Densho Digital Archive
Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community Collection
Title: Frank Kitamoto Interview
Narrator: Frank Kitamoto
Interviewer: John DeChadenedes
Location: Bainbridge Island, Washington
Date: April 14, 2007
Densho ID: denshovh-kfrank-02-0016

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JD: Returned from camp, how were you treated? We'd like, be interested to know what was the condition of the farm and what kind of activities did you get into, and also, how were you treated by the community around there when you got back?

FK: 'Course, the farm pretty much was all weeds 'cause it hadn't been farmed. I mean, they just didn't farm it. And the house, because it was mostly bachelor men that lived there, was pretty much dust, kinda like camp. So I know my mom spent a lot of time having to get the house back in shape and at the same time, it was like starting over with the berries. As far as how we were treated when we came back, I, I guess I was just so young that I don't remember anything overtly done against us. I do remember, though, there were some kids that just really didn't like me at all, and I didn't really know why. But you know, if you're a kid and someone doesn't like you, it's hard to think that they don't like you because you look different. I mean, this is America after all. I mean, that's not the way this country is. But if you can't say that they don't like you because you look different, then there must be something wrong with you. Either that or you've done something bad, you're a bad person. So both, both of those options aren't really easy to accept. But it does a lot for your self image if you feel that this is not because the way you look or because you're Japanese. So I, I remember struggling with that a lot. And I don't think there was anything ever, you know, overtly said or, or name-calling or any of those kind of things other than that there were some kids who just really always gave me a bad time. And it could, it could have been because I was rotten. I mean, I was doing all these things in camp anyways. So, you know... [laughs]

JD: Do you know how the Filipino community generally treated the returning Japanese?

FK: I think in most cases they were thought of as the caretakers for the property while they were gone, while we were gone. So, I don't think... you know, I think it varies by family. Some families felt real close to the people that worked for them, and some people just thought of them as employees. I don't, I don't think... it was very hard, probably, to think of them as, as being equal to you. Which is, it sounds kind of racist and it probably was. 'Cause I think the, that was... the Japanese American farmers and families felt they were at this one level and the people that worked for them were at another. And, I know myself, personally, it was hard for me to get out of that mode, to think of these kids of these Filipino families as being equal to me. And I had to struggle with that. I mean, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was being kinda racist with, with feeling they weren't, quote/quote, as good as I was, which is really stupid, but that's kind of the way you think when you're struggling to find who you are yourself, with your own identity. So, I think a lot depends on how close these Filipino men were to the families before the war. And how close they were -- and I know in our case, in our family, my parents really felt really close to Felix Narte. But that was, might have been an exception rather than the rule, as far as how people felt.

JD: I've got a question here that, about why the Filipino community formed their own association, why there wasn't any sense of -- or maybe there was some -- but not a strong sense of solidarity between the two minority communities.

FK: I, I think the glory days of the Japanese American farmers was before the war, and that's when most of the associations and things were formed. After the war, they did do some things with the Bodles and National Fruit and so forth. But I think at the same time, the, the Americans of Filipino descent were probably going through the same kind of struggles that we had gone through ten, twenty years earlier. You know, finding their own identity, trying to find some, some powers in numbers, and so forth and all that. I think it was very important for them to form their own associations and their own social groups and all that. Because in a lot of ways if you're a single man and you're working for someone, there's not that need to join together to, to form some sort of a social base, or so forth. But when you start marrying and getting families and getting kids, it's really important for the families to have some sort of identity. And, and I think that was an important thing for them to do. And I don't think they would have got that by joining a Japanese American group or anything like that, or a Caucasian group, or anything like that.

JD: What about the rest of the non-Japanese community on Bainbridge Island, how they... how did they treat you and your family after you got back?

FK: Well, again, we'd been here for a long time, and neighbors knew neighbors. And, yes, there were a few people that were against us coming back and a few people that felt it was justified to send us off, in a way, for their own protection and alleviate their own fears. But in general, I think when you grow up with each other and the kids go to school with each other and you're neighbors, that really, that really makes us or, so that fear isn't that great for, for people. They don't see us as being an enemy, even if we look like the enemy. But that's probably not true for someone if they haven't spent time with us, and so forth. I think when we came back it was... Bainbridge is a very exceptional place. That there were people here that were willing to stick out their necks for us even before we left and while we were gone. I know... well, people like the Woodwards and their paper, but also the Meyers' with their insurances. I mean, people wouldn't sell people insurance here when we got back. And he said, "This is crazy. I mean, they fought in the war and so forth." So he talked to his boss and he said, "You know, we need to give these people insurance." So he quietly went around getting insurance for people who wouldn't be able to get that. And I know the Andersons from Anderson Hardware paid some back taxes on the Harui property when no one did so that wouldn't be taken over. I know people like Mr. Burkmeyer... Burk, Burkhalter, excuse me, was an attorney, did some legal things for people. I know Mr. Barnett, who came here to the island later, but he defended Hirabayashi and so forth. So there were some very significant people on this island. The Quakers, who stood up for us. So, in a lot of ways this is a very special island. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we were... been here for so long, and because this is a close-knit community. When you don't have any way to get off except on the ferry you don't... I mean, kids in those days... you talk to the adults that were kids in those days, and it was very rare that they went to Seattle. They spent all their time on the island. 'Course, you had to walk everywhere, but that's... in itself was, you know, makes it so you don't get in your car and run off someplace.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2007 Densho. All Rights Reserved.