Densho Digital Archive
Topaz Museum Collection
Title: Helen Harano Christ Interview
Narrator: Helen Harano Christ
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 18, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-chelen-01-0003

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MA: So were your grandparents, then, did they settle in California when they first came over?

HC: My grandfather on my father's side started in Hawaii. He worked in the Hawaii sugar cane fields. And then, but he and his brother both came at the same time to Hawaii, but the family paid their way, so they were not indentured servants to the, the sugar company, and so they could leave whenever they wanted to. And so I don't know how long they worked in the sugar cane fields, but first my grandfather's brother came to the United States and settled in what is now the Walnut Grove area of California, and then my grandfather came in 1898, according to the records here in Seattle. He came to Seattle, and then my aunties told me that he rode a train south to California and got a job in California. And his first job, my aunties said, was as a houseboy, (there) he, he learned to cook and he learned to make fires for his family when they went on picnics and things like that, and he worked very hard. And when, when he had some time off, he went to see his (brother) in Walnut Grove and brought back fresh vegetables and fruit. Sometimes his brother sent him fresh vegetables and fruit, which he enjoyed, too. But, so my grandfather was a cook, he knew how to filet the fish, he knew to take care of the vegetables, and he knew how to, to cook all kinds of foods. And my aunties tell me that the family that he worked for may well have been Irish, because he knew how to make Irish stew, he knew how to make Irish potatoes in various ways, he knew how to use sauerkraut, and he knew how to make, make lots of foods that are considered Irish.

MA: That's interesting. So he incorporated some of that into his own cooking later on?

HC: Well, actually, after he married my grandmother, and she came over as a pure "picture bride."

MA: And this is your father's parents?

HC: My father's parents, uh-huh. My father's mother was a, had a stepmother, and she was not very nice to Grandma, my aunties tell me. And so she was very happy to take the opportunity to get away from her stepmother, and she came to the United States and was determined that she was gonna make a much better life than you could ever have in Japan. Because as a stepdaughter and as -- I think she was a farmer's daughter as well, she would not have had very many opportunities and I'm sure she knew that. And so she came over and Grandpa taught her to cook, so she knew how to cook all these Irish things that Grandpa knew how to cook. And they started their family in Berkeley, California, and Grandpa was, went from being a houseboy to being a, after he married, he became an entrepreneur, he bought into a pool, pool hall. He said, "everybody likes to have fun and recreation," so, but not, but in those days, the pool hall also served liquor, and so he drank up much of the profits. And once the family started, then my grandmother said, "This is not a good thing for the children to go to the, to the pool hall and drag their father half-drunk out of the pool hall to come home and take care of his family." So Grandpa gave up the pool hall and went into barbering. And they had a house on Dwight Way that was actually not a house-house, it was more like a storefront. And Grandma had a laundry next door, and Grandpa's barber shop was next door to that, or... yeah. So that they, and then the storefront was where the family lived. And, and Grandma hung her laundry out in the back, and did her washing, heating of the water in the back, and had quite a laundry business.

MA: Was this in, sort of, the Japanese area of Berkeley? Was there a Japantown?

HC: I don't know that there was necessarily a whole Japanese area of Berkeley, it seems to me they were quite dispersed. But then, see, I was a kid, I didn't know very much. Because we moved from Berkeley when I was eight-and-a-half years old, but there were, I wouldn't say that there were a lot of Japanese neighbors. I guess I can't actually say who the neighbors were, 'cause when we went to Grandma's house, we had to stay in the house, Dwight Way was very busy, and we couldn't play, they didn't want us playing outdoors. They didn't want us playing too much in the backyard, either, 'cause that's where Grandma's laundry was. [Laughs] And they didn't want us messing up her laundry.

MA: So you stayed in the house?

HC: So we stayed in the house and played. [Laughs]

<End Segment 3> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.