Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Stanley N. Shikuma Interview I
Narrator: Stanley N. Shikuma
Interviewer: Barbara Yasui
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 11, 2022
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-517

<Begin Segment 1>

BY: Today is October 11, 2022. I, Barbara Yasui, I am the interviewer, and Dana Hoshide is the videographer. And our narrator today is Stan Shikuma, and we are recording this interview in the Densho studio in Seattle, Washington. So we're going to go ahead and get started. Can you tell me what is your full name?

SS: Full name is Stanley Nobuo Shikuma.

BY: Okay, and when and where were you born?

SS: I was born on December 2, 1953, in the little town of Brogan, Oregon.

BY: And what generation are you?

SS: I am Sansei, third generation.

BY: Okay. So I understand that you don't know very much about your mother's parents but that you lived near your father's parents when you were growing up. Can you please tell me a little bit about your paternal grandfather and grandmother?

SS: Sure. So Unosuke Shikuma, my grandfather on Dad's side, came from Yamaguchi-ken when he was a teenager, and I believe it was before the turn of the century so like the late 1890s. He came because his uncle had already moved here and was working as a farmer in Watsonville, California, or in that area. And so Grandpa came over and started working with him, starting as a farm laborer, then a sharecropper and eventually, after he had some kids, buying land under their name. My grandmother also came from Yamaguchi-ken, I think they were even somewhat related, like second cousins or something. But from either the same or nearby village, and her name was Haru, and she came around 1906. And I believe it was, she did not have to go through immigration because the earthquake and fire had just happened in San Francisco, and there was no immigration office to check in with, so she just got off the boat and went down to Watsonville.

BY: And you had said that you lived near them when you were growing up, and that you would go over to their house. So can you talk a little bit about things that you remember about them as a child?

SS: Sure. We lived about a mile from what we called Home Ranch. It was the headquarters, the base of operations for Shikuma Brothers Farms. So Grandma and Grandpa lived on the farm at Home Ranch with Uncle Mack and Aunt Hiroko. And we would go there all the time because that's where the farm office was where my dad did the books and the payroll and all the administrative things. And the packing shed was also there where Mom and my aunts would be working, wrapping up raspberries or sorting zucchini or cherry tomatoes. And when I was little... when I was really little, I couldn't help because I was too small. But in that case, we would run over to Grandpa and Grandma's house and watch TV, which was black and white only back then. And I'd sit with Grandpa and we'd watch TV, which was interesting because he spoke very little English and my grandmother spoke no English. So we managed to communicate, I've always kind of wondered how well he enjoyed the TV because it was all, there were no Japanese language stations back then.

BY: So it sounds like although you spent a lot of time with them in their physical presence, you maybe were not able to communicate with them very well.

SS: Correct, yeah. Like almost all the postwar Sansei, we did not learn Japanese. But what we call the prewar Sansei, like my older brother was born in the late '30s, so he spoke a little bit of Japanese, enough to at least do some, like, basic daily conversation with Grandma and Grandpa, as well as my other older cousins. But pretty much all of us born after the war didn't speak anything, so we couldn't communicate with the Issei.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

BY: So let's move on to your parents. So let's talk first about your father. What was your father's name?

SS: My father's name was Kenji Shikuma.

BY: And where... when and where was he born?

SS: He was born actually in Corralitos, which is a small... I don't even know if it was incorporated at the time, but it was a little village about five or ten miles outside of Watsonville. My grandfather had built his own cabin and cleared some land out there, and Dad was born in that house.

BY: And did he have siblings?

SS: Yeah. He had... there were five children who survived and there were two others who died. One as a young, like a three-year-old, and one as a teenager. So there were seven total, but only five survived to adulthood, so only five that I ever knew. Dad was the second oldest, Uncle Mack or Masasuke was the oldest, then Dad, then Aunt Sumi, then Uncle Heek, and then Aunt Emi was the baby.

BY: And can you tell me a little bit about your father's educational background and his occupation?

SS: Sure. So Dad was the only one in his generation, the Nisei generation, to go to college. And he went to Stanford in the '30s, early '30s, so it was during the Depression. But he managed to go there and lived in a dorm that was... I don't know if it was all Japanese, but it was all Asian. At the time there wasn't, like Okada House when I went to Stanford, where it was an (Asian American) theme house, I think probably because white folks probably didn't want to live with them. But he graduated with a degree in economics from Stanford in about the mid-'30s and looked for a job, got one finally as a clerk with a tractor company in either Alameda or Oakland, somewhere in the East Bay. And we think they hired him because a lot of the tractor company customers were Japanese American farmers, so they wanted, needed, really, a Japanese American who could communicate with them and help.

BY: How was he able to pay to go to go to Stanford, do you know how he did that?

SS: I have no idea. Yeah, I don't know.

BY: And so where was he when Pearl Harbor happened?

SS: So he was living in Alameda. He got married and my brother, my older brother, had been born in 1937, and he was living in Alameda, California, while working for that tractor company when Pearl Harbor happened. After that, I'm not sure if he just quit or if he got fired or laid off from the company, but before Executive Order 9066, he moved back to Watsonville with his family.

BY: So at that point he had a wife and one child.

SS: Correct.

BY: And so was he incarcerated?

SS: Yes. So they got to Watsonville before the, all the curfew orders and restrictions came down. And then was sent to Salinas Fairgrounds, that was the assembly center for the central Cal area, and from there they were sent to Poston, Arizona, the camp at Poston, in Camp II.

BY: And how long was he there? I guess he and his family, how long were they there?

SS: I'm not sure. They eventually left camp and Dad moved the family to Chicago. The rest of the family did get out, my aunts and uncles got out, and they moved to Colorado and started farming in Longmont, Colorado, but Dad went to Chicago and got a job in some kind of office.

BY: So you don't know exactly what he was doing in Chicago?

SS: I don't know. I do know that he lived on the south side of Chicago, Black area of town, and the only story he ever told me is that he remembers riding the train to work, and when he got on the train in the south side, he was the only non-Black person on the train, and when he got off, he was the only non-white person downtown, he was the only non-white person on the train.

BY: So a very divided city.

SS: Yeah, there was a strict line, pretty much.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

BY: Okay, so he was in Chicago and then he eventually went back to Watsonville. Do you know when that was or why that happened?

SS: He did not go back directly. Because after the war, the family split. So my uncle, my youngest uncle, Uncle Heek, the one who had fought with the 442, and my grandfather and grandmother, went back to Watsonville to restart the farm. But Uncle Mack, my older uncle and dad, went to Brogan, Oregon, to work on a farm that a guy named Tony Tomisello had bought some land up there. And he had taken care of the farm in Watsonville during the war and had bought this land in Oregon, so he asked some of the Japanese that he had helped if they would go farm the land up there. So Uncle Mack and Dad went there. They never said this, but I suspect that they split it that way because Uncle Heek did not have any kids at that point. So he and Grandma and Grandpa, and he got married to Aunt Chick, they went back to Watsonville. And the two with kids, Dad with my brother David and Uncle Mack� with Esther, who was the same age as Dave, and then Lawrence, who was born in camp, went to Brogan. And I think it's because they weren't sure it would be safe to go back to Watsonville, because Watsonville had a history of anti-Asian violence. Like there were riots in the '30s against Filipino workers and they had killed, shot and killed one or two Filipino workers back then. And then there was pretty strong anti-Japanese sentiment leading up to the removal and incarceration. So they weren't sure what it would be like.

BY: What about your aunts? Your aunts...

SS: Yeah...

BY: So did they go back to, did they go to Brogan or did they go to Watsonville?

SS: So Aunt Chick went with Uncle Heek back to Watsonville, and Aunt Hiroko and Mary, Dad's first wife, went to Brogan.

BY: Okay, I got you. All right, so he's living in Brogan with a wife and a child, and tell me, I know that something happened there, so can you talk about that a little bit?

SS: Yeah. So they'd been in Brogan for a few years. Mary, Dad's first wife, got pregnant, and the closest hospital was in Ontario, Oregon, which was a thirty or forty minute drive away. And she was in the hospital there and died during childbirth, so both the baby and the mother were lost. One of my uncles told me that there were some suspicions that the doctor on call that night that she died had come in drunk, and there was also some wonderings about if there was some racism involved, like being a Japanese woman wasn't seen as important.

BY: So when did your father and his son David return to Watsonville then?

SS: So, let's see, Mary must have died in maybe '48, I think. And then Dad married my mother, Niki or Yoneko Okano in 1950. My uncle Sadao on Mom's side of the family was a Methodist minister and had been assigned to the Ontario church. So he knew all the Japanese in the surrounding area. And I think Dad had probably been going to that church since he was a Christian. So they knew Dad's situation and had a young son, recently widowed. And my mom was living in Shelton, Washington, at the time, and was unmarried, so they arranged for her to come down and meet Dad, kind of acting like baishakunin, the go-between, arranger. So they met, Dad asked her to marry him, she said, "Only if David approves." So she had to meet David, and see how it would work out. Turns out they hit it off really well, Dave really liked her.

BY: So he must have been around ten or so at the time?

SS: He was about ten years old, ten or eleven when they met.

BY: And so when did they go back to Watsonville?

SS: So we moved back to Watsonville in 1955. So I was born in Brogan in '53, my sister was born in '51, and in '55 we moved back to Watsonville. It was late in '55 because we stayed at my aunt Janet's house. By then, Uncle Sadao had been moved to Florin near Sacramento, at a church there. And we stayed with them for a month or two while Dad went to look for housing in Watsonville. So I had my second birthday in Florin.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

BY: I understand your father was a farmer, but that he was active in the Japanese American church. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

SS: Yeah. So I'm not sure if Grandpa Shikuma was Christian before he arrived here or if he converted once he arrived. I know there were missionaries who worked with Japanese quite a bit. Some of the early church photos, group photos, we'll see these white ministers in the photo with them, and I was told they were the missionaries who worked with the early church. So anyway, my grandfather Unosuke Shikuma and Mr. Sakata -- we used to call him Old Man Sakata -- were two of the founding members of the Westview Presbyterian Church in Watsonville, and that started, I believe, in 1902, so even before my dad was born. So he literally grew up in that church. So when I was growing up, he was an elder... my other uncles were either elders or deacons, my mom and my aunts were all active in the women's society. So our social life very much centered around the church.

BY: And how do you think incarceration affected his life?

SS: Oh, well, it destroyed his hopes of working in an office and getting away from the farm. I think that's one reason he really discouraged me from coming back to the farm. I remember asking him about, "Maybe I should just go back to the farm and carry on there," and he was pretty negative about that. He said, "No, you shouldn't come back." I think partly that might be because he felt like I could do other things and have a better life doing it, but I think partly it was 'cause that had been his dream and the war crushed it. I think he realized that he couldn't make a living with his family. After his experience in Chicago, I think, his decision was that he's not going to be able to make a living working in the business world, so the safest thing, or the thing that would keep his family alive, would be to go back to farming, because that was a sure thing.

BY: So did he ever talk about incarceration to you?

SS: No. He died when I was still... in '73, so I was a sophomore in college, so I was just starting to learn about the camps in depth. I mean, I always knew that the camps existed, it was kind of this mysterious thing, I didn't really know anything about it. I was just starting to read things like Years of Infamy and Gidra. So I was just at the verge of being ready to ask some questions about it and then he passed.

BY: All right, is there anything else about your father that you'd like to share?

SS: Well, he was a member of JACL. I remember JACL meetings happening at our house. All these guys, still all guys, would come and meet, and my sister and I were kind of banished to our bedrooms, but we would sneak out and peek through the door to see what they were doing. He was very big in the church, both in our church and also in this regional conference of different churches, and he was active in that. I remember him taking us to go visit either other churches or like an orphanage that our church was supporting.

BY: So were all of these churches Japanese American churches?

SS: Yeah.

BY: Yes, okay. Alright, just wanted to clarify that.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

BY: Okay, let's talk about your mother a little bit. So what was your mother's name?

SS: Mom's name was Yoneko Okano, and everyone called her Niki.

BY: Okay. And where and when was she born?

SS: She was born on April 19, 1915, in Anacortes, Washington. My understanding is that my grandfather, I'm not sure when he came over, I think it was shortly after the turn of the century. But he was working as a cook in, I think basically logging camps around the area, and then he had gotten a job working as a cook in some restaurant in Anacortes, and that's where she was born.

BY: And did she have siblings?

SS: Yeah, she had... let's see. Uncle Phil was the oldest, Mom was second oldest, and Aunt Ayako, that we always called Aunt Janet, and then Uncle Min and then Uncle Bob, so there were five.

BY: Okay. And did she grow up in Anacortes?

SS: No. She was born there, and then they moved, I'm not sure at what point, to Bellingham, Washington, and then she was sent to Japan, and at eight years old, her and Uncle Phil, which I think maybe Aunt Janet and Uncle Min might have been taken over at the same time. But Uncle Phil and Mom stayed there for ten years. I think Aunt Janet and Uncle Min were only there for about five.

BY: So she was Kibei?

SS: Yeah, so she's Kibei.

BY: And do you know, who did she live with and what did she do while she was there?

SS: So the Okano family came from a little island called Enoshima, which is in Hiroshima-ken, but it's sort of northeast of the city of Hiroshima on the Inland Sea. And so they were sent to live with aunts and uncles on that island. So that's where she grew up, finished grade school, finished high school.

BY: And then she returned to the U.S.?

SS: Then she returned to the U.S. having forgotten pretty much all her English. So initially they wanted to put her in like a first or second grade class because of her English level. But obviously as an eighteen year old, it wasn't going to work that well. So she eventually got a job as a, what we called housegirl, or what she called housegirl, working in the house of the president of a college in Bellingham, I believe it's now Western Washington University. This guy was the college president.

BY: And then presumably she studied English or relearned English.

SS: Relearned English while she worked with them.

BY: Okay. And so was she there when Pearl Harbor happened?

SS: No. By the time Pearl Harbor happened, she had moved. My grandfather had bought a dry cleaning business in Shelton, Washington. I'm not sure when that was, but I think sometime in the late '30s. And she had moved back to Shelton to help run the dry cleaning business.

BY: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

BY: And so they were there in Shelton when Pearl Harbor happened. And you told me that Jimmy Mirikitani was living with the family. Can you tell about that?

SS: Yeah. So I met Jimmy Mirikitani when he first came to the Tule Lake pilgrimage, and he came to every one after that. But it was maybe the third or fourth time he was there, my cousin Pam had been researching, looking up WRA records, and she found the records for the Okano family and it listed everyone taken from Shelton, Washington. So it had all of our family, all the Okanos, and then a Tsutomu Mirikitani. And it just had a note saying, "Working for the Okano family." So she wrote to me and said, "Hey, could this be Jimmy Mirikitani?" So the next pilgrimage I asked him, I said, "Hey, Jimmy, my cousin was looking through records and said that there was a Tsutomu Mirikitani working with the Okano family in Shelton, Washington." And said, "Is that you?" And he said, "Oh, yeah, yeah, that's me. I made a fishpond for them in front of the house."

BY: So did you ever ask your mom about him?

SS: No. By then, Mom's memory was kind of fading.

BY: All right. So she and her family were living in Shelton, so were they incarcerated?

SS: Oh, yeah.

BY: So where did they go?

SS: So everybody, all the Japanese Americans in Shelton, of which there like two families plus Jimmy, got taken to Olympia and put on a train, and from there, they were taken directly to Tule Lake. So Japanese families in that area of Washington did not go through any assembly center experience, they just went directly to Tule Lake.

BY: And how long was she there?

SS: I asked her that when I took her on the Tule Lake pilgrimage, and her answer was, "One year, one month, and one day." So they arrived in late May. Like I think the camp actually opened on May twenty-something. So they must have gotten there the first week it was open, and then she left on June 4th.

BY: So they arrived in May '42 and left June '43.

SS: '43.

BY: Okay, great. And where did she go?

SS: She went to Denver and began to work as what she called a housegirl in a well-to-do family's house, as did my aunt Janet in another house, but also in Denver, so both of them went to Denver. It was a Jewish family, too.

BY: And how long was she there?

SS: The duration of the war. Once the war ended, they moved back to Shelton to restart the dry cleaning business.

BY: And she was there when your uncle or uncle's wife, anyway, served as the go-between between your father and her. So how did incarceration affect her life?

SS: Well, I mean like everyone else, it made a huge disruption. The Okanos were fortunate in that they closed up, they owned the business and the property, and they just boarded everything up and left it. And they must have gotten somebody to pay taxes. But anyway, it was still there. There was a little bit of vandalism, someone had broken a window, and there was some water damage. But pretty much everything was there, no equipment had been stolen, building hadn't been burned down like some other people experienced. So they were able to restart the business. But it took away three or four years of her life when she was in her early, mid-twenties.

BY: And did she ever talk about the incarceration to you?

SS: No, nothing specific. She would always avoid, basically avoid it. She would say, "Oh, it wasn't that bad," or, "We don't dwell on those things, it's better just to forget it." The only references that either of my parents made were when they were, usually when they were talking about people they knew and they'd say, "Oh, I haven't seen them since camp," or, "Didn't they get married in camp? They got married before the war or after the war."

BY: You said that you always knew about camp but didn't know the specifics about your parents' experiences. As a child, what did you think camp was, or what did you know about camp?"

SS: Well, what I knew is that everybody who was alive at the time was in this camp together. Because my older brother, my older cousins, my aunts and uncles, my grandparents, they were all in some camp. But I had no idea what a concentration camp was, for sure, but I guess I thought it was like a church camp, because that's the only thing I knew, been to, or heard about.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

BY: Okay. Let's talk about your siblings, so I know that you had an older brother, and so, again, if you could repeat his name, when he was born, and any other siblings you have.

SS: Sure. My older brother David was born on October 20, 1937. And his full name was David Kenichi Shikuma, and his mom was Mary, Mary Takii was her maiden name. And he grew up... well, so he was four years old when they got taken away to camp, and my uncle Heek and uncle Charlie told me that, yeah, he wasn't that genki, that healthy as a young child, and they thought he was going to die when they first got to Poston, because the sanitation was bad, the food was bad, the medical care was virtually nonexistent, and he got this bad diarrhea. They thought it was dysentery, maybe, and he just kept losing weight. Yeah, he was looking really sickly and we thought maybe we would lose them. So fortunately he did pull through. The only picture I've seen, actually of the family in camp, I saw one photo of his kindergarten class at Poston, so there's fifteen, twenty kids in what looks like a sandbox or play area with a few teachers. And, like, nobody's smiling. The kids aren't smiling, the teachers aren't smiling, so this is a kindergarten class at recess and nobody looks happy. So that really stuck with me. He graduated from Vale High School. Brogan was only like two hundred people, so they had a K through 8 school, like literally a little red schoolhouse with about fifteen kids from K through 8. And then once he graduated, you went to Vale, which was a larger town of about a thousand people and they had a high school, so he went to Vale High School and graduated. And then we moved to California and he might have gone to a junior college for a year or two, but he eventually went to UC Berkeley as did a lot of my cousins: cousin Victor, cousin Hubert, cousin Larry, and graduated there. And that was, like, in 1960 roughly. And the Vietnam War was just starting to appear on the horizon. And there wasn't a draft yet but they were talking about it. So he decided to enlist before he got drafted, so he enlisted in the navy and served for three years and then came back and got a job as a ceramics engineer in Southern Cal.

BY: Is he still alive?

SS: No, he passed away in a car accident ten years ago? Maybe about ten years ago.

BY: Okay, and so you're the middle child?

SS: No, I'm the youngest.

BY: Okay. And so you have a, talk about your sister, I think?

SS: Yeah so sister was, full name is Lois Shizue Shikuma. She went by Lois and hated the name for a good part of her life and then, I don't know, twenty, thirty years ago, decided that she'd get rid of Lois and she just goes by Shizue. So Shizue was born on July 29th of 1951, so she was a year and a half older than me. And it was sweltering hot that summer in Oregon, eastern Oregon. Mom was miserable being pregnant at the time, so she said, "I'm never having a kid in the middle of summer again," so I think that's why I was born in December. [Laughs] But yeah, she went to UCLA and got involved in Asian American Studies and Asian American movement stuff down there. She knew a lot of the original staff of Gidra. Gidra had just started up at that point, and there were programs like the EOP program to help disadvantaged youth get into college. And so the Asian caucus basically within that group were a lot of her friends. So she gave me a subscription to Gidra and started sending me material about, that she was getting from Asian American studies, so that's when I actually started learning about the camps.

BY: So it was from your sister?

SS: Yes.

BY: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

BY: So let's talk a little bit about your childhood. So you grew up in Watsonville. Can you talk a little bit about your house, your neighborhood?

SS: So we moved to Watsonville when I was two, and so I don't have real clear memories of it. And our first house was a little yellow house on a street called Tuttle Avenue or Tuttle Street. And it was in town, and it was really small and cramped. And actually, my clearest memory of it when we were moving out. I remember this one wool blanket sitting on a box by the door while everything was being moved out. And then we moved to Cutter Drive, which was about two, two and a half miles outside of town on... Cutter Drive was a dead-end street, and it branched so there was a lower Cutter and upper Cutter, and we lived right just before the branch where it split. And it was largely white, there were maybe one or two Chicano or Mexicano families. And later on there were other Japanese families that moved in on upper Cutter, but I think we might have been the first Japanese family on that street. Our neighbors that we were really good friends with were the Selak's who were Slavonian, I think they were from the Dalmatian Coast originally.

BY: So who were your friends growing up?

SS: Growing up, my friends were largely my relatives. Had a bunch of cousins and other people from church, because we would go to Sunday school every Sunday and then we would have church picnics and we'd have family dinners. So that people I would see would be all my relatives because we were all in the Westview Presbyterian Church, and then all the church kids.

BY: So most of your friends, or almost all of them, were Japanese American then?

SS: Yeah, until I got into elementary school, and then I started making friends there.

BY: Okay, so we'll talk about school in a minute, but what things do you remember doing as a child other than going to school?

SS: Well, when I was really young, I remember going with... there wasn't a daycare or childcare, so whenever my mom went to work on the farm and the packing shed, usually then she would take us along, and before we were old enough to help with anything, we would just be running around the packing shed doing things. So we would build little forts from boxes of crates for the berries, and so we would stack them up and build little forts inside, or we would go running around outside looking for bugs. I remember I snuck into a truck once, and in the glove department I found two packs of cigarettes. So I pulled them out and I started unraveling it, and all this brown stuff started crumbling down. So it was really fascinating, so I did that with every single cigarette in the pack.

BY: So I know that you spent a lot of time at the church and in church related activities. How connected was your family to the Japanese American community outside of church?

SS: Well, like I said, Dad was member of JACL, so that was more of a, all people in the Japanese American community. But it was a definite divide between the Christian Japanese and the Buddhist Japanese in town. Like my folks didn't like me going to much, so we never went to Obon in Watsonville, because that was a Buddhist thing. And even though there was a Japanese language school at the Buddhist Temple, when they did send us to Japanese language school, it was at the Christian church in Salinas, which was like a thirty-five minute drive away from where we lived. So there was that kind of divide, so I really didn't have any Buddhist friends until I got to high school.

BY: Interesting, that's very interesting. Okay, did you have any Asian American role models when you were growing up? And if so, who were they?

SS: I woul say I did have any. I mean, there were some leaders in the community that I knew, but I didn't really know of any Asian Americans outside of the community. At that point, there weren't any even newscasters.

BY: All right.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

BY: So let's talk a little bit about your schooling. So what elementary school did you go to?

SS: From K through 8 I went to Salsipuedes Elementary School, which was even further out in the country than our house, so it was probably like 8 miles out from Watsonville.

BY: And what would you say was the racial ethnic background of it -- I don't know if you remember -- in elementary school? What would you guess?

SS: The majority was white, and then there were a fair number of Mexicano/Chicano kids, and a significant but not very large number of Japanese, and there were also a significant number of Filipino kids.

BY: And what high school did you go to and what was the racial, ethnic breakdown there?

SS: Okay. So I went to Watsonville High School in the middle of Watsonville. And when I went, I think it was probably about one-third Chicano/Mexicano, and about fifty percent white. And the other fifteen percent was largely Asian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and then there was a very small number of Black students.

BY: All right. And who were your friends in high school? What was their racial-ethnic breakdown?

SS: They were kind of two... well, I guess there were three groups of friends. So I was in the college prep track, they were tracking everybody. So I was on the college prep track, so I was in the same, in classes with a lot of the same people, so I made friends with a lot of them which were mainly white and Asian kids. And then there was still the church group, I was active in the church youth group. So that was probably the closest circle of friends I had. And then I played football, so then there was the football team.

BY: And what was the makeup of that team?

SS: So the team was pretty representative of the rest of the high school.

BY: And what kind of student were you?

SS: Oh, I was a good student, except for in German.

BY: German, okay. [Laughs]

SS: Yeah. My only C in high school came in German class, because we had an exchange teacher from Germany who expected strict discipline in the class. Since I was... like I would shoot spitballs or shoot rubber bands across the room at each other.

BY: And did you like school?

SS: Yeah, I liked school.

BY: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

BY: And I understand that there were some things that happened in your community or when you were around high school age that maybe led to your later political activism. Can you talk about those a little?

SS: Sure. Well, the two big things would be, number one, border patrol raids. So there were one or two summers that I worked on the farm every summer. Once I became old enough, which at that point was like twelve or thirteen years old, then I was first the assistant foreman for the raspberry crew, and there could be as many as thirty or forty people in that crew. And then by the time I was maybe sixteen or seventeen, I was the foreman, so I'm the guy at the truck who punches the cards as people bring in crates. I make sure the crates get taken back to the packing shed and that there's water for everybody to drink and all that. But a couple years, when I was doing that a couple summers, the border patrol was doing these big raids rounding up undocumented workers. And so I just remember our field was right next to the levy on Corralitos Creek, and these, they didn't have Humvees back then, so I guess they were like big jeep or small truck things, came screaming down the levee. I think they're only supposed to go fifteen miles an hour, and they were probably going like forty, screaming down the levee, screeching to a halt, and then the border patrol guys would jump out and they'd come running in the field. And all the undocumented workers who were in the field would just drop everything and they'd start running and trying to hide, escape. And then I remember just seeing people with handcuffs and being led in and put in the back of these trucks and taken away. And that seemed totally weird to me, because why were these people being taken away? Because I had worked with them, some of them for a few months by that point. Some of them I had known from the year before. So it was kind of like the hardworking, they're just trying to make a living.

BY: Did you talk to your parents or anybody about that?

SS: Well, I mentioned it, of course. Yeah, but I didn't have anyone really to process it with, but I just know that it made me feel really bad. Then the other big thing that happened was the year that the UFW, the United Farm Workers union was trying to organize, they were primarily targeting the lettuce industry, so they're trying to organize the lettuce workers. But they did a general organizing drive in the Pajaro Valley where we lived. And at one point they called a general strike, and everybody walked out, all the farmworkers walked out, including the strawberry farms, so our farm, too. And that must have lasted for two or three weeks. So I remember I was doing things that I'd never had to do before, like irrigate the farms and move pipe, irrigation pipes around. The strikers, they'd have picket lines, but they would mainly be sitting on the levy watching us. Anyway, I'd go over and talk with them sometimes because some of them were our workers so I knew them. And they were kind of laughing and saying, "You ain't doing it right." [Laughs] So I said, "Yeah, wish you guys were here doing it."

BY: So what did you think about that, then, the strike, the general strike?

SS: I thought they had a good reason for striking. I mean, they were talking about working conditions, and a lot of farms, they didn't have sani-cans or anything, so if you had to go, you had to go out in the field, literally, men and women. Some places didn't provide drinking water, so you had to bring your own. Or if they did provide it, it was kind of like, okay, so we dropped the water off here and then as you pick, you move down row by row, so by lunchtime it's like a quarter mile away to get a drink of water. And then the wages, of course, were a big thing, and piece rate versus having something more stable.

BY: So did that create any kind of a moral conflict for you? Because your family owned a farm and presumably hired these people to work on the farm. So do you remember having any thoughts about that?

SS: Yeah. So there are a couple things. One is I remember Dad... there was a really bad year where the prices were really low, and so the farmers, all the berry growers were not making much or just breaking even. And then the next year, the prices were really good. And so the farmers, it was kind of like a cartel, but they would meet at the coffee shop and talk about, "So how much are you going to pay per crate?" And a lot of the farmers were saying, "So we had a bad year last year and this is a good year, so this is our chance to make up, so we're not going to raise the rate per crate." And Dad said, "That's not right, so we're going to raise the rate." They were all kind of mad at him, saying, "Well, if you do, then we all have to do it, too." So he said, "I'm not telling anyone else." So he stood his ground, he said, "No. You guys can do what you want, but Shikuma Brothers is going to raise the rate." Because he didn't think it was fair that we're getting more money and we're not sharing it with the workers. So that I really appreciated and I really respected, then the strike happened. And during the strike, the UFW had circulated their proposal for a contract. And then the teamsters came in, and this was the Jimmy Hoffa era of teamsters, so fairly corrupt union. And they had sweetheart contracts, what they call sweetheart contracts, which is stuff that sounds good on paper, but in actual practice, it actually favors the employer rather than employees as long as the union gets their cut. So they were circulating these sweetheart contracts, so Dad had both contracts on the table and he was reading them. And he's going, well, I don't know, so he'd go this way or that way. So that's the only time I remember having a really big argument with my dad, because he was leaning towards signing the Teamsters' contract, because it was a lot more, not profitable, but it was a lot more beneficial to the growers than it was to the workers. So I don't know if I was actually yelling, but I was pretty steamed up. I said, "Dad, you can't sign with the Teamsters, they don't give a shit about, they don't care about the workers. They're gonna take their cut, and they don't care what the working conditions are, they're not going to enforce all the regulations. And at least you know the UFW does care about the workers, that they really represent the workers."

BY: So it sounds like your sympathies during the general strike were with the farmworkers.

SS: Oh yeah, yeah.

BY: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

BY: I want to ask you a few questions about your Japanese American identity. So do you remember when you first became aware of your Japanese American identity?

SS: No, I don't. I mean, I feel like it's always been a part of my life, because I grew up in a Japanese church and Japanese family.

BY: Was there ever a time when you suddenly became aware that you were different from the other people who were around you in some way? In other words, when you were not with your Japanese American community or friends.

SS: Well, I would say I felt fairly, very comfortable with my identity and who I was until I went to Stanford. So my first year at Stanford, I was in a freshman dorm with about ninety people. There were three floors, so two floors of guys and the middle floor was women. And out of the ninety people, I think there were, oh, probably about ten or twelve people of color, about half of them were Asian and two of them were international students from Hong Kong and Malaysia. So that's the first time that I had been in a situation where like eighty percent or more of the people around me were white. And also it was a class thing, too, because they were generally all pretty well-to-do white folks. And I just didn't really feel comfortable. So that first quarter we were right next to the Chicano theme house, Zapata House. So I remember I would, like of like on the playfield and stuff, I would go hang out with the Zapata House folks. Because they were like thirty percent Chicano in that dorm and that felt more like home. So it was probably at least the second quarter before I started feeling more comfortable.

BY: So at the time when you were at Stanford, did the Asian American theme house exist, and did you spend any time there?

SS: Yeah. So there was an Asian American theme house. When I was there, it was at Junipero House. Later they moved it one house over and renamed the building as Okada House, but I think that happened the year after I graduated. So my senior year, I decided to live in Junipero House, the Asian American theme house.

BY: So was there ever a time that you felt that you were treated differently or discriminated against by anyone in either a positive or negative way? And if you can think of an incident, a time that that happened, if you can describe it?

SS: I don't really remember. In high school, the only time I can remember someone referencing my ethnic heritage was my class was running a dunking booth at the county fair. You know, one of those things where someone sits on a little thing and you throw balls, and if you hit the target, then they drop in the water. So we were unloading the big tank, and I was standing on one end, and then something slipped so then the other end dropped. And it was like a catapult, so I just went shooting over. I didn't get hurt, but I was literally up in the air and rolling around. So one of my high school football friends said, "Oh, there's a little nip in the air." And everyone laughed, including me. And I realized at the time that it was a reference to me being Japanese, but I also knew that it wasn't meant in a discriminatory way, or it wasn't meant as a put-down, so that's it. I think there were some teachers who didn't say it out loud, but the feeling I got is, well, "You should do well because you're Japanese American, and all my Japanese American kids do well in class."

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

<Begin Segment 12>

BY: Okay, so you've alluded to your college years, so I want to get that down, sort of, officially. So what college did you go to?

SS: So I went to three colleges.

BY: Okay, first one.

SS: First one was Stanford University.

BY: And what dates were you there and what did you major in?

SS: So I was at Stanford from '72 to '76. I majored in biological sciences and barely graduated because I had, you needed one hundred eighty credits to graduate, and I had one hundred seventy-nine going into spring quarter of my senior year. And I had a two unit incomplete in this one lab course. So I had to go beg the professor of that one course to give me a pass so that it would have a hundred eighty-one units and could then graduate.

BY: And you talked a little bit about living in Junipero House your senior year. Was there anything else that happened while you were in college that sort of led to your later political activism or political awareness?

SS: Yeah. So I think I overlapped with David Henry Hwang by a year or two. So I don't know if I went to it, but I know that he put on a play, it might have been FOB, in his dorm. And Roger Tang was in Junipero House the year that I lived there, who, [inaudible] players, writer, producer, actor. And so I think that had some impact. The other two big things I remember is, one is the neighboring dorm put on a play, that was kind of a big thing that Stanford dorms would put on. Some kind of a performance thing, usually, oftentimes musicals. And they were doing Bye Bye Birdie. And there was one scene in there where they have, I don't know if it's in the movie or not, but where they had these, supposed to be Asian, I think, Chinese women coming onstage. And so they were doing it in a very negative stereotypical fashion, wearing coolie hats and dressed up. Which could be okay, but then they were putting their hands together and bowing and speaking the chop suey pseudo English, pseudo Chinese stuff, kind of like playing it up for laughs, I think, was the idea. But a lot of the people in the Asian American theme dorm found it really offensive. And they were all in the thing, and they were there at the opening show and they had no idea that this was going to happen. So they started booing which upset our dorm neighbors a lot, so then that created tension between the two dorms. I went over with two or three other people from my dorm to go talk to the director, who was a Pacific Islander, interestingly enough, to see if, "Maybe you could tone this down or cut it out or alter it in some way." So eventually I think they did. I don't think they got rid of it, but I think they stopped doing the really obsequious gestures and language stuff. So that was one thing.

Then the other thing was a group of us decided, the dorm decided that we should do an Asian American Studies course because there wasn't one at Stanford. So we went, formed a committee and we went out to meet Edison Uno in San Francisco to ask if he would teach an Asian American Studies course. So this was SWAPSE, I forget exactly what it stands for. But basically it was a student-initiated course the you could offer and you could get one or two credits pass-fail. So he was a little skeptical at first, but eventually he agreed. So he would come down one night a week and teach a two-hour course lecture, and he had a lot of, sometimes showed film, although it was difficult because there weren't really videos at that point. So mainly he would bring in guest speakers which included people like Frank Chin. And that was really enlightening because for a lot of folks, it was the first time we'd heard about the camps, it was the first time we'd heard about Chinese Exclusion Act, first time we really got exposed to a whole lot of Asian American art, theater and music. Oh yeah, Francis Wong was in my dorm, too. He's a fairly well-known jazz musician.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

BY: So talk a little bit about Farewell to Manzanar.

SS: Oh, yeah, Farewell to Manzanar. So Carolyn Abe, who we jokingly refer to as my cousin-in-law, I met her my freshman year because she kind of bounced into my freshman dorm and came up to me and said, "Hi, I'm Carolyn, I'm your cousin." So it turns out Aunt Hiroko's sister is Carolyn's aunt. So it's all by marriage, but... so this is kind of those seven degrees of connection. Anyway, so we became friends and she stayed in touch. So I think it was the summer after my junior year I decided to stick around campus and work. And that's the year that they were filming Farewell to Manzanar and they needed extras for the crowd scenes. So Carolyn was interested in film, so she had gotten a job as an assistant to the assistant to the person who, the casting director. So she put out the call to all the Asians she knew at Stanford, "They need people to be extras in this movie, can you come out?" So I was free, so I said, "Sure, I'll do it." So then I went, and I was in two scenes. One was the big riot scene where the army is shooting into the crowd and kills two people, actually happened at Manzanar. But I was way in the back and there was smoke all over the place and stuff so you can't really see me. But the other crowd scene was where the main character Mako is exhorting everybody to come out to the rally that night, and so there's people lined up along the fence and the barracks, and then people on the truck as he's driving by going, "Yeah, yeah." And so I'm standing right next to him, so you can see me. So I'm on for about five seconds.

BY: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

BY: So were you involved in any other organizations at Stanford, or did you take any other classes at Stanford that you feel maybe later influenced your political activism?

SS: I wasn't a big joiner. I did a lot of things through the Asian American theme house. I helped out at the People's Tea House. We manned, or the Asian American theme house ran a little tea house where we sold bao and ramen. And it was a favorite late night snack place because back then, there was almost no place to eat on campus even during the day but especially at night. And then I hung out with the cross country ski team which was more of a club, it wasn't an official sport. Because one of my sophomore trailer mates was on the ski team. So he said, "Oh, yeah, we're going to practice, do conditioning, so you should come out and join us." So I remember that's how I ended up running up and down the stadium steps, and then running up to Skyline, like literally drop us off at the bottom, and then we ran up to Skyline, which, I don't know, was a three or four mile uphill run. But let's see...

BY: Classes? Any other classes?

SS: Yeah. So I took some classes. I was interested in, I guess you could say kind of ethnic studies. So I took one sociology course from St. Clair Drake, he was a professor emeritus in sociology, and one of the few African American faculty that Stanford had at the time, and one of the few it had even ever had up to that point. And that was a really interesting course. I took another course, I think his name was Castillo, a Chicano lit course where we read things like Bless Me, Ultima. And I think I was the only non-Chicano in the class. I also took another sociology course from, he was a white professor, but we were looking at ways that you could systemically change things. So like we looked at what would happen if you had a universal basic income where you give everybody a thousand dollars, and at that time talking about giving people a thousand dollars is probably like giving people ten thousand dollars now. And he said yeah, actually they did this small-scale thing where they did that, they gave everybody in this group certain amount of money and he saw education scores that go up among the kids, he saw crime rates go down in the community, so all these positive things happened. So that also got me thinking. And then there was one Marxist economist at Stanford, Professor Gurley, so I took a course from him on Marxism and capitalism. And that kind of helped shape my view of capitalist economics in society.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

BY: All right. So you graduated from Stanford in 1976 and then you said, you also said that you went to two other schools. So what happened after you graduated from Stanford?

SS: Well, okay. So when I graduated from Stanford, I got an internship that summer to work with the California Department of Health in the Vector Control Section. So that's the group that was looking at vectors of disease, mainly mosquitos and malaria in the Central Valley because the mosquitos are endemic that can carry malaria in the Central Valley and it had been a really big problem early in the 20th century. So then they established a mosquito control program and that basically eliminated malaria from the Central Valley. But that only works if you keep tamping down the mosquito population. They also looked at other vectors of disease like fleas and ticks and flies if there was a disease potential for actual risk. And the summer I got the job, initially I was just working with mosquitos, collecting mosquito larvae here and there around the Central, up and down the Central Valley, and doing tests on insecticides. So we'd go out with this fogging machine and blow insecticide across a field and then see what the population count was before and after. But then about the middle of the summer, after about a month or two of that, we got a plague outbreak, bubonic plague. This guy had died of bubonic plague in Fresno, I believe, or somewhere in that area. And so they started doing this campaign to look for and eradicate any fleas that might be carrying the bubonic plague bacteria. So then I got sent all over the state, largely in the Sierra Nevadas, so Lake Tahoe and north of there to track down squirrels and get their fleas and send them to see if there was any plague. So anyway, that got me interested in public health and vector control. But that job ended, so in November or late October, it ended once the cold weather came in and all the fleas got killed, and there wasn't any danger of plague anymore.

So I decided I wanted to see the world, well, every city in the United States. I moved to Boston and drove across, took two weeks to drive across. Side note, so I'm driving across late October, early November, and I hit Atlanta. I decided to go walking around downtown, so I'm there and then there's this big commotion or a lot of traffic and lights and stuff around this one hotel, so I go walk over. And this young woman, so probably about my age which would be, like, early twenties, said, "Hey, want to go into the party?" So I said sure. So she said, "Well, just wait 'til the door opens, and then we're going to slip in." So it turns out it was the victory party for Jimmy Carter. Because I didn't realize it, but that was election day and I had stopped in Atlanta. So we snuck into the party, and then close to midnight, Jimmy and Rosalynn came walking through on their way to the car, so I got to see Jimmy and Rosalynn on election night of '76.

So anyway, I moved to Boston, though I would get a job as a research lab tech because I had a biology degree from Stanford. But couldn't get a job. For six months, I worked as a waiter on the night shift at Howard Johnson's restaurant, which actually was very interesting because of all the characters that came in, there was the late night crew that came in after the bars closed. Some of them we thought were probably enforcers for the mob. And then one guy actually pulled a gun inside the restaurant one time. And then we were, like, literally next door to WGBH public television station in Boston, one of the premier PBS stations. And so their tech crew would come in before they started their shift at seven, so like at five or six a.m., these guys would come in. And then there was the Armenian dance troupe, there were like thirty Armenian dancers, and they would come in around eleven after their practice. That was really interesting. But anyway, I was about to give up when I did get a job as a research tech in this pharmacology lab for a guy who was on Harvard med school faculty in pharmacy, pharmacology, and I worked there for about a year and a half.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

SS: And then, so I was in Boston for about two years, and during that time, I decided that I wanted to go back to grad school in public health, and study vectors of disease. So I was debating between Arizona State and UC Berkeley, and I chose UC Berkeley. Unfortunately, they chose me as well, so I got into a PhD program there and immediately started, when I got to campus, I was also kind of... I'd been reading a lot of political things when I was in Boston, but I hadn't really been involved in anything. But I had also been trying to keep up with Asian American movement stuff. So when I got to Berkeley, one of the first things I did was join the Asian Student Union where I met my future wife, Tracy, and got very involved with that. In fact, I got a lot more interested in the Asian American movement and Asian Student Union than I was in my PhD program, so I basically dropped out of that program. My advisor convinced me that, well, you should at least get a master's out of it because you've done all the coursework. So I did get my master's in parasitology. But was more interested in Asian Student Union. Carter was starting the draft, registration up again, so we had a multicultural, multiethnic coalition against the draft, and I was very, ASU, wrapped into that coalition. We were always running over to San Francisco J-Town and Chinatown, because there were gentrification fights and trying to stop evictions, so we would run over and help form picket lines. We would support, I think there was a Japanese warehouse workers' strike. They were trying to unionize so we would go help with the picket lines. Then we'd have political study groups.

BY: So this was around 1978, '79?

SS: Yeah. I got to Berkeley in fall of '78, and I quote/unquote graduated or dropped out, but with a master's in, I guess, June of '81.

BY: And then what happened?

SS: Then my girlfriend at the time, my wife now, also graduated in '81 and got accepted at University of Washington here in Seattle in the education department. So she was going to go to grad school here starting in the fall, so I decided to move with her. So I moved up in summer of '81. I came up like a month before she did, because she had a summer job, I didn't. So I came up with another friend to look for a place to live. And I got here, like, the week before the commission hearings happened at Broadway Performance Hall. So I spent three days sitting through the entire commission hearings and taking photos.

BY: Some viewers may not know what you mean by "commission hearings." Can you explain it?

SS: Yeah. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was a blue ribbon commission set up by Congress in 1980 to examine the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and then to write a report on, A, what happened, and B, what remedy if any should be given with recommendations for that. So they held hearings throughout the country in '81 and wrote up the report and submitted it to Congress in '82, and that was the basis for the redress bill that was eventually passed in 1988.

BY: Okay. So you got here in time to witness, observe those hearings.

SS: Yeah.

BY: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

SS: And I decided... I was thinking I would go into clinical lab medicine, get a degree in that. So clinical lab medicine is like when you get a blood test and they draw your blood and they send it to a lab. So the clinical lab tech folks are the ones who run the test and read the results and give the reports to the doctors. So I was thinking I would do that because I had all the classroom prerequisites already done, I could finish that program in a year. But after we got here, I had a friend who was doing exactly that job at Harborview, one of the big hospitals here in Seattle, and she hated her job. She said, "Yeah, you got to sit in this room by yourself and all these machines whirring, and there's no windows, and you only see another person every hour or two, and usually they're just delivering samples." Said, "Yeah, it's a miserable life." Then I had another friend here who was working as a nurse on the cardiac unit at the University of Washington, and she loved her job. Said, "Oh, yeah, every day is different and we had all these people, and doctors and nurses you worked with, and the patients were wonderful." So I decided, well, maybe I should do nursing instead of lab med. But that meant I would have to go through a three-year program, the nursing school program. So I spent a year getting my residency in Washington state so I wouldn't have to pay out of state tuition, and applied to nursing school and then got in and graduated from that in '85.

BY: So what did you do during that year that you were establishing your residency?

SS: That year? Well, one thing is I took a psychology course at the University of Washington, because that was the one prerequisite to the nursing school program that I did not have yet. So that was one thing. But then I did all these odd jobs. So one was cleaning sani-cans, but it was kind of a... in looking back, I think it was kind of a fly-by-night outfit, because the truck he had, the guy who owned it told me that, "Okay, so you got to drive this truck around and drop off sani-cans at every place, put a new one down and take out the old ones, or clean out the old ones," because there was a big vacuum tank on the truck. He said, "But if you see a sign that says trucks are supposed to pull off for inspection, you got to avoid that at all costs." But anyway, I didn't do a good job, so that was the only job I have ever been fired from. After two or three weeks, he said, "I'm sorry, not cutting it, so I'm going to have to let you go." Then I got a job as a chimney sweep in the north end, so I would go all over the north end of Seattle cleaning people's chimneys. So climbing up on the roof and running a brush down, scraping off creosote, and I did that for several months until it got too cold and wet to be climbing on roofs.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

SS: And then I got a part-time job with the regional district office of JACL, Pacific Northwest District of JACL. At that time, they had an office with a district staff person, Karen Seriguchi, and it was in the middle of the redress movement. It was after the commission hearings had happened, and legislation was being crafted and there was a big push to convince members of Congress to vote for a redress bill. And so there were all kinds of things to do that. In Washington in particular, Washington Coalition on Redress was really active trying to get local support. So there were a bunch of school clerks, Japanese American school clerks, who were fired in 1942 because someone said, well, "They might poison our kids' lunches or do something to hurt the kids, so they can't be in our schools." So� we got them redress for that. May Namba was one of the leaders in that group. They got the City of Seattle and King County to pass resolutions or redress, in support of redress or to actually give redress to certain people. The Seattle School District passed a redress resolution, T.J. Vassar was really helpful in that, and we got the state to pass a redress bill. So there were all these local, from city to school district, city up to the state level where we were gathering support and putting pressure in that way just to show all the members of Congress that there is widespread support for redress. And so I was able to be part of that as well as other things.

Like we did the first, now we call it From Hiroshima to Hope, that's an annual commemoration of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, first use of nuclear weapons, very timely, unfortunately. And we did the first one of those programs at Blaine Memorial Methodist Church because Mike Lowry, who had also introduced the first redress bill in Congress in '78 was still in Congress. And he was fighting against the cruise missiles that the U.S. were, was planning to put into Europe, which would have really put a short fuse on nuclear escalation. Because cruise missiles could reach, in Europe, could reach Moscow in, like, ten or fifteen minutes. So it was very destabilizing. Anyway, so we invited Mike to be the keynote speaker, and we got, like, three hundred people at Blaine, almost all of them Japanese Americans, which was pretty amazing for this Hiroshima day event. And that eventually got picked up and carried on, so that was one of the things that I worked on as a staffperson there.

BY: So it sounds like, although this was a job, a part-time job for you, that you obviously became much more engaged in it than you were with the sani-cans and the chimney sweeps. [Laughs] How did that experience influence your later political activism?

SS: Oh. Well, it launched my political activism in Seattle, because through that, I was able to meet pretty much everybody who was active in the Japanese American community, and was able to meet a lot of the people who were active in the CID, Chinatown-International District, because the district office was down there and JACL was also interfacing with a lot of the ID folks, Uncle Bob Santos and InterIm and IDEC, that's how I met Donnie Chin. Coming into Seattle as an outsider, there's a certain... especially back then, there was a certain insularity our distrust of people from outside, especially if you're from California. And I think to be accepted as an activist in the Asian American community in that time, anyway, you really kind of had to win people's trust. And so working with the JACL, and so being in the ID literally on a daily basis was a big step towards that.

BY: So where was the office?

SS: It's on... remember Toda's optometry place on the corner of Seventh and Jackson? So it's sort of above that, it's on the second floor. It's still there, actually, the Seattle JACL, even when they closed the regional office, the Seattle JACL kept the office space. So the space is there, but it's mainly used as storage right now, we're trying to get it fixed up so we can actually hold meetings. But since we're not meeting in person due to Covid, that's kind of on hold.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

BY: We're going to get into much more depth about your political activism, but I want to back up and get a little information about your wife and kids. So what is your wife's name?

SS: Okay. So my wife is Tracy Alice Mark Lai. Mark Lai because Mark is the actual family name and Lai is the paper name.

BY: Okay, so she is Chinese American.

SS: She is Chinese American. She is Chinese Sansei, she's third generation.

BY: Okay, and where did she grow up?

SS: She grew up... well, she was born in San Francisco Chinatown in the Chinese hospital that's literally in the center of Chinatown. And for the first couple of years of her life, lived in her grandmother's apartment building, three story building that her grandma and grandpa lived on the top floor, and then there were, let's see, I think four kids, five kids, and four of them lived in the building, the first and second floor were divided into apartments, front and back. So she, the first two years of her life, she was in one of those apartments with her mom and dad. Then they moved to El Cerrito, which is on the East Bay, east side of San Francisco Bay, for another, I don't know, four or five years. And then during her elementary school years, they moved to Los Altos where her dad still lives. So that's her main memories, are growing up in Los Altos.

BY: And what is her occupation?

SS: So Tracy teaches history at Seattle College, Central College here in Seattle. And U.S. history is what she was hired for, but her sub specialties, so to speak, are Asian American Studies and women's history.

BY: So does she teach Asian American Studies classes at Seattle College?

SS: When she can. The basic history courses at Seattle College are U.S. history, so it's a three-course sequence: pre-revolution, revolution to Civil War, and then Civil War to the present. And so she has to teach those, and when she can, she will teach either Asian American studies or women's history. She's also done work on the Holocaust, she did a big study tour that went to Poland to visit the death camps. So she'll do that at times and she also does survey courses on world history. But when she does that, her focus is on Asia.

BY: And has she influenced your political activism in any way?

SS: Yeah, she was one of the main leaders of the Asian Student Union when I joined at UC Berkeley. So she's one of my leaders there. We also all, a bunch of us from ASU were the TAs for an Asian American lit class that Asian American Studies offered. So, like, I was a TA for Merle Woo, who is a fairly well-known writer in Asian American studies. And yeah, so she was, I would say, is kind of my conduit into, or influence in Asian American studies. Because she had a lot more knowledge of things, she'd been more active in the movement. Like the fall of the I-Hotel happened in '77, I think, summer of '77. So her aunt lived in the I-Hotel, and she was in the group that was there on eviction night, so she was inside sitting in on one of the stairwells, although there were four hundred people with arms locked outside. The county sheriff brought in four hundred officers, TAC squad guys and police on horses to break up the external barrier, and they dragged everybody out.

BY: Do you have any kids?

SS: Yes, I have two kids. The oldest one is Kiyoshi, he was born in 1987, and the youngest is Misa, who was born in 1990.

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<Begin Segment 20>

BY: Okay. So I want to move into talking about your community involvement and activism. So can you name or list all of the community groups or organizations, Japanese American community organizations or groups that you're involved with?

SS: Let's see, okay. So I'm involved with Tule Lake Committee. I went to my first Tule Lake pilgrimage in 1979, and I've been on every Tule Lake pilgrimage since that time, which, I think, is like twenty-one at this point. I'm one of the leaders in Tsuru for Solidarity, which supports immigrant rights, relatively new group. We formed and sort of started coalescing in 2018 but officially formed in 2019. I'm active in JACL, Japanese American Citizens League, at local, regional and national levels, I guess, because I'm currently co-president of the Seattle chapter of JACL. As such, I sit on the Pacific Northwest District Council, and I'm also on the National Education Committee for JACL. And then I am co-editor of the Nisei Veterans Committee newsletter, Seattle Nisei Veterans, NVC, is a local veterans group formed by 442, members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service or MIS when they came back from the war in '45, '46. Because the local VFWs and American Legions, these other veterans groups would not allow Japanese to join so they formed their own group. So anyway, I've been the co-editor for about twenty years now.

BY: Taiko?

SS: Oh, taiko, yeah. So that's another thing that happened when I moved here in '81, is I joined the local taiko group, at that time called Seattle Taiko Group. Now there's been a name change, so now we're known as Seattle Kokon Taiko. I've been doing that since '81, and since 2000 I've also taught a youth group called Kaze Daiko, and I helped organize the first regional taiko gathering of taiko groups from Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. And then joined the advisory committee for the North American Taiko Conference which was the national, well, actually, international committee, includes Canada, conference of taiko players. And then we formed TCA, Taiko Community Alliance, and I was on the founding board of that group. I'm no longer on the board, but I'm still on the advisory committee.

BY: And you mentioned Hiroshima to Hope?

SS: Oh, yeah. From Hiroshima to Hope is a peace group. We commemorate, in an annual program, we commemorate and remember the victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but we've also expanded our focus to any victims of war or violence, gun violence, domestic violence, and of course wars wherever they're happening.

BY: And then APALA.

SS: Yeah, APALA is the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, and again, Tracy is actually the activist on the labor side, so she's active in both her union, American Federation of Teachers, and APALA on kind of the local and national level. So I'm kind of more there as support for her. But I've gone on and participated in, like, a fact-finding and relationship building tour that went to Okinawa and Tokyo to look at the effects of militarism in Okinawa and in Tokyo to look at labor conditions for non-Japanese, which was pretty bad because of racism within Japan towards non-Japanese. And then just recently, a few months ago this summer, we went to a border tour that APALA sponsored, a symposium in San Diego on one day and then a border tour into Tijuana on the second day.

BY: All right, I think we're going to stop here, because I want to get more into each of these organizations, how you became involved, what your roles are, all of that. So I think we'll stop for today and pick up just talking more about the organizations as well as the pilgrimages and... let's see, what else do I have here... is that all right? Okay.

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