Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Yae Wada Interview
Narrator: Yae Wada
Interviewer: Patricia Wakida
Location: Berkeley, California
Date: April 12, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-476-1

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

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PW: So I'm Patricia Wakida, today is April 12th, and I'm interviewing Yae Wada in Berkeley, California. First of all, Yae, thank you so much for doing this interview, I so greatly appreciate it. So we'll start with your childhood. When were you born? When's your birthday, and where were you born?

YW: I was born in Berkeley, California, ninety-nine years ago, November 3, 1919. I'm still in Berkeley. I came back because my dad had a business over here and I had lost our home. I had a business that I lost, too, so I was lucky that I had someplace to come to, and I know a lot of people did not have anyplace to come. But I was able to relocate back to Berkeley after camp.

PW: And were you born in a hospital here in Berkeley or were you born at home?

YW: No, I was born at home, a samba-san, midwife, like many of us Niseis.

PW: Which neighborhood did you live in at that time?

YW: Actually, it was almost in the same neighborhood that I'm in now. Because at that time, there was still discrimination. So we had to live in just certain areas, we couldn't go over the border. And we were living in an area where there were some blacks and Asians... we were in an area where it was very convenient for us.

PW: Tell me about the border. So where was the border, what streets in...

YW: I think you could not go over, well, you could not be above Shattuck, for sure.

PW: What is the name of this neighborhood we're living in now?

YW: It used to be called Virginia Gardens many, many years ago. And it's right near where the North Berkeley BART station is right now. We were not able to live in this neighborhood at (that) time. I think the borderline, the cutoff was like University, so University is just a few blocks past the North Berkeley BART station. We lived right on the other side of University at that time. My dad had a laundry business on Ashby near Shattuck.

PW: Tell me about your father. What was your father's name, and where did he, where was he from?

YW: My father was from Hiroshima in Japan, and he came here as a young boy, I think about nineteen years old. I don't know if he was that old, but I believe he was about eighteen, nineteen years old when he came. And then he said he always wanted to come here, but he didn't have quite enough money to get here, so then he stopped in Hawaii. And he lived there for a couple years and worked the railroads and pineapple fields, I think, to earn enough money to come to California. Actually, he came into Berkeley, and he's been in Berkeley until he passed away. He started his business in Berkeley.

PW: What was the name of the business?

YW: Ashby Laundry, and it was a plant. It was a plant where they had the big equipment, it was a laundry plant, and they had big boilers and the big mangles, the big presses, it was that kind of a laundry. So they did hire quite a few people, and among them were Isseis, the first generation. And they were still young, they were maybe in their late '40s, early '50s, and good workers. He also had Niseis, the second generation, especially those that came out of high school, they couldn't find a job, they always ended up at the laundry because they got their free laundry, free room and board. There was kind of an unspoken rule among Niseis, and I think most of us kind of knew that when you turned eighteen or when you graduated high school, it was time for you to leave, find a job and leave. Because the Isseis, our parents, were having a hard time. And so I think the Niseis, the second generation, kind of had an unspoken rule that, yes, when you got out of high school, you were kind of on your own. And so when they couldn't find a job, they ended up at the laundry, my dad's laundry, my dad trained them to use a lot of the equipment.

PW: What was your father's full name?

YW: Kenichi Tokunaga.

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