Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Amy Iwasaki Mass Interview
Narrator: Amy Iwasaki Mass
Interviewer: Brian Niiya
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 12, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-470

<Begin Segment 1>

BN: Okay, we are here in Emeryville and we're interviewing today Amy Iwasaki Mass, so thank you very much for joining us today for this interview. Dana Hoshide will be shooting the video, my name is Brian Niiya, and I'm the interviewer. And today we're going to start, as I mentioned, and I want to ask you about your parents, if you could tell me what you know about, what you know about their lives in Japan and decisions to come to the U.S. to start with.

AM: Well, my father was born in a neighborhood called Ganyudo in Numazu in Shizuoka Prefecture, and his family was in the fishing business. And I think when he was maybe sixteen, he came to America because of relatives, a distant uncle was here, and they were good friends, and so it was kind of, I think, like an adventure for him. But I guess he liked it here because he stayed for ten years and then went back and married my mother. It was, as usual, an arranged marriage, and her father wanted her to marry him, and so he went back to Japan and got married and brought her to the United States. She, I think, wanted to be a literature teacher, so she wasn't too crazy about coming here, but being a dutiful daughter, she came and they settled in Seattle. When my father first came, he went to the state of Washington and worked on the railroads and continued that for a while, but by the time my mother came, he had gotten into the produce business and had some booths at... my senior moment thing... Pike...

BN: Oh, Pike Place? Pike Place Market.

AM: Yes. And so he was in the produce business by then.

BN: And then can you tell us their names?

AM: Yes. Genichiro Iwasaki and Misa Iwasaki. And my mother came from Mishima, which is a town very close to Numazu.

BN: And then, roughly, do you know what year your father first came?

AM: Oh, gee, I was going to write that all down and I didn't. Let's see. No, I'm sorry, I can't think of it now. I'd be glad to look it up for you.

BN: Okay, yeah. Did you mention then that, were there family members of your dad's already here?

AM: He had, like I said, an uncle, and so I think several, not just my father, but other people came here because the uncle was here. That uncle went back to Japan, later on, the uncle's son came and stayed with my dad and went into business with him. So our uncle Yoshio...

BN: This would be his cousin?

AM: Yeah, was part of a business of my father's youngest brother and Yoshio. So although they were not direct brothers, father-son kind of thing, it was like family.

BN: Do you know much about the... this is all, I think, long before you were born, right? Do you know what kinds of produce they dealt with, or the name of the business?

AM: Well, they were in the produce business later on when they moved to Los Angeles. And yeah, it was like fruits and vegetables, and the part that I knew was, they had the produce section in the Thrifty markets in Los Angeles, I don't know if there's still a Thrifty Mart. But they had a series, I think of, Thrifty Mart had, like, ten grocery stores, and the produce part was done by my father and his brothers.

BN: Do you know when they came down to L.A.?

AM: It came, they went back to Japan with my siblings, and I think they spent a school year there. And then I was born after they came back to Seattle and then moved to Los Angeles. And I really appreciate my mother, she must have thought ahead, but she said that the reason they had me ten years after my brother, she did not say it was not a mistake, but she meant it when she said that in Japan, they said that, the relatives said, "You should have more children," so they had me. [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 2>

BN: So your siblings, then...

AM: They were born in Seattle.

BN: ...were born in Seattle.

AM: And I was born in Los Angeles.

BN: Largely sort of raised there 'til a fairly good part of their life.

AM: In '35, yeah.

BN: Can you talk about your siblings just in terms of the birth order?

AM: Well, the oldest sibling was Fumi, Fumie, but with an I-E, no Y. And she was fifteen years older than I, and then my brother Naomi, and he didn't like that name, so he took on the nickname of "Nails," so everybody knew him as Nails. He was, like, two years younger than Fumi. And then Shogo, my third sibling, was ten years older than I.

BN: Yeah, your first brother threw me as well. You immediately assume that's a girl's name.

AM: Right. So it's significant, his nickname that he chose was Nails. He didn't want anybody to think he was feminine or soft or anything.

BN: No mistaking that. Do you know why they chose to move to L.A.?

AM: No, I really don't know. So many things I didn't ask them.

BN: Right, sure. But essentially you only really knew L.A. So can you tell us a little about where the family lived in Los Angeles?

AM: We lived in what we called the Virgil area, it's East Hollywood, actually. We lived on Westmoreland which is a street between Virgil and Madison, it's not far from Vermont, and it's a very special street because Tak Hoshizaki was born there on Westmoreland. And I need to apologize, but my forgetting names and being able to get them is very hard.

BN: You're thinking of Frank, Frank Emi?

AM: Frank Emi, he lived there. I even babysat for them.

BN: Really?

AM: Yeah.

BN: Oh, you babysat... because I was going to say, Frank's much older, but you babysat for their children, you babysat their children.

AM: For their children after the war, after the war. And it was a very nice Japanese community, they had two grocery stores, Japanese grocery stores that were walking distance from my house, so my mother could send me for errands there. There was a gas station which was kind of a gathering place where people, men could bring their cars and talk and see friends. There was a judo place, a dojo on the same block as the Emis and the Hoshizakis. There was a Japanese church, Christ Presbyterian Church, and it was run by a Japanese minister. His first wife was white, and when she died, he remarried a Japanese woman, and I only knew the second wife. See, there's a Japanese school, there must have been some Buddhist church nearby, too, but we weren't involved in that, so I didn't know that.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

BN: Did you have to go to Japanese school?

AM: Yes.

BN: Before the war?

AM: Before the war I went to the Japanese school after school, so that was only first grade that I went. But then after the war, I took the streetcar and the bus to Boyle Heights and went to Japanese school on Saturday.

BN: That's a good distance, isn't it?

AM: It is, but it didn't seem that bad. The only thing that was embarrassing is when my mother would make nigiri and toast it in the oven with shoyu, and it had a very strong smell, and I was very aware of it on the bus.

BN: You had mentioned that, I guess, both your parents were pretty active in that community with different types of endeavors. Can you talk a little about that?

AM: Right. My father was active in kenjinkai, and I was mostly aware of it because they had annual picnics. So they had a stage set up and they had speakers and entertainment, and they had games for kids and picnic lunches for everybody. He was also active in supporting the judo and the Japanese school. And I'm not sure, possibly the produce dealers may have had some kind of association. He's often in pictures in, like there was, a few years back, I found out that there was a neighborhood pamphlet that had the kind of businesses advertised and they activities, and he was in a number of the pictures. And my mother was active in the church, and she did flower arrangement and studied with a woman, Mrs. Homma, and went back to Japan later to get her Japanese degree in that, and she taught flower arrangement, too. She was active also with the Japanese school, and the Issei ladies were active in the PTA when they had bazaars at, like, Virgil junior high, they were the chow mein crew. So, yeah, they were active in the Japanese community. I feel now, in the Bay Area, I live in El Cerrito, and we have Yaoyasan, which is a store run by people from Japan -- they've been here for years -- and Tokyo Fish, it's run by Nisei, no, Sansei. And we had the basketball teams and all those things, I feel like I'm back in my old neighborhood.

BN: And then what elementary school did you go to?

AM: I went to Dayton Heights School, which was right next door to me, and catty-corner from Tak Hoshizaki.

BN: Now, your siblings were quite a bit older, and I'm guessing the elder two even had graduated high school by the time of the war.

AM: Right. My brother Nails and my sister Fumi had graduated from high school and were attending UCLA at the time of Pearl Harbor. And Shogo got his, graduated from high school at the first graduating class at Heart Mountain. And all three of them were part of the Nisei student relocation program, Shogo went to the University of Tulsa and Nails and Fumi went to Park College in Missouri.

BN: I'm going to come back and ask you about that. So did you see a lot of them, or were you, because of the age gap, were you almost like an only child in some ways?

AM: Yeah, maybe in a way. I had special privileges because of being the youngest. For example, whenever I'm at Starbucks, I'm very grateful that my older siblings insisted I have an American name, Amy, they didn't have them, and that's made my life easier. They were also very concerned about my doing well in school, so they would check my compositions in junior high school and advise me on what kind of courses to take and activities to be in in high school in order to go to a good college, and so they were very helpful in those ways.

BN: Although having an English name, you missed out on getting one of those Nisei nicknames like Nails. [Laughs] Let's see, I wanted to ask you one more thing before we got to the war, but I lost my...

AM: Oh, let me, excuse me, one thing about my relationship with my older sibs, when I came back from camp and went to Virgil junior high school, because I was in the fifth grade when we got back, there were actually people who remembered my siblings, and I think there were a couple at Belmont, so that was nice, because they had positive memories.

BN: And then what was your housing situation? Did they rent the house, own the house?

AM: They owned the house. My sister had various illnesses from when she was born, so her childhood, Nails remembers spending many hours in the waiting room at Children's Hospital in Hollywood. And so they bought a house not far from the hospital, and back in those days, as you know, my father was not able to buy, so he bought the house in my brothers' names. And that meant we lived there before the war, and when we had to go to camp, the people who lived in the house in back of us facing Madison rather than Westmoreland, they were an older couple and they rented our house. We were not friends with them or anything, but we knew who they were and they did fine paying rent and taking care of it. Then when we came back, I'm sure they didn't like having to move because there was a housing shortage. But they moved, and a lot of our things, I think, were saved by saving it at the house rather than having to store it. Like cars and stuff we had to store, but not a lot of our furniture and things.

BN: So it sounds like your parents were relatively well-off in terms of being able to own a house and cars.

AM: Right.

BN: Was that your perception?

AM: Yes, we were very comfortable. My mother told me once, she said, "I'll never go to a sale again," I guess that's what she used to do when she was raising my siblings.

BN: And then did you have, since your father was in business with his relatives, did you have extended family, cousins and so forth?

AM: Yes. Both of my uncles lived across the street from me, and my female cousins, one was born a year after me and the other one two years after me. And each of them had three younger brothers, so steps. And my father always loved babies, and there was always a baby on his lap, and everybody in our family loves babies. In fact, this morning I was at Kaiser in the neonatal unit, I go every Friday. We're called cuddlers, I hold babies in neonatal ICUs there.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

BN: And then we'll go to December 7th now, and what do you remember about that?

AM: What I remember is, like everybody did, I guess, that it was a Sunday, and I came home from church and my family was talking about the war, about Pearl Harbor being bombed. I didn't know what it all meant, but I knew that it was something serious and everybody was worried about it. And it was a worrisome time because some of the things that I noticed was we always had a picture of Abraham Lincoln in our living room, I don't know why, but we always did. But a lot of people started having Washington or Lincoln, big portraits in their house. My siblings, Nails and Fumi, were not able to go to UCLA because it was further away than the restrictions. And, in fact, my mother, her best friend's youngest son had a medical emergency and had to go to the hospital. And the only hospital in Los Angeles that took Japanese, other than the Japanese hospital, was the one in Boyle Heights. It's Seventh Day Adventist, and they took him, but again, that was past our limits for where we could drive, but my mother drove it anyway, and she's a very law-abiding person, but it was really important for her to be with her best friend when she was having such a hard time. So those kinds of things were scary, knowing we were, she was doing things that were against the law. Maybe even with my siblings, they might have gone out at night past the curfew, and might have talked about hiding, because somehow I remember hearing about cars and people hiding in their cars. What other things? Oh, one of the things was my uncle was taken by the FBI fairly soon after December 7th, and a lot of my father's friends were taken, and since he was active in the community, he thought he was going to go, too. And so he bought a leather bag, and my brother stenciled G. Iwasaki on it, and he had his things all packed and by the door of our house in case the FBI came, he was going to be ready. And he always went to work like at two in the morning, because he went to the wholesale warehouse, so he was gone when I was waking up. And during that time, when I would wake up, the first thing I'd do was to go and check to see whether the bag was there. So the bag was really, it became very special to me. At one point, my niece wanted to have it, and I said, "No, I'm sorry, you can't have that one, we'll keep it." And you may have heard on the 50 Objects thing that that was one of the things.

And this is kind of going off, but I just wanted to say that a couple weeks ago I was at a Day of Remembrance program at a community college, and Tom Izu, who plans that program for seventeen years now, showed the 50 Objects thing that had my bag. And the part of the program at the end were three Muslim young women who went to that college, and Tom asked, "What about the experience of Japanese Americans touches you or is anything like what you've experienced?" And one of the girls said, "Oh, it was the bag, because every time my father goes to the mosque, I worry whether he's going to come back." And so she was, you know, experiencing what I did, currently.

BN: Unfortunately. Did he, I assume he never, they never came for him?

AM: No, they never did.

BN: He was able to go with the family?

AM: Yeah, we always wondered about that. But my cousin said she remembers people asking her mother, "Has Gen-san gone yet? Have they come after him yet?" Luckily he didn't, and since my uncle had gone and my aunt, and his mother had four children, six years old and under, and the youngest was a baby in arms, my father was able to arrange for them to live in the room right next to us when we went to Pomona.

BN: Did the family have any inkling as to why that particular uncle was picked up?

AM: No. Oh, yeah, I do remember. I think there was some kind of a celebration in Japan, a national celebration for so many years of some kind of event. And they used that as a chance to go, because a lot of people were going to visit the family. They weren't involved in the imperial, whatever it was that they were having it all, but that made the FBI think that he might be...

BN: Yeah, many people who went to that were arrested. It was the 2,600th anniversary of the supposed Japanese empire, 1940, many Nikkei attended.

AM: So that was it?

BN: Yeah, that would do it. Do you remember much about that in between period in terms of having to pack up and prepare for getting taken away?

AM: I don't remember the packing up. I remember events like my mother and her friends doing the haramaki, where they embroidered a thousand little buds to protect the soldiers. Which was kind of interesting because very soon afterwards, Japanese Americans weren't allowed to serve 'til later.

BN: And then you mentioned that the house, that because they owned it, they were able to rent it to a neighbor. Do you know what happened with the business?

AM: Oh, they sold it, they had to sell it to the Thrifty Mart people. And I think it was very fortunate because a lot of people didn't have access to cash after, because banks were closing down and such. But because they had to sell the business, they were able to have enough cash so that when my siblings wanted to go to college, they were able to send them to college. And I read a letter from one of my uncles, I think his brother-in-law wrote a letter back in those days, I think it was to his uncle who was at Tuna Canyon, explaining how much money they got and what they were able to do. And that's what made me realize we were fairly fortunate then, because we had access to things, resources that a lot of people could not at that point... you know, like if  you were a salaried person and you had your money in the Tokyo Bank or something, you're not going to be able to get it.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

BN: Do you remember much about Pomona, the assembly center?

AM: You know, the thing that I remembered the most is that we were next door to each other, to my cousin, and the wood there still had knotholes in it, so my cousin and I arranged to sleep in the corner, she on one side of the wall and me on the other side, and we poked holes through and we talked to each other. That was the fun part. The food was bad, the first day we were there, I think they served us rice pudding because they must have heard someplace that the Japanese eat rice, but we never ate rice that was sweet. [Laughs] My cousin, she threw up, she had a hard time.

BN: Now, did all of you live in one room?

AM: No, we were in two rooms, our family with the six of us, and then my aunt with the four children.

BN: Wait, so the (eleven) of you were in two rooms?

AM: (Narr. note: Two families, eleven people in two rooms). Well, I think the barracks had more rooms, but I was just familiar with ours and my cousin next door. But there could have been two or three more rooms (in the one barrack we were in). I think we were better off than, like Santa Anita and being in the horse stalls.

BN: Because these were regular barracks, right?

AM: Uh-huh.

BN: I always ask people this just because, I don't know, it's my own fascination. What were the bathrooms?

AM: Yeah, the bathrooms, you had to go to the, you have to walk to them, mess halls you had to walk to them.

BN: Were they flush toilets at Pomona or was it latrine...

AM: I think they were flush toilets.

BN: And then partitioned?

AM: I don't remember Pomona. I think by Heart Mountain, they had partitions, maybe not doors in front, but the sides. And then there were improvements made, but I do remember that, one thing about camp and bathrooms, is my mother would need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, so she had a chamber pot like many women. And as kids we made a lot of fun of chamber pots.

BN: That should be one of the 50 Objects.

AM: [Laughs] That's right.

BN: Yeah, I've heard many interesting stories about the chamber pots.

AM: I'll tell Nancy that.

BN: And then you're in Pomona for a few months, and then on to...

AM: Yeah, then we went to...

BN: ...Heart Mountain.

AM: ...Heart Mountain. Pomona was just kind of chaotic because I think I finished my first grade there. Because we must have gone in in the spring, it was after Easter. Because I had to give up, somebody gave me a little chicken, chick for Easter, and I had to give it up to go to camp, so it was after Easter. Anyway, and I remember they had classes, but they weren't very organized yet. And I remember throwing away one of my tests because I had a bad score. [Laughs]

BN: This was at Pomona?

AM: At Pomona. And we'll get to Heart Mountain later, I had very good school experiences there.

BN: So at Pomona you're like seven, so second grade?

AM: Well, no. When I was at Pomona I was still six. I turned seven in July and then we went to Heart Mountain, I think we went in September, first week.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

BN: Do you remember the journey to Heart Mountain?

AM: To Heart Mountain? Yes, because we were in trains, and what I remember most... yeah, what I remember most about it is going on, it was scary having the soldiers with the bayonets pointed at us. I don't think I'd ever even seen a gun before in my life, and then having soldiers in uniforms pointing at us. But what I remember about the trip is that whenever we came to a town or a city, we had to pull down the shades. And at that stage in my life where I'd been reading and seeing newsreels about the "Japs" and how terrible the "Japs" were, and they were the enemy and everybody hated the "Japs." I think what I felt as a child is they hate us so much, they don't even want to see us as we go through towns. So it was definitely an experience of knowing fear, rejection, confusion, it was a hard time. I think our parents tried to make it as nice as possible. My mother would always have these very special blue and white mints from May Company that she brought for us.

BN: Did your cousins, were your cousins able to also go with you?

AM: I don't know exactly when my uncle came, but he was there at Heart Mountain.

BN: The one who had been interned?

AM: They let him go and they let him come back to the regular camp, or go to the regular camp. And they lived in Block 6 and we were in Block 1, so they were not right next door to us.

BN: They were there but a ways away.

AM: Right.

BN: And your uncle would have been, quote/unquote, "paroled" to go to another...

AM: Yes.

BN: go to a concentration camp. What were your first kinds of impressions of Heart Mountain as a seven-year-old?

AM: Let me see. I guess, well, I'd been disappointed with the first one because when we went, we didn't really know where we were going, and they were talking about, well, we're going to go to the real camp, so I thought it was a real camp... and my parents added to it because we had fold-up camp chairs. And we got there, and there was no lake, there were not cabins that would you see at a regular camp.

BN: You're thinking summer camp situation?

AM: Yeah, that was my thought, so that was disappointing. There were lots of long lines, but I guess that was at Pomona, too. Eating seemed to be, I don't know why, we always had long lines for eating at the beginning. I think we kind of got acclimated to know when to go and when our friends would go and all of that. But long lines for the bathrooms, for the mess halls, that's part of the early part of going to camp. We were in 1-9-B, and B was the larger room because we were registered as a family with four children. But we got to Heart Mountain in September, the first week of September. And Nails and Fumi came with us because they wanted to see us settled, but that was the week that Park College was going to open. And so they missed the first week, but they missed the racism against Japanese American students at the city of Park, because I guess there were demonstrations. And then that Sunday of that week, the president of Park College, who was a Presbyterian minister, gave a speech about how we need to welcome the students who are excellent students and all of that. And by the time Nails and Fumi got there, that was gone, and they didn't have to experience that direct kind of racism. But they really respected and thought kindly of their president, because he really stood up for them.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

BN: You mentioned earlier that you had a, kind of a positive experience with the schooling at Heart Mountain, I wonder if you could talk about that a little.

AM: About my school experience?

BN: Yeah.

AM: I felt really lucky because I had second, third and fourth grade in school at Heart Mountain. And all of my teachers were just very good and very kind. My biggest memory of being in the second grade was Mrs. Fomer, one day, after lunch, she said, "And now we're going to have a promotion. Amy is going to go from Reading Group 3 to Reading Group 1." And so that was a big deal. I remember that, kind of feeling special for the first time, maybe in the school. And then Mrs. Clark was my third grade teacher, and she, I mostly remember her for teaching us how to tell time, and practicing with my father at the clock, with our clock at home, and my going someplace and coming back and telling him how many minutes it had been. So my school experiences were positive ones. I don't remember... oh, yes, there was one day when my best friends in Block 1 were Lillie and Bernice and June, and the four of us would go to school together, and Lillie was one year ahead of us in school. And one day, we, I guess, Bernice and June and I felt very mean, and we did something to Lillie on the way to school. I can't even remember what it was now, but the three of us were in the same class, and the principal of the school called us out, and we knew we had been bad. But that's my only negative remembrance of school, it was something totally appropriate. And then Mrs. Forsythe was my fourth grade teacher, and she was the principal. And she was really a nice lady, she took us, took a bunch of girls as Girl Scouts on a camping trip on one weekend. And for Thanksgiving, she made a big pot of soup on the black potbelly stove that we had. And she had us dress up as Pilgrims or Indians, she had divided us up. And there was a boy in the class whose name was Masa-something that sounded like an Indian chief, so he was the Indian chief. It was a really big occasion. We cut the vegetables and everything, we helped her make it. And she gave assignments that were creative where we had to think of things and organize things. So I just felt like we had a really good education. In fact, when I got back to Los Angeles, back in those days, it had winter and summer classes, I got skipped to the winter class. And two of my friends in junior high had that same experience. So I knew that a lot of people had bad experiences with school, but there were some of us who weren't lucky. It made me think that of the people who worked in the camps, some people were there because they wanted to help, they didn't like what was happening to us. And some people were there because they had the prison guard mentality and they like the power, and they liked to be able to put us down or stare at us or intimidate us. So I was lucky in terms of my school experience.

BN: The friends that you mentioned, are these new friends that you made there?

AM: Yeah, they're new friends that I made there.

BN: Did people from your neighborhood back in East Hollywood, Virgil, also come to Heart Mountain, do you recall?

AM: Some of them did, but they weren't in Block 1.

BN: Yeah, they were scattered.

AM: I think some of my brother's friends were in Block 1 when I told them.

BN: Do you remember any of the recreational things, sports, or I think you mentioned, was there a Girl Scouts?

AM: I was in Camp Fire Girls, and my Camp Fire leader was my brother Shogo's girlfriend's best friend. And she's still alive, and she lives in Portland. And somehow I got in touch with her after some Heart Mountain thing, I met some of her relatives. And so I wrote to her and told her how much I appreciated her being our leader, and how she taught me how to tie my knot on my Camp Fire scarf. And every time I do a scarf, I think of her and I say, "Left over right, right over left." [Laughs]

BN: You're wearing a scarf now. Were you able to go outside the camp as the group?

AM: Well, yes, they went on a camping trip, but I broke my arm the weekend before they left, so I didn't get to go. But I think I was afraid to go, I mean, you know, I'm a psychotherapist. [Laughs] I think the idea of going away when I was maybe nine years old was still a little intimidating for me.

BN: But you broke your arm.

AM: Yeah, I broke my arm.

BN: How was your experience in terms of the treatment of it?

AM: Well, I ended up being in the hospital for several days. And the pediatric ward was filled, so I was with the adults. And the adult ladies were very nice to me, I got a lot of care. And I remember the nurse and the orderly, they were boyfriend and girlfriend, then they were nice. I got a lot of good care. My family came to see me every day. I was in the hospital twice, once for the broken arm, and the other one was for tonsillitis, and that was more, kind of ordinary. I was with other people, they gave us ice cream, that's what I remember.

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<Begin Segment 8>

BN: And you had mentioned your father was also active in the camp leadership as well.

AM: I wanted to ask about that, because Nancy found a list of the camp leaders from Heart Mountain, and my father's name was on it and, in fact, it was number one, because he was in Block 1. And I thought that Issei were not chosen for leaders, but evidently they were. And so what was the different, in criteria, choosing chairmen and managers who were, I guess in Heart Mountain they were all Nisei?

BN: Typically block mangers were, they were actually employees who worked for, they received a WRA wage and they took care of supplies and distributing mail and that kind of thing. Many of them were Issei because they were kind of the natural leaders. Whereas elected councilmen were limited to Nisei initially, so they were all Nisei. But then they changed the rules, because that was so against the structure of the community. So by the middle of '43, Issei could also hold elected office.

AM: And what did the Issei group do? What were the cultural things they were in charge of?

BN: You mean the...

AM: The Issei chairmen, block chairmen?

BN: Well, actually, we can continue this after. But your dad was, was he a block manager?

AM: My father was a block chairman.

BN: Chairman, okay.

AM: And the list of block chairmen had a lot of Issei. All the ones I knew were friends of my father and they were Issei.

BN: I think that those were probably the block managers. I mean, they may have had different names at different camps, but I suspect that's probably a block manager list. We can talk about that later. And then you mentioned he was also involved in the Enterprise business.

AM: Yeah. I have a bittersweet story about that. That was his main job, going to the administration building every day, and I knew that somehow or another, he was involved with the Enterprise. And the Enterprise was like these 7-11 type canteen stores in different blocks. So anyway, in camp, people, as you know, made lots of things out of wood, and so somebody for the Enterprise made all these little nametag things, except it was a shape of a heart, wood shape of a heart, and a picture of the mountain on it. And it had their number, which is like the number of, their job number. So when my father had this, one of these things, and I said, "Oh, Papa, you have number one." And he said, "Oh, that's not number one, that's I for Iwasaki." And then I guess he went to work and he noticed that they were indeed numbers, so he never wore it again. He was one of those humble Issei.

BN: Then did your mother also...

AM: She worked in the mess hall, and all the time I was growing up, she was a housewife, she never worked, so I missed her. I realized that I missed her. Because most of the women sat and talked and knitted and sewed and such, and she took classes, but she was also at work.

BN: And then you mentioned the two older siblings had gone to Park, Missouri. What about...

AM: Shogo?

BN: Shogo.

AM: Well, he was very active in the high school. I think he was vice president, his best friend, Ted Fujioka, who was killed in France, was the president. And so Shogo was busy and active in the high school. My one gripe about him -- and I must have more than one gripe -- but one of them was that the younger ones, we would go and see Buck Rogers every Friday. And when Buck Rogers was going to have its very final episode, I had to go and watch Shogo be in a play at the high school, because he was in this play. My mother used to say that I had to go. But then it turned out, in that play, at the very end, he kissed the girl in front of my mother and everybody. [Laughs] And later I thought, "Maybe it was worth it, skipping Buck Rogers."

BN: Did you ever find out what happened to Buck Rogers?

AM: I don't know, I don't remember. My friends probably told me.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

BN: Now, of course, in '40, early '43, there was one of the central episodes of many families' camp life, was the "loyalty questionnaire" episode. Was that an issue in your family at all that you knew of?

AM: No, I wasn't. I think my father must have decided very early, maybe like when he went back to Japan to bring a wife, that he wanted to live in the United States and he wanted his kids to be as American as they could be. So like he, like when Fumi and Nails were in Belmont High School, Nails was an Ephebian, which was one of the honor societies. And Fumi was a valedictorian, and so they really geared us. And they were those old fashioned, respectful of authority kind of people. So it was not an issue in our family. It was like, for my father's best friend, he had two sons, and he didn't want the sons to have to fight his relatives in Japan, so they did "no-no" and they were part of the group that went to trial in Cheyenne. One of my aunts' brothers also was one of the, what some people call "draft dodgers," and so we knew people who were. But I don't know, I feel this way, maybe I got it from my parents, I think those were decisions that were impossible to make. And it was really what the government was doing to us. It wasn't that the people who made one decision or another was bad, or disloyal or traitors or whatever. I think everybody was struggling to do whatever they could. So you had this division, and fortunately, because you probably know, it did break up families, it did break up friendships, it made for really bad feelings in the camp. But I'm glad, like my father and his best friend never stopped being best friends.

BN: You had mentioned earlier that after your two older siblings had gotten to Park, that they would send letters and postcards and so on to you. Talk a bit about that?

AM: Well, I really enjoyed their being away, because they would go to St. Louis and send me wonderful books, picture books, just other books that we had no access to. And because they were in college and they were, I think my sister was a literature major, they were in touch with things that I could never have gotten out of the Sears and Roebuck thing because I didn't have enough knowledge. So I looked forward to presents from them. And Park College was one of these typical small liberal arts colleges, and it had ivy-covered buildings and such. And so I've been associated with small colleges and I'm sure that had some influence on me. It also, I had this funny story when I was maybe about eleven or twelve, and I wanted to run away from home because my mother was scolding me so much, I must be a really bad girl. So I decided that, one night, I decided that I really needed to run away from home, but I was already dressed in my pajamas and robe and filled with my mother's scolding me, so I decided I would sleep in the car and the garage the first night, and then next day I would go to St. Louis. Because somehow, for me, St. Louis got associated with these very positive feelings. [Laughs] So I went to the car, and my one brother, Shogo, who was home then, found me there and took me into his room and let me sleep in his bed while he did his... I never got to St. Louis until I went to a convention as a social worker years later.

BN: Did it live up to your expectations? You don't have to answer that.

AM: [Laughs] It was different.

BN: You had mentioned also that eventually, both brothers ended up serving in the MIS.

AM: Yes, they did.

BN: How did your parents feel about that?

AM: They were delighted, because by then the war had ended, and Shogo ended up being an interpreter for MacArthur in the trials. And Nails spent the first part of his service in the Philippines interviewing where people who'd been arrested, Japanese soldiers who had been arrested. But both of them got to spend time in Tokyo, and they were able to look up relatives and reassure them what was happening to us and go and visit them. And they were, of course, very poor, so they would take them their c-rations when they would go and visit. And then the relatives would save the c-rations for their next visit to give to them to serve to them. My favorite cousin in Japan, I went to Japan when I was four with my mother, when her mother died. And my favorite cousin remembers the best thing that ever happened to him during the war was the Christmas party that my brothers took him to. He got presents and candy and Santa Claus was there and he just thought that was wonderful. So my brothers being able to be there was nice, it worked out well.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

BN: Now, your family stayed on, minus the three siblings that have left, it's now just your parents and you, right?

AM: Uh-huh.

BN: You stayed not quite to the end, but almost, and returned. Was there any doubt that you were going to go back?

AM: No. We didn't know what was going to happen to us, but if we had the choice, it was clear we could go home.

BN: And then do you know how the management of the property, the house went? You may not know this, how rent was handled and all that kind of thing?

AM: I don't know how it was, but I had the impression it was clear they paid. It was just a regular business deal, there were no problems.

BN: And then when you went back, they were already, the tenants were already, had vacated?

AM: I don't know. Probably so, because I remember just going straight to the house, and they weren't there anymore.

BN: Was the house pretty much as you had remembered it?

AM: What?

BN: Was the house kind of in similar condition as you had...

AM: Yeah, we didn't have any trouble. Yeah, I can't remember any trouble around it. I think it was hard on the people who had to leave, because housing was so hard to get.

BN: And then you'd mentioned that you had another family that stayed with you eventually.

AM: Yes. Again, this is my father's best friend. His sons were in the penitentiary, and so their daughter, who's like two years older than I, and Mr. and Mrs. Sumi and Yoko came and stayed with us. My parents rearranged the facilities and put in a kitchen and one of the bedrooms so that they could have their house, their apartment there. I have to tell you about how my father and Mr. Sumi became best friends. They were both in Seattle to work on the railroad in Washington, anyways, and when the men would go into town on payday, Mr. Sumi and my father became best friends because they stayed in camp and read books. And the funny part of the story is... I always thought that was a nice story, and I told Yuji Ichioka when we were together at UCLA in the Asian Studies program. And he said, "Oh, Amy, they all say that." [Laughs] And I always believed my father, I thought, "Oh, that's terrible." Then about five years later, I was able to talk to Ojisan's brother-in-law, and I told him this story, and he said, "Oh, don't worry, Amy. Your father and Mr. Sumi really were that kind of..." so I told Yuji, and he laughed.

BN: They weren't gambling and doing all the other stuff.


BN: Now, returning to your old house and old neighborhood, was it your sense that most o the other Japanese American families, that you describe kind of this small community there, did most people come back, in your perception?

AM: Probably, I think so. Because I had Japanese American friends in that neighborhood.

BN: And then the things that your father was involved with, judo and so forth, did that pick up again after the war?

AM: I think so, yeah. I think maybe the Japanese school, it took a longer time. Like I said, I would take the bus and streetcar to go.

BN: But now you're going to one not in your neighborhood, right? The Japanese school, you said, if you're going across town.

AM: It was in Boyle Heights, across town.

BN: Did you and the family have any occasions to go into Little Tokyo for things?

AM: Oh, yeah, that was one of my favorite trips, to Little Tokyo, where my mother bought whatever she needed, and my father would... but this must have been before the war. My father would take me to Mikawaya and get me shaved ice with the beans on it. So certainly before the war, we went regularly. After the war, we went, too. I think, yeah, I'm sure we did, because Mr. Shimizu had his shoe store, and we would go there. I can't name the people who had Fugetsu-Do, they came from Shizuoka-ken, and so we would go see them. There were just lots of people that we would see regularly there. So I think after the war, we would visit Little Tokyo, and we would visit Boyle Heights, because the Sumis lived in Boyle Heights. Both my uncle, the one who went into the FBI camps, moved there and bought a business there. And my other uncle bought a business there, he lived in the Seinan area, but, so we saw friends there.

BN: What did your dad do after the war?

AM: Oh, that was really interesting because he came across, he met a man that he had known from before the war. And the man was younger than he; he was kind of in between my brother's age and my father's age. And he had just, he was an Italian, probably second generation Italian man, and he had just gotten a contract for Chiquita bananas, and he wanted somebody to sell it for him in Grand Central Market. So he asked my father to set up a business there for him, so my father did. And then expanded to a couple of others, maybe two or three other booths also. It was kind of like he was back in Seattle, at Pike's Place. So he was able to get back into business, and that was really fortunate because most of the produce people that we knew weren't able to start. And it was just really luck because somebody came to him asking him to do this.

BN: So your family was pretty fortuitous both in terms of housing and occupation.

AM: Yes. When I hear what most people went through, I just feel we were really fortunate. And then as a child, I thought it was really great because Sam, the man, lived with his older sister and niece in a fancy house in Pasadena, and they would have wonderful dinners on Sunday that were just many course, many Italian courses and delicious. And I always felt so bad that I didn't, I was so full by the time that dessert came, I couldn't eat it all. But, no, so I know how hard it was for so many people, I think we were really fortunate.

BN: Now, your older siblings, did they come back to L.A., too?

AM: Yes, they did. Nails came back and finished at UCLA, Fumi worked in Missouri, but then she eventually came home and got a job in Inglewood in the school district there and taught school, kindergarteners and special ed. for the rest of her career.

BN: And then Shogo?

AM: Shogo came back, they all came back to L.A. Well, let's see. Shogo went to Stanford to finish his schooling, he hadn't started at a school in California.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

BN: Then you went on to, I think you mentioned Belmont school.

AM: Yeah, I went to Belmont. And then for college, I went to Pomona College for two years, and then I transferred to UC Berkeley and got my B.A. there, then I went to, I wanted to go to social work school, so I came back home to USC and got my MSW there.

BN: Was that, when you started college, did you already have a sense of, that that's what you wanted to do?

AM: Yes. And that's a story that's very related to camp. And when we got into camp, my brother and sister, as you know, left right away. And next door to us in 1-9-A were the Abes, and they were an elderly couple with a very beautiful nineteen-year-old daughter who was pregnant and not married. And you can imagine, in camp, where there's rumors galore and not much to do, and in 1942, a Japanese American girl, let alone any girl at nineteen, is not "acceptable" if she's pregnant and not married. So my next-door neighbor was very nice, and she taught me to knit, and she didn't have friends, so I spent a lot of time with her. And she would have a social worker who would come and visit her to help her decide what to do about the baby, whether she'd give it up for adoption or keep it. And she decided to keep it, and she left the baby with her parents and, I think, went to Chicago or someplace outside. And it took several months because the baby was walking by the time she called her parents and they came and they went and lived with her. But I think, for me, having a Caucasian professional woman, who was kind to me, who talked to me, who didn't act like she hated me because I was Japanese, must have had a tremendous influence on me. Because when I was in high school and we were supposed to put down what we wanted to be, I put down "adoption worker." I had no idea why I chose that, because in my memory, I didn't know any adopted children. But once, when I was a social worker and working in adoptions, I thought, oh, this is what I always wanted to do, and it's because of that woman.

BN: Interesting.

AM: Yeah, so my camp experience had a lot to do with my becoming a social worker.

BN: Then, at a certain point, did you not also work with a lot of Japanese American, have a lot of Japanese American clientele?

AM: Yes. I was in private practice, and at a certain point I was in private practice, and that was my main clientele. And then at that point, not just Japanese American, but Asian American, because some of the decisions that people were struggling with about, "How Japanese am I?" "How much of my parents' cultural values do I need to follow?" "How American am I?" Those were issues that all Asians were working on. So many of my clients were Asian.

BN: And then there's also, among Japanese, and, I think, other Asian Americans, too, kind of this cultural, you're not supposed to seek help in that way.

AM: That's right.

BN: How did you deal with that? How would even people get referred to you?

AM: Referrals came from people who knew I was in practice, and knowing people who wanted help. Some people were very ambivalent about it. I remember one person that I worked with, I think she was Chinese, and she came for maybe about two or three months trying to decide, and she finally decided in terms of remaining Chinese, more Chinese, but that was fine that she made that decision. And I felt it was not my place to tell them which they should be, but to listen and help them weigh what made sense for them. So I had a clientele that was Asian, which was gratifying because I was in private practice. My husband was in practice with a couple of other men, and all three of them were very competent, they're well-trained and such. But I found that if I referred my patients to one of them because I was going on vacation or I didn't have time or something, they didn't last as long. And so obviously there's something I knew about how to talk to people where I wouldn't, I was more sensitive to what make work for them.

BN: There probably were very few other Asian American women doing this at that time.

AM: Yeah, I was in practice fairly early.

BN: Then you also taught, right?

AM: Yeah, well, I ended up teaching because when my kids were in elementary school, I wanted a vacation schedule like theirs, because it was so hard to switch people around. And so I found a job at Whittier College, which they were looking for a half-time person, they had a small social work department, and they were looking for a half-time person who would do field placements. And since I'd been working in the community in different agencies, I had a lot of contacts, so it was an ideal job for me. And then I found out, oh, I really like college teaching. So then I went back to UCLA after some years to get my doctorate.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

BN: I want to go back a little. You're pursuing kind of a nontraditional kind of occupation and life in a certain way, from a Japanese American woman at that time. Was your family in support of that, or did you have to fight them at all?

AM: No, I think that for that...

BN: You had your older siblings kind of paving the way for you in some ways, too. I mean, you had your older siblings as well, they were sort of paving the way in some ways.

AM: Right.

BN: And then did you meet your husband in, like, in graduate school?

AM: I met my husband in the MSW program.

BN: Was that, his not being Japanese an issue?

AM: My family disowned me and his family disowned him. And the first time that we contacted the minister about getting married, said, "Well, yes, I'll marry you, but, of course, you're not going to have children." So I said, "Why not?" and he said, "Well, they'll have such a hard time." And I said, "Well, I'm Japanese American. Whoever I marry, my children will have a hard time." But I guess it bothered me, because one of the research projects I did on one of my sabbaticals at UCLA, I compared the psychosocial academic adjustment of monoracial Japanese Americans and white Japanese couples. And I did it at UCLA or my people in my study were all there. I got really good toward the end when I really needed, like, two or three more people to interview, research people. And I'd be in the student union and I'd say, "I think that person might be..." and I'd go over and say, "Excuse me, but I'm doing a research project and I just wondered if..." and I found some people that way.

BN: Did your family eventually come around?

AM: Well, my mother never did, because she died earlier, but after about seventeen years, a really good friend of ours died. And he'd been like an older brother and older sisters to us, and I thought to myself, you know, I don't really want to have my brother die and not make up with him, so I went to see him and we made up. But we saw each other at weddings and funerals before, and we never came back to doing all of our family dinners and holiday dinners together, but it was like, we made up.

BN: Were you involved with JACL or other kinds of Japanese American organizations?

AM: I was not with JACL so much, but when I was starting in social work and seeing some Japanese clients, it was a time of the Big Sisters program and the people of your generation were reaching out to kids that were having a hard time. And they would bring them, too, for therapy because these are not kids who would just go on their own. So I got working with Little Tokyo Service center, and working with kids who were on drugs and having a hard time with adjustment problems and such. So I was a member of JACL, but...

BN: I didn't mean JACL in particular, but other organizations as well. Did you deal with, because in L.A. at the time in the early '70s was this kind of drug problem among a lot of the Sansei kids. Was that something that...

AM: I saw some of them, yes. Some of them came to see me. I think it's just really amazing that that organization has lasted for so long in the Crenshaw area serving all races.

BN: You're talking about AADAP? You're talking about AADAP?

AM: Yeah.

BN: Yeah, Asian American Drug Abuse Program. Did you talk to your children about camp?

AM: I did.

BN: The rare Nisei who did?

AM: Well, I think I took them to some of the meetings, not at the commission hearings, but preparing for the commission hearings and talking about the best way to try to get redress and such. My daughter became an ACLU lawyer, she just changed jobs, but she did it for fifteen years. When my son who, they grew up in the same schools, so everybody knew their racial background, but when my son went away to San Luis Obispo, he bought a lot of t-shirts that would indicate that he's Asian.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

BN: Now, you famously gave a very powerful testimony at the commission hearings in 1981. Had you been involved with the, kind of, redress movement activities prior to that?

AM: Kind of on the fringes. But when it started, like I was able to have some of the meetings at Whittier College. In fact, Whittier College had a conference on the camps, it was one of the early ones, and we had a number of scholars and people who hadn't... Don Nakanishi and the author of Farewell to Manzanar.

BN: Jeanne Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston.

AM: Yes. So in different ways, I think being at Whittier allowed me to connect with them and support them. The group that... I wish I weren't forgetting names. I wasn't that active in NCRR, but what's the group that was trying to do the class action suit?

BN: Oh, yeah, NCJAR.

AM: Yeah. I was involved with them, too. Also, Gordon Hirabayashi was at the University of Washington, and there the Nisei student advisor was a man named Bob O'Brien who was the head of the sociology department at Whittier College for many years. And he retired the year that I got there, and so he was writing a book, he was revising his dissertation on the college Nisei, and he asked me to help him with it. And I was not into research, I was not into writing books, and I said, "Oh, I can't do that." But he was a very smart man, and he came to me with a list of all the students and the Nisei Student Union, and what do you know, my brothers and my sister were in there. So Gordon would come and visit with him when he would come to Southern California, and so I heard what Gordon was doing, and people asking him to speak up and do things. So in kind of funny little ways, I got connected.

BN: Kind of all the different aspects of redress. And then around that time, you also wrote one of the first articles on the psychological effects, impacts of incarceration.

AM: I think that was because, well, I think social work was recognizing that we don't really serve minorities, and they wanted to know more about it. So I wrote several articles and chapters and books and things talking about it. It was very interesting to me, I think my first article was in social casework back in 1976, and then we had a social work meeting, where those of us who had chapters in that book spoke about our particular group. And it's the first time, it turned out, that I was speaking out loud to an audience. I had written things, I had talked to people individually, but I never said these things in public. And at one point, I just couldn't talk anymore, and I was filled with tears and such. So after that, after the meeting, my friends, like maybe half a dozen friends, came running up and seeing if I was okay. But it really told me how deep and painful those feelings were, that it's not something that we can just toss off easily. And I thought of that when I saw the Tales of Glamour. The people who didn't want to talk really didn't want to talk, it was just too painful.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

BN: How do you think things have changed in the community since redress and the commission hearings?

AM: Well, I think currently they're in a much better place. For example, I think the way so many young people responded to the Rago Auction thing, that was just really a groundswell of people coming together and saying, no, we don't want this sold. We couldn't get that kind of a groundswell for the redress hearings. It was hard work to get the people to come. It was an important thing that happened, and for, certainly for the people who participate, it was important, it helped. But I think the whole culture, the minority cultures, are much more aware and sophisticated and in touch with what we can do, so that's great.

BN: Let's see, we talked about... yes, I'm just about done. Is there any, especially with politics of the last, well, you can go back any number of years, especially in the last couple of years, why do you think it's important that we continue to tell the story about the wartime incarceration and exclusion of Japanese Americans?

AM: It's... especially like it's been validated over and over again that that was a huge mistake on the part of the government. I think it's important to make that to remind the American public today, because there are still people who think it's okay to pick on a racial group or religious group and mistreat them. And I think having this discussion, making it possible for people to explain how they're feeling now, and I think it also helps people who are Muslim, people who come for refuge for countries in the south, that the whole country understand what they're going through, and how un-American it is. I think that's one of the things that's really, distorted people's ideas of what's American. Like objecting to the football players who take a knee, they're speaking up for American values, and they're being put down, it's really bad. I think another thing that's important for us to bring this up, is it's still, for many people, hard to speak up in public. Maybe it's okay to join a march, but if somebody says something to you individually that's racist, we don't necessarily speak up. And what I've realized is that, although I give classes, I write things, I give speeches, that it took me a long time to call on somebody who was being racist.

And I realized that I changed from being at Whittier College, where it's not a religious school now, but it's based on Quaker values of speaking your conscience, civil liberties, abolition, I mean, the Quaker values are very solid. And I worked with people like Robert O'Brien and the woman that I had the social work program with, and other people who might be junior faculty. But if they had these values, they spoke up, and I was so impressed, I finally decided I couldn't be chicken and stop. And my mother used to say, "Oh, they're just ignorant, don't pay any attention to them." That was a really good cover, but I knew it was because I was scared to speak up. So for maybe a half a year, different things came up where I would shake and have my stomach being knotted, and my heart pounding like crazy when I called somebody on what they were doing, but I finally got so I could do that. And my guess would be there are still people who would like to speak up, but who are afraid to and don't know how. I don't know if you've seen the testimony that Akemi did on students that she had at USC, and how hard it was for them to take the racism and how to respond to it. I think we could do more now to help people with that, just even having sessions on if somebody said something like that, what would you do and how could you say it?

BN: Are you still practicing?

AM: No, I'm retired.

BN: Any last thoughts?

AM: No, I guess that was my last thought, doing something to help people speak up.

BN: Thank you very much.

AM: You're welcome.

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