Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Shigeko Sese Uno Interview
Narrator: Shigeko Sese Uno
Interviewers: Beth Kawahara (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: September 18, 1998
Densho ID: denshovh-ushigeko-01

<Begin Segment 1>

BK: Today is September 18, 1998. And representing the Densho project is Alice Ito and myself, Beth Kawahara. And we're very pleased to be here today with Shigeko Sese Uno. So Shigeko, could you start by telling us a little bit about your father, his life in Japan, how he got over here to America?

SU: All right. My father's name, Eichi Sese, lived in Tottori. He was the oldest son of a farmer. But I guess he didn't like farming. And also the Russo-Japanese War was going on, and he didn't want to be drafted into the Japanese army, either. So a group of his friends -- and so he decided to come to America. But that was a goal. Tottori is on the Japan seaside, the other side of Honshu. So they had to walk over, no transportation. They walked over the mountains that divided Honshu, and came into the seaport. Could have been Hiroshima. They jumped on the first boat they thought was destined for America. But when they landed, it was in Mexico. And so they realized they're in Mexico. And they traveled all the way over the border. They sneaked in. Someone, took the attention of the customs officer, whatever you, immigration people. And so they were able to slip in. And they found their way up to Seattle. He's never told me about any of the visits in other California cities or Oregon, but anyway, their destination was Seattle. And that's how they got here.

BK: And on their trip northward, did they just take odds, odds and ends of jobs, or...?

SU: Well, I have asked him, and the only thing he would say, he did mention, was having a job in Mexico, digging graves. I guess they did that. But the rest of the trip he has never mentioned. And it's too bad. We never thought of asking our father for details, and...

BK: And so once he was here in Seattle, did he stay and establish a business at that time?

SU: No. When he landed he worked at various jobs, working in a restaurant, not as a cook, but just a helper, I think. Worked in a hotel, cleaning. And he said that some day, sometimes he would have three jobs a day, earn enough money. So he went back to Japan so he could legally come back to America, and also get married to my mother. My mother was a daughter of a Zen Buddhist priest, so she was raised in the Buddhist temple. But they also happened to be next door to my father's farm, so they knew each other. And they got married in Japan. And my mother and father came to Seattle, I imagine about the first part of, well, around 1910, something like that, because I was born 1915 in the International District.

BK: Where exactly was that in the International District?

SU: Where...

BK: That you were born? Where was your first home that you remember?

SU: Oh, it was on Seventh Avenue South, between Main and Washington. And I remember that home because I fell off of the second floor window. [Laughs]

BK: Excuse me. You fell off the second-floor window when you were just a little baby?

SU: No. I was able to walk. But this house was a long house -- what you do call it? -- different families lived. And it was on a hill. Seventh Avenue is a hill between Main and Washington. And my mother tells me that I was looking out of the window while she was vacuuming the living room. All of a sudden I wasn't there. She looked below, and there I was, two stories down. We lived in the upstairs.

BK: You're always an active person, then, even at that young age?

SU: So...

BK: And subsequently did you have other brothers?

SU: Yes. I had a brother, Masa, that was born 1917, and another brother, Tosh, 1918, another brother, George, born in 1920, and the last one, Kaoru, 1922.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

BK: So you were the eldest, and you had a houseful of brothers?

SU: Yes. And that's why my father decided to start a dairy, because he knew that milk and dairy products were good for children. And since he had so many, he invested in the White River Dairy, which had already been started by a group of people that had come from Japan, but they couldn't make a go of it. So my father bought them out, and bought this plant. People ask me, "How did you like milking the cows?" Well, I never saw a cow. Our milk was brought in from the White River Valley in a refrigerated truck. And then all we did was pasteurize bottles and deliver to restaurants and grocery stores, because before war there were quite a few Japanese restaurants and grocery stores.

BK: And where was the dairy located then?

SU: Oh, it's on Weller Street, right now, between, well, the address was 813 Weller Street.

BK: Here's a picture of the, of the dairy. [Shows photograph] Could you kind of tell us a little bit about it?

SU: Yes. There were quite a few dairy farmers in the White River Valley. Japanese had cows, and so that's why since our milk came from the Japanese dairy farmers, he named it White River Dairy. Here it is. White River Dairy. And this is taken in 1938, so the trucks are quite old here. But I do remember we had all new trucks at the time we evacuated.

BK: And you had a number of trucks, which means that the business was really thriving at that time.

SU: Seven trucks.

BK: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

BK: As you reflect back, growing up, how did you, did you have to help out at the dairy, or when you were younger, how did you, did you go to, did your mother take care of all of you, or did you go to a nearby daycare, or was there such a thing at that time?

SU: Well, I remember when we were still living on Seventh Avenue South, one day a white lady came. Well, I had never seen one because we lived among the Japanese only, in the middle of Japantown at that time. And here appeared a white lady that said, "Do you have any children here who'd like to go day school?" -- you know nursery school, or kindergarten. So my mother was so happy because she had five of us at that time. The Japanese Baptist Church was just kitty-corner then on Washington Street, between our place and the Nippon Kan. And this lady turned out to be a graduate of the Baptist Missionary Training School in Chicago. And her first missionary field was with the Japanese. So she was going to start this nursery school. And we all went. And I remember, too, holding onto her hands while she went up and down Japantown, way down to Jackson Street, to King Street. There were people still living on Dearborn, way down on Dearborn. She gathered up these children, and we'd take all of them to the nursery school. So that's how, despite that the fact that my mother was a Zen Buddhist priest's daughter and a Buddhist, so was my father, they were very happy that the Japanese Baptist Church was going to take care of their children.

BK: Right.

SU: So that's how I became a Baptist. People often ask me.

BK: Right.

SU: And the church has meant a lot to me. They've guided my life and helped me.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

BK: And as we get further into your life, let's hear, we'll hear more about the activities and how you participated in the church. So as you continued to grow up, then, you had said in an earlier chat that your mother had returned to Japan for a short while. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

SU: Oh, yes. Right after the Tokyo earthquake, was a timing. And the reason why I did the way I did was my father and mother always said that the children would be sent to Japan for a real good education. They felt that Japan could offer a good education for the children. So my poor brothers, who were under me and couldn't protest, they went with my mother while I stayed behind, because I refused to go to Japan. And having read about that big earthquake in Tokyo, well, I decided I wasn't gonna go where it was so dangerous. But the thing is, so my father had to take care of me. And he couldn't do it because he was working.

My sister -- oh, I had a sister, I forgot to mention, who came from Japan in -- when the immigration was cut off, for all family members even. So she had to hurry to Seattle in, I think, 1924 when that law became effective. She had already graduated her high school days there, so she came to America to join our family. And I remember so well the day she arrived. She was my half-sister. My, the fathers were the same. Well, when my father had originally wanted to come to America, he asked his wife to come with him, but she refused, to a strange country and all that. So she was sent home. And my sister was taken care of by my grandmother. And then when she came, that day that she was going to arrive, my parents announced to me that my sister was coming. I never knew I had a sister. I was so happy, after having a slew of brothers, to have an older sister. So she, I could hardly go through school, wait for the school to end. I ran home. And there she was. And we've always gotten along so well, my sister and I. So during this time, when she, when my mother took my four brothers to Japan, and I was left alone with my father, my sister, who had been attending Columbia University in New York City, had to leave her school to come and take care of me.

And I tell you something funny. About two years ago she passed away. And I went to see her before she passed away. And she says, one of the things she remembered about having to take care of me was that she had to make lunch for me, sack lunch. And she says, every day she made peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And she said, for two years I had, she had to do that for me. And I never grumbled. I was so grateful to have something to eat. But she remembered that, and we laughed and laughed about things like that. And so my three brothers, one two, yeah, three brothers were left there. And the reason the fourth brother had to come home was my grandmother said he was too mischievous for her to take care of. So my second brother and I were reared together.

BK: Oh, I see.

SU: And the rest stayed in Japan. But the old, the one next to me, as soon as he graduated high school, he came to Seattle to join us. But the other two remained in Japan 'til, oh, all through the rest of their lives.

BK: I see. I see. And when did your mother return to Seattle? 'Cause she had taken the boys over for their education.

SU: She stayed there almost a year and a half, I think, something like that. And she came back. Now the family was divided --

BK: Right.

SU: But...

BK: Right. And when your mother came back, then, did your sister continue to stay on --

SU: Yes.

BK: With you?

SU: Then we found out she had married a student from Japan who had graduated from Columbia University. And so my father says, "Call him. He can help run the dairy." So he came, but he was Japan-born. His only years in America was when he was in school, New York City. So I think he had a hard time adjusting to the small Japanese community that we have here.

BK: In Seattle, right.

SU: But it was okay.

BK: So he helped, eventually, run the dairy?

SU: Oh, yes. He modernized the dairy. Collected all the old debts my, that my father had put behind him. He went after them, things like -- he, but he, too, went to Japan before war 'cause he knew that war was imminent. Which is another thing, I think we were caught, so many of us were caught unaware of, that there would be such a disastrous war. But my brother-in-law knew. He took everything and went to Japan.

BK: Oh.

SU: And so my sister and he were separated for the rest of their lives because my brother-in-law died soon after war ended.

BK: And your sister had remained in the United States?

SU: Uh-huh.

BK: I see.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

BK: We'll get back to that, but as you're growing up, then, you had said that most of your close friends were really the Japanese Americans in the International District?

SU: Yes.

BK: And that it was -- your close friends really were not a mixed group of, ethnically mixed from school or that kind of thing, but mostly Japanese Americans. Because of that, what kinds of things did the community provide for you youngsters as you're growing up?

SU: Well, for instance, I went to Bailey Gatzert School when it, opened, a brand-new school for us. And we were so happy. And we had a wonderful principal named Ada J. Mahon. Her first priority was that we become good American citizens. She wanted us to, so every, every so often we'd have these assemblies where we'd have flag salutes and all that. But she was a wonderful teach -- principal. And all the teachers there, too -- because when, I remember when I first went to school I couldn't speak a word of English. See, we were brought up in a Japanese home where my mother, my mother especially, she lived here over fifty years, and she never did learn English. But my father had to learn English because of his business. But my mother never did. So here I went to school, no older sis -- brothers or sisters to help us in the English language, and yet we got by. So we must have had very dedicated teachers who looked after us. I was able to skip two grades and go into high school earlier than most of my friends. So that, that meant that the teachers really helped us. And the Japanese community -- as I said, I was born in a house right near, around the corner from the church and Nippon Kan. Nippon Kan Hall was where the Japanese all gathered for entertainment. And my mother, that was her only form of leisure and all that. So every Saturday night she would drag us all, because various organizations in the community would have their shibai or their odori or --

BK: A shibai is a play?

SU: Classical drama. Amateurs, of course, all the people, but we enjoyed watching. And then there were church organizations, Boy Scout groups, Buddhists had the Lotus group, where they had fundraisers by having entertainments, talent shows like that. Oh, my, we really...

BK: Did you participate in like the odori, which is the dance, Japanese --

SU: No.

BK: Japanese classical dance?

SU: I never went to classes like that. And, but Japanese Language School had a program every year. And we had to practice for that. So for that, I was on the stage. And then we had what we call a Girls' Club, a social group. And we had entertainment. Most of the organizations had entertainment, for which they prepared for a whole year, and then we presented them. I don't know how we were. But I must have had a very wonderful set of parents, because for instance, in order to appear in this one entertainment that I remember, at Nippon Kan, the girls all had to wear black, short coats. And we had to go buy it. My -- mothers couldn't make those things. We had to all have a set. We had big, white chrysanthemum pompons here, and came -- kind of like the Rockettes on the stage. [Laughs] But anyway, it was really a lot of fun, clean fun, where we could meet our friends, and also be entertained by them. And that's, I think we were very fortunate our whole life, although we were centered in Japantown, our, at Bailey Gatzert School, I remember just a few Chinese, no black person, no Filipino. We were all Japanese. So I think we ruled the school, really. And so all of our life we never felt any discrimination. We would go to school together with friends, leave the school with friends, but they're all Japanese. We walked two blocks down from Bailey Gatzert School and go to the Japanese Language School for another one hour and a half. And so we were studying, studying all the time. No chance to get into mischief.

BK: Right. Right.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

SU: Then also during our growing-up days, we had what we called the Courier League.

BK: Could you tell us more about that? What is --

SU: It was, see, Jimmie Sakamoto and his wife had started this English-written newspaper. Once a week it came out. He had -- he was a pugilist. And he'd got blinded when he was boxing in New York City. So he had to come home. This was his home, Seattle. And he had married a lady from Tottori, from the same ken. So we know them quite well. And they started this Courier League in conjunction with their newspaper. And the league consisted of football games, baseball, basketball, according to the season. And a man named George Ishihara, who was Jimmie's friend, helped in organizing this tremendous group of hundreds of kids in various activities. Like for instance, like just basketball team. It wasn't just one team representing one church, like the Baptist church had basketball team, boys' basketball team. The top ones were called High Stars, and we had Meteors, Sparklers, all those things. They were all made up of different age groups. And then we had also what we called the girls' team. And the girls' team, I joined them when I was fifteen. And I have a picture of them. We had Mac Kaneko as our coach, and his wife-to-be at that time designed our cos -- suit --

BK: Uniforms.

SU: Uniform, I guess. And we had to have our mothers make it for us. It's trunks. No bloomers. By that time, we were able to wear trunks with little bib on it. Isn't that an odd uniform? But we got to be in the girls' basketball team -- I mean, league. The WWGs used to get a lot of championship, and even in the year that I was in.

BK: What does WWG stand for?

SU: Oh, my, you have to be a Baptist. Worthwhile Girls of the Worldwide Guild Working with God for the Whole World's Good. See, WWG.

BK: Wonderful. Yes. Excellent.

SU: So, and then the boys, they were in the league. And so many of the men, now, tell me, if it weren't for these teams where they had to play so hard and work so hard, practice, it got them out of mischief. They couldn't, they didn't have time for any mischief. So a lot of people were influenced by the league.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

BK: The church was a center, it seems as though, for many of your activities. Besides sponsoring the girls' basketball team on which you had played, what other kinds of things were you involved with at the church?

SU: Oh, at the church. From the time we were little, we had a very good pastor. The original pastor who founded the church, Reverend Okazaki. He had about -- one, two -- about four girls and two boys, I think. And the oldest of the, his girls was a graduate of the Baptist Missionary Training School. After the missionary, she came, she became, well, she got to know the missionary from Baptist Missionary Training Schools, who, by the way, was a graduate back in 1918. And so the minister's wife -- I mean, daughter, she had gone there, too. When she came back -- yeah, I guess when she came back, she gathered us teenage girls. And we learned how to sew, do hemming, and things like that, how to cook American food, because our parents, my mother didn't know how. And like my mother, I said, as I said, she was so liberal, I'd learn something at this cooking class, and the next week I would have it at home. So she would allow me to buy these things, like pork chops, how to do pork chops, or Spanish rice, or things like that. She was willing to try. My mother allowed me to try these things.

So besides sewing and cooking, then we played gym. We were on a gym. That's how we got active in the basketball activities. Japanese Baptist Church was the only Japanese church which had a regular gymnasium. See, rest of them were even portables or built later. That was different. Japanese Baptist Church was built back in 19... I think they moved to this new place about 1927. And they already had a gym. So that's why I think the Baptist people were able to use that gym lots more than other church members. So we were very fortunate in that.

In conjunction with the Japanese Baptist Church, they also had what they call Fujin Home, Japanese -- what is it? -- women's home. And they were started by Mrs. Okazaki, the wife of the pastor, who, we were all under, the head of our church office was in New York City. So she wrote to them and said, "Here are all these picture brides coming in from Japan. Temporarily, they have to have housing." Some of them didn't want to get married to the fellow that, whose picture they had, things like that. They refused. So they had to have lodging. And so the Baptist Home Mission Society funded the building that was built about two blocks away from the Japanese Baptist Church on East Spruce. And that became the haven for so many troubled people. I remember when I was growing up, if there were families where the husbands would die, and the wife would be left with all these little children, well they could always go to Fujin Home for, to stay there and eat there. And quite a few were there. I know one family that came in from Montana. The father had died and the widow brought all those children to Fujin Home. So that was another wonderful thing that...

BK: Like a temporary shelter?

SU: And even after war, it became one, a place where they could stay. So Fujin Home was a wonderful place for us.

BK: Yes, indeed. How did you, as a teenager, you again, you talked about all these different and various kind of projects that the Baptist Church had sponsored. I'm sure you probably were also there for the religious kinds of things. Could you tell us anything more about the gathering? Did you have conventions or conferences or --

SU: Yes. Before war, we had what we called the Young People's Christian Conference. That's YPCC, patterned after a group that started it in California two years prior to our starting it here. We had about 300 delegates that came in from Spokane, Yakima, Wapato, Vancouver, Portland. And we would gather, every year, the weekend of Thanksgiving. So the conference was Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And we had to house them. And so different homes would open up, and they would have guests like that. And here we were, only about fifteen or sixteen when we started all this. And the nerve that we had.

BK: And yet, I think back, in terms of the kind of leadership that you exhibited, even at that time, then.

SU: Well, it developed us. It really helped. Otherwise, who knows what might have happened?

BK: Gave you the confidence, gave you the opportunity to try out some of these things.

SU: And we had meetings at various market churches, especially up at the University District, because they had great big churches where they could accommodate all of this. But I remember particularly our last YPCC, before we were put into camp. That was the fall -- what was it? -- Thanksgiving time of 1940, because war started at '41, didn't it?

BK: Correct.

SU: '40. And Kurusu, the ambassador from Japan, was in Washington, D.C., trying to negotiate. It was right before war, so it's 1941.

BK: November of 1941.

SU: And we were so naive. We thought, we would pass a resolution. Send a wire to Washington, D.C., "Please don't have any war. We are for peace." And these are these young people meeting who are praying for your success. And we did send a telegrams like that, but alas, it didn't...

BK: But the fact that you young people took that stand and actually acted on it.

SU: Oh, yes, we did.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

BK: As, by now, we're getting close to your graduation. You graduated in 1932 from -- was it Franklin High School?

SU: Franklin High School. And actually, my mother and father came to the graduation, even though my mother couldn't understand English. And we had all those speeches, valedictorian speeches, salutatorian speeches and all this. They sat through it all. And I guess it was because I was the first child of theirs that graduated high school, which was quite an accomplishment, I guess, in their eyes. And then for my graduation gift, they sent me to Japan, for my first trip on a boat. We traveled two weeks on the boat to get to Yokohama. And those days, we could graduate from high school mid-term, so I graduated in January. And by February, I was going to Japan all by myself. But my father was already there, see. So I was supposed to meet him in Yokohama. When we got to Yokohama, it was pitch dark. I couldn't see anything. So I leaned over, and I said, "Papa," real loud. And then my father says, "Hoy oi," or something like that. And I recognized his voice, and we found each other in the pitch dark. [Laughs]

BK: And this is from the ship that you're yelling?

SU: Yes. When it docked.

BK: Right. Oh, what a relief it must have been for you to have --

SU: Yes. And so he and I and my brother, who had, was still in, oh, I guess, he was still in high school. But anyway, we went on a tour of all Japan. All over. Walked all over, on the buses and trains --

BK: Wonderful.

SU: And boats. So I got back couple days before graduation exercises. My girlfriend told me what to do. I graduated.

BK: Isn't that wonderful? What a wonderful graduation present --

SU: I know.

BK: To be able to go to Japan.

SU: I really enjoyed being there. At that time, I was very naive. So I didn't know much about the impending war. Because already there were womenfolks saying goodbye to their sons, because the Manchurian Incident had started, and they were going into North China, things like that.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

BK: So upon your return, then, in 1932, June or thereabouts, so that you can make the graduation, then what did you do after graduation?

SU: Well, as I told you, there's a connection with the Baptist Missionary Training School, because of these two women who influenced my life. And then also, very close friend of mine had, a sister-in-law of the pastor's daughter had gone there, was going there right at that time. She was a senior when I was a freshman. And I wanted to go to the same school. And my mother said, "Okay. As long as you write to me every week." So they sent me there on the train. And, but since I was with this Japanese girl for one year, my mother must have felt that I would behave.

BK: How, was it very unusual at that time to send a daughter off? I mean, number one, to go to college, but number two, to go so far away to college?

SU: In Depression time, too.

BK: Right.

SU: This was right in the Depression. But as I said, whatever I would say, they never, my parents never opposed me. Isn't that something?

BK: That is. That is amazing.

SU: So I'm very grateful to them. And then in my last year, my father died of cancer. So I had to come home, because my mother said, "You've got to start working at the dairy and protect the interests of your brothers." So I started working under my sister. [Adjust collar] Forgot. Closing it up.

BK: Can I go back to the Chicago, the Baptist Missionary Training School? What was your experience there like? Was it a positive one? Did you encounter -- I mean, this is the first time you've been to a really large city on your own, even though you did have friends?

SU: That's right. We were the only Japanese. Of course, my girlfriend left after she graduated. And so I was left, the other years, I was the only Japanese. But thought nothing of it. They were so open-hearted, and in welcoming me, I really loved it. And during the vacation time, I couldn't come home, because it took how many days on the train, that was the only way of transportation. The girls would vie for me, "Come live, stay with us, or come..." So I have a choice of going to various states, and be accepted.

I remember one family, they had a farm at Marengo, Wisconsin. Marengo. Anyway, it was a regular farm where I learned how to eat breakfast, farmer's breakfast. Oh, I thought was so good. I had mashed potatoes and gravy, for morning. [Laughs] Because the menfolks would go out to milk the cows and do their chores, and then they would come back to eat breakfast. And so that's how I learned how to eat biscuits, homemade biscuits and things like that. Another family, one other holiday, lived in southern Illinois. And the mother made all kinds of homemade Christmas candies, and divinity, and things I never knew people could make at home.

And so everywhere I went, they welcomed me with open arms, so I was lucky all my life, where I didn't feel any prejudice. The only time I felt it little bit was, my roommate's brother came into town from Wisconsin, tall fellow, blond. And he took me out to a theater. Of course, we had to travel by the bus. And as we were coming back home, I could see the other passengers looking at us and talking about us. And I felt very, for the first time felt a little bit uneasy. So from then on, I just started dating Japanese boys.

BK: So that was the very first time, though, there was that kind of feeling, then, as far as --

SU: Perhaps. Or else we were curiosities or something. Because Chicago, at that time, had only about 300 Japanese, including babies and grandparents. So it's not like it is now.

BK: Right.

SU: So maybe we were just, aroused their curiosity. Especially when the fellow was tall and blond, and I was so short.

BK: So really, your three and a half years at the Chicago Baptist Missionary School was really a very positive experience?

SU: Oh, yes. I made many, many friends. And we have an alumni chapter now in Seattle. We don't, we didn't have to graduate the same year, just the fact that we went to the same school. And so, which was really good, because in 1960, I was asked to join the board for, executive board for the school. And I served for four years. And we, when I was going to school, it was a undergraduate school. Now it's a graduate school. And moved to Rochester, New York. So I've had that pleasure of going to Chicago, and back to Chicago, and then on to Rochester, New York.

BK: Right. How wonderful.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

BK: How difficult was it, then, to return to the Seattle area upon your father's death, without having finished school, when you were having a, really, a fairly good time and all? How difficult was it to return here?

SU: It wasn't. I remember that particular summer, before I made up my mind to come home -- I couldn't come home at all in-between, except one time, because, well, I don't think we could afford it. I don't know why. But I had to work instead. And I worked going to summer camps all over Indiana and Wisconsin, as a girls' counselor with all these hakuijins. They're all young girls.

AI. Did they ask you -- did they ask you what you were? Did they --

SU: Never. Isn't that strange? No, they never asked -- or else, they were told ahead of time. And I remember staying with a medical doctor and his wife. His wife was a graduate of BMTS in Indiana. And I had just received this letter from my mother, which said that my father was in the hospital with cancer. So I was telling this lady about it. And she had a similar experience, where -- in her senior year, she said her father became very critically ill, so she went home to be with her father. And she's never regretted that she didn't graduate from school. Here she's a wife of a medical doctor. So, well, that helped make up my mind, and I went back to school. When school started, well I had started my fourth year, and I was still going to school, but around Thanksgiving, I told my mother, "I'm coming home." So, came home, and that's --

BK: And your father had passed away by that time, or --

SU: No. He wanted to die in Japan, where his brothers and sisters were. So he went on the boat, December, middle December. And by January, he died. He couldn't go to his home. He landed in the hospital right away, where my sister had already made arrangements for that. So his brothers and sisters were able to come into Tokyo to see him. So he died young, at only fifty-four years of age.


BK: I was just thinking as you're, when you came back to Seattle from the, from school, was it difficult to leave what is almost an all-white world back into an Asian world?

SU: No. The transition, it's just natural for me to come back to that. And then trying to help my father and things like that.

BK: So you just jumped right back into like the dairy business?

SU: Into the church life.

BK: Into the church life. I see.

SU: My activities were mainly church, besides work. So that...

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

<Begin Segment 11>

BK: And during this time, then, once you returned to Seattle, in what? 1935, and then you jumped back into the church, etc., when did you get married?

SU: End of 1936.

BK: Oh.

SU: My husband was already, I had met him in Chicago. That's another thing that I owe to that school, or the Baptists. One year, one year I had a phone call from a friend of mine who was also a member of the Japanese Baptist Church. His name was Min Yamasaki, the well-known world architect.

BK: Architect.

SU: Min Yamasaki. He wasn't an architect yet, but he had graduated from the School of Architecture in University of Washington. And he was on his way to New York City to find a job. So he called me at the school one day, said, "Let's go out. And I want you to meet another Seattle person who is in town." It turned out to be my future husband at that time. Also at that time, Chicago was having the World's Fair of 1933, the summer of 1933 and '34. And well, I think my husband came for the fair of 1934, and so had Min, and I remember meeting him.

Well, I had known of the Uno family in Seattle, because they were very well known. And Chick, my future husband at that time, had just graduated from Pullman, Washington State, at that time, college. Well, it took him a long time to get his degree, because he came from a large family. His father needed help on the farm. He had a poultry farm in a place called Tukwila. And because he had to help his father, and then also to earn his way through school, it took him quite a number of years to graduate. So he had graduated, and he had come to Chicago to visit the fair, and also he had cousins living in Chicago. So one Saturday night, after our prayer meeting, we, Min and I, went up -- Min, we called him Tinky, Tinky. So if you hear somebody say, Tinky Yamasaki, that means they're friends from long, long time ago. And so that's how I met my husband. And Tinky went on to New York to become a famous architect. So I can say at least that this famous architect was also our baishakunin.

BK: Your go-between, right. So then when you had returned to Seattle, where was Chick at that point?

SU: Oh, he had gone to Japan for one year's study there, Japanese study, and also study, to go to juudou school there, famous one in Tokyo. And so he was away for the whole, almost two years, before he came back to Seattle. And, of course, my sister had to have him come to work for us at the White River Dairy, so he became a driver for one of our trucks, delivering milk.

BK: Oh.

SU: Remember this is all in the middle of Depression, yet.

BK: That's right.

SU: And yet we postponed our honeymoon trip, our, saved enough money. And then for our honeymoon trip, we went to Portland on the train, took another train out of the city of Portland to Chicago. And then he went on to Michigan to pick up a car, brand-new car. Came back to meet me in Chicago. And we toured around the whole United States on our honeymoon trip. Took us six weeks to go around. And we looked up various friends who had moved out of Seattle to work back east, and also my college friends who were working in different parts --

BK: How memorable.

SU: Of the United States.

BK: That's wonderful.

SU: So that's how we came home, through California. And then we started a family after that, and my first daughter was born. And both of us worked in the White River Dairy --

BK: Okay.

SU: Together. And my older sister and myself. And then gradually, as my brothers got through school, then they started working for us. So it was mainly a family corporation until war came by.

BK: I see.

SU: Started.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

BK: Now, prior to -- I mean, while you were working, and you had your first daughter, you were still involved in the church. And I know that you had mentioned in our previous conversation that you had chaperoned a trip to Japan?

SU: Oh, that's right. I'd forgotten about that.

BK: Would you tell us more about that?

SU: We had the WWG Kengakudan group. And these girls, there were twelve of the girls who had graduated high school, but never been to Japan. So I chaperoned this group. And we still had to travel by boat, two weeks on the boat. I was seasick for a whole week, until the captain sent an officer down to where I was laying in bed, and said, "Your girls are running wild all over the boat. Please come and chaperone them." So I reluctantly had to leave my bed. And we went third class, at that time, to Japan. And third class meant the bottom of our bed was all boards, and they had a small mattress on top of that. And we traveled third class. Well, that's all we could afford.

But in preparation for this trip, it was very interesting that we got together, the girls got together at least once a week. And we had a principal at Japanese Language School, Mr. Nakagawa, and his wife taught us how to eat properly, how to take the chopsticks. You can't just, because it's laying on the thing. How to pick up the chopsticks proper way, how to drink out of a bowl of soup, and different procedures. And they also taught us quite a few things about Japan. Because as I said, this is the first visit for them. For a whole year prior to our trip. And we raised money, also the girls, in order to go to Japan. But the thing is, we were able to go to Japan on the boat, two weeks each way, so that meant four weeks, plus all the expenses of traveling up and down Japan, for only $300.

BK: Isn't that...

SU: Can you imagine? And yet there were some families who couldn't afford it, to send the girls. And to this day, I've heard from, especially from two girls who couldn't make it, they wanted to come. And they said, oh, they regretted that they couldn't come with us, because as soon as we landed in Yokohama, we started traveling all over. And we visited mainly the Baptist Mission fields from Sendai down to Nagasaki. And we traveled by bus, ferries, boats, and trains. No planes at that time. So we took, we left in February, and came back in June, for only $300.

BK: Isn't that amazing? That was in 1940?

SU: '40.

BK: 1940. Can you tell us a little bit more about the political climate? Or did you, as visitors from the United States, feel anything, or hear anything?

SU: Oh, yes. The war in China had already started. And so the girls, we taught the girls how to sing various patriotic songs. I don't think we knew what that words were, but at least we memorized it, and got the tune. And we, as soon as we landed, we were taken to naval hospitals and army hospitals. These young boys, they had come back wounded. And when we would enter the room, they would sit up. And we told them, "Oh, you don't have to sit up. Just lay down again." And they would lay down. And we would sing these patriotic songs. And at that time, Japan was celebrating their 2,600th year of reign. So they had one song called, "Ni-sen Roppyaku-nen". That's all I can remember. We sang all over.

But it was on that trip that we would meet various students. And they would ask us, "Why is it that United States is preparing for war against us?" And we were shocked, because we, I didn't think that the United States newspapers said anything about how bad Japan was, eventually we'd have to fight with them. But in Japan, they said, "No, it's the United States that's so anxious to fight with us." So we kept denying it. But on the trains and all, various students would come up to us and start talking to the girls. Of course, the girls were all young and pretty, and so the boys were anxious to talk to them.

BK: But that lists, then, the first inkling you had that maybe there was trouble?

SU: Yes.

BK: Real trouble between the United States and Japan?

SU: Yes. After visiting those soldiers, and then what I didn't realize, that we were being followed by the police. And they would interview us at the hotel and things like that.

BK: You mean the police would, the Japanese police --

SU: The Japanese police were --

BK: Would interview you, in terms of like what are you doing, or what kinds of questions do they --

SU: Oh yes. They wanted to know why we were there, what we thought of Japan, and -- the girls were very willing to talk. So we were put into the newspaper with quotes. The main thing was that they were very happy to go to the homeland of their parents. But they always said, "No, we're Americans, but we're very happy to come here." So they really opened up their hearts to us there, too. And although we were termed as gaijins, foreigners, never Japanese.

And one of the girls in the group had a cousin who was an injured army man, came in his uniform when we were visiting his parents there in Nagasaki. And the sad part of it, he was the spittin' image of this girl's brother. Just looked, just like that, each other. Well, the girl's brother died in our, in Africa. But I don't know what happened to his cousin there in Japan. So that's how we traveled up and down Japan.

BK: Right.

SU: And only two girls came back with me to Seattle. And the rest of them stayed behind, wanted to stay there for a while. And quite a few were caught in Japan.

BK: So as they stayed behind, to maybe visit with family, or whatever else, they stayed long enough so that they could not return.

SU: No. One of the girls, she was on that last boat that left Japan going through Hawaii. And then all of a sudden, the boat had turned around, and she landed back in Yokohama. And oh, she had such a hard time. 'Cause she had been living with her uncle, but they, too were running short of food. So she talks about going way into the countryside to dig up the earth, to see what kind of edible things there were. But she was able to come back after war ended.

BK: After war.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

BK: Well, as you can try to bring yourself back to 1941, December 7th, can you describe how you heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and what your immediate feelings were?

SU: Well, of course, you couldn't believe it. At least we knew where Pearl Harbor was. But it was such a shock. We were really shocked. The same day, my brother was supposed to announce his engagement to get married. And so since we had made the arrangements, we had dinner. But oh, nobody talked. We left as soon as we could. And as we were coming down this Chinese restaurant, which was on Main Street -- run by Japanese but Chinese food -- and as we came down this stairway to the street level, the FBI people were already there, and picked up about two of our friends who had been dining in the same restaurant. They're already, and they were American citizens. But because their company had been dealing with Japan on the sale of steel -- remember when Seattle used to have trolleys that ran in the middle of the street? And all those railings, they were able to sell. So for that they were picked up.

But it, when evacuation orders came through, that we were, just couldn't believe our ears. For days, we could hear commentators, especially from California, who began saying, "We're gonna put those Japs behind camp, in camp, behind barbed wires." And Chick and I would say, "Oh, that means our parents, because they're aliens." They couldn't become citizens. The law forbade them to become citizens. So we're just saying, "We'll have to go visit them," not realizing that, my goodness, they meant us, too.

BK: Right, right.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

SU: And by that time, let's see, by the time in the spring, I was already pregnant. And had, was planning -- I mean, my baby was supposed, second baby was supposed to come in May. And then when our orders came that we have to move in April, my doctor went down to the temporary camp, Camp Harmony, where Puyallup Fair is now being held. Says, "Where's the hospital?" "We don't have a hospital." Well, how many thousands of us were leaving Seattle to go to the camp? And he was so horrified, he wrote to the government. And they said, "If she's, if your patient is in the hospital, then she can stay there. But only as long as she can stay in the hospital." But fortunately, those days, we had, mothers had to stay two weeks anyway, even though we wanted to go home. So I was able to stay in the hospital for two weeks.

But the day that evacuation came for us who were up on Beacon Hill, one family at the First Baptist Church took care of another family from the Japanese Baptist Church. So they had one family who came to the door, helped them pack, and we could carry only what we could carry, take with us. And so I remember this man and his family, who had helped my family, came to the hospital to tell me that he had helped them get on the bus, and that they're safely on their way to Camp Harmony.


BK: So you were in the hospital when the rest of your family was sent to Puyallup. Now, where was Chick at this time, your husband?

SU: He went to camp.

BK: He went to camp. So it was just you and your newborn that remained --

SU: Oh, yes.

BK: In the hospital.

SU: As long as I was in the hospital.


BK: Tell me, you had said earlier, too, that you were due in May, and the baby came in April. Did your, did your doctor then arrange for you to have the baby early, or what happened?

SU: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I remember our last meal we had at home -- I told you that my father-in-law had a poultry farm. Well, by that time, my father-in-law wasn't with us. Mother had died. Anyway, Chick's brothers were at the farm, and they brought in some chicken, the last chicken that they were going to eat. And they prepared this huge chicken dinner. And I thought, "Oh, I better ask the doctor if I can, if I'm going to be -- " because I'm, I knew I was going to be induced the next morning -- if I can eat. And he says, "Absolutely not." So all I could do was, was smell that delicious chicken dinner, which I never did have. And had to go to the hospital the next day. Well, our family was supposed to evacuate on the 29th of April -- was it 29th? Something, yeah, or the 30th. So the doctor had, have the baby induced. They give you this orange cocktail thing, and you drink it. And that started the labor pains, eventually. And so the baby was born on the 29th of April, which is also Tenchou-setsu.

BK: What does that mean?

SU: It's the birthday of the emperor that, emperor at that time. So now, when I tell my daughter, "Oh, everybody in Japan is celebrating your birthday," "Oh, what do I care?" It meant nothing to her. So she came on the 29th, and so the family was able to come to the hospital to see the baby, and then they left the very next day. So I guess I was sad. I can't remember too much.

BK: Right, I was going to ask you how you felt, knowing that you were left behind, and --

SU: But, there's a girl in the bed next to me who was crying all day long. So I asked her, our babies were born the same time. I asked her, "What's the matter?" She says, "Well, my husband is in the South Pacific somewhere." So I thought, "Well, I should be very grateful. She doesn't know where her husband is, but at least I know where my family is, even though they were behind barbed wires." Of course, I didn't know at that time, barbed wires, and all. At least I knew where they were.

So two weeks later -- oh, then two weeks later, then I was able to go to Fujin, this Fujin Home that I told you about, the Japanese women's home, the Baptist group. And I was able to stay overnight. And my husband called me, because we were told to take only what we could carry. Well, how can you carry cribs or -- I mean, all the simple things we couldn't take. So my husband called, and says, order the kettle and pot -- well, not pots and pans, but at least he knew we needed a kettle and something to sterilize the baby's bottles and little things like that. Of course, I couldn't carry the crib there. But he asked me to pick it up, so a friend of mine did.

BK: I see.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

BK: And then you went on to Puyallup?

SU: And what a scene. It was dusty. And all those womenfolks had kerchiefs around their head to keep the dust out of their hair. And barbed wire fence. And then there were people outside looking in on the camp, as if we were the zoo. I felt, here we are, and they're looking from the outside. But some of the people who were there on the outside were Japanese people who hadn't evacuated yet from other sections, from Tacoma and Sumner, around there. But those Sunday, Sundays, when those hakujin people would come by and gawking. Oh, it was terrible, the feeling of it.

BK: And here you were bringing a brand-new baby to this kind of environment. What kind of feelings did you have at that time?

SU: Felt terrible. Couldn't even sterilize her bottles or her formula, because we have didn't have a kitchen. So I asked Dr. Suzuki at that time, "What shall I do?" And he says, "Give her water." I mean, use the same water and just put the powder in. And well, she survived. Now she's a mother of seven children.

BK: Right. So she survived beautifully.

SU: But she's not tall. She's like Alice. So she says, it's because she came out one month early.

BK: Right.

SU: But don't you think Naomi looks fine now?

BK: Oh, she's beautiful.

SU: And I gave her a biblical name, because I thought, well, we needed it at that time.

BK: Does she have a middle Japanese name?

SU: No. My mother used to call her Naomi. That's Japanese name. Naomi. So...

BK: Right. As you remember back to Puyallup, what, do you have any memories, good or bad, that you could recount? I mean, life must have been very, very difficult, and especially with children, but, we've all heard descriptions of the barracks and that kind of thing. Do you have any memories?

SU: Oh, yes. The hot water, we had to share -- Puyallup was divided into four sections. We were in the parking, former parking lot in the barracks. And each section had one laundry room. And we were told that the hot water would come in at six o'clock in the morning. So all the mothers were out there in lines. They had various doors that would open. So we'd stand outside the closed doors in the morning, with your pail of dirty diapers and your soap, scrub board. I never had used those old-fashioned scrub boards before, but with that -- and if you forgot anything in your barrack, then you'd lose your place in the line. So we had to remember to bring all those things in. And as soon as a door would open, oh, the women would just rush in. And in five minutes, the hot water would be all gone. But we learned how to wash in the cold water. She never got sick or anything, which is very fortunate.

And then we had to stand in line. I remember from the very first for brushing your teeth, or going to the bathroom, stand in line to get into the mess hall. It was all, we had to take turns. And it was a lack of privacy, I think, which got to many of us. Well, like a newborn babe, they cry, especially at night, it seemed like. So I would have to get up and walk with her so she wouldn't bother the people down the barracks, because these barracks had, just had wood partitions that didn't even come up to the ceiling. So about 6 feet high, and then the noise could go all the way down to the barracks. The barracks were divided into about six apartments.

So after the first night, a lady next to me said, "I would have had a baby just like yours." I said, "What happened?" So she told me the story of how she and her husband were farming people that lived in South Park. But when evacuation, no, oh, because she was expecting, as I was, she moved into, they moved into Seattle to be able to go to the doctor and all that. Well, one night -- and then we also had curfew. And we had to be in our homes and not out in the street after eight o'clock, I think it was.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

BK: And this was the intervening months between the Pearl Harbor bombing in December and before you were evacuated? There were things like curfew imposed on the entire Japanese community, right?

SU: Oh, yes. Those of us who had businesses had to hurry up, close up our books and everything, get the money in order, and then rush home.

BK: Because of the curfew?

SU: Yes. And then there was also, you couldn't go beyond so many miles from your home. I forgot what the restriction was. It was during this time that my mother-in-law got sick. And they lived out in Tukwila, as I said. And my father-in-law called. So I told my husband, "Let's get Dr. Suzuki. We're going to go out there." My husband was so scared that we'd be caught, because Tukwila is more than five miles out. We went anyway. But she had died during the, before we got there. So we had that tragedy before camp. And, of course, he was, the father-in-law was picked up soon after Pearl Harbor, because he had served as a cavalry man in the Russo-Japanese War. There's a picture of him astride his horse and all that. Very proud of his Japanese citizenship, I guess.

BK: And he was picked up earlier and sent to --

SU: First to Missoula, Montana. But he was put into that immigration station, we have at, on Airport Way. And I remember going there, 'cause I was working at White River Dairy, and it was just a few blocks away from the immigration station. So I would go there, and start waving and waving. And somehow, somebody must have told him that I was out there on the street. And he'd wave back. So every day -- we couldn't talk to each other -- but at least we waved to each other.

BK: So he was held incommunicado there for --

SU: Oh, yes.

BK: Was it two weeks or three weeks?

SU: I don't remember.

BK: And then sent to Missoula?

SU: And finally he ended up in Crystal City, Texas.

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

<Begin Segment 17>

SU: But in camp, I remember that, oh, we didn't get a, no cribs for the new babies. So that Sheila was allowed a bed with no railings on the side, which meant someone had to be with her all the time. So my mother, my mother had gone to camp. My mother was alive. She was a widow. And my brother, they were assigned another barrack room. So my mother, just before meal time, would pick up my four-year-old daughter. The two of them would go to have their meals, and then I would wait 'til the second shift started. And she'd come back after she got through eating, and then take care of the baby while I would go to the mess hall. So in all this, you could tell the families couldn't eat together. And in the meantime, my husband, who was quite an athletic person, was chosen as athletic director for the whole camp. So he was busy going from camp to, from barrack to -- I mean, block to block.

BK: Block to block.

SU: So he couldn't be with us. So those are the things that I didn't like that -- there was a break-up of a family life, very easily. No privacy anywhere, with the walls not reaching up. Everybody could hear what's happening down the line.

BK: And like you say, the break-down of the meals and that kind of thing. And I interrupted you. I'd like to go back to where we were talking about curfew. And one of your, the neighbor next to you --

SU: [Inaudible]

BK: Who had started the story about, she would have had a child?

SU: Yes. And when the baby started to come in Seattle, after midnight, or whatever it, where he had to stay at home. Well, he was too frightened to go out and look for a public phone or ask for help from the doctor. And the baby came, and he didn't know what to do. It was the first child. And it strangled to death, with the cord. So I felt so sorry for her, because she could hear my baby crying, and here she was, empty-armed now. So...

BK: But those are the personal tragedies that occurred because of these governmental issues?

SU: That's right.

BK: Right. Right.

SU: Of course, some people would not care about laws, and still do. But I guess he was, they're people like that. Like my husband didn't want to go to see his mother, dying mother, because it was beyond the cur -- I mean the limits.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

SU: But, another thing, when I was pregnant, still continuing that business before we were put into camp, all of our company books were seized, because they happened to be in our attorney's office. And, of course, the attorney was a Japanese man, all-American citizen, who was picked up the first day, too, right after Pearl Harbor. So when I went to the government office and said, "I'd like to have my books back, because I need 'em." Well, you've got to go to the jail get an okay from your attorney. Well, here I am, big as ever. He took one look at me and says, "Oh, we'll get it for you." [Laughs] So I just waited at the office while they got it for me. So they were kind people.

AI: Well, speaking of that time when you had to get those books, and there came a time, we're backing up a little bit, before the evacuation, if you could say a little bit about how you had to prepare in the closing down of your business.

SU: That's right. Well, in the first place, my sister's, my sister, who was not an American citizen, had all her bank assets frozen. So she didn't have any money. But somehow, from the dairy, we were able to give her, and then there was a period where she was able to leave Seattle, because they had that voluntary evacuation -- I mean, where you could leave. So she left. She had one daughter with her, and she left for New York City. So that left me with all the disposal of the property. Luckily, we knew this big firm called Arden Farms, who tried to take some of the things that they could use. But Alpine Dairy, which happened to be in Issaquah, said that they could take over the whole plant, trucks and everything. So he said he would.

But when we were in camp, I got a letter from him saying that he had to close up the place, because the government did not allow him to increase his business. They were only allowed so much butter fat to the, each dairy, what they had had prior to Pearl Harbor. So he couldn't expand, because see, milk and all, butter and all, taken over by the government. They didn't want the individual dairies to get rich on it. So there we were, without any tenant, so we lost our income there. We gave away practically everything. We had bought new equipment. Because business was really getting very good toward, right after Pearl Harbor and up to evacuation time, that announcement came out. Because I understand that the customers of our restaurants and the grocery stores kept telling the owners, "Don't worry, we're going to keep on being with you." So our business really jumped up. And then Seattle was filling up with outsiders, workers and all.

BK: So when you, you had leased the business to Issaquah, before you had actually left for camp. And then once you got to camp, it seemed as though that you got another letter saying that, "Can't do it."

SU: No.

BK: And so at that point, then, they just closed the doors --

SU: That's right.

BK: For the time being?

SU: Closed everything at a loss. But, which we never recovered from, really. But...

BK: Right. Eventually, what did happen to that business, to the White River? Was it temporarily closed when the Issaquah Alpine Dairy couldn't make a go of it? And then...

SU: Then, I guess we were out of camp by then. I got a letter from our attorney -- our attorney took care of everything -- said, "There's a good buyer, a refugee from Europe, who's got cash and would like to buy your building, building and land. But for $10,000." Well, do you know that the same land now is occupied by a great big building, and the person who developed the project had to pay $350,000 for what we sold for $10,000.

BK: For $10,000.

SU: So I told Wah Eng, who bought the place, I said, "Oh, you got cheated." [Laughs] He laughed. He said he was offered $375,000 anyway for the place, but we sold for only $10,000.

BK: Right. Right.

SU: Because when we see the letter, we didn't know whether we could come home or anything. Nobody knew what our future was. We thought we could never be back here. So $10,000's better than nothing.

BK: Right. And there was a lot of uncertainty at that time.

SU: Oh, yes.

BK: I mean, like you say, you just took what you could then at that time.

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

<Begin Segment 19>

BK: Well, once you left Puyallup, did you, with everybody else, then, what camp did you go to after that?

SU: We were sent to Minidoka in Idaho. I didn't know Idaho could have so much desert property, land. Well, anyway, the train moved in, and we were left at the depot. And, oh, as far as you can see, it was just flat sagebrush country. And I guess the truck must have taken us into the camp. It was a typical army camp, barracks upon barracks.

BK: Here again, with two young children.

SU: Yes.

BK: What kind of feelings did you have, in terms of bringing these two innocent babes into someplace like this?

SU: No, maybe that's why my four-year-old can't, says she can't remember camp. It must have made some impression, but she never expresses herself. She just says, "I can't remember." Of course, Naomi, my second one, couldn't remember either. But very funny incident happened, though. When, later on, I guess, we were allowed to go to the nearby city. And the nearby city was Twin Falls. And my mother and my brother, and my husband and his brothers and sisters, were able to go to Twin Falls. So we decided that we're gonna have our picture taken. So we did. And then we stayed over at Reverend Andrews' home, which was in Twin Falls. Decided to give the baby a bath. Well, she'd never seen a tub, bathtub, at that time. We didn't have it installed yet in camp. And she just cried. She was just petrified of that bathtub.

BK: That was foreign to her.

SU: Yes. So she had a miserable time in camp. But in camp, if it wasn't dusty -- all this dust would come through, through the window frames, because they wasn't insulated. They would come in through everything, and lay itself on the, all over the floor, the tables, the beds, and the dining room, where the plates were. They would just be covered with dust. So we would have to clean it. And then in the winter when rains came, the same dust would turn into mud. And I remember my mother and my four-year-old were crossing pathway just made of planks, piece of wood. And then she went into the, my daughter did, went into the mud. And there her boots are down there, but my mother was able to pick up my daughter. So we had to go get the boots and all. It was that muddy and sticky.

BK: And all this time, you're still doing diapers?

SU: Oh, yes. And cold formulas.

BK: Right. Right.

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

<Begin Segment 20>

SU: Never seeing my husband, because he was so busy from morning 'til night, and I just figured this isn't the place for us to raise our children. So I wrote to the president of the Baptist Missionary Training School in Chicago. And I told her, "We're, I'm sick of camp. I'd like to get out." And we were able to get out if you had a sponsor, someone who could sponsor you. So she found a good Baptist minister and his family who lived up in a suburb called Winnetka. And they were willing to take us. So my mother and the two children and I, the four of us, left camp to start a new life in the Chicago area.

BK: How did you feel leaving your husband behind?

SU: Well, see, he had volunteered for 442. So I knew eventually, he'd be getting into the army. Eventually, we'd have to say goodbye to each other, anyway. But he never did get called, in the end. We don't know the reason. They didn't give us any reason. But anyway, he stayed behind in camp 'til we had settled ourselves in Winnetka, and he finally joined us.

BK: Oh, okay. So here you are, again, a mother with two little babies, and your mother, and you're forging ahead to Winnetka. Can you tell us a little bit more about your life when you got there?

SU: Well, I remember the day we arrived from Chicago to Winnetka, we took a train. And I thought it was gonna end on a platform, train platform. But when the train let us off -- here in Winnetka, the trains are going underground, like. And on both sides of the station is a steep, steep thing, and with a long stairway. So I remember leaving my mother with the two children and all, with luggage, running up the stairs, found a cab. And the cab driver helped us load it ourselves on that thing. And found our home. And, but that was a wonderful home. They had four children of their own. And they lent us the upstairs bedrooms. So we were able to get in there. In fact, later on, when other friends were coming out of camp, I'd invite them to stay overnight with us. So we shared together. And Winnetka, as someone knows, is a very wealthy suburb. So we were able to get membership in the city pool, city-run pool, and they welcomed us in the church.

BK: So at that time, you didn't encounter any discrimination. It sounded like you were welcomed with open arms.

SU: Uh-huh. Not at all. I mean, we were just, as I said, very fortunate in that. Well, maybe they felt sorry for a Japanese woman, short as I was, with two little babies.

BK: Were most of them aware of the circumstances under which you had come to Winnetka?

SU: Well, I never did ask the Chicago people. But later on, when we lived in Boston, those people didn't know anything about evacuation. It just didn't appear in the papers, I don't think. So after about few months, let's see, I went there in about May, June, July, I think we stayed there about six months in Winnetka. And I had enrolled my daughter in kindergarten there at a very famous liberal school called Crow Island School, elementary school in Winnetka, which was well known for its innovative educational methods. So she was there for about six months. And then, by that time, she was five years old.

And then my husband came and joined us after so many months. And then we decided to look for work. And we're fortunate that in Chicago, in the employment office, was, there were, Reverend Andrews was there, and Floyd Schmoe. He was there. And then another person called Reverend John Thomas, who was instrumental in helping young people out of camp to go to colleges. That was his thing. But anyway, we knew all three of them. So they found a job for us -- I mean, for Chick, as boy's worker in an Italian, what they called settlement house, in Boston, right in the middle of the Italian neighborhood. And we stayed in Boston 'til we found a home in Hyde Park, which is a suburb of Boston.

BK: So you were in the Boston area, then, from November of '43, through -- at least through the end of the war? Again, what were you --

SU: 1947.

BK: Oh, okay. And how were you, how was your experience in Boston?

SU: We found a home -- well, we went to Boston, too, because Chick's cousins were there. They had been there from before war, because their son and their brother had gone to MIT in Boston. And so the family all joined. So we knew that they were there. In fact, we had visited them on our honeymoon trip years before. And so we, they found a place for us, a home, and, but no furnitures. I tell you that Baptist people just all chipped in. Somebody gave us kitchen sets, another dining room set, living room, and all the beds we needed. So we didn't have to buy any furniture at all. And they welcomed us to their church, which was very strange, because we're not used to it -- in Seattle, at least among the Japanese Baptists -- each one had a pew-like place where their families always sat there every Sunday for generations. I mean, these, this church was really old. But, and the pastor was getting along there, but he needed a secretary. So I worked in the, gave me a job right away to work in his office, and, while my husband was working for the Italian settlement as an athletic director.

BK: Right. Right. And then your mother was still with you?

SU: Uh-huh. My mother who was widow was with us.

BK: Right. Right.

SU: My brother, in the meantime, had gotten a job in Indiana, Indianapolis, I -- no, Detroit, working for a dairy.

BK: Oh.

SU: So he found his job right away, too.

BK: So did he leave camp early, also?

SU: No. I don't think so, because I had to leave them behind. My mother, too. Well, someone had to take -- no, I took my mother with me.

BK: Right. Right.

SU: He stayed behind, but I don't know when he left.

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

<Begin Segment 21>

BK: Earlier on, you had mentioned that you were questioned by the FBI in Boston. Could you tell us a little bit more about that experience?

SU: See, I had applied -- I had heard that there was a job at Harvard teaching Japanese, elementary Japanese, to this class. But in order to get the job, I had to get a clearance from the FBI from the East Coast. So this man came unexpectedly one afternoon, spent all day long, 'til about dinnertime. But the things that he brought out was so interesting. He said, "You know where the Tokuda Drug Store is on Yesler Way in Seattle?" "Yes." "Well, do you know so-and-so." All my friends, who frequented that place, someone gave their names to FBI. And this is years before Pearl Harbor.

BK: But they had all that information?

SU: Yes. That's what they had. And then I had the opportunity of addressing various church groups all over New England. So I went from Rhode Island, New England, to all over Massachusetts, on these speaking things. And especially the one that I addressed, some students at Harvard. And he says, "Did someone write that speech for you?" I said, "No, I'm capable of making my own speeches." "You sure?" He really stressed that, wanted to know. Because, I guess someone had -- oh, and then he asked me, "Do you think putting you people in camp was wrong?" I said, "Very much. I was very much against it. Very wrong." So anyway, so he asked me all kinds of questions. So from then on, every time I would speak in churches, I would look over the crowd, and I would ask myself, "Now, which one of you are the FBI person?" But I could never tell, because especially, I was very happy to address these churches in, and organizations in New England was because that first Christmas in camp, was in the camp paper, there was an article about a little boy asking his mother, "How can Santa Claus come here, when there's barbed wire fence around us? How can he get in?" Well, someone wrote to the church people, and the New England church people, especially, responded by sending us boxes and boxes of toys. And, see, each block had a block manager, and the block manager sent us the list of children under certain age, boy or girl. And then we arranged all the toys and all in this big rec room that first Christmas. And then the managers would choose the toys that he felt was needed in his block. So then I wrote a letter of thank you to these church people. And in it, I think that, thing about the little boy asking his mother, "How can Santa Claus get beyond these barbed wire?" I saw that letter afterwards, that had been delivered, and they crossed out the barbed wire and other things, various other things, that I had written there. So it was censored.

BK: So the mail was censored as it left camp? Obviously.

SU: Censored. But I was very happy to say thank you to those people in person, because so many people didn't know about it.

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

<Begin Segment 22>

BK: What kind of reaction, when you say they didn't and they weren't aware of the whole evacuation, as you would retell your story and share some of that, what was their reaction?

SU: Well, of course, they were surprised, especially when I told them that so many of us were citizens. I can understand when they would round up all the aliens, not that they were guilty or anything, but even including little babies and everything. We had Alaskan Indians that didn't even know they're Japanese that were sent down, see, so, Eskimo people.

So -- but the weather was okay. It snowed in Boston from around Thanksgiving, and the snow never left the sidewalk 'til March. And then all of a sudden it would get so hot. But I learned a lot, like how to heat up a building using a big furnace in the basement. And you have to chop up the wood first, put it in, and then start the coal. I mean, after it's going. But then I would also -- it was all steam-heated, this house. We lived in the duplex next to the landlord. Then I'd forget, that you're supposed to turn down the steam or do something, and they'd be steaming away, all that steam would be coming out from the hot, from the top of the thing, and I'd run down. And by that time, the landlady would have heard it, and she came through. So we learned how to chop wood and everything, because my husband was so busy with his work.

And it was quite a distance from Boston, where we lived. And then I remember going into town when I became pregnant with my third daughter. I had a real nice doctor, woman doctor, in Boston. I had to go in the surface train first, and then the elevated, and then get into the Boston that way. And the trains would be so filled. Well, there were a lot of soldiers going back and forth. And here I am, as big as can be, but I had to stand up a lot of times. And then when I was gonna give birth, they rushed me to the New England Hospital for Women and Children. And because the nurses were so busy, they would bring you the tray to eat, and also bedpan, which they would put at the end of the bed.

SU: All in one?

BK: Oh, yes. And that's the only child I had with birth pains. The rest of my children were, well, I was given some spinal thing, and then I'd go under. And they'd have to wake me up and just tell me the baby's come. But this one, they didn't believe in anything, I don't think. And I remember telling them, "In Seattle, we don't do things this way. Doctor puts me under, and I..."

BK: So it was very natural, a very natural childbirth?

SU: Oh, my goodness, yes.

BK: Painful? Right.

SU: Oh, well. So this third daughter, she had sort of an accent, when she came back to Seattle from Boston. And she didn't pick that up. It was just sort of natural for her. And they would say for the longest time, "Oh, no wonder, she was born in Boston. That's why she talks like that." And then she was my third daughter. My husband wanted a son. So when the third daughter was born, he says, "Don't tell anybody that you had another daughter." So I couldn't write to any of my friends who were already back in Seattle. So when we did come back in '47, they said, "Who's this?" Poor Debbie.

BK: Stranger.

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

<Begin Segment 23>

BK: Well, the war was over in 1945?

SU: Yes.

BK: But you stayed on, on the East Coast until 1947, you said. Why did you stay so long before returning to Seattle?

SU: Because my husband thought it was dangerous.

BK: Thought Seattle was dangerous?

SU: Oh, yes. And there were some cases up on Beacon Hill that, where there were signs all over the barber and the hardware store, "No Japs Welcome." And so anyway, if you know my husband, he's such a handsome, tall, athletic, but in heart, I think he didn't have the gumption like I did. But I've always wanted to come home. I've always, I said, "Oh, I want to go home." Because we had bought this house on Beacon Hill, and had it, rented it out. And knew I had a home to come to. Well, many of my friends who had just rented a house, couldn't, there wasn't anything to come back to. But I had this real nice house. It was only about two years old. Let's see, bought it in '36, so anyway.

BK: So was it your decision, or your desire, to come back to Seattle? Now, how did all that happen?

SU: Why did I want to come back?

BK: No. How did that all happen? I mean, you're saying that your husband wanted to stay there, but you wanted to come back. Was it hard for you to, again, make that initial move to come back and leave him there?

SU: No, no. I was convinced he's gonna follow us later. [Laughs]

BK: I see. So the pattern has --

SU: So that -- my mother, in the meantime, had gotten married to my husband's father. See, he was a widower and she was a widow. And when he came out of camp, out of Crystal City, Texas, he had a moustache like that, like Hitler. What was it? Like Tojo. Really. And he loved to just go like this. [Pretends to stroke mustache] Had it in a point. And when we met him at the depot, my husband says, "Dad, you've gotta take that moustache off." Oh, he was so proud of it. He wouldn't do it. No matter how many times, until my husband's sister came. And then his sister, oh, she put the law down, and had it taken off.

But my mother and he got together, and they got married. So they had their own home in Boston. And so that's why I was able to leave with just my two daughters -- no, my three, by then, three daughters. But we were, I had been living at our house with another army family. This girlfriend -- oh, her oldest sister was the one that was at BMTS when I was a freshman and she was a senior, in connection. So her husband was stationed at Fort Devens. That's in Massachusetts. And she wanted to know if she could join us, and she had just one baby. So we took her in, gave her a bedroom. And we had lots of fun together.

BK: Oh, that's wonderful. So you had some old family friends, anyway, there in Boston while you were there?

SU: And when my third daughter was born, one day she came out with all the red spots all over her body and face. And I didn't know what to do. New city, I didn't know any doctors or anything. I ran down to the nearest drug store, and explained the situation to the druggist. And, my goodness, he sent a young doctor, a Jewish doctor, who came, took, looked at her and says, "These are just -- "what do you call that? Heat.

BK: Heat rash.

SU: Yes. From the heat. Because I had the room too warm.

BK: Steam heat.

SU: And so I asked him how much I should pay him. He says, "Nothing." He came all the way to our house to look after the baby, and he wouldn't accept anything. So I thought, "What a kind man." See, they help you. Those are some of the things I learned is: You don't live by yourself. You have to have people around you, even strangers, who do help, given the chance. They are so kind. And that doctor was example. And the people that gave us all those furnitures.

BK: Right. Right.

SU: And they're all hakujin friends. That really helped us get used to another life. Talking about that, my daughter came home from school, Sheila, she says, "Mom, why is it everybody in our family has black hair?" I said, "Well, Japanese people all have black hair." Because her friends, they were all different colored hairs. Well, one day I had been out, and she excitedly told me, "You're gonna have a friend come to see you this evening. He came this afternoon, but he left, saying he's coming back. And he's got black hair, so he must be Japanese." Well, I waited for this Japanese person to come. Turned out to be our insurance agent, only he was a white person with black hair. [Laughs] So I told him the story. And he just laughed. He said, "Oh." But, so Sheila went up to that school. She was the only Japanese, and yet, think she got along all right.

BK: So really, in retrospect, your experience in Boston was positive?

SU: Oh, yes. So many people kind to us, really. And yet I wanted to come home.

BK: Well --

SU: Because you have to get used to that. In the church, people sit in the same place for generations. And, I mean, things like that, sort of, we're not used to it.

BK: Assigned seating, yes. Right.

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

<Begin Segment 24>

BK: So you returned, then, to Seattle in February of 1947, and you went back into your Beacon Hill home?

SU: Uh-huh. And we had just bought new furnitures, new stove and furnitures and all, and it was in such terrible shape. But my house was nothing, compared -- and all the switches were out. I guess they must have -- and the brand-new stove, the oven door was loose. Someone must have sat there or something. But it wasn't as bad as some people, who said they came home and found litter all over their front yard, things like that. People just, guess they didn't know how to live in a home. And our home, at that time, was comparatively new. We had to, yet was in a bad shape.

BK: Right. Was it a shock to you, when you saw the condition of your home?

SU: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Reverend Andrews, he came and helped us. Well, of course, he met the train when we came in. And so the house was ready.

BK: So then you let Chick know, eventually, that it was safe? I mean, did you find Seattle to be safe when you came back in '47?

SU: Oh, yes. Thought nothing of it. In fact, the Japanese Baptist Church wasn't in exist -- well, they had the church building, but other churches were meeting there. First Baptist Church came, right away invited me to become a member there. So I went there. Became a deaconess and a Sunday school teacher, and, for a long while.

BK: So right away, back into the whole community --

SU: That's right.

BK: Involvement?

SU: Uh-huh.

BK: Uh-huh.

SU: And, JACL, in which I am very interested in, had disbanded. So we had to reorganize. And a group of men came up to our house, wanted a meeting. So since I was one of the few that had a big house, we had it there. We decided to reorganize. And I became the first woman president in '48.

BK: That's wonderful. Again, you've always been the center of the community involvement, I think.

SU: Well, I just, I don't know. I enjoy it. Despite having five children. But it was because I have such an understanding mother, who took care of the children when they were young, while I gallivanted all over different churches. At least it was in the church.

BK: Right, that you're gallivanting. Right. Indeed.

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

<Begin Segment 25>

BK: I'd like to go back to the community involvement. But before that, your husband, Chick, came back to the Seattle area, then, in the latter part of 1947. Is that correct?

SU: November.

BK: November. Okay. And then, did he go back into the boys' club kind of involvement?

SU: Oh, no, no. He always wanted an ice creamery. So we negotiated with the person who already had an ice creamery on the ground floor of the Bush Hotel. We bought him out, got into debt. You come back with practically nothing. And from 1947 'til 1960, we had Chick's ice creamery. What a terrible job.

BK: In what way?

SU: You had to be on your feet all the time. Not only that, I had two children after that. And can you imagine having to work 'til the day you have to go to the hospital? And then we had hired young people to help us. I told them, be sure to stay with us 'til I'm able to come back to work. But, I don't know what happened, but twice we had people leave us, and I had to go back to work before I could barely walk, it seemed like. So...

BK: The ice creamery, being on Jackson Street, probably was the hub, it was a meeting place?

SU: Oh, yes.

BK: Can you tell us more about that time?

SU: So many people would come through the door. They'd been living in Chicago or in, somewhere in New York. And they would meet these friends at our place. Well, I remember, one of my girlfriends said, "Oh, you're so lucky. You work in a place where you meet so many people." I said, "I may be lucky meeting people, but you don't know what kind of work that is." Because an ice creamery, if the weather's good, fine, the business is good. But at the same time, your machine breaks down, because your machine's been working all the time. It was just a losing battle. And then we worked 'til almost midnight. We had lunch, and then light snacks, and then ice cream, coffee, dessert. But anyway, we used to stay open 'til almost midnight. But cut that out, so...

BK: So that was long hours, hard work, but --

SU: And new babies along the way.

BK: Yes, right.

SU: But it's a good thing we were young. We could do it.

BK: That's right.

SU: Can't think of doing it now.

BK: That's right.

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

<Begin Segment 26>

BK: But the off-shoot of that, the by-product of that, was that you were really at the center, you were at the hub, you knew what was going on then in the International District community?

SU: Uh-huh. I've always worked in the International District. Because in 1960, well, we were the tenants of Rainier Heat and Power Company, which had its office just up the block. And this hakujin man used to come every day, practically, to eat lunch. And one day, he said, "I'm looking for a Japanese girl to come and work in our office." I said, "Okay. I'll see if I can find somebody." Well, the only girls that were working the office at that time worked at the bank, but nobody wanted to leave the bank to work for Rainier Heat and Power, 'cause they didn't know what kind of company it was. And so one day, I said, "How about me? I think I'll go work for you." So we sold the, Chick's ice creamery right away.

And then I started working for Rainier Heat and Power and Company. Which was an all-man's, menfolks only, that used to work there. There were two men in the office, and about five in our steam plant, which is where Uwajimaya, present Uwajimaya is. And then we had two attorneys downtown who did the legal work. And so when I went to work there, I was the first Japanese to work, first woman to work. So when I would answer the phone, "Rainier Heat and Power Company," there'd be a silence on the other side. They thought they had called the wrong person, because they heard a woman answer. So I worked there for, let's see, I went to work there in 1960.

And in 1970, my boss passed away. So then I had to take care of the place by myself. But I still had the steam plant and ten other buildings all over. Rainier Heat and Power Company was the largest landlord down in International District, ten buildings, including the Seafirst, post office, United Savings, Bush Hotel, Uwajimaya, and all the hotels in-between. So it was fun working, because in the first place, the first ten years I had been working under this hakujin person who really treated me very kindly. Of course, the work was nothing. I mean, it was very easy, because I had been an accountant all my life, so that the book part was simple. And typing was simple. Better than my boss, who used to go like this. [Pretends to type poorly] But I could do all that.

BK: So when he passed away, you just stepped in?

SU: That's right.

BK: Uh-huh.

SU: Uh-huh. Of course, I had those two attorneys downtown who did the legal work, but the rest of the decisions and all, I had to do. Worked for them. I remember one New Year's Eve, I was making these Japanese things for our New Year's Day. Get a call after midnight from the hotel, and saying, "Oh, it's leaking all over." So I asked my husband, "Take me down there." And he said, "What can you do?" "Well, I've got to call different people to do the work." And it was so nice, because those hakujin people, too, the plumbing and all that kind of people, were so good to me. So it was, that's one of the opportunities that I think evacuation gave, especially us women, the Japanese women, a lot of opportunities. See, before war, I could never have thought of, I don't think they would even think of employing Japanese there, although the tenants and all were Japanese people.

BK: And excuse me. Why do you think then, after the war, do you think there was something about the war experience or the evacuation experience that somehow made it more okay to hire an Asian?

SU: Yes. And they must have heard from other sources that Japanese people were dependable and could do the work, see. So that even Boeing's -- look, of all the Japanese that have started working at Boeing, before war, even if you majored in aeronautics, you just couldn't find a job. They couldn't even go on the visiting trip with the rest of the classes from university. So, at least three of my friends went to Japan and found jobs there, because they couldn't find anything here. And look at all the college graduates before war that couldn't find any jobs, so they had to work in the markets again, and do menial work.

BK: As you were breaking this new ground with Rainier Heat and Power, during that time, did you realize what kind of opportunity you had at that time? Or was it only in retrospect that you're able to really appreciate that you were the first Asian, the first woman, to be in this kind of a position with them?

SU: Well, I just took it for granted. Isn't that terrible?

BK: Oh, no, no, no.

SU: Well, you had to prove yourself, of course.

BK: Absolutely.

SU: If I couldn't do all that work -- because when my boss hired me, the first day, he says, "I want you to come, so we can look over what you can do." And so I looked at their books and all, and the requirements, I thought, "Oh, I could do it." So right away, they hired me for the next day. So that's because of the background. You have to --

BK: Yes.

SU: Have that background going. Just because you're, you are Japanese or a woman doesn't mean that you could have gotten a job like that. But for years, I'd been working in an office, and I knew how to talk on the telephone.

BK: Right. You were well qualified for that.

SU: By that time. So I worked for them for twenty-eight years, until -- it was estate, really. A sixty-year estate, that we were doing business as Rainier Heat and Power Company. So in the end, we sold all that property to mostly Asians, to, according to their bid. We had to go to court. They had to bid it, and bid for their, the property. So...

BK: As you reflect back on your twenty-eight years, is there any particular highlight, high spot, of your career there that you can think of?

SU: Well, lasting one is the sale of Uwajimaya. We didn't have to go to court, because, well, for, Tomio and I have been very good friends, working on political things, activities. And when he asked for that property, well, legal, the legal offices that was the right time to sell, and we should sell. We got rid of the steam plant that was down there. So now, Tomio always says, "Well, if it weren't for Shigeko, we wouldn't have that Uwajimaya." It wasn't really that way, but by that time -- my legal officers were just great people. Whatever I said, they would do. So they were kind enough to put all that responsibility on my shoulder.

BK: Well, you were down there. And you knew exactly what the market would bear. And so I'm sure they had that trust in you. Sure. Right.

SU: It was fun.

BK: Wonderful.

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

<Begin Segment 27>

BK: You were at Rainier Heat and Power for twenty-eight years, you said, before you retired. And during this time, you had five children, working full time, and yet you were so involved in the community. Can you tell us a little bit more about the community activities that you were involved in?

SU: Yes. We were first in, we organized Interim. And after that we went into IDEA, International District Economic Association, those of us who had businesses. Instead of all the social things that Interim was in. And then after that, the International District Chinatown Public Development Authority was formed. [Ed note: Full organization name is Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority] So I was elected there by the mayor. And I served quite a few years under them. And when I was on the PDA, especially, we were, the city wanted to buy Bush Hotel. So I negotiated with them. And zoned, and so now, it's quasi-city building. And then at that time, we were on the same board with Bea Kiyohara. And she wanted to start a theater off Jackson. So since I knew Dr. Toda and his family well, we negotiated with that and started the theater.

But in the meantime, we certainly had a lot of conflict with the Chong Wah Chinese group, that didn't want the name International District. They wanted Chinatown in there. So we bravely went to Chong Wah meetings, where the whole place was filled with the Chinese people who thought that Chinatown should be Chinatown. But we tried to tell them that it's no longer a Chinatown. In fact, before the Chinese got in there, before war, it was Japanese Town, because they were so many more Japanese businesses than there were Chinese. But Ruby Chow and that group wanted the name Chinatown. So we had to put that name back into the International District.

And also we got involved in political things. Well, you know, after all, the political figures are the ones who set the laws and all that, who can help us or break us in the, whatever we attempted to do. So we started out small. Now we've gotten so involved, that we can really help in the election of officers and people that are kind to us. Even the hakujin people. So it's been fun. And the one good thing about Seattle, it's small enough that we can get to know the mayor and all the council members, and be able to address them by name, and ask for different things that we would like to have done in Chinatown. So I've always been involved in the International District, for the betterment of the district. And I think, I'm sure we've succeeded in a lot of ways. Those old buildings are being renovated, and new buildings have come up, all for the betterment of the International District, which should be International District, because we have Japanese, Chinese, Filipino businesses down there. So it's been a very good involvement. Interesting.

BK: And as a female, was there ever any difficulty, or was that an advantage, or --

SU: I think it was an advantage. Because, well, they're not as harsh to females as they are to males, when they come to being on opposite sides and all. I remember going to a, a dinner that Washington Natural Gas Company did for the business people all over the city, their customers. And I remember going there. And our chief engineer, the man who helped us a lot, over 6 feet tall, and he came with his sons. And they're all these tall, tall men. And here I am, just right in the middle. And I think the roomful of men, and they're only about three or four of us, including hakujin people, who were representing property owners. But I, they all treated me well.

BK: Wonderful.

SU: I didn't feel like an outcast. In fact, I enjoyed it. I enjoy that attention.

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

<Begin Segment 28>

BK: You've been such a pillar of the community. I was wondering, was there some experience or something in the family that instilled in you to become so active in the community, to make changes? Was there some, anything, that your parents, mom, dad, anything?

SU: Only, I think, in the fact that they were very supportive, because as I said, I really gallivanted a lot. You had to go to meetings and -- well, for instance, in reactivating JACL, I was one of the very few women at that time with a group of men. But it didn't bother me. We were all working for a good purpose. So even now I still attend the national conventions held all over the United States. And oh, I tell you, many of my age group people aren't attending anymore. They're, I guess, if you hit 80s, even the menfolks have to stay home with aches and pains, and broken hip, or their spouses are sick. Just a handful of us left.

BK: Going strong. Good, good. Wonderful. Yeah. You refer back to your mother often, as well as your dad, but your mom, in terms of giving you that kind of support, and I keep thinking she must have been a very special woman. Here she was the daughter of a Zen Buddhist priest, yet you're so active in the Baptist community. What kind, or how did she resolve that difference, or was there any problem at all?

SU: No problem, really. Of course, you know the Zen Buddhists don't have a church here, because the Buddhist church here is the, the new one.

BK: Shin sect.

SU: Shin, they call it. So she never felt at home there. And they didn't have service. The only time the priests were active in their temple was when they had funerals. See, they didn't participate in any weddings or anything. It was the funerals. So grandpa, I guess, just went to those things. And I don't know if people came him for, came to him for consultation or anything. I don't know about those kind of things.

But my mother lost her mother when she was still very young, so she made a very good mother to us. Provided all that love and support, although the Issei people did not express their love as we do. Well, even I'm, I'm sort of laid back, when it comes to showing affection to our children. But you could tell by their actions. When I would come home from school, I remember right away my mother would ask, "Would you like to have this and that?" She knew my favorite dishes. She was the same with my brother, who went to WSU. And when he'd come home from vacation, she'd always have the kind of things that he liked or we liked. In that way, she showed us how much she loved us.

And then I told you she sent me to Chicago with that promise that every week I would write to her. Well, my Japanese is not good. I hardly knew the kanjis. So here I'd have the dictionary beside me, and write it in hiragana. But I would tell her all the things that would be happening in that one week. And my goodness, in my letters to my mother and father, I would, I started writing about how I had met Chick from Seattle. And there's so much Chick in the end, in the letters, that she knew right away that I was determined to marry him or something, because -- and then when -- so it was very easy for me to tell my mother that we would like to get married. And she said that, "He hasn't asked me for your hand." Told my husband, "You better ask my mother." "Oh, she knows we are going around every day." And then, what do you know, when Sheila started going around with Richard, my husband would say, "They haven't said anything to me." And I said, "You didn't either." [Laughs] So none of us had baishakunins or anything. My, girls, in my age, so many of them got married right out of high school to men that their parents had arranged.

BK: Arranged marriages.

SU: It was very common at that time. Of course, I think it was very good for some girls who were shy and bashful, and would never have found somebody on their own. So when their husbands were chosen by the family, they went into that marriage. In fact, when I went to Japan in 1940 with a group, I met some Seattle people who had gone to Japan to get married over there. And one of first questions they would ask is, "Are you married to a Seattle, American-born Japanese?" And then when I would say, "Yes," they said, "Oh, you're so lucky." It was someone that I chose, instead of chosen by the family.

BK: Right. Right.

SU: Yeah.

BK: That's wonderful.

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

<Begin Segment 29>

BK: Going back to kind of a political arena, at the time that the concept of redress arose, what were your feelings?

SU: Well, I felt very strongly that we should get the pardon, to be, not pardon, but an acknowledgment by the government that they did wrong. And then when it came to the money, part, I was all for it. And I had friends who refused to even sign up, especially one man, businessman in the street, would say, "Well, it's a haji." It's a shame to ask for money. I said, "That's the only way the government would understand, when they have to acknowledge that they did wrong. Maybe $20,000 isn't enough." But I said, "Go ahead and sign up. If you get your money, donate it to church or some charitable organizations, if you don't want the money yourself." But I had so many children, that I could've used it. And then my friends told me, so many of them, by that time they had grandchildren, and so they would give the redress money to their grandchildren. "Aren't you going to do that, Shigeko?" I said, "I certainly would like to, but I have seventeen grandchildren. If I divided $20,000 among seventeen grandchildren, they're not going to get much, anyway." [Laughs]

BK: So you have seventeen grandchildren? Isn't that wonderful?

SU: And twenty great-grandchildren.

BK: Twenty?

SU: Of course, the great-grandchildren are all small, yet.

BK: But still, isn't that --

SU: But I'm proud of my grandchildren. Let's see, all of them went to college. In my family, too, every one of us went on to college, even though some of us didn't finish, but at least we got that chance. Even my two brothers in Japan, they all went to college. My father was able to provide for all of them. And for that, he believed so much in education, that was so important, that he really helped us. And we didn't have to worry about money at all that way.

BK: And that still seems to be a strong family value. If all seventeen --

SU: Yes.

BK: Of your grandchildren also have gone on to college?

SU: Yes.

BK: It's amazing.

SU: And we don't have to push them, either. Some families, they said, well they bought a car for their son, so he would be going to college. Well, I couldn't even afford things like that. But you just naturally grow up, and if they're with friends, school friends that are going on to college, too, that makes a difference. Because they would be asking each other, "Which college are you going to?" and things like that.

BK: Right. Absolutely.

SU: So...

BK: Well, that's wonderful. What a legacy. One last question about the redress. What role, or roles, did you play in the whole redress movement?

SU: Well, I couldn't, well, I did the paperwork, the mailing out. But there were people like Cherry Kinoshita who went after all the negative type of politicians, in this state alone, that she would corner them. She would go after them over and over. So for people like that, when they would have fundraisers, I would always be helping at the fundraisers. And that's another thing I learned, is when you want to get politically active, and you want these politicians to help you, you can't just -- voting is right, fine. You have to vote. But they need more than votes. They need that financial aid. And if we get into the habit of helping them financially, they're going to remember you. Really. And you have to sacrifice a little bit.

BK: Right.

SU: Look at the way we spend our money anyway, carelessly. You might as well give it to where it counts. And life is politics. Very definitely. I think we're, slowly, the Japanese people are slowly getting used to that idea that we have to support candidates that we want.

BK: Absolutely.

SU: Really.

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

<Begin Segment 30>

BK: Well, more than fifty years have gone by since the end of the war. As you think back, on your internment experience, what were some of the best outcomes associated with internment?

SU: Well, in that when we were forced to leave home, away from that close, provincial kind of a community that we grew up in, which is all right for us, but we were able to go out, not afraid, into strange places. And I think our children have gotten a lot out of it, because from the very beginning, they've had to be among the other parts of the country, and not Japanese only. Although, they should retain that Japanese roots, which I have been very poor in instilling into my children. They're not interested in community things, or -- I don't know, they just, I'm very poor a model.

BK: However, I think that there are some family values that they've certainly inherited, and that you have instilled in them which are just as valuable.

SU: Well, unconsciously. I haven't had to press it on them. Of course, it's like, once you're all raised, the saying, "If you do something bad, it doesn't concern only your family, but your whole community. It's gonna be a haji, shame, to the Japanese people. So you'd better be careful." I was brought up that way. And it seems like our children, I don't remember saying it to them, but they must have gotten it from us, that we do make a difference in what we do, everyday life.

BK: Right, right. Again, as part of the reflections here, what were the worst long-term affects of internment?

SU: Being away from home, from Seattle. Despite its rain. But I think most of us long for home. Furusato, they call it, don't they? It's nothing like home. I've always wanted to come home. Of course, the church meant a lot.

BK: Right.

SU: And this is where our roots were. Oddly, I never think of going back to Japan, 'cause that's not home. But the West Coast has, oh, I wanted to come home so badly a lot of times. I was tearful, because I was left alone with all those children. The people were kind, but nothing like the friends that you went to school with, started out in kindergarten. And it's strange, during the times that we live in Seattle, we don't see each other much. But when we get together, oh, we can talk all night, it seems like, talking about old times.

BK: Right.

SU: And so, I guess there is that pull, where you want to be surrounded by friends that you've known a long time.

BK: That comfort, that comfortable feeling.

SU: But I'm not really sorry for what happened. We had no time. People have asked me, "Did you feel angry? Were you sad? Were you upset?" I think temporarily we were, but carrying on your life every day, like taking care of the babies and going to a new place and new situation, you just didn't have time. All the women, I think, were able to cry much easier than men. I think it was harder on the men, the uncertainty of being able to provide for their family. But they never expressed themselves.

BK: Right.

SU: Chick never, we never talked about how sad life is or, we were so busy.

BK: Right.

SU: Busy taking care of family.

BK: And just meeting the daily challenges.

SU: Oh, yes. Because I remember when I came back to Seattle, sure it was good to come home. But to start a new business, get into debt. We had to go to the bank to borrow money, and then to be able to pay that off. That was, night after night I used to worry, constantly, "How are we going to make a living?" In fact, I even thought, "I wonder how much my, wedding ring or engagement ring, would bring in a pawn shop, so I can borrow a few dollars." It was that bad. But see? Somehow, got through it.

BK: Right. Right. Indeed.

SU: Got through it.

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

<Begin Segment 31>

BK: In what ways do you think internment changed you?

SU: Oh, I think it developed all of us. But I've noticed the bitter ones, the ones who are still bitter, have always been that kind of a person, back when even. When life was hard, they would be bitter about how life is. And so when they went through evacuation, they could find only the worst part of what we went through. Forget about the good parts. But we do think about it. We haven't forgotten. We haven't forgotten. And my children have never asked me. Have you asked your mother?

BK: Yes, I have.

SU: My children haven't. So we've never discussed it.

BK: Yet, they're aware of it. I don't know. Okay. I don't know if it was, if they feel it was too painful at a time for you, or what then?

SU: I don't know. Someday.

BK: When they see this, they will then know the whole story.

SU: Perhaps.

AI: Have any of your grandchildren asked?

SU: No, not about camp. But they've asked about our roots. See, I have one son, four daughters. And the one son is married to a Caucasian girl. And she has two children of her own, which I always include in my numbers of grandchildren. And they were the ones who started asking me, because it was one of the projects of their class, what their roots were. And they included us as their roots, too although my son is just a stepfather. But they've asked me. They're the only ones who have had projects like that.


BK: Was there anything about the internment experience that affected the way you raised your children?

SU: That I can't say. Let's see, when we came back, we went to the First Baptist Church. That was all with white people, but it didn't seem, they got right into the groove of it. And they started school. And they've never been sorry they're Japanese or anything like that. And they must not resent being Japanese, 'cause they haven't shown that rebellious part --

BK: Right.

SU: Either.

BK: Right.

SU: They just, and then when they got married, they all moved out to the suburbs, because of their children. So I really don't know how it affected them. As I said, I don't show my feelings so much, so we don't really communicate, I guess.

BK: But through your actions, you do show your feelings, your warm, supportive feelings, yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 32>

BK: As you reflect back, how have your views about internment changed over the years?

SU: How internment?

BK: How your views, with regard to internment --

SU: Oh.

BK: That whole upheaval. How has that changed over the years?

SU: How the media thinks of it, or the community?

BK: No. How has your views, as you were going through internment, I'm sure you had one set of views. As you're able to step back and kind of reflect on that whole experience, how have you changed your views, your ideas, about what had happened to you?

SU: Well, actually, I've always thought it was wrong. But what could we do against the wrong done by a government? And I've always defended JACL's stand, that we must listen to what the government is telling you, which quite of few of my friends don't agree with. They say that they should have not consent -- encouraged us to go into camp. But when there's an army right back of you who's going to shoot you down if you don't do what they want you to do, what could they do? And not only that, people, their leaders like Mike Masaoka, same age as I am, we were too young to be actually talking for the community. And they tried to do the best they can. So I've always defended JACL's stand on why they encouraged us to go in, into camps. But I do hear, my children have said, "Why did you go in? I would have done this, or I would have done that." It's very easy to say things like that in hindsight. But at that time, we couldn't. I know we couldn't. So we did what we did. Can't be helped.

BK: And have your views become even stronger as the time has elapsed?

SU: Remained same, except for people that raise objections. Then I do get up and say my bit. But I'm really just a follower, not a leader. So that's why I just, spending the rest of my life very contentedly.

BK: And Shigeko, I think that probably the community would really not agree with your assessment of self. I think that you, again, as I've said before, have always been there for the community kinds of involvement, and advancement of the community kinds of agendas. And so, definitely, I don't think anybody in the community would ever say that Shigeko Uno is a follower.

SU: Oh, yes.

BK: And with that, then I would like to ask you one last question. Is there anything that you would like your children, or your grandchildren, or even your great-grandchildren, to know and remember about internment?

SU: Well, I think the Japanese as a whole, who were put into camp, have come up a stronger person. We've had to meet the challenge, as I said, of going to strange cities and reestablishing themselves. A lot of people who have stayed in the Midwest and the East Coast, who have not come back to the West Coast, because they found a niche for themselves or their children. And they're into all kinds of businesses. They work in beautiful offices. And they're given opportunities, which I don't think we would have had, if we were not dispersed. Sad as it is, I mean, it had to come that way. But I think we came out stronger. And a better citizen. See, the government, Bush -- I mean, Reagan signed that apology and bill.

BK: Right.

SU: It's been worth working, really, for the betterment of each other. We're just not doing it just for ourselves. And then lots of other people who are much more better people for having done what they did. I just supported them, people like Cherry or Tomio, or that bunch.

BK: Okay.

SU: So I shall continue.

BK: Very good. We hope you will. Well...

SU: As long as I'm useful and my brain is working.

BK: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, on behalf of Densho, Alice, Steve, and I would really like to thank you so much for sharing your story. We've appreciated your candor and your insights. It's been very, very helpful. So thank you, again.

SU: Well, thank you for asking, really.

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