Densho Digital Archive
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Kenji Suematsu Interview
Narrator: Kenji Suematsu
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: April 19, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-skenji-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

SY: Today's date is April 19, 2012. We're at the Nishi or Hompa Hongwanji Buddhist Church in, Buddhist Temple, I'm sorry, in Los Angeles, California, and we're talking to Kenji Suematsu. My name is Sharon Yamato, and Tani Ikeda is on camera. So Kenji, can we please start with you telling me when and where you were born?

KS: I was born in Brawley, California, and on April 29, 1934. And what my recollection of my, what my mother said, I don't know for a fact, she wanted to pull the date one day past the 28th for a few hours so it would be the 29th, which was Tennoheika's birthday. And that's the only --

SY: Whose birthday? Whose birthday?

KS: Tennoheika, Japan's emperor. That's a significant piece, story that my mother had always, I guess, instilled in me at the time. It's just, to me, it doesn't matter when you were born, but in those time periods, you always try to relate to somebody that's famous. And it's just a matter of an hour or so, or whatever the time period, so now I'm officially 29th of April. [Laughs]

SY: Interesting. And your, your mother and father, at the time, maybe you could just tell me a little bit, as much as you know about where they came from, how they came to the United States?

KS: As I know, I mean, I don't recall for an actual fact, but just hearsay story from over the period of time, my father came into the United States as an immigrant, though I don't know how he entered, but I am assuming that, and jokingly we used to say "wetback," going across the borders from Mexico. And he had established farming down in the Imperial Valley, Coachella Valley, that area. And as I understand it, my father, their parents, his parents and the parents of my mother had gotten together and it was an arranged marriage with the first daughter to be born from that family, so there is a gap of some twenty some odd years between my father and my mother. And she was, during the course of the time that he was here farming and trying to make a living and things, my mother was sent when she was, what, twenty-one, twenty-two, something like that, by herself from Japan to the United States to be with my father.

SY: And so they were both from the same area of Japan?

KS: No. My father was born in Gifu, as I understand. His whole family is in Gifu. They're quite influential people in Japan. But my mother comes from Yamaguchi or something like that, in Japan, which is another town. And I don't know how they, how the relationship is, why she was involved with the arrangement, but it is what it is. [Laughs]

SY: But you do know it was arranged.

KS: It was arranged, yes.

SY: So that's something that, did they talk about it? Or it's just...

KS: It was bits and pieces of conversation over the years. You kind of put it together, and that part, as far as being arranged, it was pretty obvious at that time. And my father, as a hearsay, he did have a girlfriend here and he was, he preferred to, would have married this other gal, but then they had a family obligation to follow through with the arrangement, whatever it was. So I guess in that sense, he had to give up his love life. [Laughs]

SY: Sacrifice. So did he stay in touch with his family, then? Do you know, like back in Gifu?

KS: He, as far as I know, I know my mother and my father did communicate with their, their...

SY: Respective --

KS: People back in Japan. I don't know how often, but I see letters coming in and going out, so I assume that they had constant connections. And we used to send photographs and packages and et cetera to Japan, coffee and that kind of thing, that I was aware of.

SY: Interesting.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.