Densho Digital Archive
Loni Ding Collection
Title: Ernest Uno Interview
Narrator: Ernest Uno
Interviewer: Loni Ding
Location: Hawaii
Date: December 8, 1985
Densho ID: denshovh-uernest-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

LD: Ernie, can you start with just where you were at the time of the war? Where you were living, how old you were, and take it from there.

EU: Okay. At the outbreak of World War II, that is, on December 7th, I was living with my family in Los Angeles, going to school and working part time. In fact, that particular Sunday morning I had gone to open a fruit stand in the market. That was one of my jobs. And it was while I was opening the market that the grocery man yelled over something about, "Hey, the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor." And it just stunned all of us; we didn't know what to make of it. And, of course, subsequent to that, everything was chaotic. My employer, who was a man who had the fruit stand, he came in, but he didn't know what to make of it, didn't know what to do. And so actually, we really didn't open the store, as I recall the market, and although I hung around for a while, I subsequently went home and then found, of course, everyone at home kind of in a sense of panic, wondering what this was all about. Then immediately wondering what this implied, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, what it implied to us as a family, particularly with my oldest brother being in Japan. And the rest of us, of course, having felt the pressures of anti-Japanese feelings as we were growing up in Los Angeles anyway, what this would mean in intensity as far as our neighbors were concerned.

LD: You were in high school?

EU: That's correct. I was, at the outbreak of the war, I was still... well, I just completed, was in eleventh grade.

LD: You were saying that you had known what it was like, how people felt about Japanese. So when this man said, "The 'Japs' have bombed Pearl Harbor, did you immediately think... what did you think when you heard that?

EU: Oh, boy. Loni, for me to try and recall what it was like on December 7th is very difficult, because it's a long time ago.

LD: But in the weeks following, did you have the sense that you'd have to step carefully?

EU: Oh, you know, it wasn't... but just the next day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the first Monday when we went to school, one of my strongest recollections was... I think she was an English teacher, high school teacher, who made it a point to inform everyone that she had a friend whose son was a navy officer at Pearl Harbor, and she began to relate the acts of sabotage that had taken place on the part of the Japanese, you know, burning crosses in the cane fields to point the Japanese fighter pilots to Pearl Harbor and this kind of thing. That began the Monday after Pearl Harbor. And practically every day, we would get updated reports on how the Japanese were, had committed acts of sabotage where collaborating with the enemy, and these kinds of things that of course, there happened to be another Asian in this particular class who was Korean. Michael Kim, I think, was his name. I kind of remember that pretty strongly because toward the end of that first week, he came to school with a pin that said "I am Korean," and that was it. And here I couldn't put on a pin saying, "I'm Japanese." Because not having a pin meant that you must have been sensitive to the enemy or something. So it was just that kind of a beginning in school. And then harassment by the school administration, telling us that... well, actually, I was called in to the vice principal's office, and it was suggested that perhaps in order to ease tension around school, I ought to drop out. Well, there was no reason for me to have to drop out. And I checked at home, and, of course, my parents and all said, "No, you don't have to drop out of school, continue as long as you can." And so I stayed in school.

Then everything was kind of smooth, except that from time to time they'd try... there was one incident I will remember. I was taking a class in... oh, what do you call it? It was a manual arts class, and we were doing such things as learning bookbinding and leathercraft and things. I was accused of having stolen an incomplete wallet of one of the members of my class, one of my classmates. And they actually planted a wallet in my locker, the teacher and the vice principal came directly to my locker and said, "Will you open your locker and take out that wallet that is being made that doesn't belong to you?" I said, "Well, what do you mean? There's nothing in there that doesn't belong to me." Said, "Well, prove it." So innocently I opened the locker, and lo and behold, there's this wallet that was being made. Similar, somewhat similar to the one I had, I was making, but mine was in the shop in class. And they accused me of having stolen it, and on the basis of that, they were going to throw me out. And I just denied it, and there was no... because I said, "Why would I steal this? I have my wallet that's being made, it's in class, we have it in a special place there with my name on it. There must be some mistake." Somehow, I forgot how it worked out, but they backed down on it and never followed through on it. But trying to make life uncomfortable, and this is the kind of experience we went through.


EU: -- starts after February, and we were practically mustered out of school by then anyway.

LD: What city, school are you talking about?

EU: Let's see, I went to Marymount High School in Los Angeles, which today I guess is considered to be a hundred percent black. But in those days it was predominately a white school with a small AJA population. Very few blacks if any, and that was about the size of it.

LD: You had experienced some racism every day while you were going there. Were you surprised that this happened?

EU: Well, in terms of the plant of the wallet and that kind of thing, I was surprised. I was somewhat taken aback by the one, the eagerness of one teacher to show how terrible the Japanese were in Hawaii, to commit acts of sabotage and such, which, of course, later proved to be so untrue. But we didn't know it at that time, it's another case of a friend of a friend of a friend of mine was there, or I heard through the grapevine. But nothing but stories that had no basis in fact.

LD: Did you tell anybody in the family about this? Did you go home and tell your folks and your sisters about what happened to you?

EU: Oh, I told my mother about it. But she just said these things are going to happen and we just have to learn to just take it. Using the Japanese term gaman shite, "don't worry about it, all past." So had to learn to kind of just live with that kind of thing as long as we were going to mix in society. But I don't recall any other acts, overt or otherwise as far as discrimination, other than those direct ones I mentioned and happening in school. And I used a term I mentioned. [Laughs]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1985 The Center for Educational Telecommunications and Densho. All Rights Reserved.