Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mako Nakagawa Interview
Narrator: Mako Nakagawa
Interviewer: Lori Hoshino
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 27, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-nmako-01

<Begin Segment 1>

LH: Sounds like a Chinese kind of a saying, huh? Yeah. Gosh. Did somebody in your family do that?

MN: No. No. No. This is supposed to be a famous calligrapher. This is a Japanese relative. Every time they come over they bring something, and then you... you know, that whole gift giving back and forth. I can't keep up with it. All this is omiyage. Most of the stuff I have up around the house is all omiyage.

LH: Yeah. I love this. I love the zodiac animals.

MN: Isn't that sweet of them?

LH: Yeah. But these are relatives from which side of your family?

MN: My father's side of the family.

LH: The Takahashi?

MN: Yeah.

LH: So wait a minute. He was from Sendai, right.

MN: Uh-huh.

LH: So these relatives are from -- your father is part of a second family?

MN: Yeah.

LH: I see. How many siblings did he have?

MN: He had four brothers before. There was four brothers in the family then he has four daughters. [Laughs]

LH: Four daughters.

MN: Yeah, he was a second.

LH: I see.

MN: Yeah. He was a fun loving, you know, he was kind of a absolutely useless. [Laughs] He was never serious, but he was good with people. He had terrific people skills so by the time he got to Alaska cannery job, he was known to be a pretty good boss as well as he got along well with the hakujins so he kind of played a good role between the workers and the... so that, he got paid pretty well for that so it was pretty prestigious and because people wanted to go to Alaska and that's where Bill Marutani came in, and he was one of my dad's crew to go to Alaska.

LH: And let's save that for a little bit later, but your father came to Seattle and started working as the Alaska cannery foreman and in the meantime, what did your mom do?

MN: My father... actually that was only just before the war he got this good job, yeah.

LH: Oh, I see.

MN: Yeah. In fact, he smuggled into the country. He came to Canada. He worked there as kind of a maintenance, just anything he could possibly get. In fact, one time he told me -- I don't know if you want this story. We were at Sea Shelt and he said, "See this hill here?" He says, "We used to walk down this hill on the way to work every day, and one day on the beach there was a dead deer that washed up. And all the guys that were in this work crew, they saw it on the way there, and then on the way back they looked and it was still there. And they went back to their housing area, and they waited 'til it got dark, then they came back and they picked up the deer, brought it home, and they cooked it up and ate it. And I'm thinking wow. I don't know what to make of the story. Were they that hungry? Then I... it just dawned on me that they were still young men and young men are always hungry, [Laughs] but they waited 'til dark. They did not want to be caught picking up and letting people know how hungry they were so they waited 'til dark. That story always kind of haunts me a little when he told me that story.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

LH: So what kind of work was he doing up there?

MN: They were shingling. Apparently they go way up and my cousin later told me they go way up in the hills, and they do this terribly hard work of taking bark off a tree or something. They carried this thing all the way down, too. Apparently it was back breaking work and that's what this crew of Japanese men were doing, young men were doing, when they got there. Apparently they didn't last long... so, and then my father smuggled into the United States where he always wanted to be. Well, his father already was here.

LH: Oh. And so is that why he ended up in Seattle?

MN: Yeah. His father, see, was a youshi so by the time he ran the family business into the ground, he came to United States to make enough money to come back big, and then they lost track of him. So they couldn't send the oldest son. He was part of the carry-on-the-family-name. So they were just supposed to send my father, but my father was such a flake. They sent the third son over 'cause he was the more reliable one, and then he started a business and was getting established here so they kind of sent my father down to help him out and look for my grandfather, and they finally found him, apparently. And then... so he came down and met his brother and his father. My mom was actually born in Hawaii.

LH: So does that make, that makes you a Sansei?

MN: No, because I don't know if there is any records of her being born in Hawaii. There was a volcano or something and all the records were -- essentially though by culturally and everything else, she is Issei because when she was four, she went back to Japan so she has hardly any recollection. She does remember mangos and papayas. She remembers chewing a sugar cane and she remembers beaches with nobody on them, Waikiki. She remembers running around Waikiki Beach, but the family... there was a family... right on Waikiki, apparently, my grandfather had this dairy farm and hoof and mouth kind of got, I think wiped out the herd so Grandpa comes to mainland and sends his wife and the two kids back to Japan, and Mom stays there the whole time until she graduates high school. I don't know if it was high school or middle school she graduates then they finally bring her over. So culturally she is completely Japanese. So she's Issei in every other way except that she happened to be born in Hawaii.

LH: Does that mean that you grew up in a Japanese speaking household?

MN: Oh, yeah. Definitely. She spoke no English, but what's amazing is that Grandma was brought over to America before Mom was, so Mom was left in Japan to be kind of mistreated by relatives. Sounds like she had a kind of tough childhood, but meanwhile my grandpa and grandma have another child, my Uncle Shig.

LH: Over here in the United States?

MN: Yeah. Now, my uncle Shig is completely Nisei. In fact, when Grandpa died, he didn't even know how to oshouko. You know, what do I do with this? He's looking around. He does not know how to oshouko.

LH: Oshouko being the... can you explain that?

MN: The Buddhist offering of the incense and everyone's doing this, and he didn't know what to do with this little oshouko. He was 442. He was paraplegic. He was shot up in Italy, but so he's completely Nisei. So I guess it's kind of unusual in Japanese families to have two siblings, one completely Issei and one completely Nisei.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

LH: So your mom came over and she was living with their family?

MN: She comes over finally when she's kind of a -- I think she is sixteen, seventeen years old. She comes out to Wapato with the family, and she meets her little brother for the first time. And she's sixteen years older so this little brother could be her child rather than her brother. And then she finds out her older brother, who she grew up with in Japan, was kicked out of the house so she decides she's not going to stay there. So she...

LH: So what did she do?

MN: She leaves Wapato and comes to Seattle. Now listen, she's a late teenager and she doesn't speak the language. She said Grandma gave her a little money that had tucked away, and I don't know. And then she comes out to Seattle. She finally finds where her brother was staying only to find out that he's not there 'cause he went to Alaska to make some money over the summer, so...

LH: What did she do?

MN: Hotel manager let her stay in that hotel for a while 'til her brother came back, and so she plopped herself down and tried to learn how to speak English and tried to... [Laughs] I don't know. She's a spunky lady. They come from spunky people, but it was so neat that what I wrote about in her recollection of when her brother finally landed and she was getting ready to go out to meet their boat, and he had already been released so he comes running up the stairs saying, "Hisako, Hisako." And then it's almost like a movie. Isn't that neat that brother and sister could be that close to each other? Her brother and her were close. She never got real close to her parents because she really didn't grow up with them.

LH: And so how did your parents meet?

MN: Well, then her brother and her lived for a while, but they decided that they needed to put her in a different apartment, and I guess my uncle needed some privacy. And he talked to my mom and my mom said that when she was in Japan, she saw how alcohol had ruined so many families so she said if she ever gets married, she would love a man who does not drink. Well, my uncle had one friend who does not drink. [Laughs]

LH: And everybody else did. I see.

MN: I kind of get the feeling my uncle was kind of a Mafia kind of figure. I think he was one of the people that were not in the legitimate business and my mom was finally -- there was very few choices to make a living in those days and one of the things that she was, option that was available -- she said she don't want to be a waitress. People look down on waitresses and kind of demean them. She thought it'd be a good deal if she could learn to be a barber so she goes in to be an apprentice, and she finally finishes off her course and she's pretty happy and she's really to be a barber and her brother sets her up, I guess. And then she gets no customers and so she just kind of abashed... just kind of ready to make money and no customers. And so finally, apparently, customers start coming in and she finds out that her brother had recruited all his friends to [Laughs] -- and one of the friends he recruits to come in is this handsome, handsome man who happens not to drink, and I guess that's Dad.

LH: So it was a little set up?

MN: I think so, yeah. So we were teasing mom a lot of times, did your heart thump when you cut his hair? She says no, she just noticed he had very fine hair. She was always cool about this. [Laughs] She never said she fell in love with him or anything like that. She kept saying he didn't drink. That was his only good quality: He didn't drink. [Laughs]

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

LH: So your parents got married and the kids come along and how many kids are in your family?

MN: Four girls.

LH: Four girls.

MN: Are you taping now? Oh, are you taping now. You sneaky people. [Laughs]

LH: So where do you fall?


LH: So you have four sisters?

MN: Uh-huh. Oh, well, three sisters. There's four girls.

LH: There's four girls and where do you fall?

MN: I'm three, number three.

LH: You're number three. What are your sisters' names and...

MN: The oldest one is, her name is Kazuko. They called her Kazzie. We in the family call her Kai so she got all kind of names. [Laughs] And then the second one is Nobie, Nobue really. We call her Nobie. I'm Masako really. No one ever calls Masako. My parents called me Mako. I guess when I was a little kid I called myself Mako so I've been Mako all my life, and the youngest one is Minkie, Midori.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

LH: And so I'm trying the think of the time before the war and what was your family situation right before any outbreak of war? What was your family situation financially, etc.?

MN: I think for an immigrant family in that particular society at that time, we were pretty well off. We were not only well off financially, I think prestigious-wise because people wanted their sons to go to get a job with my father in the Alaska cannery. They would do little favors. We'd get little presents from people and so... and my father, he always liked people. He was always good with the stories, he was good with jokes, he loved to sing and so, I think that I remember life being kind of happy. In fact, and I hear stories about that time things were just going real well. Before that, before my father got settled, he was hard working, had to struggle to get, so he was kind of proud to have achieved this. I remember once he was telling a story where he was working as a waiter at the University Club, I think it was. And I guess some of the people came in, they were really obnoxious and they wouldn't leave and they were drinking until -- and so I guess what the guys would do is every time they'd bring out some dish for them, they would spit in it [Laughs] as a sign of protest. And I thought that was gross at the time, but then way later in my life I watched that movie Roots, and exactly the same thing. This lady says, "Go get me some water," and the woman is betrayed and she does not know how to express her anger so she spits in the water before she gives it to, I'm going hmm... sometimes you don't have a legitimate ways of protesting. You have to find some other ways of doing it, but before the war, yeah, my father had a good job with a cannery, and he was gone most of the summer so we had to survive. My mom had to survive, but she had a good mechanism. Her brother was around, and...

LH: Can I ask you about, you made a comment about your uncle being maybe a Mafia-type person. Can you explain why you think that?

MN: I don't know. I think that -- I'm not really a history bug, but there was people who exploited their own folks and kind of had a strong arm protection kind of a organization going, and it seems like there were more than one faction of it. And I think they were involved in gambling and protection and things that were not really legitimate. I don't know if prostitution was part of it or not, but...

LH: So what makes you think your uncle might have been part of this?

MN: Just the stories I hear, this little hush, little things and the fact that he was so dapper, the fact that he had money. I don't know. I get the feeling that it was -- well, I do know that being on the other side of law was not that big of a deal. The law did not really represent -- my father, during prohibition, was involved in bootlegging. My mother hates those stories to be told, but my dad used to kind of laugh at those stories and talk about one time he was in the front office where, and then the customers come in and buy the booze, okay? And he says the policeman came in so he yells real loud to people in the back, "Hey, they're here. They're here," and he says, "Kitazou, kitazou." And they, the people in the back thought they meant customers rather than police so they comes out with two different bottles, and they got caught red-handed. So apparently he spent some -- I was with papa in the I.D. once and he says, "This used to be the jail house. I was jailed here once," he says. "When I got out," he said, "Man, I wanted some gohan." And he says, "I went to the closest Japanese restaurant and sat down there and ate up." So he was not really ashamed of his stories. My mom was, "Shush." [Laughs]

LH: So he could do some of these activities and then also he would go up summers and be the foreman at the Alaska cannery?

MN: No. I think these were all kind of getting established to become the foreman. By the time he got married and became the foreman, I think he was pretty straight. He was pretty legitimate.

LH: So...

MN: War came along and kind of broke it all up.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

LH: So the war comes along in 1941 and then in February of the next year, in '42, the FBI comes to your household, pays a visit. What happened?

MN: It's a re-creation in some part in my -- the only part I directly remember is I think that I was kind of really impressed because it was first time I saw my mom cry. I think that was the very first time, and I'm thinking my mom crying and just kind of impressed me. But apparently they came very early in the morning and they kind of -- my mom went to answer the door and they kind of shoved her aside, not brutally, but shoved her aside, and then they kind of just stormed the house and shook my father, made him get up. When they started going upstairs, my mom shouted upstairs to my sisters who said get dressed, get dressed because one of my sisters loved to run around nude. And [Laughs] apparently the men thought that my mom was giving some kind of signal or something 'cause apparently they drew out their guns and rushed upstairs. And then they barged in my sisters' bedroom and asked my sisters if they have ever seen anything like this and showed them the gun. "Does your father have one like this?" And they said only the toy. My other sister remembers the men putting their hands through the sugar bowls and through the rice bowls, and she was thinking, "Oh, that's dirty" and apparently ransacked closets looking for things. My sister says they took away with them two items. One was my father's bow. My father apparently was really good with a bow and arrow, and he loved to show off how good he was. He always was good. We used to go to carnivals later on and he used to be able to shoot them down, but they took my father's bow and one sword that we had apparently.

LH: Sort of a souvenir Japanese sword?

MN: I think so. I don't know where we got it. I think it was a sword and the bow that they took and then took my father.

LH: So in the meantime while they were ransacking the house, what was your father doing?

MN: My father said that they watched him even doing morning toiletry. They would not give him any privacy. Then they got him dressed and then they pulled him in the car and drove him off so he didn't get a chance to say anything to the family. He was kind of in shock. He didn't know what he would have said anyway, but in some ways they were expecting it. The curfew was on and other people were being arrested so I guess in some ways it was not completely a shock, but still when that happens to you, you kind of think it's not going to happen to you. So he was somewhat prepared and yet very, surprised and he was taken away.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

LH: And where was he taken to?

MN: The immigration center here on Dearborn. I guess we knew that. My sister tells me that she, as being the oldest one in the family now, had to do the interpreting for my mom, and she found out where he was. And my mom insisted that my sister bring the pajamas down to my father. I don't know why it was so important to have pajamas, but she says while she was waiting to try to give pajamas, she would not let them take it and give with the promise to give it to my father. She wanted to give it to my father and she said there was a lady there next to her was saying that her husband needed medication and wanted to give his medication, and she was being refused. So that was very impressive in her mind that this lady couldn't even give medication, but they allowed my sister to finally give the pajamas to my father. As a minor triumph, I did it. Yeah, she came home, yeah...

LH: Oh, in person and your sister is how old at the time?

MN: She just turned eleven. It was on my sister's eleventh birthday. That day we were supposed to celebrate her eleventh birthday when they came and took him away.

LH: Gee, what was a surprise.

MN: Well, my father thought that they would go through some questioning and then he will be home in time for birthday cake. He really thought that if you answer the question, cooperate, he will be home in time for dinner and have birthday with the kids.

LH: And in reality what happened?

MN: Well, he wasn't reunited with the family for a couple years. Apparently we went down to the immigration office a couple times to see him. And so the story goes that one of the friendly guards teased me and slammed the bar gates closed and says, "Now you're a captive. You have to stay here," and kind of threatening me, just being funny. And apparently I ran to my father, jumped in his lap, and said, "Oh, good. I get to stay with Papa." And that's when Mama started kind of crying knowing that the innocence of kids kind of thing, I guess. And Pop remembers that story real well. He was so pleased to have me happy to be a prisoner so I could be with him. But apparently we got word that they were, he was going to be taken away from the immigration office and brought to who knows where. It turned out to be Missoula, Montana, but on that day my mom and us kids were behind the fence, and my father says he comes out and he sees us, and he doesn't ask permission to come to the fence to talk to us.

LH: Because essentially it's run like maybe a jail. Is that how is it?

MN: My sister says that she remembers these big balls on the leg irons. I don't know if that's true or not 'cause I never read anything where they put those balls on the leg irons, but she says she remembers that. It could be her imagination. But they were cuffed, apparently, and then they were supposed to board the train. And then my father turns around and sees us behind the fence -- this is my father's story when I was writing his testimony for him -- and he says it occurred to him to ask permission to go to the fence to see his family, but he doesn't. He turns around and he just starts slowly walking to the fence where his family is, and all the while he's walking there, he's kind of expecting that someone is going to stop him.

LH: A guard?

MN: Yeah. And he's waiting to be stopped and he finally walks all the way to the fence and nobody stops him, and then he looks and sees his wife and his kids and he doesn't know what to say 'cause he was concentrating completely on just being stopped and so when he gets to the fence, he looks and then he's really at loss for words. What do you say? And then he looks up and my mom's crying and then he says, "bakatare," he tells her. You know, what can you say? And then so by the time they call him and say he has to get onto the train, he's almost relieved 'cause he doesn't know what to say anyway so he just says, mumbles something like take care of your mom or something like that, and he turns around and starts walking back to the train to get on. And then he says he hears the kids calling him, "Papa. Papa." They were yelling to him and forty years later when my father is so deaf that he can't hear Japanese music anymore, he's telling me that, "Oh, Mako," he said, "I could hear my kids calling me, and I could just stop and I could hear very clearly my kids calling me." And that made me really sad 'cause he's so deaf he can't hear his music. [Laughs] And so I try to write that scene into his testimony and I couldn't do it. I just couldn't do it so I left that scene out, I mean as far as how he felt at that moment, but when I got to that part of the testimony, I got choked up 'cause this was my father and how could you hear a cry from your kids forty years later, but he did. 'Cause that was the first time it occurred to him that he might never see the family again.

LH: He had no idea where he was going?

MN: No, I don't think so. And he was moved around a lot after that, he went to Missoula, Montana. Then he went to Louisiana and he went to Santa Fe, and he was finally reunited with the family in Crystal City, Texas.

LH: Well let me ask you, why do you think it was that he was arrested by the FBI?

MN: Well, he was connected with the leadership of the community. Maybe his association with my uncle who probably was a shady character. I don't know. But he was pretty well respected 'cause he had this thing going with hiring a lot of young folks to go to the cannery so I think that he was probably considered a community leader, yeah.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

LH: So he ultimately ended up in Missoula and made his way through several camps. And in the meantime what happened to your family, because the Executive Order 9066 was signed a few days before his arrest, so what occurred in your family then?

MN: I think my mom just really had it tough. I think my father went through a lot of emotional different 'cause he was such an optimist. He just really always -- any minute now he was going to be released until he was, until that moment that he was put on the train. I think it didn't dawn on him that this is serious stuff. People were crying and worrying and he kept saying, "Oh, things will turn out. Things will turn out." And he'd go to sleep snoring and they wake him up saying, "The rest of us are really worried here and we appreciate it if you stop snoring." But I guess that was a turning point when he really started getting serious. So I think it was a more emotional thing for my father. My mom, she paid a high price. I think most of the Issei women paid just a dear, dear price with getting no recognition for the kind of pain that they went through. And not only was she in dire straits, she had four little girls. The oldest one was just eleven and the youngest one was just a baby yet, toddler yet, and they were all girls, well...

LH: So you how did she cope with this?

MN: I don't know. I really don't know. I kind of wonder where did she find the energy to try to pack up everything. And not only that, most of your friends are in the same shape you were in. They were not in any way to help you. The money was frozen so it was harder for her to -- I do recall a story where she went to one family and said that I know that things are tight now. It is for everybody, but if there is any possibility that you pay back some of the money that we loaned you, we would really appreciate it 'cause we're... apparently she made a plea like this 'cause this family owed my father some money. And she said she could have taken it if the family just says, "No. We just don't have any extra money now," but she said she was cold-bloodedly told, "We borrowed this money from your husband, not you." Part of the Japanese American community in those days were pretty brutal to woman that are single. Even today it's true in mainstream America, single woman have a harder hoe and now it doesn't matter how you got separated from your husband. My father was taken away, but Mom had a terrible time trying to -- I'm sure that she had to cope with a whole heck of a lot more than she ever told us about. But she's a tough lady. She made it through. Even her brother, who was her personal emotional support system, wasn't around then. I think he went into hiding 'cause he just, I was later told that he was one of the last people that were incarcerated. So even he, who was her mainstay support, wasn't around so I don't know how she did it. And then by the time that we really had to get on the buses to leave, the oldest daughter, the eleven year old, had to carry the baby and...

LH: Do you have much recollection of evacuation? You had to be maybe five?

MN: Five, yeah. I remember this music box that my uncle gave me, and I thought it was the most glorious thing. It was just a gift from heaven. It was just wonderful and somehow I was told I had to leave it behind, and I knew we were going somewhere and I'm not going to get back this music box and parting myself with this music box was agony. [Laughs] I don't know why. And I think somehow they slipped it into the goods later on 'cause I do recall it later. Either they replaced it or something, but I know that the separation from this music box was awful. I was going to be a musician of some sort and this was the beginning of my career. I knew that I would never be a musician if I could never have this little music box. [Laughs] That, I recall directly, yeah. The other thing I recall directly before camp is when Grandma died, and I remember when we were leaving for camp somebody says, "Isn't it nice that she died that she didn't have to go through this." But when Grandma died, the adults were in the turmoil and people were coming in and out of the house, and they told me that Grandma was in this little can. And they didn't tell me it was a joke in a funny way like adults sometime talk to kids. They were seriously telling me that Grandma was in this little can, and I knew that was ridiculous, but since they were telling me with that tone, I had said, "Okay. If Grandma is in that box, little can, let her out." And then everybody starting crying and that was dumb thing for a little kid to say kind of stuff. And I could never quite understand what that was. I had to piece that together way later [Laughs] what that was about. And then I remember just before camp, someone says, "Good thing she died that she don't have to be a part of this." That I remember. No, I can't remember much else of that.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

LH: So then your family, your mom and your four... the four of you children, ended up in Camp Harmony?

MN: Yeah.

LH: I see. Any recollection of Camp Harmony?

MN: I'm not so sure if it was Camp Harmony or if it was Minidoka, but I remember mud. Mud so bad that I had to hunch over and pull up my boots and put it down and then pull up the other boot and put it down. I was hunched over walking like a frog and, 'cause... one day I was not going to make it to the outhouse, which I was headed for, and somebody picked me up from the back, right out of my boots and I said, "Oh, my boots," and they put me back down and let me grab my boots again. So I grabbed both of them, walked me over to the boardwalk, and put me down. I was so grateful. [Laughs] I says, "Oh, thank you," and by the time I turn around to say thank you, this male was gone. And I remember feeling so badly that I didn't get to thank him, and I was so appreciative of that, but I remember that was the mud. That's the only thing that I remember. I think the rest of it, I remember the cold. I never saw icicles as thick and I never remember seeing icicles, the first time I saw icicles. I remember the cold and I do remember dusty. The cold was so bad they said, "Don't put your hands on metal because it'll stick," and I thought it will stick forever, and I'll be stuck to the metal for the rest of my life.

LH: Was this at Minidoka?

MN: I think that's Minidoka. The cold, really cold was Minidoka.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

LH: Do you have any -- kids can have pleasant memories of events that might be very painful for adults. They might sort out pleasant memories. Are there any pleasant memories that you have of either Camp Harmony or Minidoka?

MN: Chocolate covered graham crackers. That was a real treat, chocolate covered. Somebody did not eat theirs and gave me theirs, and I got to eat only my share as well as somebody else's, and I remember that just being just... I can't imagine why somebody would sacrifice their chocolate covered graham cracker and give it to me. I thought that was just great. I don't know why. Somebody had got a hold of a hamburger, and we cut it into three different pieces for all, no... we let my little sister go. She was sleeping, taking a nap or something, so the three of us cut this hamburger into three's and Mom said no, she didn't want any, and I got to eat a hamburger. I don't know why or where we got it from. I think this one lady was a nurse or something and she brought back a hamburger. In fact, she gave it to me, which made me feel so prestigious, and I shared it with my sister.

LH: And you were kind of enough to share it.

MN: Yeah. I shared it with my sisters. That was a pleasant memory, yeah. And I kind of wonder sometimes there was no chocolate and no bananas, is that the reason why I love chocolates and bananas today? [Laughs] Could be. I was a dancer. The Japanese dancing teacher lived in the block, barrack right behind us, and so I used to think that I was good. So I have pleasant memories of being pampered and told I was a good dancer. I remember feeling confident that I knew how to do this.

LH: Was this with the Hatsunekai over at Minidoka?

MN: Yeah.

LH: And that's the girls dance group?

MN: Uh-huh. We went to different blocks and put on performances.

LH: In costume?

MN: Uh-huh. The Hatsunekai Oshousan, she had special privileges, I guess. She had more goods than most folks, the wigs and the costuming and Hatsunekai Oshousan stuff. We borrowed things and put on shows for different, and that was pleasant. I knew I was good and I knew I entertained folks. And they used to say I used to wake up going, "Ching, tong, shang." [Laughs] In a way I think that that gave me a sense of audience that probably had something to do with my later career, choice of careers.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

LH: So over at Minidoka your mom and -- do you recall anything about your surroundings, the way things looked from a child's point of view at Minidoka?

MN: Minidoka, in my estimation, my recollection directly is pretty gloomy, though. I see spots of some fun things for kids and stuff, but I think as far as the family goes, my mother was bed ridden. After she took all her energy to get into camp, I think that her way of coping with all the things that were going around her was just to withdraw from society.

LH: Well, gee, if she's bed ridden, what happens to the four of you girls?

MN: Well, my older sisters kind of took over. They went to the mess hall, get the food, and bring it back to Mom. They catered the food from the mess hall to the barrack. My older sisters took care of the baby. We kind of had to kind of watch. I guess my sisters pretty much had to look out for us. My sister who was -- my oldest sister who was just a pampered little child. She was -- after eight miscarriages, my mom had this child who lived for nine months and then died so by the time my oldest sister came around, she was the most precious thing on earth, and so she's a pampered, pampered little child. And then my father is taken away and she's all of a sudden feeling she has to live up to responsibility of being the head of the household. I think that it must have been really tough on her. So between my mom and my sister -- I was just a kid so I don't know much about her -- but between my mom and my sister, they paid a high price. And then so, as far as filling the mattress with straw, my sisters did that. As far as getting -- they used to bring me to get the coals to put into the little pot belly stoves, but I wasn't much help I'm sure.

LH: Was your mom ill the whole time that you were at Minidoka?

MN: Seems like it. That's my recollection, that things were really gloomy. And there was a picture of my father that sat there and she used to refer to that picture quite often. She used to say, "Your father's not the same man. He's serious now and this episode has really made him a different person so you guys" -- kind of using that as a disciplinary thing -- "You're going to have live up to your father's expectation now." [Laughs] But he was in a suit and I thought that was my father. By the time we got reunited with my father, I didn't recognize him. And I wanted him to look like this picture, this distinguished looking man in a suit, behind the...

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

LH: Okay, when you say you were reunited, where were you reunited and when?

MN: I think my timing's pretty bad. I suspect that we were in Minidoka a couple years, and then there was some contact between Mom and Dad. And then my sister says that she thinks my mom had to declare that she's willing to be a prisoner of war and be shipped to Japan if the time came. She says that was the condition by which she could be reunited with dad. I don't know this at all, but my dad at that time was in Arizona, and they made some arrangements where they're going to get reunited in Crystal City, Texas, so we left camp, left Minidoka, and went to Crystal City, Texas.


LH: Okay. So you're in Minidoka. Your family is getting set to have a reunion with your dad, and you're allowed to go to Crystal City, Texas. And now can you tell me if you have any direct recollection of the time?

MN: It must have been a long trip from Minidoka to Texas. I don't remember much of it except one direct recollection is the train depot in Portland, and my sisters got to go up the stairs and go to the top and look down. And they came later on telling us how people looked like ants down there. "We saw you down there and you looked like ants," and I wanted to go up there so bad, but Mom wouldn't let me go. I remember the guards counting us, 1-2-3-4-5, counting us like that and all the Isseis grumbling that they counted us like pigs. It was so demeaning, when people point to you and count is 1-2-3. In Japanese you count bottles differently from the way you count sheets of paper from the way you count people, and you never count people rudely and demeaningly by just going 1-2-3-4. That was a big complaint aside from the food here and everything else. And I didn't think that was such a big deal, but I remember the Isseis thinking that was just so dehumanizing. I do remember the bus trip, I don't know from where, into the campgrounds, and Mom saying that we're going to see Pop soon. We're going to see Papa soon. There was a seats on both sides of the bus and then they had these little boards spread across the seats, and us little kids had to kind of precariously sit ourselves on these little boards so every time the bus bounced, you get slivers in your butt, [Laughs] and I wasn't too happy about sitting there. It was not comfortable and I'm hoping this bus ride will end pretty soon. And they say, "Papa's coming. Papa's coming." It was such big deal and next thing you know we pull into the campground. And these men are milling around and we're looking around to see which one is Papa and then I hear my sister saying, "There he is. There he is," and I'm looking around, and I see nobody that looks like this distinguished man in this picture. And when he finally comes to the window and he talks to my sisters and I'm thinking this is my father? I was so disappointed. [Laughs]

LH: Because you were about seven years old?

MN: I think so.

LH: And you haven't seen him for maybe two years?

MN: And I don't recognize him. I do not recognize him and my kid sister was scared of him, ran away from him. I was too big to run away from him. I wish I could have. I didn't like this man. [Laughs] He looked dirty and he looked kind of disheveled and I was expecting this handsome, distinguished, well-dressed, groomed man. And this man was a disappointment, but my sisters were hugging him and they were so happy to see him, and my mom looked pretty happy. And I tried to pretend like I was happy. I wasn't. It took me a while to really get used to him, and he was, he really was. He was very different from what I hear from my friends. He was a gentle person. He was a loving person. I guess later on when I took his story, the fact that the baby ran away from him just hurt him really bad. He said, "My own daughter, my own daughter is running away from me."

LH: Oh, your baby sister --

MN: Yeah.

LH: -- didn't recognize him at all or just didn't even know him.

MN: Yeah. She had a speech that we prepared her for. "Otousan, watakushi-wa Midori desu. Oukiku natta deshou." You know, "Father, I'm Midori, didn't I get big?" She made this speech perfect. We rehearsed her all the way up to where she said the speech, and she said that. She was so proud of herself, but by the time she finished, she had nothing to do with my father. She always ran away from him, and her recollection is she didn't like this guy. He was interfering with her mother. I wasn't too sure about him either, but I couldn't run away. I was too old to do that. But...

LH: How long did it take you to come around?

MN: I don't think it took very long because he was so compelling. He genuinely liked kids. I think the fact that he looked forward to having kids for so long. He always had a very soft spot in his heart for the old and the young and the disabled. He was always helpless... I guess partly, for the old, he left his mom when he was only eighteen years old, and he never saw his mom again after that so the old was -- he had a soft spot in his heart for his mother, I know that. But he used to read stories to me. We used to go to the swimming pool. I used to hang onto his back and he used to swim me across what I thought was a humongous swimming pool. He used to love to tell stories and so I got to the point where I started following him around. He used to go to the Shigin Club.

LH: Can you explain what a shigin is?

MN: It's a stylized singing, which is very foreign to our Western ears. So, but I mean, I grew up on it and it has a lot of control in the voice. And my father used to go to these clubs and sing and so I got to the point where I started mimicking him and so they let me sing at their recital. [Laughs] Because it was kind of anomaly, all those older people are singing these songs and this little kid comes and sings along with us. I was only seven years old so I was a pretty much of a ham when I was a kid, I guess. [Laughs] But the camp activities, yeah, there was sumou tournament. Our family was -- my recollection of the entire family was completely different. My dad was now with us. We felt like a family.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

LH: Well, so your mom wasn't very well at Minidoka. What happened to her in Crystal City then?

MN: She was just a vigorous, alive, fun person to be around. I liked her. The whole gloominess and tragedy and depression of Minidoka was just almost gone. She was a different woman and my father was there. She was just freer. She was open. She was light. She was fun.

LH: Were you able to be a family in Crystal City?

MN: Much more so. I think for one, we did not eat in mess halls. We had little duplex where in-between there was a bathroom, benjo, and then everybody cooked and ate themselves. So there was a sense of privacy, a sense of family. There was a sense of community. My dad's, one of his recollections was in Crystal, they called us Mr. Takahashi, Mrs. Takahashi. I guess that's not the way they were addressed before. We were just things. There was a much healthier sense. I know in Minidoka we had baseball games and we did -- I was part of the dancing troupe and there was entertainment at schools and stuff that people were involved in, but in Crystal a lot of it was much more ethnic. We had sumou wrestling matches.

LH: I was surprised to learn that about Crystal City that there was Japanese language and sumou and a lot of traditional Japanese arts encouraged.

MN: Uh-huh. We went to Japanese school after American school, and then we went to Japanese school all day Saturday and then we went to church on Sunday so there was school every day [Laughs] in one form or another. Lots of activities for kids that were programmed and it seemed like everybody was involved. My friend's father was what they call the police. He used to after sundown, I think nine o'clock, he used to make sure all the young people were in their homes, or something, keep the delinquency down. [Laughs] I don't know what the role of police was. My father was a butcher. Everybody kind of seemed to -- just I don't know. From my perspective and from what I read and from my sisters and from the tone, it was just a healthier, much healthier place. We were incarcerated. There was no doubt about that and the bitterness of the incarceration was there, but they were able to circumvent it somehow and live a pretty decent, closest to a community family life that was impossible in Minidoka.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

LH: Now, let me ask you, even though the Crystal City camp I've heard was considered maybe a model camp for, amongst concentration camps, how did your parents explain the guards and the fact that you were imprisoned to you? How did they make you understand?

MN: I don't think you can. I don't think they understood why they were in camp, that they understood it was wrong, that they shouldn't have been there and I think the bitterness of being imprisoned, but I don't think there was any attempt to explain to us because it was unexplainable. It's kind of a Japanese thing. It just is. How are you going to cope with it?

LH: So as a child you understand that there are guards that are guarding you or there are guards around the perimeter, and is it something you sort the take for granted?

MN: Yeah. If you're a prisoner in a concentration camp at seven years old, you think everybody is. I mean, you don't know your circumstances are so unusual. You have no idea to compare with anyone else's life so you just assume that this is life. No one tells you any different. You get an undertone of something is wrong. I know right out of camp, a librarian asked me how was it to be in camp, and I know that my answer I thought was a correct answer. "It was fine, ma'am." That was what I was supposed to say when an adult asks me, I was supposed to put the best foot forward. And then she turned around and told her assistant, "You see, some people in camp enjoyed it," and I felt betrayed. That was not the response that she was supposed to give her assistant. She was supposed to compliment me on what a nice young lady I was to make the proper positive remark was what I was expecting her to compliment me, but not to say -- 'cause I knew that camp was not a place where all of us were happy, where it was pleasant to be. That was not a good thing and I think that the lady was sincere. So I started getting a little cautious about how do I respond to this. I wasn't sure. It was confusing to me. Why? I don't think my mom or dad ever explained to me why I was in camp. I don't think anybody ever did. I think it came kind of slowly, started to talk to people, started to listen to people, and to wonder to what point -- like a victim of rape. Is it okay to talk about? Do you bring more harm? Do you bring more denigration to yourself by admitting that something bad happened to you? You really don't know so you kind of let it go.

LH: So by the time that you were in camp as a child, you perhaps had some sense that there was something wrong about the situation, but couldn't quite understand it?

MN: Yes. Definitely something's wrong, but you don't know why it's wrong. You don't know if your parents did something wrong. You don't know what's wrong, and it's very vague. I don't think you could articulate it.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

LH: So in later years when you look back at it and you think about your situation being... imprisoned?

MN: Yeah. Yeah, I was a prisoner. In fact, I was a POW. I was a prisoner of war. If there was exchange of soldiers, American soldiers for people in the United States, I would have been part of that group. And isn't that amazing?

LH: Can you explain a little bit about that situation?

MN: I don't know much about it. You got to talk to the, technically, apparently I asked Tets Kashima, the guy at the University of Washington, and I said is it true that technically I was a prisoner of war and he said yeah, that was true. So I don't know really know what took place, but it was potentially true that if there was exchange, I would have been on it. My mom and dad did not give up their citizenship to Japan. They were not willing to disavow the emperor of Japan. They were very loyal to Japan. They thought the emperor -- they thought Japan was going to win the war. I mean, this was their country. They always planned to return to Japan. Now, we had different ideas, apparently. We had friends here and stuff. It wasn't really a loyalty question. We didn't know what loyalty to Japan or America was all about, but my parents were pretty -- I remember my mom saying she will die for the emperor and I was wondering what would the emperor want with her life? [Laughs] I guess it's not politically correct to say that your parents were loyal to Japan at that time, but I think my parents were. They had no reason to be loyal to America. America would not allow them to become Americans, anyway. Now, my father later on felt grateful, very grateful, for America to allow him to stay here and tried to get a citizenship, but he had a hard time learning the names of the thirteen original states. And we drilled him for a while, but he finally gave up. He was not a tenacious-type student. [Laughs] He was too fun loving, but he tried to become a citizen later on.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

LH: Well, let me ask you, because they had Japanese school at Crystal City, but then, of course, they have regular elementary school. And in hindsight, you think about maybe reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Is there any irony to you in that?

MN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. In fact, I tell audiences quite often now that I learned to pledge allegiance to the American flag while I was behind the barb wire fences of the American concentration camp. And I do really wonder, did the teachers of that time, were they aware of the irony of those statements "with liberty and justice for all" to me? I learned those words when I was in camp. Were they aware? I don't really know. I guess I'll never know if they just taught it rote or if they were aware of it or not. I know that some of the teachers were known to be kind, nice people. I have no idea whether they were aware of the political situation at the time when they were teaching us. I guess I'll never know, but after I became a teacher and became a principal and I used to go from classroom to classroom and do the morning exercise, "I pledge allegiance to the American flag," it always strikes me as a little bit ironic that here I am learning, I learned it in camp. I'm teaching it to kids, and I think we have to teach more than just rote memory of ideal words. We got to give people what that means to lose that privilege and lose that freedom, what we need to do to live up to those beautiful words. I think so. I don't know. I have no idea if the teachers were aware of it or not. I've always been curious about that, but I do share that with teachers quite often because I think teachers should understand that we got to do more than teach words, man. We got to teach the spirituality of American democracy and fair play.

LH: When did you first start to feel like an American? Was it at these grade schools at Crystal City?

MN: At first it was a defensive thing. People used to come when I was kid right out of camp saying, "Are you Japanese or Chinese?" That was a more polite thing. Sometimes it was not so polite, and I knew that if I say Chinese, I would get away okay, and if I said Japanese, it was a wrong answer. And you get tired of being wrong and then you learn how to say, "I'm American." So you say, "I'm American," with that tone. It's not acceptable. People say, "That's not what I mean." I don't know what they meant. It was just the mood of the times. And so when I first said I'm American, it was kind of a belligerent way of getting out of saying, having to admit that you were Japanese.

LH: Was there something wrong attached with being Japanese?

MN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I don't know what, but it was wrong, yeah. And meanwhile at home your parents are telling you proud to be Japanese so you are getting kind of conflicts, confusing, kind of...

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

LH: Yeah, I guess that's a puzzle for me because here you are, you've been raised as a Japanese, essentially a Japanese child in a Japanese-speaking household for most of your childhood, although you are speaking English at camp and you're learning the Pledge of Allegiance and patriotism at elementary school. So where do you learn your sense of which country you sort of belong to or which culture you sort of belong to? I mean your parents, were they also thinking that after they get out of this camp, they were going back to Japan, no doubt?

MN: I think they came originally with the idea -- at least my father came originally with the idea of going back to Japan at one point in his life. I don't know about my mom. I kind of suspect that this was more or less going to be her home, probably. She didn't have much ties back in Japan, but it was not either/or. My father used to always talk about the beautiful way of the American white people. He had a lot of admiration for them. It was not necessarily, it was at a cost to Japanese. We used to hear about Japanese heroes and Japanese stories and history and our family stories and stuff like that, but it was never at a cost. When we went to school and came home with ideas, my father used to always say, "Yeah, American principles and democracy are really mighty fine. American's idea of equality is mighty fine. They don't always practice it, but it's always fine." [Laughs] He was much more into the mainstream society than my mom, and he had a, he had a profound respect for it. In fact, when he made his testimony for the commission, his very last two sentences in the commissioner's testimony is, "It takes a great country to admit its own mistakes and make proper restitution." And he says, "I know that America has this greatness." That was my father's cockeyed, optimistic thinking and that's, I think that reflects his confidence in America so unfortunately the two countries were at war, and he had to come down and state his loyalty to the emperor. That's his culture, that's how he grew up, that's his education. He didn't think there really was much of a breach between that and what we were. I didn't think so.

LH: So despite the fact that they pledged their allegiance to the emperor, because of that were they treated one way or the other in camp?

MN: I think that there were a lot of the conflicts of who was loyal to Americans and who was loyal to Japan and it became an issue. But my father's thinking was really that it's understandable. Some people would say that they are really for the Japanese government and yet the American soldiers would come home and make a visit and they'd dash over. And some people criticize that and if they were really so loyal to America, for Japan, how come they were welcoming this American soldier? I mean, those things are so silly. My father used to say, "They are silly. A son's a son. I don't care what uniform he's wearing." My father was kind of a philosopher in his own way, and he says, "No, no. There are more important things than country is your son." [Laughs] Apparently there was a lot of conflict among the adults on what were your loyalties lied and how you expressed it, to what extent that you were willing to do it. We had no sons in your our family so there was no 442, but my uncle now, my mother's brother was a 442 and he came to visit us in camp once, and I remember him wearing a uniform and I didn't know the difference. I didn't know whether... we welcomed him. He became a paraplegic. He lost his ability to walk for the rest of his life. He had just the one child and I think that people in different walks of life pay dearly. To me, the heroes are the people who tried to bring as much comfort and honor to as many people as possible and people did that in different ways. I think some people were called upon to make a bigger sacrifice, though. For me, the Japanese women are the most terribly unsung heroes.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

LH: Crystal City, could you give me a little description about the kinds of people that were in Crystal City?

MN: There was us, the Americans, the Japanese, our parents' age. There were Germans, definitely. There were Japanese Peruvians.

LH: When you say Germans, were those German Nationals or German Americans?

MN: I think they were German Nationals. They seem to be much closer to -- there were some kids of German ancestry there, but I think they were German Nationals. I really don't know. There were Germans in camp. How they got there, who they were, I'm not so sure. Later on I find out there were Latin people there too, I mean, Italian people there too. I don't remember Italian people being there, but this is what the college professor is telling me that there were some Italian people there. But we used to later on get movies in camp and we saw Japanese movies, American movies, Spanish movies, German movies. We used to get movies in all different languages. [Laughs] It was really weird because we used to love these obake movies, these ghost movies, Japanese. They were so scary and I remember the Spanish ghost stories are just, really just frightened the heck out of us. We didn't understand the language as much, but the communication were there. They were scary Spanish movies.

LH: And they were in Spanish because of the Japanese Peruvians that were at the camp?

MN: Uh-huh. And isn't it funny? In camp, there was a lot cross cultural sharing. My dad came home when he was butchering with the German butchers, he came home and told us that the German people had mythology all around the badger, too. We used to hear all kinds of Japanese stories about the tanuki, but apparently the Germans kind of treat the badger in the same kind of mythological story telling way that we do, that we did. It was kind of funny.

LH: So did you actually play with German children and with Japanese Peruvian children?

MN: Yeah. My recollection about -- my direct recollection is I used to kind of... the little kids, the Peruvian kids were little. I don't remember any Peruvian kids in school with me. I can't. Just none of my friends. I can't remember them among my friends. I do remember my one encounter with a German girl. I don't know why she had no hair, and she was harassing my kid sister at the playground so I had to stand up against her somehow, and we get into a silent hand-to-hand battle. She had advantage over me 'cause she'd grab my hair, and she didn't have any hair for me to grab onto. And we had this silent struggle between us and pushing and shoving, and we finally got pushed apart. And we both kind of started for a minute kind of wondering are we going to hit it again, and I guess about the same time, we just quit and turned around and left. And that was the first and only battle I ever had with a person that was physical. [Laughs] And I remember her. I don't remember her name, I just remember the one incident from camp.

LH: So your memories of Crystal City are -- could you compare Crystal City to Minidoka? Just in general...

MN: Oh, night and day, just night and day. For one, our family was back together. That meant a lot to everybody in the family. So my mom was out of bed. She was happy. She was just great. My father, he was not -- he never turned into the stern man my mom said that he was going turn into. [Laughs] One of the first things that the kids did was open up his suitcase and found that he had comic books, and that was so delightful because my mom says my father is so serious. He's not going to tolerate us reading comic books anymore, and he had comic books. [Laughs] The entire atmosphere was different. There really was a sense of community. There was all kinds of activities. We had sumo wrestling. We had shiginkai, we had... I was involved in Japanese shibais, plays. The schools were involved in stuff. The churches were involved. My sister used to wake up at 5:00, 5:30 in the morning, and go to taisou classes where they would exercise and keep their body fit. It was, my memory of Crystal City actually is a happy, happy memory. The family was happy, everybody. The surroundings seem to be functioning. There was no gloom and despair and ugliness that there was in Minidoka. To me it was a fun time.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

LH: So when the time came when your family told you it's time to go back to Seattle or it's time to leave camp, what did you make of that?

MN: There was a lot of arguments going on between my mom and dad. That was the first time I remember Mom and Dad arguing is what we should do out of camp and when should we leave. I guess we were one of the last ones to leave camp. My autograph book says 1946, early 1946 somebody signed my autograph book. So my mom wanted to repatriate to Japan. She thought it was a duty of a Japanese citizen to go back to Japan. My dad felt that, he felt like he was being disloyal. He felt like he was forsaking his own country, but he really thought that the opportunities to survive were much better if we came back to Seattle, and he felt a little guilty, but he thought that was the more practical solution. So that's the first time I remember Mom and Dad arguing. My mom was fearful that, how life would be back in Seattle after all this anti-Japanese. We were aware of a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment.

LH: Even you, as a child, you were aware of this?

MN: Yeah. Yeah. I remember when they were having arguments, one of the things that they would say, "What if even a black person looks down on you?" Even a black person looks down on you. "How are you going to be able to handle it?" We heard of housing shortage, apparently. I had no idea the specifics, but I know there was a lot of anxiety on my mom's part as far as returning to Seattle. There was a lot of anxiety on my father's part. In fact, downright fear about going to Japan.

LH: Was there any fear or apprehension on your part, being a child?

MN: I kind of suspected my parents going to have handle it, but it was sad to see some of my friends leave, and I thought that I might never see them again. And we pressed flowers and put into each other's books and we signed autographs and stuff. It was, I remember being very sad that the departure from people that you got to know and got to like, yeah. And we had to keep saying good-bye to a lot of folks because they were the one leaving and we kind of stayed, hung in there to pretty much the very end.

LH: Do you know why that was?

MN: I thought it was because Mom and Dad couldn't decide. Partly could be that there was a housing problem and we needed some way to make sure that this, some way to at least temporarily be housed when we got back. There was a lot of apprehension, and I don't know the specifics, but you could feel the tension. Up until then, life seemed to be pretty idyllic, a lot of smiles and then things got sober just before we were let out of camp. I felt the tone. I don't really know what it was that was setting this tone.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

LH: When you returned to Seattle, what did you make of it? You were how old? Eight years old or so?

MN: Yeah. I was about that age, yeah.

LH: Okay, if you are eight years old and you're coming back to Seattle, did you return to your former home?

MN: No. No. We were renting our home so there was no home to come back to.

LH: Oh, where did you go?

MN: There was a family who had a room in an apartment building, I think, that they owned and they let us move in with them in their unit. And they had three kids and we had four so it was obvious that we were an imposition and they were pretty well to do. They sure looked like they were fabulously rich from my perspective. They had a piano, a private piano. Wow. We stayed with them for a while, but it was kind of obvious they were scrambling around trying to find a place to live, and they finally had a little house right there in the Central area that a Japanese man owned and we rented out the house.

LH: And what happened to the belongings that, any belongings that you had before the war?

MN: I don't know. I suspect... I don't remember much of any goods in the way of materials that survived. We didn't have much of old things. We have albums of pictures of my sisters when they were kids. That, we have and that had to be old, but nothing much else other than that that I remember from before camp days so I figure we must have lost it. I don't know how we lost it or where we lost it, but I don't remember recovering anything, though.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

LH: So how did your family, your mom and dad, resume life back to normal?

MN: I think it was terribly difficult. I know that my dad scrambled around trying to look for a job for quite a while. And the first job that he was offered, for sure, was a -- what do you call? Orderly at Providence Hospital, and a couple of his friends came by and said an orderly is a person who takes care of the urine. You cannot be an orderly. You're a community leader. You're a person of prestige and can't lower yourself to be an orderly, and my father says he has to feed his family and that's the first job that's offered him so he was going to accept it. And apparently a couple of the people got together and said that this cannot be, and they pooled their money together and helped him come up with a grocery store, and that's the first. So he did not take the job as a orderly. I remember some conversations between the adults saying that you have to say you're Chinese to get a job. You can't get a job if you admit that you're Japanese. The kids at school used to tease you, "Are you Japanese?" I have to surmise what all that meant in societal terms, but if you're a man who has a pretty good job and comes back -- my dad said he had $4,000 in the bank before he left for camp, and when he came back he says it had dwindled down to $200. That's what he had out of $4,000. Must have been quite a nest egg in those days, but it was down to $200. He said he was never given any money to leave camp. He said other people were given money to leave camp, at least to travel back home. He said he wasn't. I don't know how he missed out on it. And God, when you have no more means of supporting your family, you got four little kids, I mean, that has to be hard, really hard. And it sounded like my father's friends are the ones who encouraged him not to take the job of orderly, but what does my father have to go through to be considered a good looking, prestigious, well-liked person to kind of give up some of that role and accept a job as a orderly? I don't know what that means to him. I think he was willing. He thought his family was worth it.

LH: So in the meantime, what happened to your family, your mom and the four of you girls?

MN: My mom was going to go back and try to reestablish and see if she could be a barber again. So I remember we bought a barber chair and we were kind of concerned. I remember there was some conversation about mom only cut Japanese hair. Can she cut white hair and black hair? And then there was a matter of black hair is very different from Japanese hair, and there was some conversation along that line. I was wondering how different is black hair from our hair? I didn't know any different, but she never did pursue that. We bought this chair and we had a lot of fun playing in the chair I remember, [Laughs] but she never really went back and picked that up. And then meanwhile dad left the grocery business and went into a pool hall, started a pool hall business.

LH: That's quite a departure.

MN: Yeah. A pool hall business in the I.D. and as they were painting up this pool hall, I thought a pool hall was a swimming pool and I could not imagine how they were going to put a swimming pool in this little part. And I found out that pool hall meant something quite different than what I had imagined. And my father was probably a very good foreman. He probably was. Well, he was not a good business person. He just was not tenacious enough to stay with a job. So he went from the pool hall. He got into the business of salmon again, some kind of a middle man for salmon. He started a Japanese movie business, kind of as a side line at the beginning. He started the moyashi, the bean sprout business. He got into a whole heck of a lot of things. Toward the end the mainstay business was a Japanese movie business, but he never made money. He exploited the rest of us kids. We helped him with every business he had. He got free labor out of us and he still couldn't make any money. [Laughs] He just kind of subsisted, but the movie business kind of gave him identity anyway. So he used to take the Japanese movies and go to the Hirabayashi Nursing Home and show movies to the old folks there. He used to say that he couldn't do anything for his mother so he's doing something for the old folks. After the war we got a telegram that his mother died. That was really sad because when our other grandma died or any time we had a loss, we all kind of grieved together. When my father lost his mother, none of us knew her, not even my mom 'cause she's never been to Japan, so, and he had never been able to go back to Japan to meet her again. And I kind of suspect that my father was one of her favorite sons, and we all wanted to grieve with him. We felt so sad for him, but we couldn't do what we usually do, you know, tell stories to each other about what a wonderful person they were or anything like that. I says my poor father had to grieve all by himself. That made me real sad that we could not share his grief with him. That was hard for him.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

LH: So his, it sounds like you were fairly well off before the war, comfortable.

MN: Oh, yeah. Uh-huh.

LH: But then after the war, it was tough for him to get a business going.

MN: It was tough. We had a hard time. There was very little money in the house, but at the same time as poor as we were, Mom and Dad apparently very regularly sent stuff back to Japan.

LH: To...

MN: To help out the relatives in Japan, to his family. Her family, we didn't have much contact with, but did send warm clothing and food items and soap items. We used to send stuff back to Japan and I don't know. Gee, Mom and Dad had so very little to give, and they still found things to give. I admired that in them. That's when giving is really generous, when they have so little themselves and they still gave. And I guess that stayed with me that they were able to do that sometimes even at our expense, which I resented at one time in my life. He bought me a radio once that I was so proud of. I got a real radio all for myself, and then he had some friends come over and he came and asked me will I relinquish the radio and let him give it as a gift to his friend. I said yes, but I didn't want to part with that radio. [Laughs] And I don't know what it took for him to come up and ask me, but he had to give things away. He did. He did a lot of giving and in a way, I guess, I feel that way. I like to give things away, but I chuckle at myself. When I give things away, it's not like when Dad did. When he had so little and times were so tough and he still gave, and if I was in his shoes, I don't know if I'd be that generous. [Laughs]

LH: So even in times when it was hard for him to get going again after the war, he still found a way to be generous.

MN: A lot of sharing, yeah. And I never thought of that just as my father. My father was always impetus, but my mother always went along with it. And the whole community was always willing to do one extra thing to help each other. There was a lot more community.

LH: Than now?

MN: It's not me and mine, it's us. There was more of a -- survival meant that you have to look out for each other.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

LH: So from that time, how did you personally survive? You're coming back and you go to school.

MN: Yeah.

LH: How did you handle that?

MN: Well, my mother thought that camp schools was inferior so she put me back a grade, and I thought that was okay until I found that she didn't put any of my sisters back a grade. [Laughs]

LH: Just you.

MN: Yeah. I think she didn't have too much confidence in my intellectual abilities.

LH: What grade did you enter?

MN: Third grade, I think. And I was really so embarrassed that I was older than my peers. I don't know why that was a big deal, and I went to the fourth grade. I skipped either the fourth or fifth grade. I kept telling my teachers that I think I'm too old to be in this grade level so they let me skip one grade, and I was so relieved that now I was with my own peers. [Laughs]

LH: Now, let me ask you did any of the other kids ask you where'd you come from?

MN: There was two other kids in my classroom that were Japanese Americans, and I get the feeling that the teachers were pretty well briefed on the situation, and I think they were very, very careful trying very hard to make sure that we felt comfortable. I thought they did a good job for those days. I remember, though, one of the things that, a poem that I memorized in the third grade. Did I tell you this poem? It's: "The little Indian, Sioux or Crow, little frosty Eskimo, little Turk or Japanee, oh, don't you wish that you were me? You have seen the scarlet trees and the lions overseas, you have eaten ostrich eggs, and turned the turtles off their legs. But such a life is very fine, but not so nice as mine. You must often as you trot, a wearied not to be abroad, you have curious things to eat while I am fed on proper meat. You must dwell beyond the foam while I am safe and live at home. Little Indian, Sioux or Crow, little frosty Eskimo, little Turk or Japanee, oh, don't you wish that you were me?" You know who that's written by? Robert Louis Stevenson. And I memorized it in the third grade, and I remember trying to get enough courage to go tell the teacher something is wrong with this poem. And I remember being very anxious and scared about that, and I remember walking up to her, at that point my mind goes blank. I don't know what I said. I have no idea what I said, but I remember her response to me was, "Oh, that's okay, Masako dear. You're an American now." [Laughs] Yeah.

LH: Interesting.

MN: Yeah. And so I remember that incident. I remember that poem and later on in my school years, I use that poem as trying look back and trying to teach, and we really use that as a lesson trying to teach little kids. Will you listen to this poem? Can you try to understand why some people might object to this poem? And try get some sensitivity going on, and yeah...

LH: So at the time you sensed that something was wrong, but it was hard for you to articulate what exactly what it was?

MN: I don't know if I articulated. I don't know what I said. I just know that I was uncomfortable with it, and I don't know what I said to the teacher.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

LH: So throughout your school years, were there any other times when maybe this sort of sense of your identity may have come up?

MN: Oh, there was insensitivity, but it's true with everybody. I remember once when somebody, a substitute teacher came in and, "Masako, Masako, is he here?" And all of kids twittered because it was not used to Japanese. So every time they come across it, they can't say it. They trying to call your name. We used to sing these different songs. You know there are (songs), if translated in Japanese, it would be kind of embarrassing songs. You had a lot of those kind of stuff going on. Nothing really serious. There were undertones, though, definitely. You knew you were different. You knew that sometimes -- my closest friend was a little white girl, and I was invited -- I walked her home one day and her mother was home, and she invited me to stay for dinner. And I kind of felt honored. This white family was asking me for dinner, but I knew I couldn't stay. I mean, I just knew I call my mom and let her know and ask her permission. So I came home and explained to my mom that I was invited to stay for dinner and her kind of response is wow, some white families don't mind. That kind of thing so the breach was always there. It wasn't as overt. I remember, now I don't even know if this is true. I recall a ugly look on this woman's face and she spit on my mother's coat saying, "Jap."

LH: And when was this?

MN: I don't know when. At this point in my life, I don't even know if it really happened, but that gut-wrenching, vile in my mouth, that's real. I don't know if I dreamed it or when it happened, or what happened, but I know my mother just didn't do nothing. She just walked right over to the bathroom and got a paper towel and wiped it off and didn't even look at me. I don't know if that's real or not. [Laughs]

LH: Okay. There might be some who view this tape and would say okay, here's an example of where somebody just was insulted and didn't react or didn't reciprocate. And then they might say in the broader sense that okay, the Japanese Americans that were incarcerated, why do they take the insult? Why do they take --

MN: I've heard that. It always makes me mad when I hear that.

LH: Well, what would you say to that?

MN: You're blaming the victim. [Laughs] I mean, it's like why didn't you leave your husband when he was beating you? I mean, the problem is not why didn't you leave your husband when he was beating you, the problem is why do your husband beat women? That's the problem. We're looking at the wrong set. People react in different ways for all their experiences and reaction. You can't blame the reactor. You have to blame the perpetrator. The fault of the action is not the victim, it is the perpetrator, and we have to make sure that -- and we start looking at ourselves. Why did we do that? Some of us think that because we were cowards. We start blaming ourselves and it's always the onus of the victim to start saying what's wrong with us and after you get through, what's wrong with us, you start hating the opponent. Whether you hate yourself or hate your opponent, it is -- breaks down, it is a dehumanizing, negative thing to do.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

LH: So how did you come to this realization from thinking about maybe this experience or recalling a feeling about this experience with your mother. How did you come to terms with that and turn it into some response where -- or some realization that it's not just a feeling of anger and how did you turn that around into your current philosophy?

MN: It's being able to identify. See, when somebody says, "Jap," and spits on my mom, that hurts more than if they spit on me. That should never happen to my mom, never. And you hang on to the injustice of it all, and you try to say where does this come from? It does not come from white people. It comes from bigotry. It comes from ignorance. It comes from hate. It comes from stupidity. It comes from a lot of other things, but these bad, lousy traits are not color bound. They are not just white folks. Everybody... stupidity comes in all colors. Love comes in all colors. Let's pinpoint much more closely what the problem is. The problem is greed. The problem is fear. The problem is -- let's pinpoint that and then have the courage to say how much of that do I hold? We're all kind of vulnerable to having this thing. When somebody calls you ugly name, you call them back and you get into this kind of a deal. I think we have to look at it a little bit more openly. This person who has to feel superior by calling my mom a name like that and spitting on her probably got some problems, too. And we can hate, hate and bring ourselves down, or we can start saying where, we're all part of human race. How can we reduce this kind of thinking? How can we help each other so we can all live with more dignity and peace and pride. And I think we got to get beyond who to hate. If we just get more articulate on who to hate, we haven't solved the problem. We got to start reaching out and saying how to start... I tell folks, I think -- and I'm not so sure I can do this all the time -- I think the only real way to eliminate hate is to smother it with love. You know? I think that's true. I think that's true intellectually. Can I really be able to adapt that emotionally? That's my challenge. That's what I got to do. That's hard. It's easy for me to just point who the problem is, and I think though if we do that, we're really going to go down a very scary trail. The earth is shrinking and we have hate all over this world, whether you're talking about the Protestants and Irish, or the Arabs and the Jews, or Rwanda or Pakistan, it doesn't matter. It's all other the world we have this kind of hate going on.

LH: So how did you get from your mother, the incident with your mother, how did you... where in your life, in your childhood, where did you decide?

MN: You're a tough lady. [Laughs] I don't think it's a one thing incident. It just keeps coming very slowly. You keep thinking this over and over and over again, and you kind of come to different conclusions. What? How can I zero in a little bit more? You go to see little babies and look at their innocent eyes and their different color skin. Do they really think that? I mean, where does this hatred start from? Where does this intolerant hate and actually it's so easy to blame other folks, but you start looking at it and when you are fighting the enemy, fighting the enemy, you look in the mirror and the enemy finally is you. You can't fight the enemy without becoming the enemy, and so when you hear the same stories over and it keeps coming to the same conclusion, then you start getting closer and closer to the philosophy that says wow, those people you admire, whether the it's the teaching of Christ or Buddha or Gandhi or Sister Mary Theresa, I mean Mother Theresa, what are all of these people that are admirable people. What do they do, and they embrace humanity with lots of love and those are -- and I figure I can never be Gandhi or Mother Theresa, but I can in my small way try to emulate some of the teachings that they say, just do small things and do it with lots of love is what Mother Theresa says. I figure okay, I'll try. I'll try one more time.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

LH: Let me ask you then, is...

MN: Am I getting too philosophical for you?

LH: No, no. Let me ask you, then, was your experience with the camps, did that have any influence on your career choice?

MN: Probably. When I think back and try to make a line, it probably did in several ways 'cause as you start reading the history that I was involved in, actually in body, when my recollection of camp is singing the song in front of an audience, but that wasn't camp. Camp was a heck of a lot more man that. A lot of people suffered and the losses and the sorrow and it was just horrendous. And as I read these stories and I figure I was part of this history, and then you start identifying with some of the stories and as that comes, you need to deal with that somehow. And I was lucky because by the time I started becoming conscious of this and dealing with it, it became okay to do so almost at the same time. I guess I just lived in the nice timing of it all. It's really true. When I first gave assignment at the university college students and I told him to go and find somebody who was in camp and interview them for feelings that they had at the time, kind of like you, what you're doing with me, when I first gave that assignment to college kids, I got a lot of flack from people. Why are you bringing this up? You're embarrassing the community.

LH: Well, who were the people that were giving you flack?

MN: The parents of some of the college kids that I gave this assignment to. They said, "Let well enough alone. You're raking over dangerous coals. You should not be giving this kind of assignment to my kids. You're poisoning their mind. You're making them anti-white." I mean, that kind of statements came at me quite regularly. I could almost predict that's going to happen next quarter when I give the same assignment. [Laughs]

LH: So what was your response to these parents?

MN: Don't participate. I'm sorry you feel this way. We feel it is part of education is dealing with the truth. No, we're not trying to make your kids anti-white, but I think sometimes it's part of the process to just kind of vent and scapegoat yourself, too. And we try to help kids get beyond that to start looking, but I think that in order for us to deal realistically with trying make a better future, we have to look at our past a little bit more honestly.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

LH: Well, this brings me up to your work with the Seattle School District and the Multicultural Program. And we're skipping over a broad period so can I fill in just briefly that in the meantime you went to school here in Seattle and you got married, had children, did quite a bit of travel around the world and taught in several different countries. And then you ultimately settled back in Seattle, starting having some kids. Okay. And you were at the point where you are deciding to go back and further your education. Is that how -- do I have the time line right on that?

MN: We came back from Saipan and I finished my college degree, right. I was a pretty old lady by then, yeah. [Laughs]

LH: And so then when did you start getting involved in the multicultural program?

MN: I started teaching in '66 and that summer, there was a project that Seattle schools was putting on on doing a minority something. And my principal recommended me to be part of that because I was outspoken. [Laughs]

LH: Really?

MN: I think I was, like, kind of a loud mouth. I thought it was my duty to tell people. [Laughs] Oh, yeah it was kind of '60s mentality. I was very much influenced by this protest '60s movement. That was, the '60s movement was a big influence on my life as well. Martin Luther King, Martin Luther King to me at first he was a black man with a lot of balls, but he was doing something for black people in the South. That's kind of what I thought and when it finally dawned on me that this man was talking about all oppressed people and that included me, it was an eye opener for me, and it's okay for me to be who I am. If African Americans could be -- if black is beautiful, then we started saying hey, is yellow beautiful, too? It was an eye opener. Another thing that really helped me that you might laugh at is John Mitchell's wife, Martha Mitchell. Well, I thought this was a wife of a very, very prestigious, prominent white man, and yet I thought she was an idiot. That was my opinion of her at the time, and she could say what she wanted to say even though she is married to attorney general. Well, if she could say whatever she wants to out of her mouth with freedom and her husband hold a position like he does, then that kind of freed me up to say whatever I wanted to say. [Laughs] And the women's movement came into play. I started kind of playing around with the women's movement. I thought that was fascinating and I went to couple of NOW organizational meetings, and I thought I am going to join the women's organization, and the very first beginning of the women's organization was very, very racist. [Laughs] It was patronizing, racist, and I had a hard time with the women, but after I went with the women for a while all the sexist statements and sexist this, and I come back to JACL and stuff and I thought they were so sexist. I didn't belong in either camp for a while, [Laughs] but I think those were my awakenings idealistically as far as being able to identify -- that I can play role in this. I can do something to promote civil rights so I started...

LH: So the seeds were there.

MN: Yeah.

LH: But it took some event to trigger it.

MN: Yeah, to motivate it, to make -- my personal experiences were locked up in just me. It was not connected with the larger society somehow and...

LH: So how did you decide to express this, then?

MN: It just kind of grew at me. First you're experimenting around and then you start going to these organizations and say yeah, yeah, uh-huh, uh-huh. And then I started supporting. I joined a couple organizations, started trying to support in a quiet way, but I guess the first time I got vocal in the public way was there was the education association, the Washington Education Association, was putting on a work shop on multicultural. And they had a black speaker, they had a Native speaker, they had a Hispanic speaker, and they didn't have any Asian speakers and that kind of, I said what, with all the Asian kids here. So I got on my high horse, plus the fact that they were having it at the Hilton Hotel, and at that point the Japanese American Citizens League was having a sanction on Hilton hotels 'cause the kids, a couple young people that were killed and maimed in the Chicago National Convention. And we had this, we had this sanction on Hilton hotels, and they were having their convention in a Hilton hotel, plus the fact that the chairperson of this whole organization was a Japanese American. And I got indignant, those indignant days. [Laughs] I got indignant and so I started calling people up and saying, "Let's go down there and protest them" and all this kind of stuff. And I was pretty effective in getting a pretty nice turnout to go down there and protest it, but the problem was I couldn't get anybody to speak. So it kind of left it upon me to speak and I figured, "Oh, no." [Laughs] Oh, I was so scared. If there was anyway I could have called it off with any kind of dignity and pride I would have.

And so here comes the day that I have to make this speech, and I'm just scared stiff, and I haven't slept the whole night trying to write this speech. And even after I finish writing it, I'm so scared that I don't -- I just can't go to sleep, and so the next day we go down there -- It was a luncheon, I think. We go down there and we say, "We're here to protest your organization," and they allowed us to come into the luncheon, and they allowed us the microphone. [Laughs] And I said, "We are here because we are angry," and I made this angry speech, and I never in my life, I never dreamed I would ever be in that kind of position to make a speech like that and my knees were shaking and my voice was shaking and I was so scared. [Laughs] And I knew at the end of the speech, I was going to say, "If you agree with us, you walk out that door with us," and we walk out. And I thought what if nobody stands up and walks out that door with us? And when I finally said that, got to that point in my speech, there was a table of black people in the back, and they jumped out of their chair almost in unison. Oh, I was so thankful. Some people are going to walk out that door with us, and then they said no, they want some question and answer. So we did a little bit of question and answer, and then we said, "All right, let's walk out of door" and we vacated the room. It was a symbolic walkout. We said once we're out, go back in. We are not here to disrupt what you're doing so let's have a symbolic walkout, and they did walk out with us and that was, that launched my speaking. I was so scared and I guess my quivering in my voice, it sounded like I was quivering from anger and not from fear. [Laughs]

LH: You did a good job masking it.

MN: Oh, yeah. I have never enjoyed speaking, not then or ever. I still don't enjoy speaking. I do want to say some things. I want some things heard. I wish I could -- that's why I think I'd rather get into writing. I would rather hide behind the words and put on paper. Just this camera, it kind of worries me.

LH: But you're good at speaking.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

LH: So did that whole experience and all the ones before, did that help you when it came time for redress and it came time to really help organize and speak.

MN: Oh, yes, yes. I think all the experiences helped me. When you're down and you want to do something, you draw from every corner of your life that you can draw from. So I think even if it wasn't true the whole idea of my mom being spit that, that yucky feeling, I think you draw from that. The anger that, you draw from that. You draw from the gentle poetry that my father used to tell me. You draw from every corner you can and was it one of the motivating factors? Yes, definitely.

LH: So in 1981 when they had the hearings here in Seattle, what was your involvement? How did you get involved?

MN: My father lived with me that year and my husband, my then husband, was involved in JACL. I think that was the year before he was the president. And so then I knew that they wanted some more Issei speakers and so then I asked my father, "Would you like to contribute and be a speaker?" I was really kind of surprised that my father said yes, he would. For one, he was so deaf it was hard to get across to him, but he definitely wanted to contribute so I sat down there, and I tried to write his testimony for him and it was hard. I had no idea what the commissioners wanted. What kind of -- do you want facts, figures? What do they want? I didn't know what they wanted. My father was so deaf that it was hard to question him. Then he was so old that sometimes the stories would talk about when he was eight years old. I said, "No, no, dad. Not that story." And it was a tough time in my father's life so when you're trying write testimony on something that was hurtful to my father, that was hard to write so...

LH: How old was he at the time?

MN: He was eighty-seven years old and that was really, really important because he knew next year he was going to have his eighty-eighth birthday, and he was much more interested, really, in who he's going to invite to his birthday party. He says, "Is Mr. Yamamoto still alive?" And we say, "Yeah, Dad. He's still alive." And he says, "Oh, good. I invite him to a birthday party." He was really, really interested in his birthday party, but he says no, he thinks it's right that he make testimony. So I wrote his testimony for him and it was real hard. And then the night before we were supposed to go to Seattle Community College that he was supposed give his testimony, I thought, "Oh, my." I'm reading in the newspapers that some of the people are just getting so choked up, they're blubbering and I said, "Oh, no. Mako, you're not going to blow it. You're not going to blow it." So I took his written testimony and I sat here and I tried to read it, and it was really hard for me to contain myself.

LH: And why is that?

MN: Oh, you're talking about pain with my father, and I'm going to share this in the open public place? It's hard especially when my father is talking about his kids calling him forty years ago. So it's really hard and I says can I do it without blubbering tomorrow? So I tried reading it out loud by myself in this living room, and I think I may not be able to do it. It's too tough. This is too close to home. I mean, I got to the point where I could talk in front of the groups, but this is too close. This is my father. So the next day I was wondering if I'm going to make it, and I drove him up there and helped him up -- did I tell you this already? -- I helped him up the stairs and we put all the microphones and the old folks sitting down and since my father was so deaf, I had this signal worked out, 1-2-3 on the shoulder like that, and that meant, "Go ahead, dad, say what you want to say, and then when you're finished, I will translate what you said and I will read your testimony. You got that, dad?" He said, "I got that." So he'll sit down and I waited until all the people were settled down, and I put the microphone right here close to his mouth, and I gave him the signal. And he says, "Shall I start now?" real loud in Japanese and everybody starts to laugh. And I oh, dear. And then he says, "I'm going to be eighty-eight next year," and I don't think the commissioners understood the significance of that. And, "I got eight grandkids." He said, "I came to America in 1913." He says some of these things and so then I took over the mike, and I translated what he said, and I started reading his testimony. And I got to the point where it was very emotional for me and I thought can I make it? Can I make it? But I contained myself. I got tight. I could hear my voice getting real tight, but I made it. And I got all the way through the end of the testimony and when I finished I go, "Whew, I made it." I was so happy.

And then this man next to my father was shaking up and down, and I looked at him, and I said there is somebody more nervous than me. And then he started giving his testimony and I wasn't listening, but it was in Japanese so the commissioners couldn't understand what he is saying. And he's saying that his daughter got so ill that the camp infirmary could not deal with the severity of her illness, and she had to be put into a hospital outside of camp. And then the hospital sends word from somebody from the family should come to the hospital, and I'm thinking oh, no. He has to ask permission to the camp authority to go outside the camp, and I says he is going to be denied permission to go. And I said, "Oh, I don't want to hear this. I'm going to just -- I don't want to hear this. I can't deal with it. I'm emotionally tight right now, and I don't want to hear this right now especially in front of the folks." And then he said he was given permission to go, so I go, whoa. I'm really feeling relieved, yeah. And he said but because he was a prisoner, he had to be escorted by security guard, and he had to come up with a per diem cost of that security guard. And he very simply said, "I did not have the money. I did not go and my daughter died." And I just couldn't hold back the tears anymore so I just, I said, "Okay, go ahead and cry. Go ahead and cry. No one is looking at you, Mako, just kind of move a little toward the back of the stage like this." And I started counting, "Mary had a little lamb." I tried to say anything. I just wanted to get off that stage so badly. If I could have puff away smoke, I would have gone, and I said, "Just breathe in, breathe out." And then the aide to the commissioner -- I knew him a little bit 'cause I was helping out there -- he stands up and he walks clean in back of the commissioner and he walks across the stage, and he hands me something underneath the podium. So I look and it's a whole wad of Kleenex [Laughs] and I figure oh, gee. I guess I am not fooling anybody. I was so sad and I don't know. I would presume at this day this man probably is dead, but to think that this old man has to go all the way to his grave knowing that nobody was there to hang onto his daughter's hand, I guess that's just, that's just sits with me. It still sits with me. I want to give this man fifty bucks today and say go visit your daughter. Don't let her die by herself. If you talk about injustice stories, that's the one that gets to me. That one still gets to me. There's lots and lots of stories like that. You pick one out that just gets to you, and I guess that one there because of the emotional times and knowing that the commissioners there don't know what the guy is saying, and I'm sitting there crying and can't hold it back. That was hard. That was real hard. That's... I don't know. Am I going on too long?

LH: No, no.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

LH: But there was an interesting, sort of an interesting event that happened right after your father's testimony.

MN: Yes. Yes. It was really fascinating. I was so pleased. There's only one Japanese American man on the commission of the commissioners and --

LH: And his name?

MN: Bill Marutani. And at the end of all the old folks making their things and I'm trying to -- I said, "Get me off the stage. Get me off the stage. I want to leave." There is question and answer period so I said okay. So the man says, "Mr. Takahashi, may I ask you a question? When you said you were a cannery foreman in Alaska, was that in Kodiak, Alaska?" And I'm thinking wow, he does a lot of research. How did he figure that out? And since my dad didn't hear us, I said may I answer question for him, please. I says, "Yes. It was in Kodiak," and I says, "Gee, I'm surprised that you would be so accurate in guessing that." And he says, "Oh, no. I want everyone here to know that in 1940, early 1940s, late 1939, Mr. Takahashi used to bring a bunch of college students to Alaska so they could make money over the summer for their tuition." And he says, "Mr. Takahashi used to go out of his way to help these young people," and he says, "I want everyone here to know that in 1941 I was one of those people." And I said oh, gee. And then I finally helped my father off the stage and went out to the lobby area. I was going to bring him home and Bill Marutani comes all the way down the stage and says, "Mr. Takahashi, may I shake your hand?" He says, "You're skinny now, but in 1940 weren't you big and fat?" He says, "Oh yeah. I was big and fat." [Laughs] It was a real nice... yeah, it was. Wow, what a small world. It is indeed a small world. You just never know how we're connected up. We're probably related and don't know it. [Laughs]

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

LH: Well, and specifically I guess I was wondering about the relationships between the Japanese Americans in Crystal City and the Japanese Peruvians and what that might have been like.

MN: Okay. You want me to say it now?

LH: Sure.

MN: Is he on now? What was that like? I don't know if my recollections are accurate. I really don't know, but maybe partially I, also at that time did not know that all the people in Crystal City were more or less elite people. It was a selected people that were... so the Americans, the people who resided in America, whether Japanese Americans or nationals, were Buddhist ministers. In fact, Hawaii people were there, too. We had a lot of Hawaii people, Japanese language school teachers. They were the leaders or responsible people. They were more the Buddhist ministers so maybe they were kind of a select, highly educated group, I think more so than in general. And then the people from Peru, I understand, were just anybody. So they had a wide range of people, and the immigration of Peru was more recent so I think they had more farming people, more lay people, there. So maybe those are the reasons, but I mean, I really don't know, but...

LH: So was there a hierarchy amongst all the people?

MN: I really think there was. I don't remember any animosities or any breakouts or any kind of a conflict, but I do as a little kid felt like we were kind of benevolently nice to the Peruvian folks. We were told to be polite to them even if they were a little bit crude, and a little bit... their Japanese language, the language they spoke was a little cruder if I remember correctly. They let their children run around with no clothes on. Isn't that embarrassing, but we pretend like we overlook those things in their lives and... I think we had a little superior attitude towards them. I really do. It was a classist. The Japanese culture is pretty classist and I think that it is not a, just a mere recollection on my part, I think there was some feelings of American people feeling superior to the Peruvian Japanese people.

LH: And their language was Spanish?

MN: They spoke Spanish as well as Japanese, but their, the Japanese has various levels of politeness and class much more in the regular language, and they spoke a cruder Japanese.

LH: So did these groups live together or were there separate quarters?

MN: I don't know to how they made the selections of where people lived, but you know that map? One side, we were, they were, on our side of street there, I know our neighbor was Hawaii Japanese. He was a Japanese language school teacher. There was another Pacific coast newspaper person. See, these people held responsible kind of jobs. Across the street were the Peruvian Japanese. Across that little roadway there were a couple of Peruvian families there. I don't know if it was segregated or not though, but I do know that. So they lived close. I don't know if they were completely intermingled or not, but I think there was a little bit of a disdain that was covered over with politeness. Now, from their perspective, there might have been more overt kind of discrimination. I wouldn't know. It's always we try to interpret the oppressed from the viewpoint of the oppressor rather than the oppressed. [Laughs] So I would think that since we were more in the majority as well as superior stance so to speak, I guess how much discrimination there really was, you have to ask from their perspective.

LH: Okay.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

LH: Mako, I understand that there was an event that happened at the outset of the war where the Seattle school district clerks were forced to resign from their jobs and can you --

MN: That's a interesting story.

LH: Can you tell me a little bit about the background and then what happened in later years.

MN: I learned of it in such a weird way, but it's a interesting story. There was a woman at Gatewood Elementary School who goes to school and finds out that the clerk at the school is a Japanese American and decides that it's un-American to have a... and wants to get her fired just for being Japanese American only to find out that she is not the only clerk working for the Seattle schools that is Japanese American. There are twenty-seven other schools that have clerks and so she decides to start a campaign to get them all fired, and she uses the excuse that this is un-American. She says that how do we know they're not going to poison the school lunches? How do you we know that they're not going to interfere with the fire drill? And so she starts a campaign and then there were pictures in the leading Seattle newspapers, that, huge pictures, that show how they're proudly trying to rid the schools of Japanese American clerks. And the headlines reads, "Jap clerk." Jap, Jap. Ooh, it's so ugly. And they finally decide that if the Seattle schools doesn't fire these girls, they're going to bring their petition to the Army. And Seattle schools at that point is putting on a levy campaign, and they were kind of worried about the bad publicity that they're getting. The acting superintendent, Fleming, apparently calls the Japanese American community leader, Jimmy Sakamoto, and asks that something be done about this. And so there is a meeting that is called and all twenty-seven clerks come, and he tells them that this is detrimental to the Seattle schools. It's detrimental to the Japanese American community. He pleads with them and says it is your patriotic duty as well as part of their culture to gracefully resign from Seattle public schools, and he has a letter all prepared to help them resign from the schools.

LH: Why was this his responsibility to talk to them?

MN: Apparently he and Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent Fleming, were, had a relationship. Apparently the superintendent was once a teacher of Jimmy Sakamoto's and said that this was not good for the Seattle schools to jeopardize their levy, it's not good for the Japanese American community to bring such bad, negative publicity, and if they don't resign, they'll probably be fired anyway is really what the tone of the story was. So Jimmy Sakamoto did his, thought it was his -- I think he sincerely thought it was his public duty to try to bring as much closure to this in as less confrontational as possible.

LH: And so how did the clerks react to that?

MN: At that point I don't know. Ok, later on when we go through trying to bring some closure to this 41 years later, I heard some stories. At that point all I know is the stories that are in the papers. And so they turn in their resignation. Apparently the Seattle schools cannot accept that in mass, all twenty-seven clerks sign it. Seattle public schools cannot accept their resignation unless the Seattle school board approves of it so it's about a couple days later after that they are having a meeting. So meanwhile all this is getting in the papers and people are writing ugly things like... and the only reason why the Seattle schools at that point had so many Japanese American clerks working for the Seattle schools was that quote -- and this is a quote from the Seattle school district personnel officers -- say that, "good white help was going to higher paying war industry jobs," and the fact that they were paying these clerks seven and a half cents an hour less than the minimum standard wages at that time. Oh, wow. And then so they send in their resignation, all the people writing saying, "Good riddance. We never should have had them anyway." They're not citizens anyway. There was a lot of ugly stuff going. There were a few people that were standing up for them saying they were hard workers. They were only being fired because of their race and that is wrong. And it's really amazing, in 1942 there was a petition going around at the University of Washington where a thousand people signed asking the Seattle school board not to accept the resignation saying that it was a witch hunt, more or less. And so the day of the board meeting, the board goes into closed session, which is illegal today, but they go into closed session and they discuss it for over an hour, which is a long time for them to go into closed session. And when they finally come out, they announce that it was very gracious of the girls to -- it's always the girls -- to resign from their jobs. They worked hard. They appreciate the graceful act. All these kinds of compliments on the girls, but the bottom line is they accept the resignation of all twenty-seven girls. So the reporters go rushing to Mrs. Sekor, who started all this petition campaign, and say, "Okay. You don't have to get them fired now, the girls resigned. Their resignation was accepted. How do you feel about the girls now?" And the quote in the paper said from Mrs. Sekor is, "That was very white of them. I appreciate their graciousness," something like that.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

MN: So all twenty-seven were let go and then the camp comes and we're all incarcerated. Now forty-one years later, we're in the middle of redress campaign, national redress is going on, California starts their redress for state workers, Washington starts, goes into -- so Washington is at the point where we get state redress and we go to city. We get city redress, but city redress and state redress was kind of done at California already. Nobody has gone and done any kind of request for redress from a school district, and so we decided, wow, lets... we have -- that article I just gave you. There was an article that says "Twenty-seven Jap girls quit school jobs," and we says, gee, I wonder what that's all about? We didn't know much about the story and we read that one article and Cherry Kinoshita in her doggedly way found out who all the girls were and then said, "Gee, do you think there is a possibility of going after redress from the Seattle schools?" I said, "Let's go for it."

So she called a meeting -- I happened to be JACL president that year that's the only reason why she talked to me -- and she brought together the women. And then she said, she talked to the women. It was really kind of a very polite, the women came together all dressed nicely, talking and chitchatting with each other. And then she laid out that we're going after state redress, and she told the background of this and she was wondering if this group of people would like to have us, JACL, support them in any action they might want to take against the Seattle schools. And then she asked me to talk about the possibility of how this might occur. And so, and I'm a product of the 60's. I said, "Yes. Let's go for it, man. The Seattle school district done us in," and I was pounding the table. And I was saying, "Yes. It's only right and our story has to be heard and people don't know these things happened to us. If they don't hear from us again, they're going to do it again to somebody else. It's our patriotic duty." I am just as probably pushing these ladies as much as Jimmy Sakamoto did to them forty-one years before. [Laughs] It was really... I am embarrassed to tell my part of this story 'cause my part's not very good, and then Cherry was real smart. After I sat down, she said, "Let's have a coffee break." [Laughs]

So we had a coffee break. She was really smart and then she had the women settle down back in their chairs and she says, "Well, do you have any stories that you recollect from those days?" And the women really start talking about oh, yes, I was hired by Seattle schools, and they were talking about factual things like which school, what the principal, you know, factual things, but... it did not take them long before they got to the gut stuff, and they were talking, one woman, it's really like it happened yesterday. She said she was called into the assistant superintendent's office, and as she was walking there, I could just see her mind. She didn't say this, but I could just see her mind thinking what does the superintendent want with me? Do you think it's something that she want to praise me of? I could just imagine what went on in her head, but she walks into the superintendent's office not knowing what he wanted, and he more or less tells her off saying, "You are a detriment to Seattle schools. There's going to be a meeting the next day by Jimmy Sakamoto, and I want you to be involved in telling all these women, making sure they quit their jobs, resign from their jobs," and she's horrified. She talked -- at that meeting, she talks a little bit about that -- but mostly she talked about going to the bathroom and going into the stall and crying. And she said she really tried hard to settle herself down because she had to get on the bus and go home, and she didn't want to sob all the way home so she just tried to take deep breaths. And she thinks she's in control so she walks out of the bathroom, and she starts bawling all over again.

I thought, "Oh, my goodness. This happened forty-one years ago and she is telling us this story, and she's crying, the rest of the women are crying, Oh God." I have to admit I started crying. And the rest of the women starting telling their stories and these wounds that were held in these woman for forty-one years is just really fresh, and then I start feeling like a really idiot. Here I am, "Let's go for it folks," acting like a jerk and not being sensitive to the wounds that still hurt today. And I did a complete turn around. I kind of said, "Don't talk anymore, don't tell people this story. [Laughs] They don't deserve to hear it anymore." I was feeling so squeamish. I was just completely abashed. I mean, I was stunned. I didn't know what to do. I was, it was a learning experience for me. I said oh, Mako, you can't jump in there like that. You've got to find out what's happening first.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

LH: So how did you proceed after that?

MN: All the women took their turns and tell their stories, and it was, it was eye opening. And I just want to, again, I want to sink into the background. I want to disappear in a puff of smoke. They all kind of concluded what should they do. So Cherry says, okay. There is a vice president of the Seattle school board, his name is TJ Vassar, and he's willing to write a proposal and a resolution, and, to try and get redress for all of us, and I think... and they said, "Well, what's the process?" And she says, "Well, we have to make a presentation to the board. It'd be very impressive if we could get some officials to join us, but essentially we're going to have to count on you ladies to make a presentation in front of the board." And immediately, no, not me. I don't know how to talk. I don't want to talk in a public way. Everybody kind of said no, no, no. And then one lady said, "Wait a minute. We're not the ones who messed up. We're not the ones that hurt other people. Why should we be the one? They should be the ones to pay us. We shouldn't have to do anything." And this is all understandable and then one brave lady, May Namba, she says, "Well, if it needs to be done and I'll make a presentation, provided I'm not the only one. I don't want to be the only one," she says, "but I'll..." And we all kind of looked at her and said wow, that's brave. That's brave. So then several other women says I think that I might, and I'm saying wow, that's brave. It really wasn't until I heard their stories and their hurt, and I hear it now and they're so petrified about making the presentation, and they're willing to do it. And I thought, wow, wow. So they worked on their stories, and then we got a lot of letters. It was really easy to get letters of support by that time. It was a whole different atmosphere.

LH: Okay, what year would this have been?

MN: Oh, God. I got the -- '83. '83-'84. Yeah, that's right. We started '83 when I was president. That's how it came to me and '84 is when the first... April, I think, '84, when TJ Vassar put his proposal in and then we had a line up. The mayor came and spoke and the person who -- George Fleming who was -- wrote the one for the state redress, he came and spoke. And then we had a lawyer come and speak and then May Namba was the very first person to make a presentation and wow, I heard her freak out. I heard her petrified. I heard her going through all these gyrations of emotions, and that day of the actual presentation, she walked up there with just all the dignity and grace that she could muster up, and she just looked -- all the professional people came up and they were just glib and they were just great. They were comfortable looking. Well, she walked in there and to me, she was stunning. She was just stunning. Not recognize the same lady. [Laughs] And she made her presentation and then the next two ladies made their presentation, and then we had a high school kid, May Sasaki's daughter, said what it means to her as a Sansei young person. Why it's so important to her that these ladies get redress for their unfair dismissal from the Seattle schools. And it was very impressive.

And what we had planned is we're going to do this and wait two weeks for the next board meeting and then make another presentation when the board will make a decision. And so we waited that two weeks, but in that two weeks' time, it got a lot of publicity and the next two, the second presentation, the opposition showed up, Lillian Baker group. I forgot what they called their names. "Americans for a more accurate society" or something like that. And they said that the concentration never happened. The guard towers were really water towers. We were a safe place -- the regular kind of stuff that people give us every time, but they were rude. They were heckling and they were rude, and we were only supposed to be given three minutes, and they tried to take more of the time. Some people went up more than once. We just sat there gritting our teeth. We sat there gritting our teeth. Oh, God. I wanted to say something. I'm sure other people did too. They were obnoxious. And when they finally came to the time of the vote, we were all emotional again, and the vote was 4 yes, 2 no, and 1 abstention so that meant it passed. And so I was going, "Yeah, it passed," and yet I was so disappointed because I did a lot of lobbying of the board. That was my job. I did the lobbying of the board. I knew we had 4. I thought pretty sure we might get 5, and there was an outside chance that the 6th one might come with us so I said gee, 6 would be nice, but I was kind of -- that was an outside, but 5 was a good possibility. As it turned out one finked out on us as far as I'm concerned. We got the four so I am kind of in a emotional, you know, yeah, it passed. No. Too bad it's only four. I was going through the gyrations like this and this man sitting right next to me, he stands up and obviously so other people could hear, he says, "We should have lynched in Puyallup while we had the chance." And I have to admit, that's another time, I...

LH: That's quite a statement, quite timing too.

MN: It was devastating for me. When I tell the story to people, they say, "What did you do, Mako?" I didn't do nothin'. I just sat there. I couldn't move. I was frozen. And I kept saying, "breathe in, breathe out." [Laughs] That's all I could think was breathe in, breathe out. Meanwhile the board called a recess and everybody was filing out to the lobby area. I couldn't move. I just couldn't move. I want to get out of there and I couldn't move. And finally I started kind of melting and I kind of fumbled my way out to the lobby, and there I saw Mr. Koshi, Peter Koshi. He's a very, very short man and this very same guy who said this, he's a very tall man. So it was almost a comic look at them. This very short man and very tall man, and George Koshi is looking up at him saying, "We fought in the war, too. We earned our rights." He's yelling at this guy and this guy is saying, "If you don't like it here, go back to Japan," and they are yelling at each other. And somehow that scene just brought me back to reality. I figure, "Oh, okay. I can breathe now." I don't know why. I just looked at that and I felt like it's real now so then I went out and I congratulated Cherry and I hugged May Namba and I got back to reality.

And the next day we had a party at May Namba's house and we all brought potluck, and we all saw news clippings from the day before where it passed. And we all talked about how quiet we were, and should we have said something, and I think we did it right. Later on one of the board members said that was the most dignified, impressive, touching, moving presentation she's ever attended in all her years of working on the board so I feel proud of that. I do feel like any other group would have said something except us, and I'm not so sure that that's good or that's bad because it's so easy to get misinterpreted, but we felt at that time, we says that was dignified, that was right. We did it our way and we're proud of it. And I was talking to my son the other day and he was saying young people, Japanese Americans would not sit there quietly so maybe they're quote, "more American." [Laughs] That was our way and I think it's okay if you do it your way too, but I would love for people to hear what our way was and appreciate it for what it was. It wasn't cowardice. It wasn't mean. It was just our way and it deserves, it deserves a rightful place in doing things.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

LH: We were talking about the outcome of the Seattle school district clerks and the events that happened and so eventually -- also you were involved in the school district not only in teaching, but eventually as a principal.

MN: Uh-huh.

LH: And also in a multicultural program. How did that begin?

MN: When the people ask me that, it really began with one very, very anonymous kind of, innocuous phone call. This woman said that she talked to my husband who was a principal of a school, and they wanted to do something that was ethnic. It was in the '60s and they wanted to get some ethnic things going, and he suggested that I teach Japanese classical dancing. And I'm thinking there's no way I could teach Japanese classical dancing. You can't fake something like that. That's like trying to teach ballet after you have been off ballet for fifty years. You can't teach ballet, [Laughs] but they wanted anything ethnic so I said, "Well, why don't I teach Japanese language?" I mean, I know how to speak a little bit of language so my sister says okay. So I talked her into it. So her and I went to this school under the auspices of quality integrated education, we took a small group of kids and we tried to teach them how to say Ohayou gozaimasu and little -- and teaching language is so tedious that we kind of added songs and then we started doing some origami. I mean, hey, I did it. You go home and you learn from your kids how to origami so the next day you can share your culture with the kids at school. [Laughs] So we did that and then we had a little bit extra money so we took the kids down to the I.D. And the kids were saying, "Is this Chinese or this one?" And they were making these dumb insensitive kind of comments not knowing they were insensitive. And we said, "It's okay to teach Japanese language, a little bit of Japanese culture, but we got to teach them a little bit about sensitivity and racism and stuff like that, too." So we took them to my mom and dad's house and we had tea, and we said, "Did you know that these nice people could not become American citizens and not because they were criminals?" They always try to add a little bit of meat to it, not just... And then we had fun with the kids. And I think they had a nice time, but that was kind of our experience of how we began.

And then the next quarter they asked us if we would continue, and we says, "Well, we don't mind continuing, but we got to make this a little bit more meaty." So we really kind of zeroed in more. It was almost half and half: a little bit of language, a little bit of culture, but mostly American Japanese, the history, the value system. We went into a little bit more little meatier stuff, and then we wrote a proposal and tried to get it funded by the Seattle schools. And we got, wrote a proposal for I think it was for $250, and we said we'll buy books and we'll buy origami paper and we will take them to dim-sum trip, whatever. I forgot what it was. It was really a stereotypic trip I have to say, and we got funded and that was just so, that was miraculous that we got money to do this. It was really fun to get that first funding so we went down to Uwajimaya and bought some stuff, and we were really happy. And it got more involved and so then we got more parents involved and said, "Hey, join us in doing this. We want kids to be proud to be Japanese Americans. There is nothing in the curriculum that is Japanese American. We want the kids to understand who we are. We're going to build bridges." We had a little bit more lofty goals now. And so we wrote a proposal and we got more money and got more volunteers, and it got to be where we couldn't handle as many kids that wanted to be in the program. So I went to the University of Washington and got some college kids to help put on this volunteer program for the schools, and we got college credit for them. And then we decided that they needed some training before they joined us so we had college classes for these kids. And then we decided they don't know enough about the community so we had community speakers come and talk about what racism is and we got involved in a whole bunch of stuff.

LH: Gee, so this is really snowballing.

MN: Oh, it was snowballing, and next thing you know, they take the kids on field trips. We need insurance for them so we had to go in front of the board, oh yeah. And we finally got enough people to where we're working. We are not enjoying doing this for kids anymore. We're working. So I said, "Let's put in a proposal and get staff." So we wrote a proposal, and I didn't know that it was a dumb thing to do is write for a proposal and write your own self in for a job, which I did. [Laughs] I wrote myself in as the director of this particular project and they approved it. So me and a couple of housewives -- that's what we were. Some of us had education backgrounds and some of us didn't, and we paid ourselves, and we got on... it wasn't much. [Laughs] And then the program started expanding to different schools, more schools, more kids involved. And then we decided ok, we're putting on this small group of instruction for kids, but some of our activities are really good, and they're really, you know, so let's write them up and put it into a lesson plan that other teachers could use. So we started writing curriculum, and then we decided if we're going to get this curriculum over to teachers, we have to have some kind of a training, teacher training development session, for them, so we did teacher training. So it was a three ring circus. [Laughs]

LH: What time frame are we talking about?

MN: I think we started in '68 'cause that's when my son was... '70, maybe. That's when my daughter was born in '70. I can't remember. There is a date on the... I have these proposals downstairs. I forgot what date they're on. They're real old ones that we wrote. I think I even have the first one we wrote for 250 that we wrote for. Early '70s maybe, somewhere around in there. I can't remember. The baby was born in '70 so it was probably close to there and...

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

LH: So eventually what was the, what did it turn into?

MN: When I left the program, we had nineteen full-time staff members.

LH: My goodness. What kind of budget were you working with then?

MN: The last, I think we were like $400,000 dollars. We were near half a million. We were near three quarters of a million. I can't remember which.

LH: Boy, that's quite a jump from $250. [Laughs]

MN: Yeah, it was. In fact, I got to the point where I really was a proposal writer. I got to feeling confident about writing proposals and any time there was a proposal close to multicultural, I write for it, almost like just wonder how far you can push it almost. [Laughs] And we got a couple of prestigious proposals. So we were running a three ring circus. We did curriculum development, we did teacher development, we did direct service. And then we started going to other districts. People were saying, "Can you bring your program and explain it to us at our district?" So we did a lot of -- in fact, we tried to make enough money to, and we got a lot of federal funding so we went to federal, state, national workshops and all. And we got, our one publication we got a national market. Two of our publication made national market. We were working on the third one trying to get it to junior high school when we finally quit. It finally, I think we got into politics. We're now big enough to where downtown was kind of concerned about controlling us, and I remember the big blowup kind of was: it's okay, you have a wonderful program, but when you put on your teacher training workshops, you have to not talk about racism. Rainbow was a positive, sweet, nice, gentle program. And they said that to talk about the racism doesn't belong in Rainbow. And I got my dander up, "Yes, it does." [Laughs]

And I think that one of the reasons that I even applied for the principalship was trying to use it as a leverage to see if I could get what I wanted for Rainbow, and they refused me for the Rainbow program. So I wrote a letter of resignation. I said, "I resign," in a flamboyant way. [Laughs] In my younger days I was a little bit more boneheaded, and the assistant superintendent said, "No, you can't resign." I said, "I already did. Here's my resignation." And he says, "Well, you applied for the principalship. How is that going to come out?" I said, "I don't know. I don't care." And then they said that I was selected to be the principal so I said, "I'll take the principal." I almost feel a little guilty. I took it on as almost... I didn't think I was going enjoy it. I thought I'll do it for two years and I'll just get out. At least I'll put in my two years and I'll get out. And surprisingly, I had a fun time being a principal. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the kids. I enjoyed the parents. I thought I was close enough that I knew what it was going to be all about, but... I enjoyed it, but during the second principalship I had, I took a sabbatical in between, and I came back. And then the second principalship I had, the job opened up at the state. It was multicultural. It was a little bit less money than what I was making with the... but I have been away from multicultural for so long that there was a state job on multicultural. I says I would really like to try for that job so I tried for that job, and they gave it to me. And I was kind of wondering can I really commute to Olympia every day? [Laughs] I didn't think I was going to make that, but actually I thought that the drive down would drive me crazy, and it really wasn't that bad. I would write my memos in my head as I go down, and I got to Olympia before I was ready to be down there.

LH: So you took advantage of that.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

LH: So since you were involved in that program from the beginning, what do you see as far as the progress that has been made in the school district? What effect or what impact has your program had on the Seattle school district?

MN: Oh, gee. That's so hard to say. Testimonials people will tell me how much the atmosphere in the school have changed. It's surprising to me. One time when I was a principal of the first school I was at, this woman came and said, "What you need in this school is a program like Rainbow." She said Rainbow this and Rainbow that. I thought she was flattering me and then in the middle of her conversation, she turned around and said, "Do you know anything about Rainbow?" [Laughs] And I said, wow. It was even more flattering that she didn't know that I was even connected with Rainbow. [Laughs] I went to D.C. once and this lady said, "Oh, you're from the Seattle area?" She says, "Do you know anything about the Rainbow program because I use it all the time." And I said, "Oh wow, isn't this nice." I look back and I think of some of the things that we did that was considered so radical, that we first said red, yellow, black, white, brown, and the Rainbow, in fact, just the name Rainbow was offensive to some people. Apparently there was a group of girls, Rainbow girls, and they kind of were a little bit more elitist kind of group so they said we should not use the word rainbow. It's elitism and other people said we should not say red, yellow, black, brown people. We're all human beings kind of thing, and it was a lot of flack. We said that multicultural is for everybody, not just for people of color. It's for all kids, all kids, and people didn't think that was true. They were saying white kids don't need multicultural and which is really funny, 'cause I just went to the workshop yesterday and the title of the workshop is "Diversity means all of us" or something like that and I am thinking isn't that nice. We were fighting to say it was for all of us back in those days and now the whole conference is entitled "Diversity means all of us." [Laughs]

LH: That's great.

MN: So I think that in a long ways, in a lot of ways, we've come a long ways in that diversity multicultural was learning origami, learning how to eat people's food, learning how to use chopsticks. It was pretty much on that level and we did that. But instead of just teaching kids how to use chopsticks, which was not an essential event, we tried to tie it with if you learn to use chopsticks, learn to respect that this is another legitimate way to eat. There are a lot of legitimate ways to eat. You eat with your hands, that's a legitimate way to eat. Some people are very clever with eating with their hands. They know how to do it better than we do 'cause we don't have any experience so we try to bring in more than just eating chopsticks. So I think that the fact that -- and we tried to make sure that it's not an ethnic studies approach. We were studying the minorities, we were studying what they do, and put them under a microscope. Always, always when we put them under a microscope, we stereotype them even more. So whenever we take something, we try to put it in the context of everybody. We teach the daruma-san and how it had the spirit to always get up, but the idea of the spirit being important is universal. We tried to always kind of tie it in that way, and I think that we were kind of ahead of our times. I think that we were. We did break some new ground and it's really pleasing to me now that people are looking at diversity and not doing ethnic studies approach. People are kind of raising their eyebrows. At one point it was all ethnic studies. That's really what people thought multicultural was, just studying people's heroes and holidays and foods and dance. And as we do that, we will learn to love each other. And we are saying we don't have time to learn to love each other, we just need to learn how to get along with each other [Laughs] and learn to understand where we're coming from, learn to reach out, learn how, the skills of trying to reach out to other people in the community, care enough to try to do it.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

LH: Okay, so do you think that that's happening now in the school districts?

MN: I think we've come a long ways. I think we've come a long ways.

LH: What do you think ought to be taught as far as -- let's say for example, what should teachers be now teaching about the internment experience?

MN: I think, basically, we have to really make darn sure we teach every single child to be proud of who they are. And that means their color, their sexual orientation, their economics, that they're handicapped, whatever; but the essential essence of who they are are on the inside. It's their character, it's their lovingness, it's their sense of beauty. These are things that make you a beautiful person, not any of the outside things. So be true to who you are on the outside and nurture that and be proud of that. We need to teach that to every single kid, every single person, that you are a lovable, cherishable, beautiful human being. I think if we keep constantly -- I think the reason why you're a nice person is because somebody loved you before you deserved to be loved. You know? And I think that's the kind of message we need to understand first, that I am a worthy person. I can contribute and make somebody else happy and make this world a little better place. We need to give that confidence to every single person and then start reaching out and sharing with other folks, connecting up with other folks, understand that they are part of the total family of humans, five and a half billion people on this planet. And how we do that? How we do that is to understand the person on the other side of you has fears and hopes and frustrations and joys just like I do. That I am a viable person, number one. I got to start with me and then find that common ground between you and I, no matter who you are. I don't care if you don't even speak my same language. No matter who you are, what experience you come from, we have common ground also. And if we can establish my goodness and find a common ground between you and I, then we can establish a humanity.

Now, I don't really personally -- I don't know about the Densho Project agree with this or not -- but I'm involved with the workshop on internment of Japanese Americans. Personally I couldn't care less if every kid in the school learned about Japanese American incarceration or not. That's not important to me. What is important is they use any vehicle -- whether it's Trail of Tears or whether it is a holocaust or whether it is Jim Crow laws -- to understand the oppression and the injustice of this. Care about what this does to people, understand that I'm involved in it and trying to make this world a little better place and contribute to make this world a little better place for all of us. If they do that through learning about Japanese Americans, fine. If they learn to do that through the Holocaust, that's okay. But as long as you're doing that, understand that people are people, and you really never met a Japanese Americans before, but you know the Jewish story, you know the story from the gay community, what oppression's all about. Then by the time you come across a Japanese American, you are more humanistically ready to hear the story. That's more important, I think. The facts, figures, and numbers, I couldn't care less. I guess I'm not a person that's involved in facts. That to me is not important. It's where it hangs. To me education is the three way street. It is the intellectual knowledge facts. I mean, that's important. Yes, it is, but it's not that critically important. The second part of education is critically important is how you feel about it, what your gut level tells you. It's what I'm loyal to, what I care about, what I'm proud of. This is the gut part of it. That's another strand of education that's really critical. And the third part is what I do about it. It's the action. It's the involvement. If education does not have those three elements -- I tell teachers this all the time -- if education does not have all three elements, it is not education. It is just accumulation of facts so it has to have all three. I'm not sure you want to hear this, but I'm sorry. I got carried away. This is my area so I get cared away very easily on this area. [Laughs]

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

LH: Was there anything else that you wanted at add that we haven't covered yet?

MN: Hey, you know darn well, you name the subject, I'll talk on forever. [Laughs]

LH: In regard to anything that we've talked about previously during this interview, is there anything else you wanted to make sure that you added?

MN: My father was giving the grandkids advice once, and he says, "Pursue anything you want in life. It doesn't matter what you pursue," he says, "but at the same time make sure you serve humanity." And my father said some really beautiful things, and I think that he's right. I think I would love to have every kid -- there's various and sundry ways of living your life. That's what diversity is all about. Some people are camera people, visual, some people have musical ear, some people have basketball skills. Pursue whatever you want in life, but we have to all come back and make sure we serve humanity. I think he's right. So if there is anything that I think that I want taught, that's what I want taught. Come back to, that we are all part... let me quote you one. There is a... "Teacher and Child," by Haim Ginott, and I used to quote this only to teachers because I thought it was an education piece, now I quote it to everybody. It says, "On the first day of a new school year, all the teachers in one school receive the following note from their principal: Dear teacher, I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness, gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians, infants killed by trained nurses, women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates so I am suspicious of education. My request is, help your students become more human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane." This is our struggle, just to be humane, how to live our life as the best human being we can on this planet and help others live their life the best way they can as human beings on this planet. What is life all about? That's what it is. I learned from my father. I'm a philosopher. [Laughs] Okay. Is that enough?

LH: Fair enough. I want to thank you today. We've had a conversation with Mako Nakagawa here at her home. Our videographer today is Matt Emery and the interviewer is Lori Hoshino. It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

MN: My pleasure, my pleasure.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 1998 Densho. All Rights Reserved.