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Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Lawson I. Sakai Interview
Narrator: Lawson I. Sakai
Interviewer: Patricia Wakida
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 13, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-472-1

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PW: Okay, my name is Patricia Wakida, and today I'm interviewing Lawson I. Sakai. It is March 13, 2019, and we are in Emeryville, California, Dana Hoshide is on camera. So good morning, Lawson, and thank you so much for agreeing to do this. My first questions are, where were you born and when were you born?

LS: I always say I was born in Los Angeles, but actually, it was a little town called Montebello. In those days, it was a little town, and it was 7 miles from L.A. City Hall. Now it's all one large community, but Montebello had a lot of Japanese farmers, and it was pretty rural in those days. That was 1923.

PW: What day were you born? What day were you born?

LS: Oh, October 27, 1923.

PW: Were you born at home, or were you born in a hospital?

LS: No, there was, I think, a Japanese facility that a lot of the Japanese people, because they were having children, didn't go to hospitals, they went to, I think it was before the Japanese hospital was built. They were with, what do you call the ladies that would deliver babies? Anyway, probably that's how it happened.

PW: Tell me about your parents, what were your parents' names?

LS: My father was named Shotaro Sakai, and my mother's name was Himo. My aunt (Yana), who was about five years older than my mother, we all lived together. And the way it happened, my aunt and uncle came in 1895, so they worked hard and saved enough money to buy five acres of land in Montebello as Issei in their own name, because it was before the alien land law was passed. My aunt and uncle eventually got divorced, but my aunt retained the policy. And there were two houses there, we lived in one, my aunt lived in the other. But since it was the bigger house, my two sisters at that time lived with her, and I lived with my parents. Well, we had five acres of lath greenhouses, and that was where they worked most of the time. But my uncle had a large farm, well, large in those days, I would guess it might have been twenty-five, thirty acres. About 13 miles farther away, in a place called Blue Hills, it's now the home of a fancy country club (La Mirada). And those days there was nothing, just barren, rolling land, and about seven Japanese families farmed. There were no roads, they just cut pathways where the cars could go, and he farmed here and there. So during the summer growing season, my father spent a lot of his time down there. And in the summer, when I got old enough, I would go with my father and work on the farm doing whatever, taking care of the mules or whatever had to be done. And so even though we lived in Montebello, we were still farmers, you might say.

PW: Where did your mother and father come from in Japan? Where did they live in Japan?

LS: Everybody came from Kumamoto as most of the people around there, because most of the Kyushu farming people just weren't making a living. And so a lot of Kumamoto people emigrated to the United States, Hawaii and the U.S., and their skills were whatever they could do on the land. So most of them took to farming. Of course, the Japanese Issei, amazingly, were very aggressive, and starting as a laborer, gradually acquiring land, and becoming larger and larger farmers. I'll skip ahead to 1939, '40, right after the Depression years, the Japanese farmers had taken over the Ninth Street wholesale market in Los Angeles. They had taken over the Seventh Street flower market in Los Angeles, so there was a lot of jealousy among the Caucasian farmers. Because the Japanese, instead of farming ten, fifteen acres, were going a hundred to a thousand acres, unheard of by the Caucasian farmers. So in the Imperial Valley, Santa Maria, Guadalupe in Central California and Southern California, Central California, the Japanese farmers were really getting big. In 1940, my uncle was driving a Chrysler Airflow, which today would be the biggest Mercedes you could buy. People would see him driving, I'm sure they were thinking, "What is that Jap doing in that car?" It would be like forty, fifty years ago, if you saw a black person in a new car, the cops would probably stop him to find out where he stole it. That's the way it was in that time. So because of all that jealousy, I'm sure the pressure was put on the military and the U.S. government to chase the Japanese out. That was the start of the evacuation.

PW: Do you know when your parents immigrated to the United States, and did they come together?

LS: Probably... I think my father came about (1905). My mother, he went back and brought her as a bride probably about five years later. Let's see, my oldest sister was born in 1916, so I would guess she came about 1915.

PW: You said your father came in 1905?

LS: Around then. He came as one of the young men just to find work, hoping to earn enough money to go back to Japan and become a wealthy farmer.

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