Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Museum of San Jose Collection
Title: Richard Konda Interview
Narrator: Richard Konda
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda, Tom Izu
Location: San Jose, California
Date: November 30, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-krichard_2-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So it's Tuesday morning, November 30, 2010, we're at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. Dana Hoshide is on camera, co-interviewing is Tom Izu, Steve Fugita is sitting in, and I'm the interviewer, Tom Ikeda, and we're here with Richard Konda. The purpose of this interview is to do a life history interview for the Densho project, Densho collection. And so, Richard, I'm just going to start at the beginning, and why don't you tell me, what was the name given to you at birth?

RK: Richard George Konda.

TI: And where and when were you born?

RK: I was born February 27, 1951, in San Francisco.

TI: Good, okay. So I'm going to start with your mother first. Why don't you tell me where she was born and where she's from.

RK: So my mom was born in the Central Valley in a town called Delano. And she was born 1920 or something like that, somewhere in that range.

TI: And do you know what kind of, what her family did?

RK: So her, her mom and dad had a small farm in the Central Valley and they grew vegetables and other things. It was a large family, there were eight children in the family.

TI: And I forgot to ask, what was her name?

RK: So the married name was Hirose. But she actually is related to the Komai family in L.A. as well, on her mom's side.

TI: You mean like Chris Komai?

RK: Chris Komai and Mickey Komai and the Rafu Shimpo Komais.

TI: Okay. And her first name?

RK: Was Lucie.

TI: Lucie. And you said she had, like, eight siblings?

RK: Right.

TI: Okay. And so tell me a little bit about her life.

RK: Well, as a young person growing up in the Central Valley, she went to school, and then she's like the middle child. And when Pearl Harbor occurred and the war broke out, the family was sent to Fresno, I believe, and that was the initial assembly center. And then the family was then sent to Rohwer, Arkansas. She didn't stay in the camp that long, she ended up going out to Minnesota to work as a housekeeper. So I think she stayed in the camp maybe a year at most.

TI: And going back to your mother in terms of her parents, your grandparents, do you have a sense of where they were from in Japan?

RK: Right. So on my mom's side, the family was from Yamanashi-ken, and both her mom and dad were both from the same prefecture.

TI: Let's go to your father. So where was he from?

RK: So he was living with his family in Centerville, which is now part of the city of Fremont. And his, on his side, the family was from Wakayama-ken, both his mother and father were from Wakayama-ken.

TI: Good. And what kind of work did his family do?

RK: So they had a farm, they were also farmers, so they had a small farm in that Centerville area. So from after Pearl Harbor, they went to the Tanforan racetrack, and then they were relocated to Topaz, the Topaz concentration camp.

TI: And what did your father do after Topaz?

RK: After Topaz, he stayed in Topaz 'til the end of the war. And then he relocated to Chicago, which seemed to be a place where a lot of people went initially, and that's where they met each other. I guess there was, they lived in the same building, and eventually they got married while they were in Chicago.

TI: Okay. During the war, was your father drafted or anything? What happened in terms of the...

RK: No, he was a little older so he did not... no, I don't know that I ever asked him. But I don't believe that he either was drafted or volunteered, so he just stayed in the camp throughout the war.

TI: Okay. And do you know about when he was born?

RK: He was... well, it must have been 1911 or something.

TI: Okay, so he was quite a bit older.

RK: Yeah, he was a little older. And they both passed away.

TI: And you said that your parents met in Chicago?

RK: That's correct.

TI: Did they, any stories about how they met?

RK: Other than they just were living in the same building, and that's how they kind of met each other.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Just tell me a little bit about, going back to your mother, what was she like?

RK: She was a very, kind of vibrant kind of person. She talked a lot -- and throughout her, as a young married wife, eventually she became an Avon lady. And so as an Avon lady, you go out and talk to the public, and so she was very friendly that way.

TI: And so an Avon lady, that's the first time I've heard of a Nisei doing Avon lady. Any stories she's told about being an Avon lady in terms of going out there as a Japanese American, and was that, any difficulties with that?

RK: Not that I... I mean, not, she never talked about that. And she just seemed to have this network of people that she would sell Avon to.

TI: Would she focus on the Japanese American community or was it just the...

RK: No, it was more kind of where we lived in San Francisco, and there was, like an office building that she developed a lot of customers there. But it was not really focused on Japanese American customers as it were.

TI: Okay, interesting. Your father, what was he like?

RK: So my dad was very involved with the Japanese American Citizens League, or the predecessor of that when he was in Centerville. And actually, there's a number of pictures that Dorothea Lange took during that period where -- I don't think my dad's in the picture, but there's a picture of my grandfather, and there's another picture of my aunt sitting in a horse stall at Tanforan. And I know that picture is in some of the books that are around, and one of 'em, I know you can see the name Konda in there. Because he was kind of involved with the community, I guess, when Dorothea Lange was taking the pictures, she ended up taking some photos of his, my dad's sister and his father.

TI: Interesting. Yeah, we have a lot of those photographs in our archive. I'll have to go back and look at that. I'm curious now. I mean, I love her photographs, they're really powerful.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Your father was involved with the JACL.

RK: Right.

TI: So tell me what you know about that.

RK: Well, I know that when people were being rounded up or whatever, he actually was trying to facilitate people through that process. And I know a lot of the JACLs did that. I don't know if it was called the JACL at that time, but it was kind of the predecessor organization, and he was involved with just trying to help people get, readjust to the fact that they were gonna be leaving their places and just facilitating that.

TI: Did you ever have a conversation with him about the, I guess, the choices that the JACL had to make during that time period in terms of how much to cooperate with the government or not?

RK: Not that much. I mean, I can say that in terms of talking to him directly about the experience, it didn't happen 'til, like, way, way later. I think it would have been, like, in the '70s. I mean, prior to that, it wasn't something he really shared with us in terms of how it impacted him.

TI: Yeah, we're gonna get to that later, but I'm just curious while we're here. So in those initial conversations in the '70s, you were, what, in your early twenties.

RK: Right. So I think --

TI: This was a pretty turbulent time in our country, too, in terms of questioning authority, questioning the government. What was that conversation like between you and your father?

RK: So I think the first time we really talked about it directly would have been, would have been the summer of '76, I believe. Yeah, it would have been the summer of '76, and we actually took this long vacation through Utah. And that's where my, my roommate from law school was living in Utah, so we figured we'd take a trip there, and we went to Yellowstone and did some other things. But while we were in Utah, he felt like he wanted to show us where Topaz was. So eventually we found the site, which took a little bit of time because it wasn't really marked very well. But we ended up driving out in the wilderness area and then you could kind of tell where the, some of the foundations were and whatever. At that time, again, it wasn't something that we had talked about a lot, but it was just something that he, like, wanted us to know where he had been and what it was like there. And I think it was kind of just -- he didn't really have to say too much, but it was kind of clear, clear from the way that place was that it was really desolated and isolated and what have you.

TI: And when, and your mother was there also?

RK: Yes.

TI: I'm trying to get a sense of how... or what was the feeling when they told you about it? Was it a place of sorrow, was it a place of more matter of fact?

RK: It was pretty factual. It was like, "This is where we were." He just wanted us to see it and kind of get a sense of what it was like. And he didn't editorialize about it very much. It was more like, "This is where I was for this period of time during the '40s."

TI: And did you ever have a conversation about his involvement with the JACL or what he did with that?

RK: Not... I don't know that I never really directly discussed that with him. I don't think we ever really talked about that directly.

TI: And I'm trying to get a sense of your thoughts about the JACL. I mean, when I started reading more about the wartime experiences, frankly I was a little shocked at some of the things that happened in JACL and what they were doing. And I remember questioning some people in Seattle about that. And some of the Niseis who were involved would sometimes fire back, "Well, you had to be there, you didn't really understand some of the things." I was wondering if any of that ever happened with you and your father.

RK: No, I don't know that we ever discussed it. I think later, as I became a little more educated on some of the other involvement in terms of some of the draft resisters and some of the people who went back to Japan and other kinds of things that people did, you know, the thoughts occurred about, "That was a tough time, and there were some tough choices, and maybe some people maybe -- if they thought about it now -- maybe would have made a different choice."

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: So I'm going to go back to you. Well, before we go back to you, we talked about, a little about your father and mother. How about siblings? How many brothers and sisters did you...

RK: So I have one older sister.

TI: And what was her name?

RK: Her name is Rita.

TI: Good. So let's go to you. So you were born in San Francisco, so tell me some of your early childhood memories of growing up in San Francisco.

RK: So the area that I grew up in, at the time I was growing up was the area of San Francisco which the Italian Americans had originally, mostly situated in the North Beach area of San Francisco. And there was like a secondary area in San Francisco where I grew up, where there were a lot of Italian Americans living. And on the main street there, there was like a delicatessen with, kind of focused on Italian, a lot of the small grocery stores were Italian American kind of grocery stores, so I grew up in this area that had a lot of Italian Americans. I think we were probably the only Asians in that, in that particular area of town. And as a kid, my close friend was this little Italian American kid, and I used to go over to his house quite often. He'd come over to our house. We had Cub Scouts together and the whole thing.

TI: Now, why that neighborhood? Do you know why your parents decided to live there?

RK: So they lived, I think when my sister was born, they lived in the Japantown area of San Francisco. And then it was like an apartment. So they were looking to buy a house, and it just turned out that that was an area that there were homes available, so that's where we ended up.

TI: Okay. And so hanging out with Italian American friends, what are some activities that you remember doing when you were growing up?

RK: I mean, the typical things, you know, playing baseball, playing catch, going to football games or baseball games. I know that his name was Paul, that was my friend, his family was very involved with the 49ers. So once in a while, we'd get to go to a game together or whatever, you know, typical kind of things that kids would do.

TI: So how about, so you're in this neighborhood, how about staying involved with the Japanese American community? Were there things that you did?

RK: So that's where I, as a Cub Scout, I was involved with kind of the local Cub Scout pack, which was in my neighborhood. And then when I got a little older, to join the Boy Scouts, my father brought me to the, one of the troops that was in the Japantown area. And that's kind of where I started to get connected to the Japanese American community. It was called Troop 58, which was one of the three troops that were kind of situated in the San Francisco Japantown area.

TI: And about how old were you when this happened?

RK: So I would have been eleven, yeah, something like that, as a Boy Scout.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: And other than Boy Scouts, any other, sort of, organized activities with the Japanese American community?

RK: That was the main thing, I mean, but being involved with that particular troop, there was, I didn't participate with the basketball, but there was baseball, we also had what was called the drum and bugle corps, camping, so with all of that activity, it was pretty, it was a lot of activity, 'cause there was camping trips and meetings every Friday night.

Tom Izu: Richard, so how was the interaction with the other kids in the troop? They were all Japanese Americans?

RK: Right. It was... at that time, I would say, ninety percent of the kids were Japanese Americans, and there were a few kids that might have been not. But...

Tom Izu: So how did that feel? If you were, was that a big change, interacting with all these Japanese Americans?

RK: Yeah, I mean, it was, the thing that was interesting to me is that as a kid, my father had, his name had been "Kanda." Then when I went into the Japanese American troop, the name changed to "Konda." I mean, that's what it was at that time. And so as a kid, I was always Richard Kanda, and when I would join the troop, then, you know, I guess the quote/unquote "correct' pronunciation kind of came out as "Konda." And it was a different thing for me, 'cause, again, other than all my relatives, as a kid, I had, well, the other part of my youth is that for church, we went to a local church, a Lutheran church. And so this Lutheran church was principally German, white, and I think there might have been one other Asian family there. So there was us and then one other -- we may have been at that time the only Asian family at that church. So it was kind of... I mean, that kind of was the reflection of the area of town that I grew up in.

TI: And going, thinking about the troop again, so when you came into this almost predominately Japanese American environment, how did, did you feel like an outsider coming in? Or did you feel right away as part of the group? I mean, how did you feel about that?

RK: I was a little bit of an outsider just because a lot of the families or people involved kind of either went to different churches together. I mean, there were, this was the troop that was, that met at the Konko church, although the membership of the troop was kind of mixed. There was one troop that was kind of affiliated with the Buddhist church, one troop that was affiliated with the Methodist church or the Christian church, and this other troop was kind of, had some Konko church members, both kind of a mishmash of other people whose families, for whatever reason, had joined this troop. And the reason we joined this troop is my father worked with some of the other scoutmasters or whatever, and they encouraged him to join that particular troop. So in a sense, I felt like a little bit of an outsider, and after a while, as kids do, you make friends, and pretty well accepted.

TI: And I guess I'm getting to the issue of identity and how you feel about race and identity. So conversely, when you think about the Lutheran church or your neighborhood, how did you feel about that? Did you feel like you were just, this was your neighborhood, your group, or did you feel like an outsider?

RK: A little bit, but I think, again, as a kid, you just, there's a bunch of other kids and you just play or whatever. So I don't know that it would occur to me in that way at that time.

TI: At some point, when you were like twelve, thirteen, was there a group that you felt closer to?

RK: Yeah, I guess because we had all these activities with this Boy Scout troop, it was like camping and baseball and drum and bugle corps. So became closer and closer with that group.

TI: Now, in terms of organizing, who were the organizers of Troop 58? Who really held it together and made it work?

RK: So it was kind of a mix. There were some Niseis, but there was a number of Kibeis that were involved as leaders, either coaches on some of the baseball teams or in some of the different parts of it, there were definitely a group of Kibei leaders that were part of it. 'Cause I could just remember them speaking or, well, yelling at us, actually. [Laughs] And somewhat broken English. But there was kind of a group of parents that were kind of keeping the troop together, moving it.

TI: Now were these Kibeis, were they there because they had sons in the troop?

RK: Right, yeah. They would have a lot of their kids were involved with the troop.

TI: And this might be a hard question, but did you notice any interactions between the Kibeis and the Niseis? Was there any... did you just notice how they interacted with each other?

RK: I didn't notice anything... I mean, all I can know is my dad used to give a ride to one of the Kibei troop leaders 'cause he didn't drive. And so I would be sitting in the back, and they would be arguing about different things. And, but then as soon as we got to the -- his name is Mr. Nishimoto -- to his home, he would say, "Well, Harry, bye." And you know, they would finish their conversation in a friendly way, but during the course of him taking Mr. Nishimoto home, they would have some intense conversations, some of which I didn't know what they were arguing about, but they were just having some kind of discussion. But they seemed to get along.

TI: And would they discuss things in Japanese or English?

RK: It would be mixed. I mean, Mr. Nishimoto's English was kind of not the greatest. Yeah, he would kind of mix up English and Japanese, and my father's Japanese wasn't the greatest, but he could communicate well enough with Mr. Nishimoto to make do.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Any other memories about the Japanese American community and growing up with that around the troop? Any interesting incident or event or just memory?

RK: I mean, again, there were just so many different things we did in terms of camping and the drum and bugle corps. One thing I can remember is we used to participate in the Chinese New Year parade, and inevitably, some years, it would be, the rain would be coming down and we'd be marching through Chinatown. It would be pretty chaotic. But it's a good memory, though.

TI: Was there anything about, in terms of values that you got through, the Japanese American Boy Scout experience that was sort of unique or different than what you got from your neighborhood or your church or your family? I mean, is there something kind of unique or interesting about that Japanese American troop experience?

RK: No... I mean, just thinking back, I guess it would be during the baseball practices. They were pretty, the coaches were pretty intense with the kids, and wanting us to really hustle and try. Which is, I guess, what most coaches would do. But it just seemed like they were pretty intense about that. And you have to really try your best, and that you need to, that the team is depending on you and that kind of thing.

TI: Now, as a baseball team, did you play other Japanese American teams, or was it a mixed league?

RK: It was other Japanese American teams. So we would play teams in Mountain View and Concord and Berkeley, throughout the Bay Area.

TI: Okay, good.

Tom Izu: Richard, you went all the way through Scouts, right? Were you an Eagle Scout?

RK: Yes, I did, yeah.

Tom Izu: From the very beginning all the way to the end?

RK: Yeah.

TI: And was that pretty common in your troop, for people to reach Eagle Scout?

RK: Yeah. I mean, our troop, that troop really pushed the kids to move up the ranks to become Eagle, so we had quite a few Eagle Scouts in the troop.

TI: And how did that compare with the other Japanese American troops?

RK: You know, I don't know that. I'm not sure. I just know that in our particular troop that there were quite a few guys that eventually made it up to that level.

TI: Was it, was it a higher percentage than just your normal Boy Scout troop, for your troop members to reach Eagle Scout?

RK: I think so, yeah. I think so. I just can remember we used to go up summer camp near the Russian River, it was called Camp Royaneh, and we would be wearing our merit badge thing. And it seemed like we had a lot of merit badges, and some of the troops didn't have as many.

TI: No, it's interesting, because in Seattle, there are Sansei guys I meet, and the number of Eagle Scouts is pretty high.

RK: Uh-huh.

TI: It's surprising that, with other groups, when I talk to them, I mean, it's pretty rare to find an Eagle Scout. But amongst Sanseis, there's quite a few. I'm just curious about that. Okay.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: Let's talk a little bit about, about school.

RK: Sure.

TI: So how would you describe yourself as a student?

RK: I guess I was, I did pretty well. I went to the, kind of the neighborhood elementary school and junior high school, it was called junior high school at that time. And then when I went to high school, I went to Lowell, which is kind of the academic high school in San Francisco. And I did okay at Lowell, I guess. It was interesting. Lowell, at that time, had a very high percentage of Chinese Americans, very few Japanese Americans, but I would say that probably at least a quarter to a third of the kids at Lowell were Chinese Americans.

TI: And then, so a third to a quarter Chinese Americans, a few Japanese Americans, what about the rest of the student body? How would you describe that?

RK: It was, I mean, there were very few African Americans, there were very few Latinos. The rest were mostly Caucasians or whites. And there was a couple of us that, I had a couple of close friends who were both Chinese Americans who went to the same junior high as I did. And there was only a very few of us that went from my junior high to Lowell. So those became my close friends, because those are the people we knew really well.

TI: And describe to me, so from your regular junior high school, what percentage would go to Lowell? Give me a sense of how...

RK: Yeah, it was pretty, I would say less than ten percent. It was a pretty small group. Most of the, most of the folks from my junior high went to the local neighborhood high school, and a small group of us went to Lowell.

TI: And were there particular topics or subjects that you enjoyed in school?

RK: Nothing that, nothing extraordinary.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Yeah, something we talked about in the pre-interview was, I think it's probably around this time, it was when you first heard about the camps, the incarceration experience. Can you describe how that happened in terms of, I think you told me about this schoolmate of yours, actually, wanting to talk to your father.

RK: Actually, it was, now that I think about it, it was actually a neighborhood, somebody else from the neighborhood that was doing a project.

TI: Oh, so this was probably junior high school then?

RK: It might have been. And it was like somebody around the corner had to do some kind of project related to World War II or whatever, and so he or she -- I don't remember now -- ended up interviewing my dad. And he kind of talked about it. And again, it wasn't something that he had really shared with us other than just, you know, as a kid you used to hear when families got together, one of the connecting points was, "What camp were you in?" And for us it's like, "What is all that about?" And we never really asked. But I think he spoke to this young girl, I think. And it's kind of, you know, she sat in the living room with him and kind of, he kind of talked to her about it.

TI: So that must have been, must have... what's the right word? It must have caught your interest, the fact that a, sort of a contemporary wanted to sit down with your father and talk about his past. So what was going through your mind when this was happening?

RK: You know, again, it was one of those things where I don't know that it really struck home to me at that point. It was just something that, that's something that my mom and dad kind of went through, and I don't know that I kind of connected all the dots at that point.

TI: And so when did that start happening? So you kind of heard Topaz, Jerome, different camps. So when did this start coming together where you got a sense of really what happened?

RK: I guess it probably would have been when, in college, you start studying U.S. history a little bit more. And then there's two sentences on that. And then, I know that I did some research on different World War II things that happened. And I remember doing, coming across an edition of Time magazine where it showed the enemy being Japanese Americans in these very stark kind of picture, and how you could tell that person from a Chinese person who's not the enemy. So they had this picture of this, this horrible-looking person who is obviously the enemy, and it had a person, a very kind-looking face that that person must be Chinese. And I remember just seeing that and thinking, "Oh, this is kind of interesting how the media is putting out this kind of propaganda."

TI: And this was something in a historical magazine that you saw when you were in college?

RK: Right, right. Or it might have been high school, I'm not sure. Not even high school, actually, and doing some kind of research. Again, I can remember coming across like a 1942 edition of Time.

TI: Was it Time, or I remember seeing a Life magazine that had that.

RK: Oh, it could have been Life, one of those.

TI: "How do you tell the difference between a Chinese and Japanese," And they looked at the eyes, the nose, and the mouth.

RK: Right. And obviously for the Japanese, it said "sneaky eyes" and all these kind of very negative characteristics.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Since you, especially in high school, you were around lots of Chinese Americans, talk about the dynamics between Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans growing up. I mean, was there a sense of being Asians Americans together, or was there a distinct difference between, "I'm Japanese American, you're Chinese American," and the differences between that?

RK: Yeah, I mean, for sure, a lot of the kids, the Chinese American kids were coming from Chinatown. And yeah, I think they had their identity as they were Chinese and I was not. But I think the thing that was kind of ironic in a sense is that as a young kid growing up in this era that had a lot of Italian Americans, I can remember one instance where this kid called me a "Chink." And it just kind of struck home, it's like I knew that was a really derogatory thing, but my response to him wasn't, "Hey don't say that," my response was, "Hey, I'm not Chinese." Which is kind of, you know, I guess I wasn't Chinese, but maybe the better response would have been, "Hey, that's not really appropriate to say that. But you know, as a kid...

TI: But when that was said, I mean, it was said in a derogatory sense.

RK: Right.

TI: Was it, how did you feel when that was said to you?

RK: Yeah, so it was upsetting to me that somebody would say that kind of thing to me, 'cause again, I knew that that was derogatory. And then the way he kind of set it also, kind of sent the message that you were kind of lower than me, or that...

TI: And in terms of, did you ever feel any -- and I'm not trying to, I'm generalizing a little bit -- but any of your Chinese Americans in Lowell or something, was there any kind of derogatory sense sort of focused towards you as being Japanese, Japanese American?

RK: You know, I never felt it directly to me, but I do remember there was another high school in San Francisco that had a lot of Japanese Americans, it was Washington High. And I remember somebody was on like the, one of the Chinese American folks was on the Lowell basketball team, and they made some mention about a lot of "Japs" being at the Washington, in the Washington basketball team. It's not something that I responded to, it's just something got kind of heard in passing.

TI: And conversely, when you're with Japanese Americans, was there anything, a sense towards the Chinese Americans in terms of how they viewed Japanese Americans?

RK: Yeah, I think, yeah, I think the same kind of attitude was there, too, of using certain derogatory terms about, again, if it was the, it was another, I think there was another Boy Scout troop that was centered in Chinatown. I think probably similar kind of negative words were kind of thrown in that direction as well.

TI: And during this time, was there ever a sense of this Asian American sense of Chinese Americans and Japanese Americans doing things together for, as a group?

RK: Yeah, I don't, I don't think so, not that I can, not that I can think of at that time.

TI: Okay, so this concept of Asian Americans just wasn't something that was talked about.

RK: Yeah. I don't think it was something that I was aware of at that point.

TI: Earlier you mentioned an Italian calling you a "Chink." Any other memories of being discriminated against or called out in terms of a racial name or anything like that?

RK: That's the only instance that kind of is, that I can think of.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: So after Lowell, after you graduated from high school, what happened next?

RK: So I went to City College of San Francisco for a couple of years, and eventually ended up at Berkeley after a couple years at City College.

TI: And what did you major in at Berkeley?

RK: So I was a political science major, and while I was going to college, both at City College and at Berkeley, I worked -- actually for a relative of mine. And he had a advertising agency on the, as part of his business, but the other part of his business was a warehouse where he actually had a lot of Japan Airlines stuff, like posters and other stuff, and they used to distribute that throughout the United States. So I ended up working there one summer and then ended up working there part time while I was going to college. And in the course of working there, a number of the co-workers were Korean immigrants. And sometimes they would come in with different kinds of problems with their PG&E bill or their telephone bill or whatever, something that they just couldn't figure it out or needed somebody to help them with. So I'd end up sitting there kind of helping them figure out what number to call or how to solve a problem. If I couldn't figure it out, we'd call up the DMV or whatever. And during that time, there was like four or five Korean Americans who kind of came through the warehouse, and I worked with them and they worked with me. It actually was a good experience for me in terms of making some money and then really being exposed to some of the issues that immigrants kind of have to deal with. So that was something I did while I was going to college, and then I graduated from college and I worked full-time at that warehouse for a couple of years before I went to law school.

TI: So it sounds like this was a pretty influential time in terms of dealing with and understanding immigrant rights and some of the challenges immigrants had in terms of navigating the system.

RK: Yeah, I think prior to that, I don't know that I had a concrete idea of really what a person whose English is somewhat limited, who's really not familiar with how things work, how they cope with that. But it became clear to me, just based on my everyday experience with these coworkers, that there are just different things that would come up that they would just, they couldn't figure it out or they needed somebody to kind of help them.

TI: So during this period when you just finished college with a Poli Sci major, did you know what you wanted to do with your life? Was law part of your plan at that point?

RK: It was something I had been thinking about, but I wasn't quite clear if that's something I wanted to really do. So I just kind of worked a little bit, saved some money, and then began the process of applying to law school. And then eventually I did get into law school.

TI: 'Cause I could hear my parents, if I got a Poli Sci degree, the first thing they would say, "Well, what do you do with a Poli Sci degree?"

RK: [Laughs] Right, yeah.

TI: And were your parents like that, too?

RK: Oh, yeah. My dad had the same conversation with me, I mean, he wanted me to become a dentist or something else, it just, it just didn't seem like something I wanted to do. I mean, they, there was an expectation that you need to do something more than just work at this warehouse, and you need to go on from there. So I eventually did go and get into law school.

TI: And so how did you respond when your dad would kind of say, "So you have to do something." "Richard, what are you gonna do with your life?" What was your response to him?

RK: So, well, the thing that was interesting was that the place I was working for actually had offered me a job to kind of work upstairs in the ad agency side. And so I was kind of mulling that over as well, but as it turned out, I was admitted to law school at the same time. So to me, the choice was, well, I should try law school.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So let's... so tell me, why law school? Why did you want to go to law?

RK: So part of it was after kind of working with some of my, the coworkers at -- well, so I worked a at a place called Aizawa Associates, and the owner of the company is a relative of mine, Hatsuro Aizawa. So when I was working at Aizawa Associates, kind of in the warehouse part of the operation, again working with some of my coworkers and just kind of dealing with some of the issues they dealt with, it just seemed like there was a need or a... there were needs that needed to be kind of addressed. So that's kind of part of the reason I entered law school. And when I got to law school at Santa Clara, at the time there was a pretty active Asian law students group who had been working with the local Japanese American Citizens League to kind of set up this Information and Referral Project. And as part of the project, the law students would sit at the phones, and then would kind of feel the cause and figure out what kind of referral would be most appropriate. So we were kind of like the in-between, between the person who had the need and the different resources. And so as a, the first year, 1976, during that summer, a group of us kind of volunteered to staff that Information and Referral Project.

Tom Izu: Before you get more into that, I was going to ask you, your parents were more working-class, right? And how, was that different than your peers like at college and law school, Asian Americans, and do you think that affected how you looked at things like in the warehouse? Some of your peers probably were more upper-class?

RK: I'm not sure that it occurred to me at the time that my folks or parents were that much different than others.

Tom Izu: Did you get the sense that some of your peers had different kinds of pressures on them in terms of going to law school or some profession and whether it was expected of them, or even what they expected out of their life, because they were going to become lawyers?

RK: Yeah, I don't know that that was something that kind of entered into my consciousness at the time.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: Okay, so Richard, we're going to start the second part of the interview. And where we left it was you had just decided to go to law school. So let's just start there. So when you entered law school, tell me about your, your classmates first of all. Who was part of your class?

RK: So that's where there was this very active Asian law student group, and they offered a lot of support to the first-year law students. They wanted to try to help us succeed, so they would have kind of these tutorial sessions and essay-writing sessions, where they would try to go through some exams and help us kind of figure out what we needed to do to kind of succeed in law school. And then there were other kind of committees that the law student group had, there was kind of an admissions committee...

TI: Before you go there, let's go back to the Asian law student... just in terms of composition, when you say Asian law students, what different backgrounds in terms of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, what was the composition?

RK: So at that time, there was a lot of Chinese and Japanese, and a few Filipinos but not a lot. That was pretty much it. And the thing that was interesting, it was mixed between people from Hawaii and then people who were not from Hawaii, from people, from basically the West Coast to Bay Area.

TI: And what was the difference between if they were from Hawaii or from the mainland? I mean, was there a difference in terms of how they worked together or didn't work together?

RK: Well, to be very... to generalize, the Hawaii Asians, whether they be Japanese or Chinese, were more engaged in maybe helping us with tutorials or doing that kind of activity as opposed to some of the other mainland Asians who were more involved with trying to create or work with the local community groups with that Information and Referral Project that I talked about earlier, or working with maybe some of the admissions programs.

TI: Okay. I mean, earlier we had talked about this concept of "Asian American." In high school you mentioned the Chinese Americans really didn't work together with Japanese Americans, and now you have this Asian law student, where you have this group concept. Was this the first time, or did you get this also in college? I mean, when did this sense of being Asian American start happening for you?

RK: I think this was really the first real concrete situation where it was, we were together as an Asian law student group, and it was clear that we needed to do that to be effective in terms of our work in the community or our working with the law school administration. There was issues around trying to help people with admissions to law schools, to the law school, so we had a committee of the law student group that would try to review applications and then try to, try to kind of nudge the administration to admit certain applicants.

TI: So you said this was needed, why was it needed? Why an Asian group versus individually, as Chinese Americans or Japanese Americans or Filipino? I mean, why, why Asian?

RK: I mean, again, I think we saw the strength in the numbers, and we had this common goal of, again, trying to, on the one hand help the law students to succeed, secondly to establish this community project, and then the third thing would be to kind of help with the admissions process.

TI: So it's, having the numbers helps, any downside or difficulties bringing these groups together?

RK: We seemed to work pretty harmoniously. I don't remember having any real issues between the different parts of the group. I think we worked well together. The one thing that did occur, I do remember, is initially when we were, when I first started at Santa Clara, the Asian law students also included some Pacific Islanders, meaning native Hawaiians, and at some point, I think in the second year, the Native Hawaiian group kind of split off on their own and formed a Native American group, which included Native Hawaiians, Native Americans and others that were made of quote/unquote "native people." So I mean, that was fine. They felt that they needed to kind of advocate on behalf of folks from their group, so they did that.

TI: And their groupings, in terms of Native Americans, the issues that were more important to their community, they felt it grouped better in that sort of cluster rather than an Asian American? Is that the reason for that shift?

RK: Yeah, I guess. I mean, I don't want to speak for them, but it seemed like they felt that some of, they could be more effective if they kind of took their issues separately with the administration.

TI: But as an Asian law student group, did you find that the issues from, say, the Japanese American community were similar enough to, say, the Korean community and the Filipino community to have this all make sense?

RK: I mean, at that time, it was pretty much Japanese, Chinese, and a few Filipinos. I don't recall either Koreans or Vietnamese or other, some of the more recently arrived groups, at least when I was there from '75 to '78. I think it has changed dramatically over the years, but at that time, it was pretty much Japanese, Chinese, and a couple Filipinos I believe, but that was it.

TI: Did the group, I guess, as you got into law school in terms of helping communities, oftentimes it'd be more the immigrant communities that need help, I mean, based on your experience. Did the Asian law students reach out to these other Asian communities that weren't part of, say, Chinese or Japanese?

RK: So that's where you have a kind of interesting dynamic that occurred. So when we were working with the Japanese American Citizens League with this kind of Information and Referral Project, I think, I think initially, the JACL thought of it as being a service to Japanese American community. I mean, I think that's what they were thinking, and I think as an Asian law student group, I think our point of view was a little different, and we felt that it should be more open. And I do recall there were some discussions or debate that the JACL had about really where should the direction be. But I think from the law student group, we pretty much were pretty firm in saying, "This is an Asian law student organization, we need this project to reach out to more than just the Japanese American community." And so it did in effect, if we got calls from whoever, it would, we would then try to connect them to the resource.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: And what happened to your relationship with the JACL when the Asian law students decided to do that? As a Japanese American lawyer, as you started going down this path of more Asian American issues versus Japanese American issues, how did that affect the relationship with the JACL?

RK: I think it was okay. I mean, there were some members of the chapter who maybe individually didn't see it our way, but I think as a body, they were supportive of our effort, and they provided us with space, and they actually helped us get some funding. I mean, one of the things is that one of the board members was a lawyer himself, and so he had worked at a legal aid society where he had seen issues involving low income people in general. So I think he had an understanding of some of those needs. And so his name was Jim Ono, and so he was one of the key members on the board who kind who kind of pushed them in that direction, in the direction that we wanted to go.

TI: 'Cause it's interesting now, I know the JACL is, I guess, examining kind of their role in terms of, as an organization, and there have been some discussions about becoming more of an Asian American. Do you have a sense of whether or not that's a good or bad idea for the JACL to consider?

RK: I mean, that's for them to decide. I don't... it seems like there are some Asian groups that are trying to do that, there was a group called the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice which involved some different Asian legal groups, and I know there's a lot of collaboration or cooperation in D.C. amongst the different groups, whether they be an organization of Chinese Americans and the JACL and other groups. I mean, that's for them to decide, I don't know.

TI: Okay.

Tom Izu: So Richard, there was a focus on helping the Issei, is that what the JACL really wanted you to do in the Japanese American community?

RK: Yeah, I think the Issei as well as just the Japanese American community in general. But again, I think from our point of view as Asian law students, I think we felt that we wanted to broaden out. I mean, in fact, when we first started Asian Law Alliance, the JACL let us use space in their building, and so we stayed there for a little while, not that long. And I think at some point we decided that since the building said "Japanese American" and it seemed like it was too much identified with the Japanese American community, that we needed to kind of separate and find another location that wasn't so distinctly Japanese American.

Tom Izu: It was the Issei Memorial building?

RK: Right, it was the Issei Memorial building. So there was, I mean, there were a few clients who came in and wondered whether, they're not Japanese, and can we really help you. And I think that kind of set off in our mind the need that we needed to maybe find a location that was a little more neutral, that wasn't so physically identified with the Japanese American community. So we eventually found another office that was just in an office building.

Tom Izu: Did you start doing a lot of work with Vietnamese? The Vietnamese community is a pretty big deal here in San Jose.

RK: Yeah. Because we, because when we started Asian Law Alliance, it was in 1977, and so that was a period of time when there was a lot of refugees entering from Vietnam principally, but Cambodia and Laos as well.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So let's talk about the, the starting up of the Asian Law Alliance. I mean, whose idea, how did that come about? You were, at this point, still in law school when this happened.

RK: So again, it started initially as this Information and Referral Project, and the law students that were there on campus, wanted to kind of evolve that into something a little more than just information and referral. And we were lucky enough to have a young lawyer by the name of Don Tamaki, who was working at the Legal Aid Society here in San Jose. He helped guide us in our early years. And also, another young lawyer named Brad Yamauchi, who was working at the Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations. And basically the way it worked is that both Brad and Don kind of were supervising the law students in doing the work and guiding us and helping us kind of formulate the organization and structure.

TI: And so was the thinking earlier, just, "Let's start small, information, referral, and then build from there"? Or what was the vision of the Law Alliance?

RK: So I think initially the Information and Referral Project was, allowed us to do a lot of outreach. So one of the components was to let different people in the community know about what services they could connect to through this I&R Project, and then at the same time, we were also just, you know, meeting with community leaders from different organizations and just trying to find out what kind of legal issues they were seeing, if they thought there was a need for a legal organization, and what should be kind of the areas that we should concentrate on. So in the course of that kind of investigation, as part of the Information and Referral Project, the Asian Law Alliance kind of evolved out of that.

TI: And when you first started law school, did you know this was what you wanted to get into? What was the impact of the Asian Law Alliance in terms of your career?

RK: So, I mean, I was part of the group that was kind of thinking about it. I mean, I was, the I&R Project actually predated my entering Santa Clara, I think they were talking about it back in '73/'74, and it took a while for that to get going. So that by '75 when I arrived, that's when they were actually putting it together. In the summer of '76 there was a big push to try to let people know that this service was available, and again, there were some of us who volunteered would sit in the office and answer the phone and then again try to connect people. So it kind of, it was there when I was entering, and I, it seemed like something that was really of interest to me, and so that's how I got involved.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: About this time, there was an important legal case, the Bakke case, that happened. Can you tell me about this and your involvement, or the Asian Law Alliance's involvement with this case?

RK: So we, as I stated, we had like an admissions committee where we would screen the applicants and then we would write letters of recommendation for some of the applicants who tried to help encourage them to be admitted into the school. And so there was a case involving, I think it was U.C. Davis medical school, and it was a case which was called "reverse discrimination" where Bakke -- I think his name was Allan Bakke, said that he was the victim of reverse discrimination. And so for us, we were concerned because we felt that the efforts that we were putting toward this admission work would be jeopardized or what have you. We entered into different negotiations with the administration at Santa Clara, and as it turned out, they changed their admissions policy so that it became a, what they called a "disadvantaged law student admissions policy." Which in effect impacted a lot of the applicants that we were really looking at, but it could also, a person who was disadvantaged from a poor white background could also qualify. But at that time, we were, again, concerned about maintaining our program, so we held a rally in protest at the university and we invited Professor Harry Edwards from Berkeley, and he spoke and a lot of us spoke and it was something that drew together all the different ethnic organizations, whether they'd be the African American law student group, the... at that time it was called the Chicano law student association, and the Asian law students, as well as the Native American law students. So all of us kind of cooperatively put together this rally and again, had Harry Edwards come down.

TI: And what was the reaction of the administration?

RK: They listened to us, they were open to hearing our concerns. And again, after a number of negotiations and discussions with them, they came up with this new program where it was called this kind of Disadvantaged Law Student Admissions Process.

TI: And how did you feel about the program that they came up with?

RK: I think we were okay with it, 'cause it worked for us. 'Cause we were able to continue to do the work we had been doing previously.

TI: So Santa Clara is a private university. Did this work impact, say, the other Jesuit schools like USF and other ones that were affiliated, or the other California schools? I mean...

RK: Well, yeah, all of the different law schools were looking at this case, and all of them tried to figure out ways to insulate themselves from possible lawsuits. So, again, that's why this particular program was established at Santa Clara.

TI: And so was this, in some ways, groundbreaking work, or did you just follow the policies of another university?

RK: I think most of the different schools were doing similar kind of activities. I think the thing that was kind of neat for us is that we actually used the university equipment for our protest and rally. Put the, got the sound systems and whatever from them, and they allowed us to have our free speech moment, and their security kind of watched us, but they just allowed us to go ahead with it.

TI: And so for you personally, going through this, what did you learn from this experience?

RK: I mean, to me, it was... to work with the other groups, the African American group, again, it was called the Chicano law student group at that time, it was really, it was really an empowering thing. And the other thing that occurred is that shortly thereafter, we actually elected an African American guy as the president of the Student Bar Association, which I think had been the first time there had been an African American elected to that. And a lot of us from the other ethnic groups joined together to kind of get people to vote for him. And I remember walking around campus with him and introducing him to people that I knew and encouraging them to vote for him. And it was, it was a good experience.

TI: And during this time, was there a sense that Asians were underrepresented in the legal community?

RK: Oh, for sure. I mean, when I got out of law school, and if you look at the number of Asian lawyers in this era, it was miniscule. I mean, it's changed a lot since then, but there were a few kind of Nisei lawyers and a few Chinese American lawyers, but that was about it.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: And so when you think about today, I mean, so what has the impact been of things like the Asian Law Alliance and the Asian Student Alliance and things like that in terms of getting more Asian lawyers?

RK: I mean, if you look at even some of the big law firms now, they have Asian partners. Back in the '70s, you would never, there might have been one or two. Now, if you look at a lot of the big law firms, there are quite a number of Asian partners, which has changed, changed the face of the law, of lawyers, and for sure, a lot of the law firms actually look to, especially in terms of lawyers who can speak other languages, and they can do, help facilitate business or legal relationships with companies abroad. That's a pretty big deal now.

TI: And so what are the challenges now for the Asian Law Alliance? I mean, when you think of, early on it was to get more lawyers into the system and other, maybe judges and things like that, what do you think the challenges are now?

RK: Well, I mean, they're continuing challenges. There are a lot of, again, I think when we started the Asian Law Alliance, there was this kind of stereotype that the Asians that were here were engineers or professionals or what have you. And certainly there are segments of our community that are within those professions, but there are a lot of other people who are immigrants, elderly, who have a lot of different legal needs, whether they be in immigration, domestic violence, housing, what have you. Those issues are still there, and the community has grown, and so the challenges we see are continuing in those particular areas.

TI: And how would you compare, say, the San Jose or Bay Area in terms of, sort of, the Asian legal community, to other places with large Asian populations like Los Angeles or New York? I mean, do they have similar organizations or institutions there to do similar things?

RK: Right, in San Francisco, L.A., New York, there are very similar organizations to the Asian Law Alliance. So there have been these kinds of organizations that have mostly developed in the same period of time, late '70s, early '80s, who have continued to do this kind of legal work and advocacy.

TI: And do you guys work together?

RK: Yeah, there was cooperation around different issues like the census or other kinds of issues that are kind of a concern to all of us, whether it be immigration reform or other issues at that time.

TI: And what are some of the challenges getting a coalition of these different regions working together? When you think about getting L.A., San Francisco, San Jose, and New York, maybe Honolulu or Seattle, I mean, you have all these pockets. What are the challenges to working together?

RK: Well, I mean, the challenges are, lot of times it's the challenge of resource. In other words, you have a lot of local, individual concerns that need to be addressed, but then there are these broader issues that take this kind of collaboration. And as anything else, I mean, to devote the time you need to some of these collaborations, sometimes can strain an organization in terms of some of the other work that you're doing. So that's always a challenge.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So I'm going to switch gears a little bit. So earlier we had talked about, around this time was when you also took that trip to Topaz with your family. And so a lot's going on in your life, I mean, your law school, you're working with immigrant issues, you're forming coalitions with other ethnic groups, and you're also now learning a little bit more about your history or your family's history. Talk about some of the connections that are going through your mind now in terms of things that happened to your parents and your grandparents, and some of the issues that you're dealing with today. What are some connections that you're starting to make at this time?

RK: Well, I think one of the things that started to occur to me -- and I think it kind of was a slow process of kind of seeing how some of the new immigrant Korean coworkers I had just had difficulties or barriers. And it kind of occurred to me that those barriers were there for my grandparents and parents as well. And then in working with the other kind of ethnic organizations and hearing some of the issues that they're facing, and then seeing, as we started the Asian Law Alliances, some of the individual clients and some of the concerns they had. I remember there was this incident when we were first starting out the Asian Law Alliance involving a Japanese foreign student that lived in Hollister, which is kind of south of here, and I guess he was in a class, a history class, and his history teacher had this Pearl Harbor speech that he had that he talked about. And he proceeded to talk about Pearl Harbor, and then started to use "Jap" and other derogatory terms. And the student was very upset about it. And so the San Benito JACL kind of called north to the San Jose JACL for help. And so as it was, since we were sitting in the JACL office, then we took the call, and eventually a bunch of us from the Asian Law Alliance that was starting, made a lot of trips down to San Benito and heard about how the student felt so isolated and how, how that Pearl Harbor speech had impacted him directly. His English wasn't the greatest, so one of our, one of our staff members was bilingual, so he would go down with us and try to talk to the guy and try to make him more comfortable. I remember that experience of being involved with that issue was something that was special to me in terms of seeing how we could offer some assistance to a community or to some folks who felt like they were really isolated down there and needed some help.

TI: And as you, during this time, as you learned more about, I guess, maybe the history of what happened to Japanese Americans, were there certain things that really, especially with your legal training, really came to the forefront as important for other people to know about what happened in terms of the experience? I mean, we talk about, oftentimes the community talks about the suffering, and oftentimes they say the injustice. But with your legal background, what does that mean to you? When you think about the injustice or what happened to our community, what comes to mind in terms of what was wrong with that?

RK: Well, I guess the thing is that you would hope that people would have the right to individual determination if they did something wrong or not wrong, and that's the way it's supposed to be instead of en masse being deemed enemies, or "alien enemies" or what have you. So to me, the key point was that the experience that our community felt or suffered under was something that shouldn't happen to others. So when Gulf War number one occurred, I remember there was a group of us from both the Asian Law Alliance, the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee, the Japanese American Citizens League and other groups who kind of came together and had a, kind of a solidarity press conference with Arab Americans and others. Same thing was true after 9/11 and some of the, during the next Gulf War, that there's been those kind of efforts. And I can remember being at a, on a panel down at Santa Cruz. I think it was after Gulf War number one, and you know there were Arab Americans and others, and my part was kind of to talk about how the internment of Japanese Americans, and how it occurred and what the impact was, and then the other members of the panel were speaking about how they have felt after the war had started and how they felt that they were being targeted by the FBI or being, they were under suspicion. And so I think that panel discussion was a very lively one where people from Santa Cruz were there listening, and I think they got a lot out of it as well as I did, just listening in the first person to some Arab Americans in terms of some of the issues and concerns they felt at that time when the war had broken out in the Gulf.

TI: And is the connection, what you said earlier, was the sense of being, I guess, profiled. Because you're part of a group, you're profiled or you're targeted in a way that, not because of anything you did as an individual, but because of being part of a group? Is that the context that you set up when you do this?

RK: Right. I mean, so again, it's that you're guilty by your, by the color of your skin or your ancestry instead of what you did as an individual.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: And when you go out and make these connections, how much did people know about what happened during World War II to Japanese Americans? I mean, is that something that in this area is common knowledge? Or when you even deal with other ethnic groups, say with the Arab American community, were they aware of this? And how much do people know about the internment camps?

RK: I think it's better than it used to be, but I think there's still gaps in knowledge, and there's still people that, it's a continuing process, as you know, as people, new people come into the community that aren't aware, they need to be made aware. When I was on that panel, the other Arab Americans, they had done some reading, I think, and they knew what I was speaking about.

TI: Because some people, when you think of education and the emphasis on passing tests and reading, writing, oftentimes people say, "Well, history's, sure, history's important, but come on, guys, in our global community, we have to compete, we have to get better at math, science, reading and things like that." And history oftentimes takes a backseat to that. Why is history important? Why is it important for people to learn about Japanese Americans in World War II or the Civil Rights Movement and those things?

RK: I forget what the exact phrase is, but if you don't know the history, then you're bound to repeat the same mistakes again. So I think that understanding what happened to Japanese Americans is so important because, again, whenever there's heightened tensions between the United States and some other government, there are some, there are some in leadership positions who want to do the same thing, make the same kind of mistakes again in terms of rounding people up or sending the FBI out, and just tearing apart communities and families.

TI: And do you think that is the, the issue, the thing that makes kind of what happened to Japanese Americans so important? It's because of when our country -- or I guess whenever a country goes through some kind of tension, whether it's war or some other national disaster, that it's easy to target or scapegoat or target a group and do things? Is that kind of the issue, you think? I guess the question -- this isn't formulated very well, but what is the main reason? What's the key reason why we should have places like this museum? Is it just to learn about an ethnic community, or is there something else that is more important?

RK: Yeah, so about two months ago I was invited to speak to this summer cultural program... what was it called now? I'm forgetting the name of it. But it's up on Mountain View, and so they wanted me to speak about civil rights issues and why is it important for us to understand this. And again, so I spoke to the young group, I think they were middle schoolers, and just talking about what happened during World War II and what was the basis of this? What was the cause of rounding up Japanese Americans? I mean, failure of political leadership certainly was one part of it, racism was another part of it, there were also economic interests involved. I think that if we understand that, then hopefully as we moved forward, that we don't make the same kind of mistakes again.

TI: Good. In terms of you personally, how important is it for you as a Japanese American lawyer to know your history? I mean, does that give you, in terms of the work you do, how frequently do you come back to that in terms of as a, whether a touchstone or as a theme or... yeah, how important is it to you?

RK: Well, I mean, I connect it directly to a lot of the kind of immigration-related work that we do, and know that I've spoken at a number of conferences and workshops and what have you and talked about how when there's an economic downturn, the thing is, we have to find a scapegoat. And so we see through history, there has been numbers of instances where immigrants, recent immigrants, are scapegoated. And so you see the pattern where there's, as waves of immigrants come in, they're kind of the scapegoat. So as we see now, there's been the latest economic downturn, and kind of the fervor of anti-immigrant sentiment has kind of reared its ugly head again. There were, again, there are some quote/unquote "leaders" that would want to use that to their advantage. So we need to kind of remember how it impacted our communities and how it's impacting immigrant communities now. That's something that we can't forget.

TI: So as a country, how do we get better at this? I mean, it feels like, so whenever we're under stress, whether it's the economy or something, then we kind of lash out and scapegoat. I mean, going forward, how do we get better as a country so that this happens less, or it doesn't happen at all? What do we need to do?

RK: It's a long process, and there may be some people who, for their own political reasons, play that card. I think, again, whenever we see that as coming, surfacing on the agenda, again, I think as Japanese Americans, I think we have a responsibility to kind of remember our history and to make the connection with what happened to our communities in the past, and how it's like the same pattern occurring again.

TI: Or here's a question: is it better now than it was in 1942?

RK: I'm not sure. Sometimes I wonder. I think it may be a little bit better. I mean, it's better in the sense that those of us who are willing to speak out will speak out. But there are still elements in this country that would use those to their advantage in terms of blaming the recent immigrants for every ill that we have in the country.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

Tom Izu: Richard, you're doing service for immigrant, immigrant community, you've talked a lot about them and how that there's always different parts that fit together, your own understanding of a family's histories, immigrants, and working with immigrant coworkers, and fit really well with becoming a lawyer. Another area that maybe you could talk a little bit more about is a lot of the things you've been doing, your involvement with the anti-police brutality work that you've done, and is there a connection with your, as a Japanese American, too, and how did that all come about? Because you're pretty well-known for that in this area, actually, and not just Asians but more groups.

RK: Right. So there was a very sad and tragic incident that occurred in 2003 involving a young Vietnamese American mother who was shot and killed by the San Jose police. And it was a shocking case because she was in her kitchen with a Vietnamese vegetable peeler in her hand. She had some mental health issues, that's clear to me now. She was not having a good day, but she really didn't do anything to deserve to get shot by the police. And so when that occurred, there were just a lot of members in the Vietnamese/Asian community who felt that something needed to happen, there needed to be some change. And so a group of us kind of got together and started to advocate for justice in that case. And again, there's been other instances where we've seen similar kind of instances where I think part of the problem is that the police come onto a scene and maybe the person is not somebody that can speak English that well, or maybe that person has some mental health issues, and the police don't react in the way they should. In other words, they escalate the violence instead of trying to deescalate the violence. And so for a lot of us in the community, we've just been trying to work with the police department and the City of San Jose to kind of change the dynamics when people come into contact with the police, and if deadly force is used, it's always a tragedy for everybody involved.

TI: And what makes you effective in terms of working with, say, the police department? I mean, what works from an outside group trying to make changes with the police force? What have you found to be effective?

RK: It's a challenging area because I think everybody feels like they need the police to, quote/unquote, "protect them" from the "bad people" out there. I mean, there are bad people out there, that's for sure, but I think, from our point of view, we want the police to be "peace officers," meaning that they try to come into a situation and try to calm a situation down, to deal with people the way they would want to be dealt with, meaning that, not talked down to, and to be, to try to use communication instead of deadly force.

TI: And so how do you get the police to make those changes?

RK: It's a challenge. It's not an easy thing to do. I mean, we've been working on this for the last six, seven years, and I'm not sure that we made a lot of progress, there's been maybe small incremental progress around the edges, but it's a challenging area.

TI: And to even make those little incremental changes, what are some things that you do specifically with the police department? Is it meetings, is it... what?

RK: Well, so again, we haven't been involved directly in the lawsuits, but there have been significant lawsuits filed against the City of San Jose. You know, when the city has to pay out millions of dollars, that does impact them in terms of how they operate. There's gonna be a new chief of police shortly in San Jose, and we're hoping that it will change, kind of, the way that officers interact with the community.

TI: And do you then advocate or try to get, become part of the process of hiring a new police chief? Is that part of how change can happen?

RK: So we're, we've been very involved with kind of trying to shape the process for that selection, to suggest different kinds of questions that would be appropriate to ask during interviews, we're trying to get the process to become more transparent. Whether we succeed or not, it remains to be seen, but we're hopeful.

TI: You mentioned one way of getting the attention of the city is lawsuits. What else works?

RK: I mean, the other thing that works is the political process itself. And one of the members of the city council is a young Vietnamese American woman who was elected shortly after that 2003 incident. And I think part of the reason she was elected was because the Vietnamese American community had that incident, death, in their mind, and that was part of the reason she was elected. Now, whether or not she's gonna make a difference or not, that, again, remains to be seen.

TI: And how much clout, political clout, does the Asian American community have? I mean, in San Jose, San Jose is a little unique, I think, in Japanese American politics because you have Norm Mineta, Mike Honda, I mean, on a national electoral politics, they're very prominent. I'm not really clear about the local politics, but how influential, or how much influence does, do Asian American politicians have in this area?

RK: I think there's a fair amount of influence. Again, I think it depends on the nature and type of issue that's involved. Unfortunately, when it involves law enforcement, that's a real tough one for everybody, I think, and change in law enforcement is a real challenge. But in some other areas in terms of, there's a lot of, there's actually a lot of different Asian American organizations in the community that I think have benefitted from the influence of Congressman Honda, Congressman Mineta, and others.

TI: Yeah, I'm curious, this is sort of out of the blue, but just realizing that someone like Norm Mineta, a former mayor in the area, former Congressman, does he stay involved locally in terms of some of these issues? If you ever, if the community ever needed to get him involved, is he available to help out on anything?

RK: I'm not sure, actually. I don't know that I've asked him. I suppose he would be if something came along.

TI: So I guess the question is, when someone locally goes off into national politics, I'm just curious in terms of the connection back to the, his local community. Is there much, or is he just now into a whole different, sort of, realm these days?

RK: To some degree, I guess, but I think there's still that connection with him.

TI: Was there anything special about San Jose that allowed a Japanese American to become a successful politician locally and then to be launched nationally?

RK: Well, my understanding of the way that Mr. Mineta got involved was that there were some influential people in the community who, after the internment, felt like if they had had somebody elected at a level, maybe it could have been stopped, or maybe things would have been different. And so there was an attempt to kind of groom some people to move up the ladder. And so that's my understanding of how it happened.

TI: So are there similar groups or similar thinking happening today in San Jose? Thinking if we had elected officials who were like-minded, that would be a good thing? And are there people trying to make that happen?

RK: Well, there are groups called Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute, which Dr. Michael Chang is very involved with. It's trying to groom people to become kind of leaders of the future.

TI: And is that just Asian American, or is it more like a particular belief in terms of whether, just simply more liberal versus more conservative? Is that part of that process also?

RK: You know, it's... my understanding is actually APALI includes not only Asian Americans, but Latinos as well. There's like an institute that combines those communities together. And so I don't know that they look for any political, specific political background. I would say that a lot of people that are involved with that tend to be more on the liberal side, just because of the nature of the organization, but, yeah.

Tom Izu: Richard, I was thinking that the development of Asian Law Alliance when you were talking about the development of Asian American or Asian Pacific American consciousness and political consciousness, it seems like your life and your career has kind of, corresponds with the rise of that in San Jose in particular. I'm not sure about the national scene. But like when Mineta became Congressman, I don't necessarily know how much he was into Asian Pacific anything, really. But since that time, people like him and Honda and all these people who followed, them, I think they're really looked up to in terms of Asian Pacific American political circles. Or when they gained prominence, they were seen as role models. 'Cause I've heard other people who, Chinese Americans, Filipinos, other people, Latinos, too, who look up to these people and this history in this area of San Jose. So is there, is there something that... I mean, it seems like your life kind of fit into all that stuff. 'Cause we've been talking about how it's been a difficult thing, and the different groups, Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, and there's been conflicts, and then you unite together on certain things, but things have changed quite a bit in the last twenty or thirty years. How do you, have you thought much about that in your career?

RK: Only that I was fortunate to come to this area at a time when things were developing in the way that they did. I mean, I can't say that I had this master plan or anything, but, I mean, in addition to the Asian Law Alliance, I was also involved with the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee in the early stages. And some of us got together, 'cause we were concerned that what happened in San Francisco in terms of redevelopment might be happening here. As it turned out, it never really happened here, but at the time, there were some studies about, you know, was Japantown gonna die or not. And I can remember us doing these newsletters and trying to get people involved and informed about what the City of San Jose was planning. And then eventually transitioning into doing a lot of redress work and Day of Remembrance work. And again, I was there with a lot of other people who had similar kind of interests. I can't say that I was a driving force, I was kind of one of a group. And same thing with the Asian Law Alliance, I was kind of one of a group of people who helped kind of get it going.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

Tom Izu: So maybe we can talk more about that, but when you helped found the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee, and it was specifically -- my remembrance was that it was specifically about development issues in San Jose in the future of Japantown or what happened to it, and would it get bulldozed over like parts of San Francisco or Los Angeles. What made you get involved in that? I mean, you were involved in Asian Law Alliance, Asian American politics, so what made you concerned about that as an issue in particular?

RK: You know, it just seemed like it was something that I should do. I can't, I'm trying to remember why, what kind of motivated me at that point. It was just like there were a group of people that started to get together and meet and talk about these things, and I think we actually used to meet at the ALA office for some of the meetings. And it just seemed like something that -- again, being from San Francisco and kind of understanding what had happened there, and just being a little worried that this similar kind of thing might happen here, just seemed like something I should do.

Tom Izu: And you worked with other Japanese American community groups, and was there a lot of support for what you did with this whole redevelopment issue? Was there some conflicts about that, like what the future will be? It seems like there probably were issues like, "Well, maybe Japantown should be fixed up some. Maybe we should bulldoze parts of it."

RK: Right.

Tom Izu: Because the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee has this word "outreach" in it, so it had this sort of perspective on what it was trying to do.

RK: Right. Yeah, I mean, it seemed like there were some different opinions around that, but I think as kind of young, idealistic group of people, we just kind of forged ahead and tried to let people know that this is kind of the process, and we need people to kind of know or understand what's going on.

TI: And just from a historical -- I just want to make sure I understand -- what year, about when was Nihonmachi Outreach Committee formed?

RK: So I believe it was '79 and thereabouts, in that timeframe. And so what occurred is Nihonmachi Outreach Committee was doing this kind of outreach around possible redevelopment. At the same time, there was another kind of, some of the same members were part of the Tule Lake Committee that was doing Tule Lake kind of pilgrimages. And at some point, at least in the San Jose area, kind of, the groups kind of eventually merged together. And the people that were doing Tule Lake kind of became part of the Nihonmachi Outreach Committee, and then eventually NOC took up the pilgrimages, the Day of Remembrance, and a lot of the redress work.

TI: So it's quite a range then. So it's pilgrimages, redress, as well as the redevelopment of the Nihonmachi. And it seems like they're... what's the right word? I mean, I guess maybe areas of, perhaps, maybe dissension in terms of where should the organization focus.

RK: I mean, the way it practically worked is that the redevelopment issue just kind of faded away. There was like a study done, and it didn't, it never really happened. And so at that point, NOC kind of shifted focus to Day of Remembrance programs, pilgrimages, and then eventually the redress. I mean, the redress work was a long, long process.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: And why don't you tell me a little bit about the redress process in San Jose. I've asked this question in San Francisco, Los Angeles, I haven't really asked, or know much in San Jose. So what was going on in San Jose?

RK: So, again, the pilgrimages were kind of the things that occurred first, and then after that were yearly Day of Remembrance programs. And I'm not sure what year the first DOR program was. It might have been '80 or '81, somewhere in that timeframe. And the Day of Remembrance program was for -- at that time, there were still some Issei around, and I can remember having some Issei even part of the program and speaking in Japanese and translating. And it was a pretty big deal for us because, you know, we got involved in terms of getting the two churches involved. We used to actually walk from one church through Japantown to the other church, so we'd have a program at one church in the beginning, and a program at the other church to end, and in between there'd be this candlelight walk through Japantown.

TI: And why was it important to get those two churches involved?

RK: Well, they were the two big religious institutions.

TI: And what were the two churches?

RK: The Buddhist church and the Methodist church. And as it turns out geographically, they're both on Fifth Street, one is north of Jackson, one is south of Jackson. And doing the walk between the two churches seemed to make sense, at least for the first few years. Eventually it became just centered, holding at the Buddhist church gym and just walking around Japantown and back to the Buddhist church gym. So the DOR programs were important in terms of educating ourselves, the community, others in the community about the whole internment and incarceration issue. And then it was even used during the redress campaigns. We'd have, like, letter writing or whatever as part of the program. And so then the DOR programs continued on a yearly basis, and then the redress work was kind of interspersed throughout the year as far as having house meetings, doing other kinds of programs related to redress.

TI: And how did NOC work with the other organizations dealing with redress? So JACL, NCRR, NCJAR.

RK: So NOC became the NCRR affiliate, we were part of that kind of organizational structure. And there were opportunities where NCRR organized lobbying trips to DC, so we would do fundraising and send some people, some of our members. We sent some veterans, internees, and Sansei that went on some of those trips. And then obviously the Commission hearings were a big deal, organizing local testimony, whether they be Japanese-speaking or other Niseis to go up to San Francisco and testify.

TI: And so what was the relationship with the JACL during this period? Because in Seattle, the local chapter of JACL did a lot of that in the Seattle area, so we didn't have an NCRR, sort of, affiliate.

RK: So generally speaking, the DOR, the Day of Remembrance programs were co-sponsored or endorsed by the JACLs, the JACL chapter down here. Some of the stuff in terms of going, organizing testimony was pretty much NOC or NCRR driven. There may have been individual JACL members were kind of were involved, but my recollection is that most of that was organized by a lot of the NOC people down here.

TI: And was there... what's the right word? Fighting over turf around this? I mean, in terms of the JACL and NOC about, say, the hearings? I mean, that was, in most cities, a really big deal. And controlling that or -- not controlling, not the right word, but making sure it really worked was an important thing for the community.

RK: I don't remember the turf issues, I just know that there were a lot of NOC people that were involved with trying to organize the testimony and make sure there were some Issei participation in that. And I remembered one of our members, Julie Hatta, was bilingual, so she was trying to work with a lot of the Issei to encourage them to participate.

TI: Did any of your family members or close friends testify during that time?

RK: So my dad testified not at the hearings that were at Golden Gate University, but there was a community hearing they had in San Francisco Japantown, and I remember he decided he was going to testify at that venue, so he made a statement of some sort.

TI: And how was that for you to have your father testify?

RK: It was pretty cool, actually, to hear him talk about it in this very public way.

TI: And do you recall what he said?

RK: You know, my recollection of exactly what he said is a little vague at this point, but I can remember just thinking, "This is good. This is good that he's speaking out here."

TI: And what did you talk with your father, after he did that, what kind of conversation did you have with him?

RK: Again, I'm not sure that we had any real extended conversation about what he had said.

TI: That's cool.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: You know, so NOC was originally formed to talk about the redevelopment issues of Nihonmachi. I'm just curious what your thoughts are. You live in the neighborhood, in Nihonmachi, what's your thoughts about the future of San Jose's Nihonmachi?

RK: I mean, that's the question we had talked about way back in the late '70s and '80s is, you know, would it survive. And thirty years later, it's still here. I mean, it's... I think there are challenges, continuing challenges in terms of the businesses at that time were very much family-based. Some of those have changed. I mean, the grocery store on Jackson Street, the Dobashi Market, the family sold out, it's now part of the Nijiya chain. There's another family market on Taylor, the Santo Market, whether they continue with that, it's unknown. There was a big plan to do a large redevelopment project that takes up like a city block. Unfortunately or fortunately, I'm not sure what, the financing for that fell through and now it's just sitting as a vacant lot. They're using part of it as a parking lot. So Japantown has changed. I mean, there's a Blockbuster Video in town which probably won't be here much longer. The hall that used to be used as a theater in the old days was used for a while by the taiko group, and used by an aikido group, and now an Ethiopian church has bought the property, and I understand they don't want to keep it much longer. Maybe the taiko wants to try to relocate back in there. The Soko market, Soko hardware store, he decided he was gonna retire, it's been taken over by a Hawaiian group that teaches hula lessons, there's a ukulele store in town, my son goes to a ukulele teacher in Japantown which is new. So, I mean, there's changes here, and they seem to be changes that are positive. So I'm hopeful for the future.

TI: So looking thirty years into the future, so you mentioned thirty years, so as you were talking, I was thinking, okay, so the Niseis I see walking around Nihonmachi today are in their eighties and some in nineties. So thirty years ago they were pretty much your age, thinking about the future, and now in thirty years you'll be in your eighties walking around Nihonmachi. I mean, what will it take for it to survive thirty more years? I mean, what do you see thirty years from now, what Nihonmachi will look like?

RK: You know, the two religious institutions are critical elements. They serve as kind of centers, anchors. I'm guessing that they're gonna survive. Again, there may be some change in the composition of the churches, but I think they'll survive. There's a lot of different activities that kind of relate around the churches, whether they be Cub Scouts or other kinds of cultural kind of related things. It'll probably be different to some degree, but I think it'll still be here. And hopefully some of us will still be walking around, maybe living in the retirement housing up the street and enjoying our years of retirement.

TI: Yeah, it is, when you said thirty years and you start doing the math, it is interesting when you think of, yeah, the Niseis were essentially our age, grappling with these issues like redevelopment, and thirty years later, similar issues that we have to deal with.

RK: Right. I mean, here we're sitting in a great resource to the community. This museum hopefully will survive into the future and will help us remember our roots and the internment experience.

TI: Great. That's actually a good way to end the interview. Tom, do you have anything else? Well, Richard, great interview. This was really fun.

RK: Yeah, it was fun. Good talking to you.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: So Richard, we, during the interview, we talked about your father's family going to Topaz. And your family, your father's family donated an artifact to the museum. Can you talk a little bit about what that is and who did it?

RK: Yeah, so this was built by my Uncle George when he was in Topaz. And I believe he just used scrap wood that he collected and built this cabinet. And they kept it through the years, and when my aunt was moving, she didn't have any more space. So somebody suggested that we donate it to the museum so that's what we did.

TI: Growing up, did you ever see this being used in a house or anything?

RK: Yeah, so this was just used for daily use. I had no idea really what it was, other than it was this cabinet that was at my aunt's house. And then, again, when she was gonna move, it kind of came out that, "Oh, yeah, this was built by Uncle George when he was in Topaz."

TI: And what does it mean to you that's in the museum now?

RK: It's kind of nice that it's here as part of history. I mean, it's part of... I mean, many different things were built by folks that were in the concentration camps, and this is just one example of it. So there's a lot of other stuff that is similar, but it just stood the -- it was useful, it was used, it was used during World War II, and it was used, you know, through the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, and I think my aunt must have moved in the '80s and that's when it... oh, maybe later than that. It might have been in the '90s, I forget exactly.

TI: And it looks just like a dresser for clothes? Is that what it was used for?

RK: Right, yeah. It was just used for storing clothing and other things.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.