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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-1000-472-5

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PW: So this is 1941, and of course, international relations are getting kind of hot.

LS: You know, this is after Pearl Harbor, I had no problems at Montebello High School, no problem at Compton JC, nobody picked on me or said, "What are you doing here?" or anything like that. But I can tell you a story. I was doing my homework Sunday, December 7th, and listening to my radio, and the announcer broke in and said Pearl Harbor had been bombed. Well, I wasn't sure what to make of it, but I knew that my parents had been talking about the embargo that the U.S. had put on the Japanese navy to keep them from going to Southeast Asia to pick up oil, because Japan didn't have oil, they had to import it all. That put a real, well, you might say, it didn't completely stop it, but it really slowed down the military. They knew, and I think we had a shortwave radio, and would come on like one or two in the morning, they could hear it, Japan. And I know they would talk about the U.S. Navy was headquartered at Hawaii, so the newspapers and Japanese radio probably were talking about how to retaliate against the U.S. for the embargo that they put on them. Well, my parents thought eventually Japan and U.S. would probably go to war, and they never talked to us about it, but we could hear them discussing it, and they just didn't... when that Pearl Harbor attack happened, I asked them about it. They were working, when they came in at noon, I asked them about, I told them what had happened, and they were shocked, and they said, "Well, this might be the end. We might have to go back," you know, they were talking, "We might have go back to Japan." And then the question is whether the kids have to go, they're American citizens, it's really a problem.

Anyway, I called my friends, four of us used to carpool going to different schools. And the boys said, "Well, let's go join the navy." So on Monday, instead of going back to school, we went down to the Long Beach Naval Base, and our classmate, Ed Hardege, Roy Kentner, Jimmy Keyes, all accepted, because they're Caucasian. And then my name, Sakai, and the recruit says, "Sakai, you're a Jap. We don't want Japs in the navy, get out of here." And that's the first time I felt any discrimination, and it really shocked me. I hollered at my classmates, I said, "Hey, this is what they told me." And they said, "Well, the hell with the navy, if you're not going to go in, we're not going to go in either," so we all left and went back to school. That was immediately after Pearl Harbor, that was the attitude. And in those days, the military was segregated, blacks, Asians could not join. Blacks could get in, but they'd have to do, like, what they call (latrine) duty or kitchen duty, they could never become a regular soldier, they were completely segregated.

PW: Were your parents affected immediately after Pearl Harbor? Did anything happen?

LS: Nothing physically like damage, they maintained their life, they kept going to church, farmers kept bringing produce. Well, you know what happened in February, February 19th, Roosevelt declared Executive Order 9066, all of a sudden the Japanese had to pick up and leave. Well, our nice little five-acre nursery, there were another person, I can't remember his name, he was Italian, had been growing the same kind of thing someplace in the not too far away, and my parents asked him to just kind of watch over. And we thought when we had to evacuate, we would be gone maybe a month, and the governor would say, oh, you can come back home. So we piled up stuff in our car, we had a car and a small truck, we piled up a lot of stuff and we went east of Highway 99. You know where Porterville is? Well, if you take the road to Porterville, there's a California Hot Springs, it's about thirteen miles up on the hill. That was also run by a Seventh Day Adventist doctor named Sufficool, he was English. Anyway, he invited the Japanese families, he had a bunch of cabins up there to rent, so I think there were nine or ten Japanese families ended up there. And we all thought, a month or two, they'll let us go back home. Instead, of course, all of California had to evacuate, so we're stuck up there. We're saying, "What are we going to do?" Well, the order came that, "We know you're here," this date, whatever that date was, I don't recall, "we're sending a large bus. We can't take everything that you have here, your cars, you have to leave everything, just take what you can carry and we're going to take you." They didn't say where, "You're going to a camp."

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