Densho Digital Archive
Twin Cities JACL Collection
Title: Don Maeda Interview
Narrator: Don Maeda
Interviewer: Carolyn Nayematsu
Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date: October 13, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-mdon-01

[Ed. note: Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

CN: Okay, name is Carolyn Nayematsu and I am with the Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League Oral History Project, and today I'm happy to welcome Don Maeda. Don, where and when were you born?

DM: I was born in Seattle, Washington, on November 28, 1924.

CN: And what was your name given at birth?

DM: Donald Satoshi Maeda.

CN: Let's talk about your parents, but let's start with your father. Can you describe where your father came from and what year?

DM: He came from Yamaguchi-ken, Japan, in 1906.

CN: And what did he do?

DM: Well, when he first came he did many manual, like, he worked in the lumber mill, he cleared land, cleared the stumps. He worked on the railroad, not as a railroad worker, but he was a porter so he worked on the railroad and he came to Minnesota on the Northern Pacific or Great Northern, I'm not sure. And then he did a lot of odd job, I'm sure, and then he had an opportunity to become a dental technician.

CN: How did that happen?

DM: A friend of his was working for a dentist and he did not like doing that, so he asked my dad if he was interested at all and my dad was apparently interested, and that was his, the rest of his life, he retired as a dental technician here in Minnesota so he spent his whole life as a dental technician.

CN: Did he come to the United States alone or were there other family members?

DM: No, he came with a very good friend of his that was a couple years older. My dad had just, I think just finished high school and this person was a couple years older than him. And I don't really know the details but they came together.

CN: And then your mother, describe your mother's family and when she came over.

DM: My mother had an older sister that came to the States before her and she married Mr. Mimbu. And they had a boy, and I'm pretty sure when he was a couple years old, they wanted to show him off to the family so they, Mr. and Mrs. Mimbu and Bill went to Japan and all this is, I'm not real sure about it, but it must have been but Mrs. Mimbu talked my mother and her sister to come to the States. And so the three girls were here.

CN: What year was that?

DM: 1916.

CN: And they came to Seattle was well?

DM: Yes. I think my mother and her sister came together.

CN: Now you brought some photos and this is a photo of your mother in Japan?

DM: No, I'm pretty sure it's in the States. With the dress she has on I'm sure it was after she arrived here.

CN: How old was she when she came?

DM: Gee, she was born... my dad was born in 1889, my mom was born in 1893 so that would...

CN: She'd be about twenty or so? You said your mother came...

DM: '16, 1916.

CN: So she was about nineteen.

DM: I think so, I think about that.

CN: And then I have another photo here of your mother, now this is in Japan.

DM: That's in Japan. She was a nurse in Japan and that's the group at the hospital that she worked.

CN: Okay, and what city is this?

DM: I'm not sure.

CN: Okay. And so then your parents met.

DM: Yeah, they met in Seattle.

CN: Okay. And then they got married.

DM: In 1918.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

CN: And I have some photos here of your father and...

DM: Myself and my sister Jane.

CN: And here's another photo, it looks like you're a little older there.

DM: Yeah. I must have been about five or six I would think.

CN: And this is you again?

DM: That's me when I was, what, probably year old?

CN: Looks like it.

DM: My sister is five years older than myself.

CN: So, you are, in your family line you are number three?

DM: No, number two.

CN: You and...

DM: My mother and my brother -- I mean, my sister, myself, and then we had, I have a younger brother but he was seventeen years younger than me and so, we have some later pictures but they aren't... that's my...

CN: This is your...

DM: ...old family house my dad bought in 1928.

CN: And where did you live in Seattle?

DM: Well, it was an area called Rainier Valley. It was kind of, in the... it was still within the city limits but was in the southern outskirts of Seattle.

CN: Was it a very big with Japanese community?

DM: Well that was, the Japanese people, most of Japantown was closer to downtown, and my mother developed pleurisy before I was born and the doctor told her that she should move out of the downtown area where there's more fresh air so, rent a house, this is before they bought the house, that they should rent a house that was not a real tight house so they could have a lot of change of air, it would be good for her. So that's why they moved out of the downtown area.

CN: It looks like it was kind of a suburban area?

DM: Yeah, it was still dirt roads out there.

CN: And this is a photo of your...

DM: Backyard. There was a cherry tree in the backyard.

CN: Was your father a gardener at all?

DM: My mother was more than my dad. She loved to garden.

CN: And then this is a photo that looks like you are...

DM: Probably fourteen, fifteen, yeah.

CN: So eventually, so your brother, Jane is five years older.

DM: Yeah, my brother wasn't even here yet.

CN: Right, and he's how many years younger than you?

DM: Seventeen. He was born in 1940. He was a big surprise, I'm sure. [Laughs]

<End Segment 2> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

CN: So you attended elementary and...

DM: Seattle.

CN: Now were there many Japanese in your...

DM: No, very few. Very few, I grew up with mostly Caucasian kids and I had one good Japanese boy, we were friends, but there weren't many Japanese out where we lived.

CN: Did you attend Japanese school? Did your parents...

DM: No, they didn't send me. See, the Japanese was kind of in Japantown and I'd have had to take a streetcar after school so I don't think they were that interested in me learning the language, so I never did attend Japanese school.

CN: So, during that time your father worked as a dental technician?

DM: In a dental office. Not in a laboratory but in a private dental office.

CN: And then your mother, did she work at all?

DM: She was just a homemaker.

CN: So your father, you led a kind of a traditional sort of American life for a while?

DM: Yeah, it was, we were relatively fortunate. My dad learned a trade that, and he worked all through the Depression and so we weren't really hard put, I remember it as just being a nice, normal upbringing.

CN: And then you started into elementary school? Now here is a photo of your family, let's see, where are you in this photo?

DM: That's me right there, that's my mother. That's me right there.

CN: It looks like you have quite an extended family here.

DM: Yeah, see, my mother had three sisters and her sister that passed away, this was her burial, she had two children and Mr. and Mrs. Mimbu just had one so then, yeah, there were six of us.

CN: Because during that time did many Japanese families have such an extended family?

DM: As I recall most did not because they didn't have, their parents -- the Issei, not too many of their siblings came over. A lot of them were just the only one so I can't remember any of our Japanese friends having uncles and aunts and cousins like we had.

CN: Did you all celebrate the traditional...

DM: Yeah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's.

CN: Did your parents have much of a social life? What was the name of the place you grew up again in Seattle?

DM: Rainer Valley.

CN: Did they participate in activities?

DM: You know, my mother went to PTA and then they belonged to a Japanese Methodist Church and that was downtown, in Japantown, so they had a lot of friends. They had a lot of friends.

CN: What was your life like when you got into junior high school? What sort of activities did you participate in?

DM: Nothing really, but I was not into sports. Just what boys do. Fly kites, ride bikes. [Laughs]

CN: Did you work at all and do odd jobs?

DM: Well, my uncle had a grocery store so when I was probably seventh, eighth grade, I helped, he had a small grocery store but he had people that called in with orders and he'd fill them and we'd deliver after school. And so I did do that, but that's about as far as working.

CN: During that time did your family go back to Japan, your parents?

DM: No. My parents went back after the war two times but before that, no.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

CN: So when December 7, 1941, occurred, how old were you?

DM: I was seventeen.

CN: Seventeen. Well, let's talk about your high school then. You were going to high school. You were about what, a junior?

DM: I was a junior in high school.

CN: And it was a pretty much Caucasian high school?

DM: Right.

CN: Were there other Japanese to speak of in your class?

DM: Class-wise I don't really think. There were, by high school there were probably ten or twelve Japanese kids in our high school. Most of them went to, there were two high schools close to Japantown and most of the kids in Seattle went there, but yeah, I went to Franklin High School down in the south end of town.

CN: Do you remember that day?

DM: The day?

CN: Pearl Harbor?

DM: I do very... I was driving by then. I had a driver's license, and I remember it was right after church and there's Lake Washington in Seattle where there's areas where they feed the ducks and we were down watching them feed the ducks and I had the car radio on. That's when we heard about Pearl Harbor. But at that time of course we were shocked but we didn't really know what effect would be.

CN: Did your parents think "Oh dear..."?

DM: I'm sure they did. I don't remember them discussing much about it.

CN: So Monday you went to high school as usual, probably, December, right? Do you remember classmates or teachers saying anything?

DM: No. My friends didn't turn on me and call me names or anything. But I remember by then I had joined a youth group with this Japanese church so I knew a few Japanese kids. And there was this one girl that her mother had returned to Japan and she was born in Japan so it affected her more than, she was not a citizen and so her parents weren't, she was born in Japan, so it affected her much more than it did the rest of us.

CN: Your parents kept in contact with the relatives and all in Japan?

DM: My mother did, she did all the letter writing and all.

CN: And were there any indications through the letters that things were getting...

DM: I don't really know. I do remember her after the war sending a lot of care packages regularly, but before that I don't remember much.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

CN: So December 7th happened and then you went, it wasn't until March that you went to, that you were evacuated...

DM: But then, before that, right after, I can't remember exactly when, but they posted on all the telephone poles that we were restricted, we had a curfew, eight o'clock curfew, and we couldn't go beyond five miles from home. And I remember we would be out with our friends, Caucasian friends, and Lloyd Hoshide, who was Japanese, we had to rush home at eight o'clock. I don't know if we'd ever got caught or not but we were always home by eight.

CN: So you started to get these warnings...

DM: Right.

CN: Japanese Americans were being looked at.

DM: Well, a little different, yeah.

CN: When did you know you would be evacuated, approximately?

DM: Let's see, I think the first post of that along about probably about February of '42, I'm pretty sure.

CN: Now by that time you had a home. Your father had purchased a home, right?

DM: Well, there again now, they weren't allowed to buy property but to get around it I don't know if it's legal or whatever, but a family had a son that was older, he had become of age, and so my dad bought our home through, it was under his name, this boy's name, and I think my dad must have paid yearly, I remember going over to his house and he'd give him some money just to use his name which could have been kind of scary I guess if the boy and his family weren't honest, they could have probably taken it. But they had no problems. But then when Jane, my sister, became of age, they transferred it into her name.

CN: So at that time, by the time of evacuation, your house was in your sister's name?

DM: No. It was after.

CN: And you owned a car.

DM: Yes.

CN: So what were the preparations like that your family had to go through?

DM: Well, that was the worst part for me. My dad had a 1936 Plymouth which I was driving around and then this friend, he bought my dad's car, and so that was really one of the worst days of my life when I didn't have a car anymore. And then he bought my dad's car and another friend bought my uncle's car. And when we were sent to Puyallup they would come out with two cars full of friends and park the car across the street -- we were barbed wire, you know -- and we could talk, and I would see my car and my dad's car and my uncle's car with a bunch of friends, that was hard for me. They were very nice friends to come, they always brought us fruit and stuff, but just to see my car across the street, that bothered me.

CN: What did your parents have to do with your house?

DM: They rented it out and they apparently had very reliable renters because they put the money in the bank, and so my dad had that income so he did not lose his life insurance, but they were honest people.

CN: What about your dad and his job? What was going on there in terms of his treatment at the dental office?

DM: Apparently nothing happened. He worked.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

CN: Okay, so where is Puyallup?

DM: Puyallup. It was the Western State Fair in Puyallup, which is, oh, let's see, 20 miles south of Seattle, in the town of Puyallup.

CN: Now how did that happen? All of you just showed up there?

DM: No, we had to, we gathered at a spot, Jefferson Park was our -- they had different places for different area people. When we got on the bus up and then they bussed us into Puyallup.

CN: So at that time it was you, your father and your sister? She was older?

DM: No, she was there. And my two-year-old brother and we had duffle bag and suitcases, what we could carry.

CN: Your family photos and those things were all packed up and put away?

DM: Apparently, and my sister was stuck with all that. She and my parents -- at least I don't recall doing much. [Laughs]

CN: So you all showed up at this fairgrounds, because Seattle was one of the early groups to have to evacuate...

DM: Right.

CN: What were conditions like at the fairgrounds?

DM: Well, we were fortunate there. There was a parking lot across from the fairgrounds and they built the barracks in the parking lot so that was all fresh wood, it was just wood, it was raw wood walls and all but at least it was clean, and we had a little room I think it was 20, I think 24 by 24, whatever. And then we were passed out, we had army cots and real army-type mattresses, they were thin but they were at least clean. And then...

CN: And that was March...

DM: Of '42.

CN: Of '42. And about how many Japanese families...

DM: From Seattle, I really don't know.

CN: Because that must have been a large group.

DM: It wasn't as large as L.A. and San Francisco, but it was a large group.

CN: And your family was assigned a section?

DM: Well, yeah, there was this barracks, I can't remember the number of that one but we were assigned a certain one.

CN: And you were in Puyallup how many months?

DM: Until August, while they're building the camp in Idaho.

CN: During those months, how did you occupy your time?

DM: I, being one of the early ones, I got a job as a supply, and so we distributed the incoming families, this Lloyd and I distributed the beds and mattresses and helped carry their belongings and get the later people settled.

CN: How about your dad, was he able to do any of the...

DM: Not in that camp, but in Idaho he was able to do his trade.

CN: So at that point you had not been around a lot of Japanese?

DM: Just a small group at the Japanese Methodist Church.

CN: So now you were with a big group.

DM: That's right, I made a lot of... not so much, I don't remember that much in Puyallup, but a I met a lot of friends in Idaho.

CN: How about your mother, how did she feel?

DM: I don't really know.

CN: She was busy with a two year old...

DM: She had a two year old and I'm sure, and she had a lot of friends, women gather. And I remember the men all gather at the laundry room where it was warmer you know. [Laughs]

CN: Because that area would have been a little cold...

DM: Damp. Damp.

CN: What was their feeling like because you knew you were going to Idaho at some point?

DM: I don't know if we knew what the future was, I really don't know.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

CN: So when it was announced you were going to Idaho, how did they get you all there?

DM: By train. And that is vague to me too. I remember the train did not come in to Puyallup. I don't know how we got to the train or where the train was, but I remember there were old, old train, they still have the old potbelly stove and I remember everybody, it took a couple of days and we were all dirty and they just passed out sandwiches or whatever and, yeah, that wasn't a very pleasant trip.

CN: You know, one of the other interviews we've had, one person was talking about, he lived in Oakland and when he was sent to Tanforan horse stables they sprayed him with DDT...

DM: Oh, yes.

CN: Did that happen to you?

DM: See, now I told you we were fortunate that we were in these fresh barracks. But the later people were in the actual barracks which were across the street in the fairgrounds there and so they were in, when we had to help them get settled, and they had rather than the mattresses we had, when they ran out of mattresses there I guess they had straw ticks that we helped them fill with straw and so they had it much worse than we did, the later people.

CN: How many days did it take, do you think, to get everybody in there?

DM: Into Idaho?

CN: First into Puyallup.

DM: I think we all probably got there in one day. It wasn't that far. I'm pretty sure. Well, it came in steps, in groups.

CN: So yours, how did you get to be one of the first groups?

DM: I have no idea how they did that.

CN: Okay, so then it took, you all had to board a train, and then went to Minidoka. Now where is Minidoka in Idaho?

DM: It's close to Twin Falls in the southern part of Idaho.

CN: So that's kind of a barren area...

DM: Oh, yes...

CN: Sort of high but not surrounded by...

DM: It was just sage country when we...

CN: And winters are pretty severe.

DM: Very severe.

CN: And summers can be very hot...

DM: Very hot and dusty but that's the thing, I kept telling my kids and grandkids how we're sitting in the middle of all this sage country and dusty and then a couple years ago my daughter and a couple grandkids went to the pilgrimage from Seattle tracing by bus back to Minidoka, and that took a full day. We got on the bus early in the morning and we didn't get there until late evening. And then we went to the camp site and here it's all farmed by Caucasian farmers now and all fields, it was nothing like when we were there. And so it was hard... I was telling them how arid and all and it wasn't nearly -- we had a big, they called it a main canal, irrigation, more like a river than a canal, and it ran right alongside -- that's how the main, you had to go over a bridge to get into camp and so they had the barbed wires so you had to cross the canal to really get away from there.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

CN: So you all arrived and obviously you were the first to get to Minidoka, too, right because no one else was there.

DM: I think they some people go early to help get settled I think and I think some went to help build it but I'm not real sure about that.

CN: How many barracks were there at Minidoka?

DM: Let's see. I think there were twelve in each block and there were forty-four blocks.

CN: Do you remember which, the number of your...

DM: 28-4-C.

CN: 28-4-C. Were you the only family in your barrack?

DM: Oh, no, they had at the end of each barrack, both ends, they had smaller apartments for couples. And then they had a large apartment for six or more, and then right in the middle was one to five, so we were in the middle size apartment.

CN: A lot of Japanese families had -- yours was kind a small family wasn't it? I can almost picture having a lot of...

DM: Yes, they probably had two rooms I would think. But we just had our cots lined up and then they had this big potbelly stove in one corner and...

CN: And you had to go to a mess hall or something?

DM: Yeah. Mess hall, all the meals, laundry room, showers and all.

CN: What were the conditions? The barracks, at least were newer.

DM: Newer but still, they were still just, inside they were the raw wood and outside they were tarpapered and, you know, it was dusty in the spring in Idaho and the dust just come blowing in the windows and all.

CN: And it was still pretty cold wasn't it?

DM: Yeah, it was cold.

CN: Did they give you coats and things like that?

DM: Oh yeah, they passed out, actually they were mostly like CCC, old army, the CCC must have got it from the old army, stuff, and so they were, a lot of them were World War I type pants and jackets and stuff.

CN: Because you, from Seattle all you could bring, what did they allow you, just one suitcase per person?

DM: What you can carry.

CN: So you're seventeen years old at Minidoka? Now you only went through junior year?

DM: I didn't finish my junior year.

CN: Okay, you were, so did they have high school for you?

DM: They had school in camp but they weren't -- a lot of us didn't -- I didn't go to school in camp. I would rather, I worked rather than go to... so I signed up with the coal, they used a lot of coal, everything was coal to heat all the barracks and heat all the mess halls and the laundry room, so they used a lot of coal. And the trains did not come into camp so we would have to take -- they were army trucks, and go out to the spur which was probably about probably five to ten miles out of camp and we'd go load the coal onto these trucks. And they weren't dump trucks. You'd get into these gondola cars and hand shovel, fill the trucks, and then you'd fill the trucks and go back to camp and unshovel it wherever they needed it.

CN: So you were busy.

DM: They had two crews, night and day crew.

CN: What other activities did you participate in camp? I mean, there must have been a lot of seventeen year olds.

DM: Oh yeah, in the evening there was, all in the summer, they had baseball leagues; they had dances every Saturday night in the mess halls. But most of all, after dinner we just kind of hung out. And there again I made a lot of good friends. I found out Japanese kids are more fun than white kids. [Laughs] I fit in. You know, in Seattle, I was fine until we got to high school. All my Caucasian friends, and then they start pairing up, a boy and a girl, and here at that time a little Japanese boy didn't even think about asking a white girl out. And so that's when I began to feel the need, I don't know if was a need, that I was kind of out in left field, but once I got to camp and I met all these boys and girls, and so my memory of camp is more, that's why my daughter wanted me to come to say that my outlook is different than a lot of people because I didn't think it was so bad.

CN: You had a lot of friends.

DM: I got a lot of friends.

CN: And you could socialize.

DM: Right.

CN: And it seemed like there were a lot of activities actually.

DM: A lot of activities, and at seventeen you don't think of the, what, how terrible all this really was to happen to you. My sister was much more adamant about the treatment that we received, she's five years older. She realized the impact more than I did.

CN: Your sister was probably in college?

DM: She was a junior at the University of Washington.

CN: So she had to leave and so she felt that?

DM: She was only in camp one year and she got a chance to go to Hamline University here and that's how we ended up to Minnesota.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

CN: So your sister was able to leave after one year. You stayed how many years?

DM: Two years.

CN: Two years and your parents stayed...?

DM: I came out the same time as they did.

CN: How did your dad and your mother fare in Minidoka?

DM: Well, my dad worked at the hospital as a dental technician, And I don't know, I really don't know, they had a lot of friends, a lot of people to talk to.

CN: I mean, they certainly felt the depravation in terms of...

DM: I'm sure they did, but they didn't show it that I know, but my sister, not getting her degree from the University of Washington, just last year or two years ago, somebody in Seattle called me and wanted to know if I was related to Jane Maeda and I said, "Yes I am," and I didn't know this person but they had a baccalaureate ceremony in Washington so she got a diploma through the mail from...

CN: The University of Washington. What was her major there?

DM: Sociology.

CN: So that was good that she was, well...

DM: But she'd never, she was gone by then.

CN: At least she was able to come to Hamline. Was Hamline University accepting a lot of Japanese at that time?

DM: There are not a whole lot but... Macalester had more I believe but there were several at Hamline.

CN: So you're about nineteen, twenty, when you're leaving?

DM: Yeah, I was between eighteen and nineteen but I was drafted. You know, during the war they quit drafting the Nisei and then after they need replacements for the 442 they opened up the draft. And I was in the first -- there were eighteen of us -- and I was in the first group to be drafted in Minidoka so I went up to Boise and I had a, in the back of an open truck, we rode up to Boise, we were sworn in and everything, And the day I was supposed to go, actually go into the service was the day my folks were scheduled to come out to Minnesota. So they gave me a three-month extension to help them get settled.

CN: How did you feel about being drafted, because in Minidoka there was a lot of rumbling about...

DM: Not as bad as Heart Mountain. But there were, I think Minidoka had one of the largest number of volunteers.

CN: Did they? Did you have any misgivings about being drafted?

DM: Not really, I didn't think much about it.

CN: And how about your friends?

DM: I didn't hear of any.

CN: Oh, okay. So you were given an extension and then you brought your parents out to...

DM: Help them get settled.

CN: You brought some articles here about, I think leaving camp, right, and getting settled. I see here, we think this it, it says War Relocation Authority Evacuee Property Report. It's sort of interesting, your personal property, now this is your, Jane Maeda, would that be under, Jane would have had it under, for your parents?

DM: She handled all the legal or...

CN: Well, there are some things, you had refrigerator, washing machine. There's a cedar chest here and you're saying you built that?

DM: I built that in high school. And I have it now.

CN: How about this bedroom set?

DM: That was my folks' old bedroom set and that's long gone.

CN: They had a piano.

DM: Yeah. And my sister, she moved down to Austin, Minnesota, and her daughter has it now, down in Austin.

CN: And this was a piano that was in your home?

DM: My mother and sister took piano lessons.

CN: And then a china closet.

DM: Yeah, my sister got that.

CN: And so you were able to save some dishes and...

DM: Yes, Mother had some china and I'm sure my niece has all that.

CN: Now this personal property was kept for you in Seattle someplace?

DM: Yes, they were put in the warehouses.

CN: Did the government do that or did you...

DM: Yes, the government did all that and apparently they took care of it because everything came in good shape. A lot of people's stuff didn't but ours, I'm pretty sure ours came pretty good.

CN: Okay, I mean, they weren't they were limited. You had a card table, four folding chairs, a combination radio, one desk and one vacuum cleaner in addition to what I just mentioned.

DM: I'm sure we had other things. We had a sofa in the living room and I don't know how they selected what to pack.

CN: They didn't have much time, did they?

DM: No, The time was pretty limited.

CN: So they just selected the things they probably thought they would need.

DM: Right. There again my dad was fortunate. He had this house in Seattle, so when we came out here, Jane, my sister -- I don't know if my dad went or not -- but they sold that house in Seattle so he had the down payment for a house here. So he was able to purchase a house here. In 1945 he bought a house.

CN: Okay, so at nineteen years old, you and mother and dad then...

DM: And small brother...

CN: And little brother came out to Minnesota to join your sister.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

CN: Don, before we leave Minidoka, I wanted to ask you, you were with a lot of seventeen, eighteen, nineteen year olds, were you able to leave Minidoka, to go into town and see movies, was all that restricted?

DM: No, only if you're out on leave to do harvesting work or farm work, then you could leave, but not just for pleasure.

CN: Did you help with harvest?

DM: I did. In 1942 and '43 I went out to harvest sugar beets and potatoes, and being a city boy, and I went out with a crew with all farm boys so I learned how hard work farming was.

CN: Do you have a clue as to how the native Idahoans, what they thought of having this camp, or what they thought of the Japanese?

DM: Well you know. we went back to this a couple years ago, we went on this pilgrimage from Seattle to this camp and we talked to some of the people in that area. And a lot of them said they knew something was going on over there but they didn't really know what it was all about.

CN: Because you were really isolated over there and it wasn't a common, it wasn't a place that people wanted to visit.

DM: No.

CN: Okay. Approximately how many people were in Minidoka? Was it about ten thousand?

DM: Yeah, ten to twelve thousand. Most of them were -- that's a lot of people.

CN: That would have been a lot larger than most of the, a good many towns around there.

DM: Cities -- oh yeah, it was one of the larger towns, same as Heart Mountain, it was I think one of the biggest cities in Wyoming, population-wise.

CN: So you and your mother and father and younger brother then packed up and took a train then to Minneapolis?

DM: Yes.

CN: That took a couple days, didn't it?

DM: You know, I cannot... I'm sure to get here we had to take a, maybe they had a bus or something that brought us into wherever the train was, and we had to go through Omaha to get here, I remember we had to transfer there and we went through Omaha and ended up here in March of, what would that be,'45, and it was cold.

CN: But people were starting to leave camp around that time?

DM: Yeah, I would say quite a few were.

CN: Was it hard leaving all your friends? Because you were going all over, different places.

DM: That's right. That was another thing. I lost a lot of friends when we left Seattle and then I made a lot of friends in camp and then they were all gone again too, and then we came out here and of course, that was the hard part, not knowing, once you're out of high school it's hard to make friends.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

CN: So you came to Minneapolis St. Paul. Were you able to find a job?

DM: Yes, I, let's see, I was 1-A at that time and there was a lady, Mrs. Colby, she was a... she was just a do-gooder type of woman that had a desk at the employment center down in St. Paul. And it was just her. She was just there to help relocate the Japanese people who were coming here. She found my dad a job as a dental technician and I, my first job was at Booth's Cold Storage, is right on Kellogg and St. Peter right at the foot of the -- and it was hauling these big cartons of frozen stuff out of the train, out of the freezer lockers into the trains and it was just too heavy for me. And so I only lasted there maybe a week and then she found me, about four of us, well, she found us a job at a Cudahy packing house, it was across from South St. Paul, Swift's and Armour's were in South St. Paul and Cudahy was across the river in Newport, and we went to work in the packing house. And the packing house is all the Mexicans and African Americans end up in the lower end of the job down in the hide cellar where they drop all the hides that are all full of, you know. And then before they're sent off to become leather they stack the steer hides and the sheep hides and every hide, you lay it down and you put a layer of rock salt to cure the, and then you're all full of, and your clothing is all, boy, I thought I knew all the bad words in the, but I learned a few new words down there. [Laughs]

But I lasted there until I was actually called back to the service, And then I, so I left there and I came back and I got a medical because of some disabilities that they hadn't found the first time and I came back and I found a job at a Goodyear Tire Shop, and all that was rationed, tires were rationed, it's hard, but I was working on the service floor and there were three of us Japanese boys they hired and there was a real nice manager, he took us boys and treated us well. And to our knowledge we didn't have any trouble with the customers. And his name was Mr. Deindorfer and then he got transferred to Ohio to a Goodyear store, and they brought in another man named Harvey Smith. And the day that Harvey Smith came, we could tell he did not like us, you could just read it in his face, and we were, well, we had worked at Goodyear maybe a year and a half together, before this change, and we worked there a couple months and he called us up, Harvey called us up in the office and says, "Well, we got to let you Jap boys go. Too many customers are complaining about you Jap boys working on their cars." And so he let us go. But in the meantime we had a service manager at Goodyear that had transferred over to U.S. Royal distributor, so we all went, his name is Tony, we went over and talked to him and told him what happened and he hired all three of us right there.

CN: Really?

DM: And so, we went to work and I worked at Goodyear for another year or so. I was getting to the age where my parents wanted me to go to school and I was not a student and so I realized I was not college bound and my dad being a dental technician, talked to a couple of dentists, and there was a dentist that had a technician working in his office and he, this dentist was so busy because a lot of the dentists were in the service so they hired me as this helper and he trained me, he broke me in. And we worked together for nine years in this dentist's office and Ed decided to open up a lab himself and he asked me to come along with him. And he explained to me, he had had a partnership down in Florida that didn't end happily, and so he says if anybody he would take me in as a partner. But because of his bad luck as a partner he didn't -- so he gave me a real good deal, commission and bonus every month and just the two of us started this lab and it grew to be over the years, I think at the peak there were about twenty-five people. Well I was kind of a, whenever he was gone I was kind of the manager for him, so he treated me well. And then, that was in 1964. And then in 1980 his wife was ill and he was seventy and he was ready to retire and he wanted the three of us to buy him out, and we never could come to an agreement as partners. And so then I had several of the accounts at the lab said that, "Well, we'll help you set up and we'll send you work," and so by then my kids had all gone off and I had a family room that was just sitting there and a laundry room that had room for whatever I need, to put over, that need water, so I opened my own lab in 1981.

CN: And you still have your lab.

DM: And I had a, I think I started out, I had about, six, I think at the peak I had about eight accounts and that's pretty hard for one man to keep up. And eventually, as these dentists retired or found different labs, I slowly, but I ended up with two old, not old, they were dental students that came down to the lab to work on weekends and evenings, and I ended up, two of them I'm still working for after all these years.

CN: Goodness.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

CN: So, that's you, now during this time you got married.

DM: Yes.

CN: And you married?

DM: Kay. Kay Kubo. Katheryn Kubo.

CN: And this is the two of you at your wedding?

DM: Yes.

CN: Is that here in St. Paul?

DM: No, we went back to -- she was from Torrington, Wyoming, but the church that they attended was right outside of Scottsbluff, I can't recall the church, St. Mary's Mission? And I thought at that time there would only be a few Japanese attending our wedding. But there are a lot farmers in that area and down in Platte Valley area and so that church is almost all Japanese, a few Caucasian people, but mainly it was Japanese people so we had a nice wedding out there.

CN: How did you meet your wife? Was she here studying?

DM: Well, she was here working at, she had finished, she was a medical technician, she had graduated the University of Wyoming and she was working at St. Barnabas Hospital, which is no longer here. It was an Episcopal hospital and then the...

CN: Could we just backtrack a bit? She went to the University of Wyoming. I attended the University of Montana in the '60s and I was the only Japanese American then. How about the University of Wyoming?

DM: Well, there were a few at that time. There were a few students out of camp at University of Nebraska and Wyoming and even here at Macalester and Hamline, and so she wasn't the only Japanese student.

CN: And she didn't have to go to camp, right. She would have been in Nebraska. So she came up here...

DM: To finish her training at Minneapolis and she got a job at St. Barnabas Hospital. When we first came out here the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota realized that the Issei would probably not go to neighborhood Caucasian, white churches. And so they bought a house on 22nd and Blaisdell and they called that some kind of Episcopal, if they aren't self-supporting and they need help from the Diocese they call it a mission, And there was a Father Daisuke Kitagawa that was sent here to minister to the Issei people, and there was quite a group of Issei at that time. And the offshoot of that was a youth fellowship that met at that center too. And a lot of us, even the people that you're interviewing here, we met our mates there, at the youth fellowship. I remember a Halloween, she was brand new in town and her sister, her older sister knew Father Kitagawa so she asked Father Kitagawa to show Kay around, introduce her to some Japanese kids. And so he brought her to a Halloween party and that's how we met. And then it took off from there. [Laughs]

CN: You don't hear too much about the Japanese in Nebraska. What did her family do there?

DM: Farm. They were actually in Wyoming. Torrington, Wyoming, which is really on the state line of Nebraska and Wyoming.

CN: What did they raise in Torrington?

DM: Beans, some sorghum and corn, it was mostly beans and corn and sorghum, I think.

CN: Just to backtrack a bit, when all of you moved here to St. Paul, your sister was at St. Paul, where did you live?

DM: Well, our first, we lived in a rooming house just by Hamline University, she found this rooming house. We lived there a year and my dad fortunately had down payment on a house so he purchased a house on Fairview and Idlehart in 1945.

CN: And was your dad able to continue his work?

DM: He did, he worked for a dentist, a very nice dentist, he worked for him for twenty-five... he worked almost into his eighties, too.

CN: So, it's a genetic...

DM: Well, yeah, it's not hard work. My mother used to watch us work and say, oh, that's like women's work, you know. It is, it's more like, it's just handwork, tedious.

CN: It can be pretty detailed.

DM: Yeah. It's tedious but over the years you get used to it.

CN: Did your mother work when she came here?

DM: She never, she loved to garden so she gardened. She had a weed-free garden in the backyard. Oh, and then my second daughter and her husband, when my mother preceded my dad for three years before him, and when he passed away he left all to the grandkids, ten grandkids, and so my second daughter and husband bought the house from the other grandkids and they're living in that home now.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

CN: Did they suffer any discrimination that you know of when they were trying to buy the house? Was there...

DM: Yes, there was. I remember we went to a house, it was one of the houses, it wasn't all that great but it was off of Randolph and Snelling. And the realtor brought us in there and we went back out and he says, "They won't sell it to you. They don't want the neighbors to talk about selling to any Japanese," so that was the only time that I can recall. But Kay and I ran into that, we were married in 1950 and in 1954 we decided to move out to Roseville and at that time there were a lot of returning GIs and so as all, they were new little homes and we were all set to close and the guy said, "I don't know, I better talk to the rest of these people that are buying in this neighborhood. I better see if it's all right with them." And apparently it's alright with them but we didn't even think any problem, but before that when we first got married and was looking for an apartment in Minneapolis, we'd answer an ad in the paper and go and, "No, that's already taken." We went through that three, four, five times and finally the last one we got kind of wise, you know, and right after, we called up right after we looked at it, and were refused and called up and asked if, we didn't say we were the ones, we just said we're checking on the ad, is it still, oh yeah, it's still open you know, so we realized then that, ah.

CN: They didn't want to rent to you.

DM: Right.

CN: Was that about the only time that you experienced, that you felt discriminated against, in Minnesota, in the early days?

DM: Well, I do remember I didn't have a car here at first and you'd ride on the streetcar, and if you were by a window and there was an empty seat next to you, people wouldn't sit down. They'd prefer standing rather than sitting next to a, same with the colored people, a lot of people wouldn't sit with colored people. Little things.

CN: Did people know that, about the internment, evacuating?

DM: I don't think, I don't think most of them out here did. I really don't know.

CN: So, how many people attended your youth group at the Episcopal Church?

DM: Oh, at the peak, the young people, there must have been twenty to thirty.

CN: And where did this Daisuke Kitagawa, did he receive his training in Japan, I mean, become an Episcopal...

DM: Yeah, he was a Nisei, I'm not sure where he got his training, but had a church in Seattle. We didn't go to the Episcopal Church but he did have a church in Seattle.

CN: Because after him, wasn't there a Father Otani?

DM: Otani. Father Kitagawa left here and he went to the World Council of Churches in Switzerland and he passed away relatively young.

CN: How did your wife like Minnesota?

DM: You know, after her training here she wanted to see the east. So she had some friends in Baltimore, he was an Episcopal priest, and she lived with them for a year and worked in Baltimore for a year and she had enough of the east so she came back to Minnesota just before we met.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

CN: So you two married, and tell us about your family. You have five children?

DM: We had five kids.

CN: And how many are still here in the Twin Cities?

DM: Four.

CN: I know one is Janet and she's a former professor at Macalester and Hamline, and then Joan...

DM: Works, she has a masters in English or something but she has five children and so she never really used her education. She's happier, she's worked in different bookstores and she's still working in the children's bookstore on Grand Avenue but she preferred to just take care of her family and live that way.

CN: With five children she's busy.

DM: Yes. Then Donna is a professor at Occidental College in California. My son Bruce is a junior high principal in St. Paul. And Dave is a city clerk in Minnetonka.

CN: Now your sister that brought you out here, is she still in...

DM: No, she passed away almost twenty years ago. She had Parkinson's.

CN: But did she live in Minnesota?

DM: She lived in Austin, Minnesota, that's where Hormel Company is.

CN: Oh, so she went down to work there?

DM: Yeah, her husband is a chemist and he didn't work for the Hormel Company, but the Hormel Company and the University through a grant system they have a laboratory, they call it the Hormel Institute. And they do different testings, I don't exactly know what they do but George is a chemist. He couldn't find a job here in the city so they moved down to Austin to raise their kids down there.

CN: That was kind of unusual too, where there aren't many Japanese...

DM: No. Very few -- now there are quite a few Latinos but they were not happy and it was a company town, and a lot of company factory workers are rednecks in a small town and their kids met a lot of, a lot more than my children did. They were not happy in Austin.

CN: It sounds like it might have made a more difficult place to...

DM: Yes. One girl went to work at the Hormel Institute so she's still in the family home, but my sister Jane was not happy in Austin.

CN: And you said your wife passed away a few years ago?

DM: Ten years ago.

CN: Your children, she was able to see all of them graduate from college and do extremely well.

DM: Right, yeah. And then she got to, Joan has five kids and Janet has one son, she got to see all of them but my son Bruce, who is the fourth child, he got married, he was almost thirty when he got married, so he has three children now, and the two are nine year olds, they're twins and then they have a seven year old daughter, and my wife did not get to see them. And that is in my mind that Kay should have seen Bruce's, the twins, you know, the only twins in our family so she missed out on that.

CN: Well, she was able to see quite a bit.

DM: Yes.

CN: Did you visit much with her family in Nebraska?

DM: Almost every year we drove back to see grandma.

CN: What was that like?

DM: Long trip. Long trip with five kids. [Laughs]

CN: But that was an active Japanese community down there. Did they continue a lot of the New Year's traditions?

DM: Yeah, we were always there in the summertime.

CN: Because I have a relative who came from Nebraska too. It sounded like it was a very active community.

DM: Oh, very, very much so.

CN: Is it still?

DM: No, Kay and I would go back to the service and it's, there are a few Japanese but I would say it's more or less than fifty percent Japanese now. They're all getting old too and then their kids I don't think continue on there.

CN: Is there anything we left out that you'd like to cover?

DM: I really, I'm surprised that I talked this much. [Laughs]

CN: You did well. You know, working as a dental technician, you were pretty new, I mean, there weren't many Japanese in the dental field, were there?

DM: Well, when you really think about it, when you, you ask anybody, do you know anybody, or my kids would ask, you never hear of a dental technician, you don't even know they're around really. I think most people assume the dentist does the work, they don't think any further than that. But I don't know of any other Nisei that are in the dental -- there are dentists over here, a lot of them are retired now, but I don't really know any other Japanese dental technician here in the cities.

CN: Because you make crowns and bridges and you know, not so many years ago I remember hearing on TV they're talking about how they were shipping a lot of that work out to China, but then some of them were coming back with, I don't know, lead...

DM: Well, they, a lot of, I've had brochures from labs that send the work to China and you think that's a long way to send it but with air express it takes one day to get to China, they do the work, and send it back air express so that within a week it's no different than if you send it to a local lab. And then they were sending work down to Mexico. A matter of fact, a big lab here in Minneapolis opened a lab in Mexico, but the dentists weren't happy with the work they were getting.

CN: And I heard the materials you had to be careful.

DM: Yeah. But it's getting, gold crowns are getting, gold is over, I think it's a 1,040 dollars an ounce now. And so the gold crowns are getting very expensive.

CN: And people are still using gold crowns?

DM: Gold crowns, for the posterior teeth, they're still using them.

CN: Do they last longer?

DM: Well, actually, porcelain is a glass really and glass is hard. And back on your molars where you chew, the glass will wear out your natural teeth because of the abrasiveness, where a gold crown is relatively soft and it'll wear with your natural tooth, so it's kinder to the opposing tooth.

CN: And how about silver, was there some kind...

DM: Oh, silver, there's been a lot of controversy about the amalgam where they put in mercury to mix with the silver powder, so there's been a lot of controversy about that mercury in the...

CN: I see. Well, it's good you've been able to keep busy and how much longer are you going to do this?

DM: I don't really know. Until... my hands are still steady. And I've been very fortunate. My eyes are good and my hands are good and this is gone. [Points to head] I would say another couple years. These dentists, apparently they like my work, because they keep sending it to me. As long I can still function and stay in that house. I have to stay in that house because my lab is there. And where I reach a house that I have to move and my health starts deteriorating, until that point I'll just keep plugging along.

CN: Good for you. Well, thank you.

DM: Well, thank you, I didn't think I would talk this long.

CN: You did fine.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.