Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mike Murase Interview II
Narrator: Mike Murase
Interviewer: Karen Umemoto
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: January 15, 2023
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-526-1

<Begin Segment 1>

KU: Thank you, Mike, for doing this interview again with us. And I think one of the attributes of one thing about your life that's remarkable and somewhat unique is your involvement in the Black community as an Asian American, and as an Asian American, very active in the Japanese American and Asian American community. And so I know that part of that has to do, is related to just growing up in the Black community. And so I know you talked about your growing up years before, but can you talk about, generally speaking, your affinity towards solidarity work and how your life, your overall growing up experiences may have oriented you in that direction?

MM: Okay. Well, first of all, when I was nine years old, that's back in 1956, I came to this country with my parents. And although I consider myself a Sansei, a third generation Japanese American because my father was born in America and went back to Japan, and I was born there. So anyway, at nine I came here, and as I was coming here, as we were preparing to come here, I studied various books about the United States and what it was about. And so I had the impression that America was all white people, because that's what I saw in books and in periodicals and such. But the first place that we lived in as an immigrant family is what's now called South Central L.A. or the Crenshaw area. And I lived not too far from the L.A. Coliseum, which is part of that area. And in my neighborhood it was mostly Black people and also quite a few Japanese Americans who had either come back from the war or immigrated like I did in the postwar period. And so that Crenshaw area was a very, already a very diverse, mostly Black and Asian, some whites, and for some reason, I don't remember the presence or impact of Latinos at all during that time. I thought it was just white, Black and Asian. But anyway, coming here and growing up in a working class community, my parents went to work right away, so both of them were out. So I was pretty much a latchkey kid, had some freedom after classes to just roam around playing. So I made good friends with a lot of Black kids initially. In fact, in some ways, I felt more comfortable with them in the beginning than I did with the Sansei kids who had some reservations about making friends with an FOB, "Fresh Off the Boat." And I think the historical reasons for why many Nisei and Sansei kids sort of rejected things that were too Japanese, which I represented at the time. I didn't speak any English, and so that was the whole process of learning English and kind of acclimating to this culture. But in that process, I feel like in the early years, a lot of my Black friends in the immediate neighborhood and on my street and things, they really helped me a lot. So I feel very comfortable with Black people, Black culture. By the time I got to junior high school and high school, I learned, too, that a lot of JA kids, Japanese American kids, related to Black culture, Black experiences, Black music. And so those were a big influence for us growing up.

KU: When you got involved at UCLA you found yourself in the midst of a lot of the movement activities and you talked about the influence of the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power movement, the Vietnam War movement, in shaping your attitude towards the, what was the term, "Third World" people at that time?

MM: Uh-huh.

KU: Can you kind of trace that development of your identity, too, as part of the Third World people, and how did what you just said earlier about your childhood and then coming to UCLA and being in this environment, how did you react to what was happening then and this rise in the idea of the Third World people? A lot of young people don't, aren't really familiar with that term.

MM: No. I would say that in junior high school and high school, I went to Foshay junior high school and Los Angeles High School. And they were both very diverse, as I said, so I developed a sense of comfort and identity and that sort of mixed minority community feeling. When I came to UCLA, that was the first time I was introduced to an environment in which most of the people were white, and it was kind of a culture shock. Because in those days, UCLA and other campuses didn't have forty, fifty percent Asian, maybe at most ten percent. And so Asian and Japanese American students on the UCLA campus stood out. We gravitated toward each other and we, maybe in some cases we knew people from other neighborhoods. So we came together and started relating to the Japanese and Asian social and cultural things. This was pre-Asian American movement.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2023 Densho. All Rights Reserved.