Densho Digital Archive
Emiko and Chizuko Omori Collection
Title: Frank Emi Interview
Narrator: Frank Emi
Interviewers: Emiko Omori (primary), Chizu Omori (secondary)
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: March 20, 1994
Densho ID: denshovh-efrank-01-0001

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EO: Tell me where and when you were born.

FE: I was born in Los Angeles right near the business section now, that's Sixth and, Sixth and Olive, in 1916. September 23, 1916.

EO: What did your family do?

FE: At that time they had a little grocery store and they had living quarters over the store and that's where I was born. And after that they moved over to what is now Vermont -- Figaro and Manchester and they were farming there. And I think I was, I must have been about two, maybe two-and-a-half at that time so I don't remember any of that, but all I know is that they said I was a kind of a rascal. I used to go to the neighbor's house and open up the refrigerator, help myself. [Laughs] From there we moved to Burbank, California, and my father and mother was farming there. And I have a slight recollection at that time. I was trying to ride my older sister's bicycle, which I couldn't, because I was still about three or four and it was an adult bicycle. Then from there we moved to San Fernando on a horse and wagon. Yeah.


EO: Where were you, then, when the war started? By this time you were grown up and married. Why don't you just tell us what was happening to you right before the war?

FE: Before the war, just about two years prior to the war, we had -- well, actually, about three or four years prior to the war, we had started a, just a produce market in an empty building at Eleventh and Albright in Los Angeles. And after a couple of years business was pretty good, so we decided to make it into a full service market. We put in a nice butcher case and a walk-in box, and put in the grocery shelving, and milk box and all the other fixtures and we had a sort of a mini-supermarket going there at the time the, about two years before the war. And actually, we had, the payments about finished about the time that the war started and we were about ready to make a little money, because up to then we had put all the profits back into the business. So, morning of December 7th, we had just opened up the market at 8 o'clock Sunday. You see, in those days we worked seven days a week, about fourteen or sixteen hours a day. I turned on the radio, and I forget exactly what time it was, 8 or 9 o'clock, we heard, "Flash -- bulletin -- Pearl Harbor's attacked, we're at war with Japan." And I didn't pay much attention to it. I thought, "Oh, here's another radio drama," reminiscent of the Orson Wells radio drama back in the early '30s. So I didn't pay much attention, it didn't surprise me. Then as the day wore on, other stations, I turned to the other stations and they all had these flash bulletins that the war had started, that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. And as far as I was concerned, I didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was, it could have been way out in the outskirts somewhere, you know. But as it gradually sunk in that we were at war with Japan, I started getting a little bit worried, not so much for ourselves, but for our parents. And we were wondering what was going to happen to them. As far as the children were concerned, we were born here, so we didn't have too much, we didn't worry about it too much.

And I guess we were a little concerned about our business, how the customers were going to be... how we were going to be affected by the customers. By and large, the customers were very sympathetic. They said they knew we were, had nothing to do with it, that we were Americans just like them and they reassured us that their patronage would still be there, so we didn't, we weren't too concerned about that. At the neighborhood that we were in, it was mostly Caucasians that were our customers. So we really didn't feel too much any racist bias or any racist incidents at our store, until the order to evacuate came out, and I know E.O. 9066 came out and people knew that we had to evacuate so we started getting people that were interested in the business making us some ridiculous offers. In fact, one fellow came and offered us $500 for the whole thing and we almost threw him out of the store. Well, as it happened, the best offer we could get up to then was $1,500. We had about close to $25,000 invested at that time, which was big money then. And we had to unload it for $1,500, so all our three or four years' toil there and efforts were, went down the drain.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1994, 2003 Densho and Emiko Omori. All Rights Reserved.