Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Dotti Yasuko Tagawa Reisbord Interview
Narrator: Dotti Yasuko Tagawa Reisbord
Interviewers: Barbara Yasui (primary); Tom Ikeda (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 21, 2022
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-509

<Begin Segment 1>

BY: Okay, so we're here today with Dotti Yasuko Tagawa Reisbord to do an interview. It is April 21, 2022, at the Lakeshore retirement community. I'm Barbara Yasui, and Tom Ikeda will also be participating in the interview as well as Dana Hoshide on the camera. So we're going to just start with getting some background information from you. So can you tell us where and when you were born?

DR: I was born in Seattle, Washington, at the Swedish Hospital on May 9, 1941.

BY: Okay. And what was the name that was given to you when you born? What was your birth name?

DR: It was actually Yasuko Tagawa. Yasuko Dorothy Tagawa.

BY: So was Dorothy part of it or was that added later?

DR: No, it was part of it. But unlike my siblings, on my birth certificate, Yasuko is the first name, and then Dorothy is the middle name, so it was very strange.

BY: And what were you called as a child then?

DR: I was called, actually I was called both, depending... my family called me Yasuko or Yachan (and also Dorothy).

BY: And were you ever called Dorothy or was it always Dotti?

DR: In nursery school, I think it started in nursery school where they started calling me Dorothy.

BY: So when did "Dotti" happen?

DR: "Dotti" happened in, after high school, actually. Mostly everybody called me either Dot or Dorothy or all kinds of names. "Dodi," which was something that I really did not like.

BY: But Dotti is the name you like the best?

DR: Yes.

BY: Okay, that's great.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

BY: So what was your father's name?

DR: My father's name was Takeo Tagawa.

BY: And where and when was he born?

DR: He was born in a small town outside of Hiroshima, (Ube), and I think it was in Shimane-ken.

BY: Hiroshima is a ken.

DR: Shimane(-ken), actually, the name of the town was Ube.

BY: Ube, okay.

DR: Ube-shi.

BY: Okay. And do you know when he came to the U.S. and how and why he came to the U.S.?

DR: His parents brought him here when he was around sixteen years old to avoid the Chinese-Japanese war. They did not want him to be a soldier.

BY: Was he their only son?

DR: No. Actually, I had three cousins that were male, and one that was a female. And they just brought him here and left him.

BY: So he had the three brothers?

DR: Yeah, right.

BY: But he was the one that they brought?

DR: Right.

BY: Do you know what the family did in Japan?

DR: They were farmers, they were chicken farmers.

BY: And who brought him?

DR: My grandparents, his parents.

BY: And do you know who they left him with?


DR: I don't know, he was left with somebody, though, a family, I believe. (Narr. note: At first he was a houseboy.)

BY: So you don't know if it was friends or relatives?

DR: It wasn't friends or relatives. (I think they were hakujin).

BY: Oh, okay. And so he was sixteen years old?

DR: Around sixteen, yes.

BY: All right. And so it's an interesting story that he was just sort of being left here on his own? Do you know what he did after he got here?

DR: I'm not sure. I think he was a houseboy for a while. And then he was working as a cook, I believe in a restaurant down in Little Tokyo.

BY: And he did that for a while and then what did he do?

DR: After the war, he worked at Tashiro Hardware.

BY: So up until the war, do you know...

DR: No. Well, that was before I was born.

BY: Right, you weren't.

DR: But I think he was a cook.

BY: Okay.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

BY: And how about your mother? What was her name and where and when was she born?

DR: She was Masako Nagashima. She was born in a little town at the southern tip of Kyushu. I can't remember the name right offhand, it was Amakusa.

BY: This is your mom?

DR: My mom.

BY: Okay. And so then when did she come to the U.S.?

DR: Actually, she was born here in Seattle.

BY: Wait a second, I thought you said she was from Amakusa.

DR: That's where my grandparents were from, I'm sorry.

BY: Oh, okay.

DR: But they were living in Seattle and she was born here.

BY: Okay. So your mother's parents were born, or were from Amakusa, Japan.

DR: Yeah, yeah. (I assume so).

BY: They came here and then she was born.

DR: In Seattle.

BY: In Seattle, so she was Nisei.

DR: Right, right.

BY: And where did she grow up then, in Seattle?

DR: Well, they went back... she was born here and then as a young child, they went back to Japan for a while, and then they came back here. And she spent her... well, actually, she went to Bailey Gatzert elementary school, and then they moved to Alaska, and I believe he had a cleaners or something up there, my grandfather. And he had a grocery store on Yesler at one time, that was before they went back to Japan, I believe. No, before they went to Alaska. He had a grocery store, I think it was across the street from Tokuda Drugs on Sixteenth and Yesler.

BY: So her parents came from Japan. She was born here, her father had a grocery store, you think, and then they moved to Alaska.

DR: You know, I'm really, really foggy about what he did. I think they had a grocery store.

BY: And you think that in Alaska that he had a business? He didn't go there for fishing then?

DR: No. I think he had a dry cleaner or something. My brother Eugene could tell you stories about that part of the family.

BY: And did your mother have brothers and sisters?

DR: No, she had no siblings.

BY: And do you know how long she, how old was she when she went there and when she came back from Alaska, do you know?

DR: She graduated high school. She graduated valedictorian of Ketchikan High School. And interestingly, they had a contest for the state flag of Alaska. She came in second. And when my brother and sister and I went to Alaska to see where my mother grew up, we went to the archives and they actually had a copy of that flag.

BY: Do you remember what the design was? Is Alaska the one with the north, the constellation?

TI: Yeah, is this the official Alaska flag?

DR: Yeah, but she was number two.

BY: What was her design, do you know?

DR: You know, I have a copy of it in my apartment, but offhand, I can't remember.

BY: Because the Alaska state flag is kind of unique in that it's got that, the Big Dipper on it, doesn't it?

DR: Yeah, yeah. That was the first prize.

BY: That's really...

TI: That's a cool story.

BY: It's a really cool story.

DR: She was very talented.

BY: And so she was Nisei. Was she fluent in Japanese?

DR: Yes.

BY: And did she speak very good Japanese?

DR: Yes, and English also, right, fluent in both.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

BY: And so how did your mother and father meet?

DR: Well, you know, this was not one of those arranged marriages, they fell in love.

BY: Do you know the story behind that?

DR: Sort of. It's sort of vague. I think my grandfather was working in a restaurant where he (was a cook), I don't know, for some reason my dad used to come to the restaurant every day, because he was, I think it's because he was attracted to my mother. (Perhaps he owned it).

BY: Did she work there?


DR: I'm sure she was in and out. I don't know if she worked there or not.

BY: Oh, I see. So by grandfather you mean your mother's father?

DR: Yeah.

BY: Who worked in the restaurant and she was there a lot.

DR: I don't know if he was the, I don't think he was the owner of it.

BY: He was a cook?

DR: Yeah, I think so.

BY: And you think this is the one that maybe was across the street from Tokuda Drugs?

DR: No.

BY: No, different one?

DR: That was in Nihonmachi.

BY: Okay. And was there an age difference between your mother and father, or were they the same age?

DR: Actually, I think they were about the same age.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

BY: So tell me about your father. What was he like?

DR: You know, my father, sadly, he passed away when he was forty-eight. The oldest of his five (children) was twelve. I was eleven years old at that time.

BY: So what do you remember about him?

DR: Oh, he was just such a lovely guy. I mean, just so tender and just caring and loving. He used to take us on a ride very weekend, every Sunday he used to take the family out in a car and out to the country, like Kent and Auburn which seemed like a really long distance from our home. And us kids would fight in the back seat, and, of course, my mother and father would scold us, and my father would stop the car and say, "Get out. Kids, get out." But we never did, of course, that was just his way of saying, "Okay, stop it." And then he played the violin, he was a violinist with the, some youth symphony (in Japan), I'm not sure where it was, someplace in Japan. And so every Saturday evening he used to take out his violin, make us all sit there in the living room and listen to him play.

BY: Did he play classical music?

DR: He played all kinds of music, yeah. He was a very talented guy.

BY: Interesting. Did any of this, any of you or your siblings become musicians?

DR: No. But my youngest brother, it's amazing. He never took any musical lessons, he can't read music, but he can pick up any instrument, especially string, and just play it. And I don't know how that happens.

BY: It's just genetic.

DR: Must be. And then my brother Eugene, my mother wanted to become a fashion designer, and she was really a great artist. And Eugene is so artistic. [Interruption]. So he gets that from her, right.

BY: Right.

DR: And I get nothing. [Laughs]

BY: Well, one, I would guess that one of your parents was very outgoing and friendly and social?

DR: You know, I think my dad was, but I was so young when he passed away, I don't really remember that part.

BY: So I think you got that from him.

DR: I don't know.

BY: So what was your mother like?

TI: So why did your father die?

DR: Oh, he had TB, and he was in the sanitarium. And one day they decided that they were going to operate and remove part of his lung. And he died on the table; he was allergic to the anesthetic. In those days, they didn't test to see if you had any allergies or anything. And that's what happened, I mean, it was so sudden.

BY: So he went in seemingly for something that he would...

DR: Well, he was in the sanitarium, actually, for a long time. And we used to go visit him on the weekends, but us kids couldn't go inside the building, so we had to stand outside and wave to him. It was very lonely.

BY: You were eleven, you said?

DR: Well, I was eleven when he passed away.

BY: But he'd been sick for a...

DR: Yeah, at least a year, I would think, I'm not positive.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

BY: So just talk a little bit about your mother. What was she like?

DR: Oh, my mom, she was amazing. She was left with five kids and her father, and she really had no work experience, so she cleaned houses for a long time to support us. And then one day she decided she wanted to become a nurse, so she borrowed money from everybody she could borrow money from. And you know what's really nice about this is that before she passed away, she had paid back every penny that she had borrowed. I mean, that's the kind of person she was, and she was an amazing woman. She used to do the New Year's thing every year, and have all the (gochiso, it was incredible). [Narr. note: When our mom passed away, my youngest sister, Kathy Sugiyama, the wife of Al Sugiyama, took over the tradition. When Kathy passed, her daughters, Mari and Alysa, picked up the ball and the tradition continues. It�s amazing!]


BY: Do you know, like, made mochi?

DR: Not mochi, but everything else.

BY: Oshogatsu?

DR: Yeah, Oshogatsu.

BY: And so your mother would do that for your family?

DR: Yeah.

BY: On top of working as a nurse and raising the kids?

DR: And she was the best mom.

BY: That's great. And it sounds like she had a tough time, it was a struggle.

DR: And she never complained. She never complained, it's just amazing.

BY: Now, you mentioned that her father was... so did he and his wife live with your family then for a while?

DR: Well, she passed away before my dad passed away.

BY: Your grandmother.

DR: Yeah. She was, we were just little kids. Because I remember, you know, the Buddhist ceremonies that they have, and they did chanting and they ring the bells and stuff. Us kids would sit during the funeral, we would giggle. And everybody would poke us and say, "Shh." [Laughs]

BY: This was your grandmother's...

DR: My mother's mother.

BY: Funeral.

DR: Yeah.

BY: So then your grandfather lived with your family?

DR: Yeah, he did until he was in his early nineties, I think.

BY: So your mom had a lot of responsibilities then.

DR: She did. Oh, and when my dad died, she didn't know how to drive the car or anything, so I remember one of the neighbors taking her out for driving lessons in the neighborhood. And she learned how to drive and it was great.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

BY: And so can you tell us the names of your siblings? Like from the oldest to the youngest and about either when they were born or what was the age difference between them and you?

DR: Okay. Marion was the oldest and she was born in January of '40. And then myself...

BY: '40?

DR: 1940. And then myself in '41, and Eugene in June of '42. Then Michael was, I think, a couple years after Eugene, and then my baby sister was born a couple years after that.

BY: So she had those babies, bing, bing, bing, bing.

DR: Yeah, she was a busy lady. [Laughs]

BY: Wow.

DR: Anyway, I want to just, as an aside, my mother had my sister first, and then I was born. And they said, "Well, two girls, maybe we should have a boy." So they tried and they got Eugene, right? And then they thought, "Well, he should have a brother." [Laughs] And so then my brother was born. And they decided that four was not a good number, you know, four is a bad symbol, right, in Japanese? And so they decided to have one more, so there was Kathy. [Laughs] I don't know if that's a true story, but that's the story we tell.

BY: That's a good story. Anything else prewar? Because she was born right before.

DR: Right there.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

BY: So you were just a few months old, so, of course, you don't remember anything about Pearl Harbor. And then your family was sent to Puyallup and then to Minidoka.

DR: Right.

BY: Do you know anything about that time? I mean, I know you were too young yourself, but have you heard stories about what happened, for example? How did your (parents) manage when you, suddenly there are these notices saying that (they are) going to have to move with her family?

DR: I don't recall any reactions at that time, I was just too young.

BY: I just wonder if there's, sometimes there's family stories about this or that.

DR: No, that part I don't really know.

BY: Okay.

TI: Or how about just, with all the children in camp, any stories about other people helping your parents take care of you?

DR: No. I do remember it gets really rainy during the winter, and muddy. But I remember my dad having these really high geta and having to carry us kids to the bathroom, to the mess hall or whatever.

BY: Oh, actually, so your dad died after the war?

DR: After, yeah.

BY: That's right, that's right. He died in '48?

DR: No, he was forty-eight. I was in the, I just finished fifth grade, and that summer he passed away.

BY: Okay, so he died in '52, (�)?

DR: (�).

BY: Okay, all right.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

BY: So you don't remember anything about Puyallup. Do you remember anything about Minidoka?

DR: Yeah, I remember a lot of kid things.

BY: What are the kid things you remember?

DR: Well, there were the Christmas parties, of course, and Santa, of course. And my mother said I made a big fuss, I did not want to sit on Santa's lap. And I cried and made a big fuss, and she was so embarrassed. And it turns out Santa Claus was a really good friend of our family's. I didn't know that. And then the Easter egg hunts, my older sister won first place in the morning class, and I won first place in the afternoon class. So that was kind of interesting.

TI: This was decorating the Easter eggs?

DR: No, no, finding them.

BY: Finding them?

DR: Yeah, hunting them. And I remember nursery school, playing with the kids, and we were so oblivious of what was going on, being that young, right? But I do remember one story. After they loosened up the rules and things about camp, my grandfather used to go for walks out in the desert, and me and my little friend would go with him, and we'd pick up rabbit droppings. And people would say, "Why are you doing that? What are you going to do with those things?" We used to take 'em back to camp, actually, and shoot marbles, or play marbles with those. I mean, when you have no other means, right, you have to make up things. That was fun.

TI: That's a great story.

BY: So then you don't really remember having any real toys in camp? Like a doll or any...

DR: I'm sure we did, but I don't remember those things. The marbles were more important to me. I was a real tomboy.

BY: And so you went to nursery school, you said, in camp?

DR: Yeah.

BY: And you didn't really... I guess you were out of camp by the time you were ready to start regular school then, or elementary school?

DR: I must have been almost four, or at least I was four, I think, when we got out of camp. And I remember my mother wanting... my sister, naturally, went into first grade, and she wanted me to go to kinder, but they wouldn't let me go to kinder.

BY: Because you were only four?

DR: No, because I took the test and they said I didn't need it, which is really, I was really devastated. I wanted to go to school so bad.

BY: So just backing up a little bit, so you were in Minidoka, it sounds like, for three years, maybe?

DR: Oh, I was just over, let's see, that was 1942 we went, right? December, was it?

BY: Probably spring.

DR: Spring. So I was just almost two, going on two.

BY: Yeah, going on two. And then you left when you were around four?

DR: I think so.

BY: Okay, so you were there a couple years.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

BY: And do you remember, where did your family go after they left the camp?

DR: We went to Renton, to the Renton Highlands.

BY: And do you know why Renton?

DR: That was government housing as far as I knew, and I think the government said these places are available. We couldn't afford anything, to buy anything.

BY: And so what did your parents do at that point? What did your father do?

DR: Then he started working for Tashiro Hardware. You know where that is, down on, I think it's on Jackson. I don't know, I don't remember. It was kind of a triangular building.

BY: So he worked there, and was your mother at that point staying home with the kids?

DR: Yes.

BY: And so were there a lot of other Japanese families that lived in the Renton Highlands?

DR: Yeah, there were quite a few of us.

BY: And do you remember any of the names of the families or the kids?

DR: Yeah, the (Yokoyamas), the (people) who owned the fish market at (the entrance of) Pike Place. [Interruption] And then the Okubos lived there, the Babas lived there. There were quite a few of us. (Also Yoshiharas).

BY: And what do you remember? So you're a little kid in elementary school. What do you remember about living there? Was it fun, what kinds of stuff did you do?

DR: Yeah, I thought it was fun. When we got a little older, when we were, like, in third, fourth, fifth grade, we'd walk down from the Highlands down to Kennydale Beach, lay on the beach and swim and things. And I remember school, I loved school, it was a great school, and it was really small at that time. I went by the other day, a friend of mine took me up there to see if I could find my old house, which I did. But the elementary school that I went to is huge now. I don't know how many students they have, but it's like ten times bigger than what I went to school in.

BY: What was the name of the school?

DR: Renton Highlands Elementary.

BY: Okay. And so you went there for six years, five or six years then?

DR: Yeah. I finished sixth grade there and then we moved to the area where... I think it was Buena Vista? No, what was the name of that? There was another government housing area.

TI: Rainier Vista?

DR: (Yes).

BY: And it must have been around this time that your father died?

DR: No, he passed away the year before, when I was in fifth grade.

BY: All right. And so you were still living in Renton at that point? But then your father died and your mother...

DR: Yeah, then we relocated. What was I going to say? Anyway, it was right on Empire Way. I went to Sharples junior high school, now Aki Kurose, right?

BY: Right, okay.


BY: So that was also a housing project?

DR: Uh-huh.

BY: And were there a lot of Japanese Americans who lived there?

DR: I don't think so, not really.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

BY: And so then you went to junior high school?

DR: And then when I when I was in eighth grade, we moved again. My mom found a rental in Seattle on King and... Twenty-fifth and King. Do you know the Tomita family? (The dad had a big printing company on Rainier). They lived a block and a half away. So there were quite a few Nihonjin around there.

BY: And at this point, is this when your mother is cleaning houses and then she decides to go to nursing school?

DR: Actually, I think he started going to school before we... you know, I don't know.

BY: So how was it then your father has died, your mother is working really, really hard to support the family. What was it like growing up at that point then? Were you on your own a lot, or were you and your sister sort of in charge of taking care of the littler kids?

DR: No, my mother spoiled us.

BY: So she did everything then?

DR: Just about. (Actually my grandfather helped out a lot. He would throw wet newspaper on the floor and sweep up all the dust. He also cooked a lot.)

BY: And your grandfather, was he still with you all through all of this?

DR: Yeah. He passed away in, let's see, when did I graduate? '59, right after I finished high school.

BY: And so what was his role in the family?

DR: Well, he used to sweep a lot. And back when people that he didn't like, he didn't think was appropriate, when they would come to the house, he'd kind of sweep 'em out, so to speak. I mean, we always joke about that. He was just a support. And he cooked a lot, his gohan was the best. Your dad would have really liked his gohan. [Laughs] He'd start it in the morning, he'd soak it all day. He was a real interesting character; he couldn't speak English. So...

BY: So you would speak to him in Japanese then?

DR: Most of the time, us kids wouldn't talk to him, except I did. I don't know why I did, and I remember so much of my Japanese from early childhood. I don't know why, why that happened. My other siblings, they can't speak a word.

BY: Were you his favorite?

DR: I think so. No, really, because when he was in the hospital, I think he had stomach cancer. Every day after school I used to stop and visit with him. And when he passed away, he left me a gift, but he didn't leave anybody else a gift, so I think I was his favorite.

TI: And what was the gift?

DR: It was an Elgin watch.

BY: Wow.

DR: It was a nice, a very nice watch at the time.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

BY: So it sounds like your mother was very busy with school and work and taking care of the kids. Was your family involved in any Japanese community events like the church or temple or picnics or doing Obon or things like that? Do you remember any of that kind of thing as you were growing up?

DR: When we were teenagers, my sister and I, we used to dance Obon. And of course, all of us kids would hang out during that time. But as a family, no, she tried to get us to go to church.

BY: Church or temple?

DR: Church.

BY: Church, okay.

DR: The Japanese Faith Bible church, do you know that church?

TI: This was your father?

DR: My mother.

TI: Your mother.

DR: Yeah, my father was Buddhist. But before he passed away, we never used to go to temple or anything.

TI: Before he passed away, did you ever spend time down by the store?

DR: No. [Laughs]

BY: So you said, going back to Renton, you said that you loved school. Did that love for school continue through Sharples junior high school and high school and all of that?

DR: Yeah. But I had too much fun in school. I was not at the top of my class. [Laughs]

BY: So you mentioned a teacher named Mrs. Christopherson. Can you tell us about her?

DR: Oh, she was the most wonderful third-grade teacher, my god. She's the one that inspired me to become a teacher myself. Even before I got out of third grade, I already knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. But then that year before fourth grade, she passed away, which made that even a bigger desire for me. She was so gentle and so patient and just somebody you could talk to. I felt like that was my grandma, just sit and talk with her forever. A real inspiration.

BY: That's great to have somebody like that. So then, so you went to Renton and then you went to Sharples, and then what high school did you go to?

DR: Well, I finished my junior high years at Washington.

BY: Oh, because you had moved, right.

DR: Yeah. And then I went on to Garfield, the best high school in the world. [Laughs]

BY: Tom might disagree with that, maybe.

TI: Franklin High School.

DR: Oh, boo.

TI: But I went to Sharples.

DR: Okay, we have something in common.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

BY: And so what was high school like for you? Did you also enjoy high school?

DR: I had so much fun in high school.

BY: What kind of stuff did you do, or can you tell us? [Laughs]

DR: I don't know if I should tell you. I don't know, I kind of had a reputation. That's part of the reason I left Seattle.

TI: Now we're getting to the good stuff.

DR: Because I didn't want to just hang with the Japanese kids, Japanese and Chinese kids.

BY: Did they mostly hang with each other?

DR: Yeah, they were pretty cliquish. And especially the boys. I thought, "You boys are so boring." I did not like Japanese boys. But I had a lot of Japanese girlfriends. So I used to just hang out with everybody, so I had this reputation among the Nihonjin. I was kind of loud and kind of boisterous.

TI: Non-Japanese American.

DR: Yeah, very non. "She's not one of us." But the girls and I got along really well.

BY: So how do you think your friends would have described you at your high school? If they said, "What's that Dotti like?"

DR: "She's a yogore." [Laughs]

BY: Oh, yogore.

DR: Just, I don't know, just different.

BY: A little rebellious, were you?

DR: Yeah, that's a good word.

BY: But you enjoyed school?

DR: I loved it. I loved it. I loved my teachers. And I also worked, got an internship job with the telephone company during the time I was in high school. So I'd go and work on, usually on Saturday and Sunday. And my favorite hours were from, it was the midnight shift.

BY: And what would you do?

DR: I was doing information operating.

BY: Like 911 kind of stuff?

DR: No, no, just people would call... this is in the old days where you call and...

BY: Oh, for information?

DR: ...yeah, 411 for a telephone number or something like that.

BY: So that was your job?

DR: Yeah. But I loved the Saturday midnight shift. All the old ladies, all the grandmas worked that shift. And they used to spoil me rotten, bring me all kinds of goodies. And that shift, there weren't too many calls coming in, so we had a lot of time to chat.

TI: So I'm just curious. When someone would call and needed to get a phone number, would you just have, like, a phone book?

DR: Yeah, this huge phone book. You learned how to flip the pages, and easy to find the numbers. And you know, it was funny because one time I answered this call, and this person's on the line, and I said, "Mich, is that you?" And he says, "Yeah."

TI: Oh, so you recognized the voice.

DR: I recognized his voice, yeah.

BY: And so how long did you do that? Was that just a short period?

DR: Yeah, just through high school.

BY: I see.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

BY: And then so you graduate from high school and then what did you do?

DR: What did I do? I think I continued... no, no, I got a job at the Federal Reserve, a real job. And they had an opening in L.A. and I always wanted to live in California. So at twenty, I packed up my bag and I told my mom, "I'm leaving."

BY: What was her reaction?

DR: Oh, she didn't want me to go, but I said, "I'll be fine, I'll be good." She said, "Okay, well, you can go with my blessing," so I went. And I had all kinds of jobs, but I quit the Federal Reserve because it was so boring. I worked as a nanny, a live-in nanny because I thought... I liked cooking and I liked cleaning house. Not because... this house I went to was immaculate, and I loved working there because I didn't have to do anything.

BY: How did you find that job?

DR: Just, you know, looking in the paper.

BY: Like a want ad?

DR: Yeah, and through word of mouth.

BY: And so what year is this, approximately? When did you graduate from high school?

DR: I graduated in '59, so this must have been about, between sixty-one and sixty-three, I think. And then I worked for a trucking company.

BY: And so you are a young, single Nisei woman living in L.A., living away from home for the first time. So talk about what that was like, that life was like.

DR: You know, I got to know quite a few Nihonjin people. And I won't mention any names, but there were some very well-known people within this group.

TI: Which part of town?

DR: Well, I lived in the Crenshaw area, and then we used to go to parties and we'd meet all these people from the valley in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills. It was fun. It was carefree, it was so much fun. I met so many people. Being a single, irresponsible person having fun.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

BY: And during this time, then, you met your husband, your first husband?

DR: Uh-huh.

BY: So tell us a little bit about him. What was his name and how did you meet?

DR: His name was Franklin Hattori, just like Franklin Hattori here, the realtor, but this guy was from Pasadena, no relation at all. And he was a great guy. He was a great dancer, and that's what really attracted me to him. I love dancing. And I met him at a party, and he was an architect or a draftsmen at the time before he became an architect. He was just a very, very kind guy, just a lot of fun. And in high school, he was a gymnast. And there's this one photo that my daughter has now, he was doing the iron cross. Do you know what that is?

BY: Yeah, that takes a lot of strength.

DR: And he was just perfect. Oh my god, yeah, he was very strong. He was just a very, very nice person.

BY: And so you got married in L.A. or did you come home to get married?

DR: No, we got married in Las Vegas.

BY: Oh. [Laughs] And then after you were married, you stayed in L.A. then?

DR: Yeah. We were in, actually, a place called Carson, we bought a house in Carson. We lived in L.A. for about, oh, maybe a year. We decided, "Let's buy a house," so we bought a house.

BY: And that's in California?

DR: That's in Carson, yeah. That's in the South Bay.

BY: And so how did your life change after you got married?

DR: I don't think it changed very much.

BY: Were you still working at that point?

DR: No, he made me quit. He wanted me to stay home.

BY: Oh, how did you feel about that?

DR: I didn't like it. I wanted to go to school.

BY: You wanted to be a teacher, right?

DR: Yeah. Well, I didn't get a chance until later. But anyway, yeah, I had two kids.

BY: And what were their names?

DR: Teresa, T-E-R-E-S-A. It's actually Spanish, Teresa, she always says, "Teresa." I tell her, "No, that's not your name." She was born in '65, and then my son Kevin was born in '67.

BY: And so all during that time that they were growing up and you were home with them.

DR: Yeah.

BY: And were you feeling, how were you feeling about all of that?

DR: It was good. You know, it was really interesting. We moved to this neighborhood, this tract of homes, where mostly the Asian people that lived there were from Hawaii, and so they all spoke pidgin. Well, before we moved there, before I got married, I was working for a trucking company and there were a lot of Hawaiians that were working there. And so I learned how to speak fluent pidgin. So when I moved there, they (would speak) pidgin, so I'm in there speaking pidgin. And about three years after we had moved in there, I knew everybody and they all thought whatever they thought. Anyway, so this one friend said, "So where were you born?" And I said, "Seattle." And they said, "What part of Hawaii did you live in?" I said, "I never lived in Hawaii," I'd never been there. But it was too late for them to...

BY: Reject you?

DR: Reject me.

BY: Because you fit right in?

DR: That was really fun doing that.

BY: And that's when you were living in Carson?

DR: Uh-huh. And I don't know if you know the Matsudaira family, but Sappo, Mich's older brother, yeah, his older brother, he and his wife lived in Carson in that same tract. So we used to get together all the time.

BY: And so... well, maybe we'll get to that later.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

BY: So you were there and then eventually you divorced and you remarried. So what was your second husband's name and how did you meet him?

DR: His name was Alex Reisbord. And I was very active in PTA from the time my kids started school, room mother, aide, whatever. And I was very active in PTA, and I became the president of the elementary school, and I did that two years. And then I got involved in the council, and I became president of the council. And then at Fleming junior high school where my kids went, repeat story. I worked as an ed. aide also, and I was PTA president. And then high school, same thing. I worked with the FFA group in agriculture department. That was a great job. And of course, the PTA stuff continued. And Alex was the math teacher, the advanced math teacher at that high school. And at that particular school, whenever they'd have faculty parties or gatherings and stuff, they would invite the PTA people. Of course, I had to go to the party. So, yeah, that's how I met him, got to know him.

BY: So all during this time, so you are... you're taking care of the kids, have a busy volunteer life, it sounds like, that you still have this desire to become a teacher. So how did that happen that finally...

DR: Alex knew of my desire to become a teacher. Being a teacher himself, that was an important thing. So then he encouraged me to continue with school. Because my first husband, he kind of frowned upon that, wanted me to be at home. So I had taken junior college classes, and I still had a long way to go. So he encouraged me to go to Cal State Dominguez, which was just down the freeway from San Pedro where we were living. And I started taking classes there, and he says, "You know what? You have to quit working." So he told his brother, who I was working for, "David, Dotti's not going to work for you, she's quitting." And David says, "Why?" And he says, "Because she wants to go to school." So he put me through school, I finished in three years and then did the teacher credentialing classes. So in four years, I became a teacher.

BY: And so when you were going to school, were your kids still at home at that point, or had they graduated from high school?

DR: Okay. So the schools that I worked with were schools that my children were attending. So all through their school years, I was there. And it's so funny because one day, my daughter saw me on campus, and she was running across the yard saying, "Mom, mom." I said, "You know, Tracy, when you're at school, you can't call me 'Mom,' you have to call me 'Mrs. Hattori' as an example." And she said, "Well, that's not fair because all my friends call you Mom," the ones on campus, you know, her fellow students. That was really funny. So through their whole life, actually, I was there. So whenever they needed me, that's what I wanted. And so after I graduated, after Alex and I -- well, before Alex and I got married, my daughter married her childhood sweetheart, or her high school sweetheart, which I wasn't happy about. And my son, he was working. And at that time... so Tracy got married and she moved out, and Kevin was still sort of with me and Alex, and that was fine with us because it was he was an easy tenant and he was a great kid. Eventually he got hired and he had to relocate to Connecticut, or to New York, because the company he was working for, that's where they're based. And so that was early in our marriage. So after that, the kids were on their own, of course.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

BY: So you fulfill your lifelong desire to become a teacher. So what grades and subjects did you teach? Which school was the first school that you taught, or tell us a little bit about being a teacher.

DR: I was very lucky because when I got my credential, I went to the elementary school that my kids went to.

BY: They knew you?

DR: Yeah. Many of the teachers were still there. And they had a new principal, this Chinese woman, and she gave me a bad time in a kidding way. The first time I met her, we did a lot of exchange of information and stuff. Then I went back a second time. She didn't have any openings at that time for a teacher. So I went back and she said, "Oh, is that you again?" I went back, actually, three times, and she finally said, "No, I have an opening for you now." So I went on, and it was like going home because so many of the teachers, my kids' teachers were still there, and we became very good friends. I taught there quite a while.

BY: This is elementary school?

DR: This is elementary school in Carson. And then this thing happened where schools became overcrowded and so they had to do year-round schools. And my husband at that time was on a year-round schedule, a really good one. Spring, he was off spring and fall. I went to this elementary school in San Pedro who had an opening, and they accepted me. But that schedule was summer and winter. And so for one year we were on...

BY: I see.

DR: Yeah. And then I got lucky because he had an opening in the spring and fall. So I got that position, so we were able to travel all over the world during those times of year. Which is the perfect time of year to travel, by the way, because of the weather.

BY: And everybody else is working?

DR: Exactly, exactly.

BY: So how many years did you teach there?

DR: Oh my gosh, at least fifteen. And then when I retired, I went back as a substitute at that same school. And so another ten years.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

BY: So this is off the subject a little bit, but I think it relates to being a teacher in education. So obviously you grew up with the idea that education is important.

DR: Absolutely.

BY: Did your parents tell you that, or how did you get that feeling?

DR: I got that from my teachers, especially Mrs. Christopherson.

BY: And so there is this stereotype of Asians students as kind of being the "model minority." I don't know if you've ever heard that, you know, that they get really good grades and they do well on tests and they are hard workers and all that. So I'm wondering, first of all, what do you think about that idea, that Asians are the "model minority"?

DR: To be honest with you, I believe that, I agree with that. Not all of us.

BY: Talk a little bit about why you agree with that.

DR: Because I think their work ethics is, they're high. Their parents' expectations are high. That's just being Japanese as far as I'm concerned. I mean, you need to go out there and be a good student and study hard.

BY: Did you feel pressured to do that as you were growing up?

DR: No.

BY: Do you feel like you pressured your own children to do that?

DR: Yes and no, it was half and half.

BY: So explain that.

DR: Well, how can I tell this? No, I guess I lied. Because I did expect them to be good students and do their best and get good grades. My son was really good at that. In fact, when his sister started school, he was two years younger than her, and every day he would give me such a bad time, he wanted to go to school so bad, and actually his birthday was too late. Yeah, too late to get into school at the right time. So I put him into a private school for a year, so he could go to school with the regular kids, and that was really a big mistake. I mean, he did well, he always was the top of the class. But when he got to middle school, you know, when the boys and girls start noticing each other, he was so left out.

BY: He was a year younger?

DR: He was a year younger. But the time he got to high school, it was fine.

BY: So the other part of that question, so there's this idea of Asians being the "model minority." And so you said you believe that. As a teacher, do you have any observations around that? Did you have Asian students?

DR: I did not.

BY: You did not, okay. I was just wondering because even now, it's an idea that a lot of people have, that Asian students are, work harder, get better grades, all of that.

DR: Yeah, I think that's partly family expectations also.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: Something you mentioned earlier I was curious about, you lived in Seattle up through high school, then went down to L.A. and talked about being around Japanese in the L.A. area. How would you compare the two Japanese communities, Seattle and L.A.?

BY: That's a good question. You know, we used to have parties... you know the Fort Lewis army base? There were a lot of guys from L.A. that were stationed there, and they used to come to Seattle because Tacoma was such a crummy place at that time. And so they used to come up to Seattle looking for parties, and we'd see them at the bowling alley and places like that, and they'd come to dances and organizations. I don't know where they had dances, the VFW, I guess. And they were really good dancers, which really attracted me. I swear to god, I love dancing. Like my second husband, he could not dance a lick. [Laughs]

BY: I'm surprised that you fell for him. [Laughs]

DR: Well, he was a charming guy. So the L.A. guys were more, to me, anyway, they seemed to be more outgoing than the guys from Seattle.

TI: And so was that true in L.A., you felt that same thing, that the community down there were more...

DR: Outgoing.

TI: Outgoing.

BY: But you came back to Seattle.

DR: I did.

BY: So why did you come back to Seattle?

DR: Well, because my husband passed away three years ago, and my brothers live here and my nieces and nephews live here, and I just needed to be someplace close to family. And my kids, my daughter lives in La Quinta, which is right next door to Palm Springs, and my son is in Connecticut, and I lived in Alameda. And there's quite a distance between both places, and I just needed someplace where there was family, immediate family close by, that's why I came back.

BY: So coming back to Seattle, was that an easy transition or was it, did it take some adjustment to do that?

DR: Actually, no, it was easy.

BY: You're a very outgoing person, so I can imagine that you make friends wherever you go.

DR: Yeah, I kind of wormed my way in. [Laughs] No, you know, I did a lot of research for retirement homes. I must have looked at -- not physically -- but looked at researched twenty different facilities.

BY: All over the countries?

DR: No, just in Seattle, the Seattle area. And I found one, the Murano downtown, do you know that one?

BY: The hotel?

DR: No, Murano retirement community. It's a highrise right around Third or Fourth. Not University, it's closer in, closer to Pike. Anyway, it's a highrise, and went in and it's just gorgeous, absolutely. It was elegant. They had this Chihuly hanging from way up high, right down into the reception area, I fell in love with that place. And he took me up to have lunch upstairs in their dining room, and then he took me up to the roof. And you had a 360-degree view of all of Seattle, everything. It was so elegant. And so I actually put a down payment there. And then I came here, and I thought, "This feels more like me." And so I called and I said, "Frank, I can't live there." And he said, "But, Dotti, you love this place. "I know," I said, "it's beautiful." And he said, "You already put money down." And I said, "Yeah, I know I put money down, and I expect you to send me back my money." [Laughs] But anyway, he couldn't talk me into staying. I came here and I said, "This is the place for me."

BY: Was the fact that there were quite a few other Japanese Americans...

DR: I didn't even know that, no. What a nice discovery that was. But my best friend from high school is living here, or has been here for five years now.

BY: Who is that?

DR: Akiko Kikuchi. Do you know the Kikuchi family?

BY: No, I don't. So that's interesting because we did an earlier interview earlier with Tak and her best friend lives here.

DR: Who's her best friend?

BY: Best friend in camp? Rose Kishi.

DR: Oh, Rose, of course.

BY: Yeah. So they were best friends in Minidoka, is that where they were? Yeah.

TI: They made taffy.

BY: That's right, secretly. [Laughs] So I think that for some of the residents here, the fact that there's a lot of other Japanese here.

DR: Yeah, it's really nice. I really like that.

BY: And so now you're close to your siblings, too, and other nieces and nephews?

DR: Uh-huh. They're right up here on Beacon Hill.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

BY: Okay. So you've had a really interesting life. It sounds like you, a couple things that come through to me is that you're a very outgoing, social person, you make friends with all different kinds of people, you're not necessarily going to stick with any one group. And you lived in, a significant amount of time away from Seattle. So looking back on your life, do you have any words of advice that you would give to... do you have grandchildren?

DR: I have one grandson.

BY: Okay, so grandchildren, but you have nieces and nephews?

DR: Yes.

BY: And probably grandnieces and grandnephews, yeah. So looking back on your life, is there anything, piece of advice or words of wisdom that you would want to pass on to those people in the younger generation?

DR: Yes, there is. Probably too much. [Laughs]

BY: Well, how about a couple things that you think are important?

DR: Gosh, you know, it's hard. I want to say too much. Be yourself, be honest, be kind, be friendly, don't be afraid to be yourself. There's so much I want to see in other people. Just be the best person you can. Care about people, love people, love life, live life to the fullest.

BY: And are there any Japanese or Japanese American values that have been, you feel have been really important to you that you think are important to pass on to the next generation?

DR: Well, there are a lot of those, too, but I don't know quite how to articulate it. Be proud of your ancestry, be proud of who you are.

BY: So this is sort of unrelated, but as part of the "be part of your ancestry" thing, when you were in L.A. and people would ask you, like, oh, where are you from? And I don't know if people ever asked you, "Were you incarcerated," or, "What happened?" What's your answer to that?

DR: What's my ancestry? I always tell them, "I'm Japanese, of course." "Where are you from?" "I'm from here." [Laughs] "Oh, you're not from Japan?" "No, I was born here." And when they asked me about incarceration, I tell them I was a small kid, but I remember those years very dearly. I had a lot of fun, I was innocent, and I did not know what was going on, I had no animosity or bad feelings about it because I didn't know.

BY: Do you think that your life has been in any way shaped or influenced by the incarceration even though you were a small child?

DR: I don't think so. One thing that was interesting, when I was substituting at my school, a fifth grade teacher asked me to come in and (teach) her students about the incarceration. And so I did, and those kids, they were in awe and they thought, "Oh my god, that really happened?" Well, you know, nowadays, even nowadays, (many) people don't know, and they're shocked with that information. But those kids were so grateful to hear that story. So I don't know. Like I said, I did not have one Japanese student when I was teaching. So they were mostly Hispanic and African American.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: And Dotti, where did you first learn about the Japanese American incarceration and what had happened to the whole community on the West Coast?

DR: When did I hear about it?

TI: Yeah, when did you first hear about or learn about it?

DR: You know, I grew up with that, so I don't know.

TI: You grew up with it, but did you, you probably maybe didn't understand fully what had happened in your personal experience, but then when you were maybe first confronted with the magnitude of what had happened.

DR: Gee, I don't know.

TI: Like when you read it in a book, said, "Oh, I was there," when you read something like 110,000 Japanese Americans who were removed from their homes?

DR: I think I was a young adult. I think I was probably in my early twenties.

BY: Did your family talk much about it?

DR: No.

BY: And then you'd left home. I mean, you left when you were just out of high school.

DR: I was twenty. So here I am, sixty years later. [Laughs] I don't know where anything is around here. I didn't drive when I was a teenager, so I have no idea where I'm going. Turn on that GPS and it's like magic.

TI: We all do that.

BY: We sure do, yeah. But it must be nice then, now, being back in Seattle with your siblings and all your relatives.

TI: It is, it is, it's very nice. And then I still have a lot of friends that I went to high school with, and we'd go out to lunch.

BY: Did everybody say, "Hey what happened to you all these years?"

DR: Yeah. But you know, I envy your dad and your dad for being the ages they were during the incarceration. Your dad was telling me how much fun he used to have with the baseball team and getting in "fights" with the other guys. So much fun talking to them.

BY: Well, I mean, that's one of the reasons we're trying to do these interviews now is because we realize that the Nisei who are still alive, were for the most part pretty young. They were high school age or younger.

DR: Yeah, exactly.

BY: So the ones who really lived it and maybe felt the impact of that are gone now. So the ones who are left are like you, and my dad also says, "Oh, it was fun. We had a good time."

DR: Yeah, I know. I always wish that I had been a teenager at that time. It would have been great.

BY: Well, thank you. Do you have anything else that you want to add before we close?

DR: Actually, not. But I am proud to be Japanese, I'm very proud.

BY: Good, okay. All right, that's great.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2022 Densho. All Rights Reserved.