Densho Digital Archive
Loni Ding Collection
Title: Dan Aoki Interview
Narrator: Dan Aoki
Interviewer: Loni Ding
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date: March 25, 1983
Densho ID: denshovh-adan-01

<Begin Segment 1>

Interviewer: Dan, let's take a look at Hawaii before the war. What were things like for the boys on the island?

DA: Well, Hawaii really was a very backward country, backward state, territory.

I: How so?

DA: Well, as you know, this is a plantation state here, and missionaries came out here to the, for the sugar cane business. And as you know, our parents and most of the people here were immigrants from the old country, Japan, China, and so forth.

[Interruption]

I: Let's talk about Hawaii before the war. How was it like for the guys.

DA: Oh, it was a very, very dark place here, no opportunities, nothing for people here, the Niseis, until after the war and things developed, became a first-class state, you might say. And you might look over there, after we became a state, we built a new capital for the state of Hawaii, which really stands out as a landmark, you might say, for the people of Hawaii. To give an idea what life was like before, there was really no opportunities for Niseis, the younger people of Hawaii. And the reason for this is that our parents were immigrants, and people that ran this state here, or the territory at that time, were only interested in the cane business, sugar cane business. And consequently, the only thing we could look forward to was maybe a clerk's job, or at best, a bank teller, and things like that. And consequently, kids didn't even have the chance of going on to university, basically. Because it was after the war that the GI Bill of Rights and so forth have made it possible for Niseis to go on to professional schools and so forth. And I might also add that we did have a university here, that's true, but it was really a third-class university until we became a state. Then I think we made it into a first-class university today. So what more can I say?

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1983 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

DA: Well, this is the old, new capital of Hawaii, it was built about ten years after we became a state. This represents Hawaii, and I think you can see it's a unique building, it's not like the usual state capitols of the United States, they don't have a dome and all of that. But it's supposed to represent the open ceiling and unlimited opportunities for the people of Hawaii. I presume that was the intent of this building here.

I: What does statehood really mean? Does it mean opportunities?

DA: As I said, before statehood, we had no opportunities, no chance here. Basically, I might put it this way, we were second class citizens.

I: How so?

DA: Well, this was strictly for the white people. I understand on the mainland it was only for the whites here, and the whites this and that. But we didn't have such things here. However, there was unwritten law that this was only for the whites, and we couldn't go there, we couldn't do this or do that.

I: How did statehood change that?

DA: But statehood changed everything. And thanks to Mr. Burns, who had the foresight and everything else, because I would honestly say that before Mr. Burns, all the efforts that were made in Congress, the people were not interested in statehood. Because statehood completely changed everything here in Hawaii. Gave us, well, as Mr. Burns said, "We can now determine our own destiny." And prior to that, we couldn't even elect our own governor. We had a governor that was appointed by the President of the United States. But now we have, we elect our own people, our own governor, and make our own laws now like you do in your state in California or any other place. So we changed the laws to suit ourselves rather than have to live by the laws of the people here, the white people used to set for us. And, you might say, that we upgraded our university from a third-grade university as I said, to a first-class university. We even have a medical school, we even have a law school. These things have really opened the horizons for the people of Hawaii.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1983 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

I: Did the vets have a hand in having statehood become a reality?

DA: Oh, yes, very definitely.

I: What did they do?

DA: Well, let me just give you a little history about statehood, the way it was attained. There were three objections for statehood for Hawaii: the fact that we were not a contiguous territory; the fact that we had a lot of Japanese here; and thirdly, the Communist activity. Whereas for Alaska, the only argument there was the fact that Alaska was a non-contiguous territory. So when Alaska was pushed through first, and I might add here that this is all Mr. Burns's strategy when he was a congressman. So when Alaska became a state and got rid of that one particular argument of non-contiguous territory, then answering your question, the question of Japanese, well, the fact that we went to war and we fought for this country, and many of our buddies gave their life for this, I think that presented the fact that we were faithful Americans, you know. And I might also mention this, at the time that we got statehood, we had two Texans as leaders of Congress, Speaker Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson as the majority leader in the Senate. And the fact that we were honorary Texans, the fact that we saved the Texas unit during the war, they were kind of friendly toward our efforts, which helped. But I might also mention here that when Hawaii statehood came before the Rules Committee in the House, Judge Schmidt, who was the chairman, asked Mr. Burns, he says, "How can you ask for statehood for Hawaii when one-third of your population of Hawaii is Caucasian people?" And I was really proud of him when he said, "I read the Constitution of the United States, and nowhere in the Constitution does it say that the United States is for the Caucasian people." He says, "My constituents may not look like yours, but let me assure you, they are as good Americans if not better Americans than your constituents." And at this time he also pointed out the fact that like Alaska, we have a lot of natural resources. However, he says as far as Hawaii was concerned, he says the resources we have are the people of Hawaii. And he was talking about young people here, children of immigrants from the Orient. And this is where we started this idea about bridging the gap between the United States and the Orient. After all, two-thirds of the population live in this side of the world anyway. So I think this is a big help as far as getting statehood, and now we pass laws to benefit ourselves. We changed the tax laws, as I said, which helped to developed better educational system, and we were better able to work with the unions. Because the unions were oddball people. I tell you, we had a very divided society.

I: Other than fighting in the war, what other aid or opportunities did the vets bring? How did they help to organize the state of Hawaii?

DA: Well, actually, the fact that we did go to war, I was asked the question: at the time that you volunteered to go to service, did you have any idea about coming back to change Hawaii? Well, the truth of the matter is at that time, the question was asked, "Are you a yellow bellied Jap or are you a red-blooded American?" We had to prove ourselves as being American. When I volunteered, I had no idea of coming home to change Hawaii. However, fortunately, I came home from the war. And the fact that I did come home, well, we begin to see things in a different light. And through the leadership of Mr. Burns, who was always interested in developing a two-party system in Hawaii, but we only had a one-party system, the Republican party, we joined him. Because he convinced us the only way that we can change our social life here in Hawaii was through politics, and to develop a two-party system. And so, naturally, having the 100th Battalion organization and the 442nd organization, and the GI Bill of Rights made it possible for many of the boys to become professional people, lawyers, doctors, dentists and what have you, they became independent entrepreneurs in their own right, right? And so we prevailed upon those people, and they became candidates. And consequently, I think you can see for yourself, that our makeup of the House and the Senate makes up a lot of local youngsters, whereas in the past, we never had such things. Because they're always plagued, and Hawaii is geographically where you have Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu. So party meant nothing. They played one island against the other, and they always defeated you. But in 1955 when the Democrats became the majority party in Hawaii for the first time, Mr. Burns introduced the system here in both houses, representative and the senate, who drew the line right down the center, the majority one side, the minority in the other, just like the way it's done in Congress. This way you develop a party responsibility, and I think that has been very helpful in passing laws here in Hawaii to make all the necessary changes.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1983 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.