Densho Digital Repository
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-1000-472-4

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PW: You've already talked a little bit about this, but what did you do for fun as a kid and as a teenager?

LS: What's that?

PW: What did you do for fun as a kid and as a teenager?

LS: Well, in high school, I got involved in sports, athletic sports. And we had a coach at our high school that said, "There are two things I want to impress on you. No smoking," and there were some kids that were smoking in high school, there was a little restaurant across the street from the high school that the smoking kids would go to. We never went out smoking and dancing, you don't do that. You run, you train by running laps around the high school track, we want you to stay in shape all year long. So I played football and baseball, and ran a little bit of track, but track and baseball kind of interfered. I was in a group of kids that just stayed in shape, that's all we did was train all year.

PW: What were the names of the schools you went to?

LS: Montebello High School.

PW: What about elementary school?

LS: I think the first school was called Ditman school, Seventh (Day Adventist School), and it's one to eight. But there were only like, maybe twenty kids all together in the eight grades.

PW: In Montebello High School, was it very mixed, or was it mostly Japanese?

LS: Well, there must have been maybe ten Japanese farmers around that area. So their kids, they came to the school. There was Kobayashi, Goto, Bessho, Uyematsu, Kuroiwa, probably two or three others, I just can't place their names. So there were a few Japanese kids.

PW: But the rest of the high school, was it white?

LS: Practically ninety-nine percent Caucasian. I think there was one Korean, the Kim family, and seven or eight Japanese families. I don't think there was any black students, there were a lot of Mexicans, because we were near what they call Simon's Brick Factory, it was south of Montebello, it was kind of a real poor area, these Mexican, you might say, we called them Braceros that came up to work the fields in the summer, they lived in Simon's, and you went after them to get labor because most of them didn't have transportation. And then in the depression years, as the people from Texas and Oklahoma started moving to California to get out of the Dust Bowl, a lot of them settled in an area called Bell Gardens, about five to seven, eight miles southwest of Montebello. Since there was no, it was kind of an open area, barren land, and they just settled there and built shacks and so forth, for school, there was no school around there. So they were brought to the Montebello High School, and Montebello had a very nice boulevard, had a nice park with a swimming pool, had a nice brick high school. I don't know when they built that, but they spent a lot of money on this first class. But all these, they called them Okie kids, all the Okie kids started coming from Bell Gardens, and the bus from Montebello would go down there and pick up the kids and bring them. So all of a sudden we got a mixture of Mexican and Okies, and the school became a little different, because most of the Okies were practically without shoes, and very few clothes, they were just really dirt poor. And most of them didn't have lunches, that kind of thing. It was really interesting.

PW: Were you friends with different kids of different races?

LS: Oh, yeah, because I ran a lot. Our track team was famous, I called it CIF, California Interscholastic Federation, track meets, Montebello High School, I think at one point we won nine consecutive cross-country titles. And most of the Mexican boys, a lot of them came from Simon's, and a lot of them smoked marijuana. [Laughs] And maybe that helped them run, I don't know, but they could run and run and run, and I would kind of run with them once in a while, I couldn't keep up, of course.

PW: Did you date in high school? Did you ever go on dates?

LS: Not really. My senior prom, I did take one of my classmates, I don't know, I guess I must have asked her if she had a date for the prom, and she said, "No." I said, "Well, I'd like to go, would you like to go?" "Oh, yeah." So I'd never dated, but bought a corsage and I picked her up and we went. I never saw her again, but I never had a girlfriend in high school. We were, our coach said, "Don't monkey with the girls, that's trouble." [Laughs] I guess he knew from experience. He kept us on the straight and narrow.

PW: Were you a good student?

LS: I wasn't good, I wasn't bad, I was just, I'd say maybe a B average. I don't thing, I was never an A student, and I was probably better than a C student. When I graduated in 1941, I decided I'd go to Compton junior college. My parents wanted me to go to Loma Linda to become a doctor. And I wasn't that set on the Seventh Day Adventist religion. I'd seen enough of it and the hypocrisy, you know, they preach one thing and they do something else, and I didn't like that. So I decided I'd go to Compton junior college. But Compton, now, is a hundred and ten percent black with a fence around it. In 1941 when I went there, I think there were two black students.

PW: Who were the other people that lived in Compton?

LS: All Caucasian, there were quite a few of them. Well, Compton junior college was a subsidiary of USC, University of Southern California. USC was a big national powerhouse in track, football, baseball, and they would recruit athletes from all over the country. And, of course, they would be full at USC, but they would park them at Compton junior college. And this being wartime, a lot of the athletes had gone off to war, so I could play football, 145 pounds, I could play football, not the varsity but the junior varsity at Compton junior college. One of the kids next -- I played right guard. My right tackle next to me, he weighed a little over two hundred pounds. In those days, two hundred pounds was big. His name was Uede, last name was U-E-D-E. He was recruited from Iowa, a farm boy for USC. But temporarily, he was at Compton. But two of my friends were the two guards for the Compton basketball team, one was real blond with short hair cut short, Rex McDaniel, he went by RX McD, that was his name. This other guard was Tex Winter, he was about, a little bigger than me, five-nine maybe, and he became an All-American at USC, pole vault and basketball. He became a world-class coach at Kansas State University, eventually Los Angeles Lakers, he was the kind of fat guy with the white hair, with the pencil and paper. He was the one that invented that offense that the Lakers used, very famous.

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