he would say things like, well, "Here you say something, but didn't you really mean something else, and then what you were really feeling was this?" And he would say, "Okay, let's change that answer then." And he went through this interview. My father was sitting there with my mother, I think for moral support, after he'd gotten mad at her for saying, "You did what?" But he was in this interview with her and she, from what I could tell, they went through maybe twenty minutes of this, and then she fainted, she couldn't take it. And the final notation on it is that this was a mistake, that he was recommending they negate the renunciation. I found out about that, and I tried to track down this guy. He had since passed away, but through Patricia, the ranger at Manzanar...

TI: Patricia Biggs?

JT: Yeah, Biggs. Either she or Rosemary, or maybe both of them, found this guy in Minneapolis, his son, was still alive. So I called his son... I don't know how old, his son must have been in his sixties by then, and told him what happened, and said that I just want to talk to him, to tell him what his father did and how I appreciated, I just found this out. And said, "Your dad must have been an incredible man, that was a really courageous thing for him to do." Because I imagine, giving the situation, the war and everything, he could very well have lost his job. And he said, "You know, my father always did what was right." And so we had this really nice conversation, but I was so shocked by that. I have to tell you, I haven't even told my brothers. I'm the only one in the family who knows this. I've been trying to figure out, how do I tell my brothers this without some kind of... I don't know what kind of trauma it's going to put them in, because they have very strong feelings about the whole camp thing.

TI: Were they actually opposed to people who went "no-no" and went to Tule Lake?

JT: No, it's just that they're all older than I am. My two oldest brothers still live in Los Angeles, they're still part of the community, but I think they want to be just kind of left alone. They're in their eighties and they don't want to have to deal with stuff. The brother who's just older than I am was an Air Force pilot during the Vietnam War, and is someone who's very aware of politics in America, and he and I communicate a lot about what's happening with the world since Trump, the kind of concern we both have, trying to figure certain things. And it's helpful for me to talk to him because he's a military guy, or he was, and so I get that perspective from him. Things like, "What happens if this idiot says, 'Give me that suitcase, I'm going to push the button?'" And he feels that... well, until all the generals left the Trump administration, that they would stop them, they would be the final decider on that and not the president. And so he's the one who's the most aware of what happened in camp, and really aware of my work with the JACL, redress, and after 9/11, and we communicate a lot about those things. He's really concerned about the legacy we leave behind.

TI: The family legacy, or the community legacy?

JT: Both. And he's a really proud guy, and he deserves to know about both my mother and father.

TI: I just think this makes your story, the family story, just so much more rich, just in terms of thinking about the pieces. And even I, when we talk about it in this interview, why your mother might have done that. Because at first look, I would have said, "Oh, yeah, your dad would have done 'no-no,'" but then in talking to you about this, and a little bit more about him, no, he in some ways valued America. So this is what makes it so interesting. It's more complicated than you look at face value. And that was the problem with the whole "no-no" situation to begin with.

JT: Yeah, exactly.

TI: That said, "Oh, if they're 'no-no' or whatever, they're anti-American or whatever." I mean, there was a faction that they were true resisters. They were resisting, they weren't pro-Japan, they were resisting based on what they believed in terms of what an American should be doing.

JT: Right.

TI: And so I think it actually, in that context, actually makes sense.

JT: Yeah, and it took me a while to figure that out about why my mother did what she did, and why my father did what he did. And as you're saying, it made complete sense to me. So what my mother was thinking was, well, he's going to be really pissed off, he's going to be angry. To have this kind of insult, having to answer this question, she assumed he was going to answer "no." But then if she really thought about my father, she would realize, "But he's always fought for what's right about America from before the war, everything about him." And so the logic would be, well, he would answer "yes," begrudgingly, but he would answer yes.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Well now I'm curious, thinking back on what you said, this conflict with the other Kibeis at Moab and Leupp, do you have any sense of what they were arguing about? I wonder if it was around this issue in some ways, in terms of, how should we respond to the U.S.?

JT: I haven't seen anything that describes the issues they were fighting about, but I do know that they felt that he wasn't cooperating with them. Part of it, I think, was that they were intent on creating trouble, and he just, that wasn't the kind of person he was. Regardless of anything else about him, I think about him being in that situation where if they said, "Well, let's go raise hell," he wouldn't do that. That's not who he was. He was kind of like a nerd in a way where he just, "Let me read my book," that was kind of how he was.

TI: And the reason, as I'm doing this interview, there is a depth to him that is really interesting given his background, and I think his education probably made a difference in terms of how he looked at this.

JT: Yeah. And he is his father's son.

TI: And as we're finding, you're your father's son also.

JT: Yeah.

TI: So just some clarification, at some point, you said your father was reunited with the family, was this back at Manzanar?

JT: Yeah, he was the only one among those arrested and sent away to be allowed to come back to Manzanar, and it was because, at the behest of these directors at Leupp and Moab and Topaz, they're the ones who arranged that.

TI: And so it's interesting in terms of that, again, reading between the lines, the group, minus your father, ended up going to Tule Lake, which was sort of designated, in many ways, in the administration's mind, kind of as a more pro-Japan segregation camp.

JT: Yeah.

TI: And these directors, who, perhaps, had more knowledge about what was going on, kept trying to get him back to Manzanar with the family. And so that is kind of telling in some ways, also.

JT: Yeah, and quite honestly, he wouldn't have fit at Tule. He'd have gotten into a lot of trouble, not from the administrators or the soldiers, but from the other Kibei. He was so unlike them in so many ways. But he was a true Kibei, he grew up in Japan and came back really understanding what it means to be Japanese, and trying to figure out, "What is the American side of me?" and always fought to maintain that. And so we were brought up always, always understanding that we had a place in this country, this was our country, and we had to fight for it. So as I look back on all these things that happened in my family, it all makes sense in a lot of ways. But he's certainly a pivotal figure in all of it for us, for me, certainly.

TI: And then after Manzanar, they returned to Los Angeles?

JT: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So we're going to start up again, John, so we're going to jump. I mentioned earlier, ten and a half years ago we interviewed you about when you first started JACL in September, and you became the, Cliff Uyeda appointed you the head of the National Redress Committee. And then we talked about a couple of key meetings, one meeting with the congressional members, Senator Inouye, Senator Matsunaga, Representative Mineta and Representative Matsui, that led to kind of going down this path of the commission hearings. But then a key meeting following that was for your committee to decide which way to go, and you talked about that meeting and how, with a 4-2 vote, the decision was go forward with the commission hearings. So I just wanted to pick it up there, and this next part, it doesn't have to be necessarily just a retelling, because we can look at books and find out all the details, I'm really looking from your perspective, the important things that aren't being talked about, or people don't know about, or maybe some of the feelings you felt or how you felt. So just as a start, what was the reaction from the decision of the committee? Let's do the hearings, how did people react to that?

JT: Well, you know, quite honestly, I really didn't want to do a commission. My feeling was, this is about honor. I mean, redress to me was always about honor and giving the Nisei something. And for me, the feeling was, they deserve to have us go fight this thing on the hill. Everyone has said it's impossible, you're never going to be able to do this. So we've gotten farther than anyone would have expected. By that point in time, I was already starting to do a lot of public stuff. I launched this thing into a public arena, because my belief was, until the American public agreed with us, or the majority, we would never get any bill passed. There was so much hatred against us. This was during the trade wars between the U.S. and Japan. So I thought we only had a limited amount of time and resources and energy, let's just go to the hill and slug this one out. And if we lose, then we're losing, we're doing what was expected, but at least we give the Nisei the sense that we tried our best. But then I realized, we deserve, or they deserve for us to give them more than "we tried our best." And I was convinced... I was convinced by Dan Inouye when he said, "You'll get more publicity out of this than all the money the JACL could ever raise. If you do this right, and you get the kind of publicity you can get. If it's done right, then that's one of the most important things you're gonna do whether you get money or not." And I believed what he was saying, because I'd already started doing a lot of that exploration and sending press releases. It's shooting from the hip, you don't know who's going to accept what, and you can be as provocative in press releases as you want, but if they don't want to talk to you, they don't talk to you. You don't get on the air and all of that. So I thought, "This is a good avenue for us to take. At least this way we get this debate out in the public. What I really wanted was to have a sense of direction, whatever it was. My sense was compensation bill, but we had this vote that said commission. I was convinced this was the right decision. I didn't like it, but I realized, this is what we had to do.

And so what happened to me was Ikejiri called me about four days after the meeting on the hill, and said Norm Mineta has changed his mind. Norm says, "Oh, the hell with a commission," in this meeting with the big four. He said, "Let's just go for it," and Sparky agreed with him. But Ikejiri called me and said, "Norm's changed his mind, he thinks this is really the wise path to take." That changed everything for me. I mean, when Norm Mineta tells you, "This is what I think is best for us," he's not saying, "for you guys who are Japanese Americans," he's saying, "for us who grovel at the base level of the community and fight for what we get." He was part of what we were fighting for. And so he was the one who, for me, was really convincing, that this was the route we had to take. So when we made that decision and we publicized it, we sent out a press release, this was the JACL decision, I knew there would be hell to pay. And I told everyone on the committee, "I want you guys to stand up to what's going to happen, because it's going to get really ugly out there."

TI: Because what you thought would happen is, so 1978, the resolution was passed to push for legislation, and then you guys go behind the scenes and all of a sudden something else was being proposed that actually takes them sideways, so that's what you were anticipating.

JT: Yeah. And we already knew that people like William Hohri and some of the others were on the attack.

TI: Well, the whole Seattle community, right?

JT: Yeah, this was a bloody mess up in Seattle. I mean, I kind of gained a reputation up there like, "Don't ever come into our territory again."

TI: Just a side note, when we first started Densho twenty-three years ago, there was a meeting, said, "Well, we should get national JACL involved," right? And the comments that rained down on that person, like, "Oh, they can't be trusted," I think it all came from this, because there were some people that were involved with the redress, still feeling betrayed, even though redress had passed, right?

JT: Yeah. What really kind of bothered me a lot, quite honestly, was, I started seeing letters to the editor or started seeing articles one place or another. And what I saw was "Masaoka in cooperation in '42, and Tateishi and commission in '78," or '80, I guess it was. And I just, it really, really bothered me. And I thought, "Is this the legacy my kids are going to grow up with, knowing that this is what people thought of me?" And it wasn't that I cared that much, it just bothered me.

TI: Why were you so aligned with that decision? Was it overall JACL, you had Cliff Uyeda and all these other people, why were you kind of painted as the villain?

JT: Because I was the chair, and it was known that I stacked the deck. I don't know if I mentioned this before --

TI: You did, you talked about all that. But that was all sort of behind the scenes, though, people didn't really know, right?

JT: People knew. You cannot hide the fact that all of a sudden you have Bill Marutani on the committee, that I appointed him to be there, knowing that Bill would only vote one way. It was an absolute guaranteed vote. You know, he's a friend of the four Nikkeis on the hill, so of course he's going to vote for what they think is the right course. And I didn't expect it to split the way it did, because Ray Okumura was the one person I thought was going to go the other way.

TI: Right, so you were expecting 3-3, and that you would break the tie.

JT: Yeah. That's why I needed Bill to get that 3-3 vote, otherwise it would have been 4-2 the other way, or 3-2. I needed that tying vote. So that's why I bought Bill on. And so the word going on was, "Tateishi stacked the committee to get this commission, he's kowtowing to Inouye." What nobody knows is that the person who made me really convinced this was the way to go was Norm Mineta saying, "I think this is probably the best way to do it." That convinced me absolutely, because once Norm said that, and I found out from Ikejiri, I realized, to go any other direction would be foolish. Because it wasn't... what I realized about the politics of all this, is that it wasn't to make a good show, it was to do the right thing and make it right for the Nisei. We need to take this as far as we can. I wasn't convinced still that we would win this battle, because everyone said, "You can't do it." I mean, anyone who knew politics, who I knew, said, "It's impossible. You have to get to Congress."

TI: And so in some ways, you took a more difficult path just to, in some ways, like you said earlier, almost prolong the discussion, debate on a national level by having the commission hearings, it would stay visible.

JT: Yeah, that was the whole thing. I mean, there was a power struggle within the JACL between the traditional JACL, us, and the LEC, the other group that wanted to push harder on the legislation. So what they said was, "Well, John's had his time, he can do education because that's what he does," forgetting that for five year, I'd been lobbying the Congress. But education, to me, was really important, because I thought, okay, if we don't get the money, and everyone's saying we'll never get the money, what's important is that the American public understand who and what we were, and that we were the ones who were betrayed, and that we never betrayed this country. We were never traitors to the United States, it was the United States that undercut the foundations of democracy. They threw us into prison as a racist act, and that's the legacy the Nisei had.

TI: Right.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: But you talked about, I didn't know about this. So there was this internal struggle going on at national JACL between, you said, the LEC and National?

JT: Yeah. You didn't know that?

TI: No, I didn't know that, tell me a little bit more about this.

JT: We had reached a certain point, we had the commission hearings, the response on that was just incredible. I mean, it was better than Inouye even imagined. It was overwhelming. That was the single most important part of the redress campaign, it changed the way Americans viewed Japanese Americans. And we put all our cards into the basket of the commission, saying, "All right, we're not going to lobby the commission for their findings." I had to make a promise that I would not talk to anyone on the research staff. Angus Macbeth, yeah, because he was the director, I needed to talk to him, but I said, "No, I will not agree to stay away from the commissioners. That's my right, to lobby them," which I did. Every single one except Bill Marutani, who told me, when he got appointed, "From this day on, you and I don't talk. I will not take any phone calls from you, I won't have any meetings with you," because he didn't want his views to be tainted by accusations that the JACL was controlling this. So I talked to every commissioner except Bill Marutani, but I knew where Bill stood on this, because he was part of the group, when we made that decision about the guidelines, $25,000 and a trust fund, Bill and I were the only ones in that meeting who said, "Screw twenty-five, we think it should be fifty." We pushed and pushed to get fifty thousand, but the numbers didn't go very well in that and we were outvoted, so it went to twenty-five thousand. That was reality. So I knew where Bill stood on this thing, because his point was, "Don't insult me with pennies. If we're going to do this, let's do it right, fifty thousand minimum, that's our starting point." So I lobbied all the other commissioners for the amount that they would come out with, but I never talked to anyone on the staff other than Angus, because he was going to be writing the report. And so we said, okay, whatever the commission findings are, we will live with it. If they say it was justified, so be it. And whatever they recommend, we will accept that, or maybe not if it's too low. And they came out with $20,000, which wasn't what I wanted, but it was close enough that we could accept that, because the people who made that decision on the commission said to me, "You'll never get twenty-five, you'll never be able to get that passed." So there's a six-month separation between the report, and all the publicity about this, the leading story on every network news, and then the same thing six months later with the recommendations. So then I started lobbying the Congress to get this compensation bill through. But to me, it wouldn't move unless we kept pushing education, so I was doing a lot of talk shows and everything else. By then, I was a full-time staffperson running the redress program.

TI: Still as the chair of the national --

JT: No, now as the redress director. Min Yasui gets appointed as sort of a figurehead chair, because there's no committee to speak of. There is, but it's sort of neutralized because all the work was Washington now. But I was doing all this public stuff, and so we decided, let's have Min chair this, he's a great figurehead for this. He loves to be out in public, and he's really good at it, better than I am. So he started becoming the face of redress, and I loved not having to do that, and being able to just focus on lobbying Congress. So over the course of a few years of this, my profile disappears, and Min's the one who was seen as the redress person. So then there's a rumor that starts in Washington, and I know exactly who started it, that I'm not really doing my work, that I've disappeared. And then the other side of that is, well, Tateishi is just about education. So we're going to activate this C-4 corporation that we started as sort of a safety net because the IRS came at us and said, "You're spending too much of your money on lobbying." So we created this C-4 called the Legislative Education Committee. So this other group that's against the push on education, and want to push more on lobbying, are working on the premise that I'm not really doing what I should be doing. Because by then -- I'd been living in Washington -- I'd moved back to the Bay Area and was doing it as I had before, which is to go to Washington, stay there, and as congressional recesses took place, I would return and be with my family, because my kids were very young, and I hardly ever saw my kids when they were young because I was gone so much at the time. So then there was, there became this fight for control of the redress program.

TI: Go ahead and take a drink and I'll recap what I've heard. So after the LEC formed, their focus, their belief was that they needed to focus more on the legislative lobbying effort, education should be downplayed. You're now spending more time in San Francisco, and so it sounds like it was this political tug of war going on during this time period. And this is about what year?

JT: Started in about 1984, '5. We had already had a compensation bill introduced the first iteration, and we knew that this was going to be reintroduced maybe three, maybe four times, but it would have to go through at least two sessions.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: And since we're in 1984, let me just pause for another event because Frank Sato would want me to do this. So 1984, you're right, this is after Personal Justice Denied has been issued, and there are bills issued in both the House and the Senate, and again you said there would be other iterations of that. At the same time this was going on, and this was towards the end of Floyd Shimomura's term as national director...

JT: Almost at the end, yeah, days.

TI: Just days, and, in fact, the reason I know this becuase he brought this nice document signed by the two senators and two representatives for this. But during that time, there was also a meeting you were involved with, with Jack Svahn in the White House. Tell me a little bit about how you heard about this and your sense of the meaning of that meeting.

JT: You know, I'd had some meetings with the White House. I mean, when you talk about the White House, everyone thinks it's that building. There's the Old Executive Office building off to the side, big, ornate building, that's where most of the work gets done. The West Wing is where only certain people get access to. So I was having meetings every now and then over at Old Executive Offices, OEO, whatever it is, Old Executive Office Building, OEOB.

TI: And who were you meeting with over there?

JT: Various people who were in, like, domestic policy. I mean, these were not high level people, because unless you have an inside contact, you don't get over into the White House. I think I had one meeting in the White House itself. Most of my contacts or meetings were over at the OEOB, and I did not know Jack Svahn at all. I'd kind of heard his name, I mean, he was pretty high up there, he was, I think, number three in the White House, on the West Wing. And then Ikejiri called me and said, "We have a meeting with Jack Svahn." As I recall, my reaction was, "Domestic policy guy?" And he said, "Yeah, Frank Sato set this up." And so I happened to be... this was at a time when I had gone back to San Francisco to be there for a little while, so I flew out and we went to the White House. Frank had set this meeting up because he knew Jack. He used to meet with him regularly as an IG, meeting with someone in the White House. So he had personal relationships with Jack as well as a number of other people in the West Wing of the White House. So we have this meeting, and Frank had asked for materials. And Carole Hayashino, who was my assistant -- and I hired her mainly to do research, because she's great at that -- had put a package together earlier. And this was the one, the Masuda, the famous Masuda package that got distributed to a number of different people.

TI: Now, did you know that story and told Carole to research it, or you guys were just sitting on the story?

JT: No, we had done research, in fact, Carole and Bill Yoshino and I went on a research trip, because we needed documents. And so we started with Roger Daniels in Cincinnati, Roger being one of the main authors of books about internment, and he had agreed to let us go through his files, so we made copies of all kinds of stuff from Roger. Then we went to New York, drove up to Hyde Park to the Roosevelt Library and did research there. And then we went down to D.C. to the National Archives. Carole was in heaven, she loved this stuff. I found it really tedious, but you learn when you run a campaign, you need the research. So we were really kanshin about this, and worked long days and blurry eyes and all that, but going through thousands and thousands of documents. We came back, had a bunch of it shipped to us, because you can't walk out of the National Archives, so we collected all our stuff and she went down to San Bruno, I guess it is, for the collection there, that's where she found the Masuda materials and the Reagan statement.

TI: So Carole's the one who found this story?

JT: Yeah. So she puts the package together, and anytime I was doing something publicly, I would tell her, "I'm going to go over here to do this, you have anything I can take?" and she would give me documents, you know, based on what I was going to be talking about. She was a great researcher. In fact, I recommended to Jodie Bernstein that they hire Carole.

TI: Oh, for the redress?

JT: Yeah, for the commission research staff. But, you know, they hired Aiko. And one of the reasons why, I found out later, is that Jodie really didn't want to be perceived as having a contact with the JACL. She was really careful about that, and rightfully so, we're the ones who pushed this bill. So anyway, we go to this meeting and --

TI: But when you first found out about that story, about Kazuo Masuda, what was your reaction when Carole says, "I have something here"?

JT: Quite honestly, the only thing I can remember was saying, "Holy shit," and I asked her, "Where'd you find this?" She said, "I was down at the archive," and it was incredible.

TI: I mean, you couldn't ask for something better.

JT: Yeah, because you know by then, Ronald Reagan was the President, and this was really important to us. So that was her baby, she's the one who... I never touched that file. It was in my office, but I never ever touched that. That was Carole's. And anything that came of that was a growth of what she did.

TI: And were you sitting on this? I mean, I don't see a lot of evidence that this was well-known. I mean, it was pretty quiet.

JT: We kept it pretty much, kind of waiting for the moment, sort of thing.

TI: And this was, going back to the Svahn meeting...

JT: Jack Svahn. This is the file that Frank carried into the White House. And he talked to Svahn about this, we met. Lou Hayes, who was Svahn's deputy, was in the meeting with us. So there's Frank Sato, Ron... no, Ron Wakabayashi --

TI: No, it was Ron Ikejiri.

JT: Ron Ikejiri was there, Floyd and me. And what I was going to say is I don't understand why Wakabayashi wasn't there, he was the national director, for whatever reason. But there were the four of us, and we let Frank do most of the talking. Every now and then he would ask me something, point of historical fact or something. And I was used to being in that setting, as Ikejiri was, and so it wasn't like this was any huge deal, but it was a huge deal. I mean, we're talking to the number three guy in the White House. My sense, when we came out of there, is, "We don't know anything," and this is how politics worked. You do what you can, you never know which thing is going to trigger something. So this meeting was really important to us because Frank said, "Jack talks to the President constantly." Well, we found out later, years later, in fact recently, that in Svahn's memoir, he talks about the issues lunch where twice he mentioned it to Reagan. One thing that I found out in this forum we just did the other day, where the five of us were there, Frank, Floyd, Wakabayashi, me, and Ikejiri. What I didn't understand was what had happened in the White House after that. And it percolated up from that meeting. Whether or not Reagan was impressed by Svahn at their issues lunch, which is a select group of people who meet with the President once a week and bring up their issues. Twice he brings up internment and this bill that's out there coming to the White House. But he indicates in his memoir there's no reaction by Reagan. And Svahn wasn't even sure if it penetrated, but he says in there one thing, which is he thought the President would be favorable to this issue, to this bill, because one thing about Reagan is that it's really important to him to right a wrong. I saw that, when I read that, it made absolute sense to me what Svahn was saying when he said, "I'm pretty sure he's going to sign this bill when it comes to him."

TI: Well, and to add to this story, so through communications -- because he's still alive, Jack Svahn.

JT: You should interview him.

TI: Yeah, we're scheduling it right now.

JT: Great, great.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: But part of the communication was he did tell the Masuda story to Reagan, so the research you did was valuable, because he said that Reagan really couldn't remember. I mean, he had this vague sense, but then when it was brought to him, it reminded him of something that, I think just knowing Reagan, he's such a storyteller, right? I mean, that was such a powerful, he loved stories, he thinks kind of in film scenes, I think, and that was just such a powerful thing. So Jack, I think that was kind of a key moment for him to share that story.

JT: But he said, when he writes in his memoir, that this is the kind of man who really wants to right a wrong. To me, that was so key, like this is something that's in Reagan's head, and he's going to only do one thing with it. And there's this whole controversy about all of this. I don't know enough of what went on, and what went on at what levels in the White House, and who had what influence with whom, but we do know that Svahn had direct contact with the President and twice brought this up with him. There were rumors about Reagan's not going to sign the bill, and there was this flurry of activity of getting people to call. There were plenty of people in California, Japanese Americans, Harry Kubo down in the Central Valley who was the head of the Nisei Farmers League, who went to war with Cesar Chavez. And so he frequented the governor's office during that period, he knew Reagan. And there's Togo Tanaka, who was appointed by Reagan to the federal reserve, so there were people who had direct contact with them.

TI: And was the JACL coordinating a lot of that, trying to...

JT: You know, I wasn't part of the JACL at the time, but I know there were calls being made. I know Wakabayashi was calling the key people. I made one call -- or I didn't make a call -- my daughter had, her best friend's father was a personal friend of Ronald Reagan's. He worked with Reagan on his first campaign, and he told me that he and his wife, we were having coffee in their kitchen once, and they said, "Well, when Ronnie comes through, as governor, comes through the Bay Area, he sometimes stays here." And so I knew -- and this was early, before they knew I was even involved with this other stuff, and it was some time later that the wife, Sybil, said to me, "We just saw you on television. What is this thing you're working on?" And another time when I was there, we talked at length about what was happening. So the husband would ask me -- I'd see him around the county, and he would always ask me how is it going, what's happening with it. And at one point I contacted him and said, "The word's going around that Reagan's not going to sign the bill. Can you find out?" This is at the very early part of when I found out that there was some question about it. So I asked him if he could call the President. He's one of the only people I knew who had access to the Oval Office. Access in the sense that he would leave a message and Reagan might call him, return the call. About two months later, we ran into each other at the market and he said, "I don't know what you're talking about, because the President's going to sign the bill," and he suspected it was the staff that was objecting. And we find out from Jack Svahn's book, memoir, that it was OMB for financial reasons, and for some reason, the foreign relations people in the White House. And you know, the same thing about, we're connected to Japan, and Japan's doing all this crazy stuff.

TI: Well, another little piece, so Frank talked to Jack Svahn, and Jack said he had just happened to be talking to, and he called John Bolton, the current national security, so he was in DOJ at the same time, and they actually talked about this. And yeah, DOJ was against it, too, according to Bolton. So again, yeah, there was a lot of internal White House discussion about this, but I guess Jack Svahn was a strong champion for it.

JT: Yeah, and his voice was important on this one, because after all, he was the Director of Domestic Policy, as the advisor to the President.

TI: And had known Reagan for, like, twenty years, I mean, he was very close to him, and had a pretty good sense that, as you said, he would do the right thing.

JT: To me that was stunning when I read it in the memoir.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Yeah, because I want to kind of drop you back in. Because we started this because you said JACL was kind of in a turmoil, there was a struggle going on, and I wanted to get a sense, at that moment, 1984, towards the end of 1984, what were people thinking? Were people optimistic about how this was going to play out? What was the feeling?

JT: You know, the attitude had really changed after the commission hearings. I mean, it was like someone had turned on a lightbulb, and for the first time in the community I would hear conversations about camp and about reparations. And you remember that at the beginning, it was the old guard, the older Nisei who really fought this and said, "You dishonor us with this." And it's true, it was anathema to everything we are as a culture in this country. We just don't do this kind of thing. Plus, we didn't have the tools to do it. We didn't have any experience in national politics, we didn't have wealth, we didn't have connections, I mean, every reason why we shouldn't do it, was out there laying right in front of us. But the hardest obstacle was getting the Nisei to agree. After the commission hearings, it was rare that you would hear someone say, "Oh, this is wrong, we shouldn't do this." I never heard it myself. I know people still felt that way, but the difference now was we had the whole community behind this. Before, we were at odds with NCRR, NCJAR and all these different groups, but now everyone realized, this is the only game in town. And if we don't jump on this team, we ain't going to be part of this. And so for the first time --

TI: But is it more than that, because I'll bring up, there was an interview that I looked at, Cliff Uyeda, and he actually says, gives you credit for changing that older Nisei sentiment. That he said, yeah, initially, they were against, and even more than just the commission hearings, you had to do a lot of groundwork to really change that. And that's what Cliff said, so he said you don't get credit for that.

JT: Cliff was, he was my best friend. He was... he and I worked really closely together, he and Edison and I. And yeah, I realized that without the Nisei, we just didn't have a campaign. And I was concerned that they would miss the only chance ever. And I felt like it was an obligation, and I focused a lot of my attention through the initial parts of this campaign on getting the Nisei comfortable with the idea of what this is about.

TI: And he said the key thing that, strategically, that you did was you took it away from making it a money thing, into more of a principle or constitutional issue. And that shift in how you talked about, JACL talked about it, there's a shift there that he says made a big difference with the Nisei.

JT: What I realized was the money really bothered everybody. Even those who supported redress, somehow it was like, okay, let's make this work. We don't really want to do money, it's dirty. And there was this really racist thing going on, too, with the Nisei, about, "Well, you know those other people, they're on welfare, they accept money, we don't do that, we're too proud. Even after the war, we had tanomoshi, but we never took handouts, we did it all ourselves. This is who we are." And so to talk about demanding reparations really didn't sit well with the community, even among people who really supported the need for justice or setting the record straight. And so I felt like I had this obligation to make them understand that what they were doing was no different than what they did by going to camp, or by joining the 442 or by resisting, or whatever they did to try to show the country that they could be proud of us. That everything we did, all the sacrifices, and huge sacrifices, was for the country. And so I said, "This is the last hope we have. For the final time, we want America to know that we do this for the country, this is for democracy." That resonated so far with the Nisei. I mean, I could tell it was changing them. I never, ever talked about money. People would bring it up in meetings, community meetings, and the way I characterized it, because to me it was true, because I saw it happen, the guidelines. That until we put money on this issue, nobody was, they didn't care. "So what if you lost your freedom? We don't give a shit about you, you're just a bunch of Japs." I mean, that really was the rhetoric. And I faced that on radio shows constantly, and when I would say to the Nisei, "The money is there only because that's the only way we could talk about the issues that are really important, which are the constitutional issues." That's what our whole experience was about, is trying to make the country understand that everything we've done was to try to shore up the foundations of the constitution. We're doing this for the country. If anything makes sense to the Nisei, it was that.

TI: Yeah, I'm glad we got that on the record.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: One of the things, and you mentioned earlier that I wanted to follow up, so momentum, commission hearings, things are moving, the meeting with the White House. And then in 1986, before the redress bill passes, you take a break, you leave the JACL. What happened? Why did you leave the JACL?

JT: Because there was so much internal conflict, a lot of infighting. I was the target, and I knew that. It was the JACL and the LAC, and you know only certain people in the LAC, because a lot of the old guard who were part of the effort on that side, like Shig Wakamatsu out of Chicago, Grace Uyehara out of Philadelphia, they never saw themselves other than JACLers, but there was this other element -- it was the leadership of what was happening on that side, which was focus everything on pushing the money issue, or pushing the compensation bill. I never believed we should ever stop worrying about education. To me, that was the one thing that would change what happens in the future, is by Americans understanding of what happened to us and why it was so wrong. Yeah, the compensation bill was important, there's no question about that. But the conflict became so intense, I told Ikejiri that I am the focus of -- or I'm sorry, I told Wakabayashi, who was my boss, that, "I'm the focus of this, and if I leave, maybe they'll get off your back, and you'll be able to have some peace in your life with this campaign." So I resigned.

TI: Wouldn't that be hard to do? You had come so far from the very beginning. I mean, I think that we had talked about in the other interview, your connection with Edison Uno and Cliff and being there and getting to this point, and then to have to resign like this. That must have been a very difficult time.

JT: It was hard, but I talked to Clifford about it after the fact, and Clifford was really philosophical and he says, "You know, it's good for change." I mean, change is always good for whatever happens, that people have different perspectives. And he said to me... I don't think I've ever written this down anywhere or told anyone. He said to me, "You will never be forgotten, because what you did was so important, and what you did is why we have what we have. Without you, this never would have happened." And he said he remembers Dan Inouye telling me, "If you succeed getting this done," that is, educating the public, "you will change American history. There will be a point where this matters." And Clifford said, "So it's okay. You may feel like shit now, but it's all right." I mean, in the bigger picture, he was right. Change is good. And I understood that, plus, I was really tired. I'd been at this for ten years, and I'd given up my career as a teacher. Hey, I'd blown a twelve-year tenure. And so my life needed to go in a different direction. And so I left the JACL and I found out later that there was kind of a hit list. Get rid of certain people and then we control everything, and my name was on that list. And it didn't surprise me, I knew that, I was a target. And so I left, but the thing, too, is I had so many connections in Washington that I went out working as a consultant. First calls I get were, they want me to work on a bill, can you go to Washington? Of course I can go to Washington, that's what I know to do, that's my mind. So I went back to Washington and I worked with clients now instead of the JACL. But the condition I always had is if I go to Washington and work on this for you, I need an extra day, just to make sure things are tidy, that what I do, it doesn't slip. Well, that wasn't quite true. I wanted that day to be able to go to the hill and work the bill. I never told anyone I was doing that. I would, every now and then, run into Grace, and I'd tell her, "Oh, yeah, I have a client who wants certain regs done." And so that's kind of how I stayed with the campaign.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So you kind of kept in touch, or enough so that you knew what was going on, so that you could be helping it...

JT: Do what I can. I was like any other JACL member, just contributing what I could. I had enough contacts that I knew it would help for them to, for me to talk to them. See, what I did was, when I first got there, it was clear that there was this whole body of people who you had to work with. There were those, like Barney Frank, first time I went to see Barney, says, "Look, don't waste your time with me. I'm with you all the way. Go see so-and-so, he's a jerk." So we divided the lists, Ikejiri and I. The absolute yes, the absolute nos, the maybes and maybe yes, maybe no. And there was this fence, and so I went to the other side. The ones who were resisting, my whole career in Washington was, with redress, was talking with Republicans and the old Blue Dog Democrats, who finally got honest and switched and became Republicans. But they're the ones who were resisting, and what I did was I figured, okay, the absolute nos, waste of time. I'll work that middle ground of maybes, and so I started this long process of, for eight years, talking to the maybes and trying to convince them, if not to vote for it, not to resist it, don't vote against it. And so we were able to convert some people.

TI: And any stories, any success stories?

JT: Not that I can share.

TI: Okay. [Laughs]

JT: Or not that I want to share. Some of it was gruesome, some of it was okay. But I will tell you someone like Jack Kemp was a really difficult guy to work with. He was so partisan and so mean-minded... I mean, the first thing I realized, I walked into Jack Kemp's office, his receptionist was a really ugly woman, and I think he personally put her there as sort of a gatekeeper to make people go away. I got to know her, and she was okay, and she knew why she was there. But he was a nasty guy, and he was Mr. Mean on the House side until Newt Gingrich got elected and started working his way up. He replaced Kemp as the guy you don't want to be around.

TI: As you just talked about you specializing more on the other side in terms of Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats, I had a similar conversation with Grant Ujifusa, who, because of his sort of political standing, said he did the same thing. Did you guys work together?

JT: No. Grant and I never worked together. He was the editor of my book, and there was a point where we went different ways. You know, you make friends you make enemies, sometimes you don't know why, things just happened. I mean, D.C.'s a funny world. I did make an enemy of myself with Bob Matsui, I know that. He and I had a big fight, very public. As a lobbyist you learn, don't be stupid, and don't say words in public, except he chose the public arena with me, I had no choice. So we had this real --

TI: With Bob, what was the issue?

JT: You don't need to know the issue, it's just that we had a really serious falling out, to the point that I could not go to his office. I mean, I was basically barred from his office, which was too bad, but quite honestly, I wasn't working that much with his office at that point because there were some things that just kind of didn't fit for me. And Norm Mineta, to me, was the hero through all of this. I mean, Dan Inouye is the one I met with most often, was someone I really respected and really was in awe of at the beginning, and pretty much as long as I knew him. Although he got a lot more familiar with me as we became more friends then, my position versus where he is. But he was a very, very powerful and influential guy, fun guy to be around. But in my books, Norm Mineta was, this is the guy who helped get redress passed. He was the most important person among the four, because Dan Inouye had Spark Matsunaga, who himself was really well-liked, I mean, he was loved by his colleagues, both Republicans and Democrats, there were only a hundred members over there, Sparky could get fifty just like that.

TI: To sponsor a bill?

JT: Yeah. Norm Mineta and Bob Matsui faced 435 members, over half of whom didn't know this issue. I mean, when I first went there, I was getting meetings with staff who handle things like the whale issue, foreign relations, anything but constitutional. I'd have to tell them, "No, this doesn't have anything to do with Japan. I need to talk to whoever is in charge of government administration or constitutional issues." And there was this kind of puzzled look like, "Why?"

TI: You're the Japanese American Citizens League, right?

JT: Yeah, I'm a Japanese lobbyist. So that's what Norm had to deal with, and he was a senior guy. He had been there, and he was a rising star by the time Bob Matsui got there. So Norm was the guy who had all the influence, and he used a lot of political chits to get us to a position where they could get it on the floor and take a vote on it. And I realized a lot of the votes that we didn't have by the time I left, we could maybe change five, maybe ten. Any others that changed would be Norm and Bob personally working those votes. Because as a lobbyist, you can only go so far. You can get constituents to convince their members, but that's a long haul, and it takes time. But when Mineta picks up the phone and calls somebody, you better believe they listen.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: So other than the members of Congress, when you take a step back and think about redress, it passed, it succeeded. What were the other key factors? There are so many, but if you were to choose maybe the top three, other than Mineta or the other congressmembers, what would those three things be?

JT: That contributed to its passage?

TI: Yeah.

JT: I think the most important was that the American public changed its views about us, about the experience.

TI: So the public opinion, public sentiment about this shifted.

JT: Yeah, my mantra to Clifford when he became the national president was convince the public and you'll convince the Congress. Without the public's support, you can't get a bill through.

TI: That's what Pelosi just said recently about... what was the issue? It was around, I think maybe it was this showdown with Trump, she says, "It's all about the public interest. If you go with that, you're always going to win."

JT: Yeah, she's absolutely right. And it doesn't take a genius to do the strategy of lobbying. I mean, I had no special skills, I was a teacher. And I went to Washington and started talking to members of Congress. The education part of it was really important because it had probably more impact than anything else on changing the minds of members of Congress. One thing I found, I was working with Yoshino, we were working the Midwest and I'd call Bill and I'd say, "You know, I'm talking to Porter's staff, and he's a hard knock on this." And this guy Porter had his constituency, was just on the outside of Chicago, he worked the media and then suddenly I realized there's a softening. There's not this hard-ass attitude, like no matter what you say to me, we don't care about the constitutional issue. It's right and wrong, and it was right at the time, we had no choice. It started changing as we worked the public. So I think the public education component was absolutely critical. And I can tell you, after 9/11, I was the national director of JACL. We mobilized the entire organization to try to protect the Arab and Muslim communities. I was working the White House and I was working the Congress. I know for a fact that when I did talk shows, invariably -- and I love the radio talk shows because they can't see me visually. They don't see an Oriental, they see who they want to see when I'm on television, on radio they don't know. So all I am to them is a voice in the abstract who's arguing these issues. But what I realize was, on those radio talk shows after 9/11, as much as people would say, as they did during redress, "Well, we don't know who among them is a terrorist, and the only way we can be safe..." all the old arguments that we used to get. Then someone would call in and say, "Wait a minute, we did this to Japanese Americans," and would say, "maybe this gentleman on the air doesn't realize what a mistake that was." And would say, "John, can you explain how that happened?" And so all the myths that were laid against us were being translated in a different way, talking about Arabs and Muslims. That, "Well, look at them, my god, they look like they're terrorists." And I would say, "Well, you know, what about Timothy McVeigh? I don't remember them rounding up a bunch of tall, white, blond guys. And what about all the terrorists in Idaho and Montana who just happen all to be white, and I don't see that attitude about them. And I would say, "Yeah, there are terrorists, there are thousands of terrorists in America." But you know what? The FBI knows where they all are, they're keeping track of all of them. What they're not worried about is a community like Dearborn. So to me, the education part of that whole effort we did...

TI: And that's education, the media, having spokespeople. Okay, that's one. Anything else that you thought was really critical?

JT: I thought one thing that happened that made a big difference was how we coalesced as a community. After we got that first stage out, got through the commission process, that changed everybody. I mean, that was the most important single factor in getting all this word out about making the public understand the nature of the injustice and the extent to which Japanese Americans were willing to sacrifice for the good of the country, that was very clear. That convinced a lot of people. And I'm talking about how this impacted things after, like after 9/11, the legacy that it left, it changed things. It was only after 9/11 that I thought about what Clifford said to me about Dan Inouye. That, "If you do this, you will change history." I never understood that. I mean, you know, the words, I thought, "Oh, that's nice, that's flattering," I felt really great about it. But as I was sitting there fighting this whole backlash, I was working like eighteen hour days. And I thought about that, and I thought, "Wow, what a difference this has made." I don't know if passing the bill was the thing that did it, or all this education that we put into it, something is making a difference. There are those voices that enter the fray and say, "Wait a minute, we did this in 1942 and it was proven wrong, that Japanese Americans were innocent, we're doing exactly the same thing now."

TI: Yeah, so when you think about that, when you look at the impact that happened, especially with public education, the shifting of public sentiment about what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II, what's the impact today? Do you think that has taken hold or has remained or changed, gotten better or worse? What's your sense of where we are today?

JT: I think ultimately it will have an impact in the long view. But right now I don't think anyone can predict anything. I mean, you know, I used to write a column once, twice a month, thinking, "I wish they were a weekly." Right now, people who write, probably want to write every hour about the most recent incident. I mean, it's a kind of craziness, but it's really dangerous for us. Because not so much that Trump is... to me, he's totally insane. I mean, there's something really wrong about this man, but it's his followers who really worry me. I think what will have to happen is that in the longer view, it's going to be really rough for a while, but in the longer view, people will remember the lessons that we've learned. This is another lesson we're learning right now, and it may make a difference in the future, of never electing someone like this again, and may serve its purpose. I do think the lessons of the redress campaign will always be part of the story of our history by virtue of the fact that when you talk about the horrible moments in our past, you talk about Pearl Harbor, and you talk about 9/11, I mean, those are parallel. And what I saw changing was, as people talked about Pearl Harbor after we did redress, or in the process of it, there was always this story that was connected about, in this whole process, Japanese Americans lost their freedom and were put in prisons, and they were even using terms like "concentration camps" and telling that story as part of the story of the outbreak of the war. And so by the time 9/11 occurred, that was already embedded in the minds of the media, and the media are really important. One of the lessons I learned was you'd better convince the media, because they control so much of the thinking. So right now, if you look at contemporary society with our daily traumas, I worry about that group of people between the two coasts who believe everything Trump says. I mean, part of it is I'm kind of stunned by their stupidity, the fact that they don't understand what he's doing, and they're so vulnerable to twisting facts around to suit themselves. There's got to be a point where we have to get away from that, and they need to heal. But I think as a country we need to... I think there's a lesson here that will be told for centuries, that this is a madman and this is what happens. You can destroy a country. And one of the great things about this country is that there is so much freedom. You know, we're not a true democracy by any stretch of the imagination, but we have a lot of freedom in this country, and that's the risk you take, is you get someone like a Donald Trump, or you get people like in Charlottesville, or those terrorists, white supremacist groups, but you just live with it and you learn how to deal with it.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: One last question, we're less than five minutes away. So this year is the ninetieth anniversary of the JACL, and I was doing the math when we were talking, you got involved in 1975, so you've been involved in the JACL for about half its life, almost forty-five years.

JT: Oh, my god. [Laughs]

TI: And I guess the question -- and we didn't even go into depth, but during these forty-five years, you were, part of that time, the national director on the redress campaign, so you were, especially in the last forty-five years, involved in the most important work of JACL. Going forward for the JACL, what role should the JACL -- what do you see the future of JACL from your perspective?

JT: You know, there's always been this argument about, will the JACL still be around forty-five, fifty years from now. One of the concerns is, as there's so much outmarriage, or what we now call mixed marriage, when I became the director in 2000 or 1999, a lot of people who were leaders of organizations wanted to meet with me, and their concern was, oh, my god, in a generation, there won't be a "pure blood Japanese American." My response was, "Well, just deal with it." Actually, that's kind of a cool idea, that they're going to have to identify, redefine what it means to be Japanese in America. But they'll figure it out. They're the ones, I think, who will take over the JACL and give it its new direction. I don't know what that direction will be, but I do know identity is a major issue among these young kids, because if they're, quote, "full blooded Japanese" growing up in communities outside of where the pockets are on the West Coast, they have identity issues, I've seen it with them. And those who are, have mixed parents, they're going through, at times, it's almost a crisis. They want to know who they are, and the JACL is really well-positioned to address that issue because of the structure, it combines so many parts of the country, and it can bring people in to distill the arguments or the issues and find ways to maybe not resolve them, but to understand them. And my experience is, with issues, you need to understand them before you can do anything about them.

TI: And is there something in particular about the Japanese American community, given the history of what happened to our community, that in particular, going forward in the future, that there's a particular role or responsibility you think the community has? Other than just saying the younger people are going to figure it out, do you think there is a specific role or responsibility for us?

JT: I'm enough of a cynic to think that as long as there is an America, there always will be racism. And we're never going to be free of it whether we look... I mean, you know, it's like this young woman in Minneapolis who's a JACL member, blond, blue-eyed, I used to wonder, why is she always at these JACL young people's gatherings? She's Japanese. She happens to have a mother who was blond, blue-eyed, but her last name is Japanese, and she identifies as Japanese. She won't face that kind of discrimination, but I guarantee you everyone else in the room will. I mean, there's a point where we assimilate enough that people can't look at us like in our generation, look at you and say, "Oh, you're Japanese," they'll mistake you as Chinese or whatever, but they're going to see you as "other," that amorphous Asian. And I think that's always going to be around. I think that JACL needs to pick up that mantle and carry it on. Because when you look at everything the organization has done, it's done a lot. It's amazing, I put together a list of all the legislative battles going back to 1929 and on, it filled up four pages, and that's a lot. And I was just listing, I wasn't describing. And this is in 2000 when I was the director. That's an enormous legacy, and I think the JACL has, now has a really proud legacy to carry forward. And I hope it's around for a long time to come, because I do think there's always going to be discrimination. And the thing is, if we don't deal with Japanese American issues, the problem, there are other communities that really need the help the JACL can give them. We have a long history of dealing with that kind of stuff. So we need to stop being selfish and say "only Japanese American stuff," that's not where we are anymore. We are an Asian American organization now. Then you get to that question of, "Well, what about the name then?" You know, NAACP decided to keep their name after this long legacy they have, maybe that's what the JACL needs to consider.

TI: It's just going to their initials, kind of, as JACL?

JT: Yeah. And I know when that switch took over at NAA, and they said, "Okay, that's what we'll call it, NAA, and everyone will know, assume the CP." Maybe that's what the JACL needs to do. I mean, it's got a really proud legacy now. My god, how can you top redress?

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