Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Museum of San Jose Collection
Title: Iwao Peter Sano Interview
Narrator: Iwao Peter Sano
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda, Steve Fugita
Location: San Jose, California
Date: November 30, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-siwao-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: Okay, so Peter, the way we start this is I just explain where we are and what the date is. So today is November 30, 2010, we're at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, and on camera is Dana Hoshide, and also interviewing is Steve Fugita. My name is Tom Ikeda, and we're with Iwao Peter Sano doing an interview for the Densho project. And so, Peter, I'm going to just start at the very beginning. Can you tell me the name that was given to you at birth?

IS: Iwao. But that was, the whole family just kept calling me that. And when I went to kindergarten, my father told the teacher it was "Iwao Peter Sano," and on my lunchbag I remember he wrote "Peter." And I took that, but because of what... I don't know, but I was always called Iwao at home. So I never used that English "Peter." And I don't know if it was recorded in my birth certificate either. I think it was Iwao Sano. So all through my school days in the United States, I always went by Iwao. And I got so used to it, the first day of school with a new teacher, I was always prepared to correct the teacher when he or she called my name, because they always, they never said it right, and I had to correct them. And the only time I remember was my freshman year in high school, my algebra teacher, I was all prepared, and here she says, "Iwao." And I was really taken by surprise. But of all my years going to school, she was the only one who was able to pronounce it correctly. And then... can I continue?

TI: Yes, please.

IS: Then when I went to Japan, of course, it was always Iwao, and being adopted, it was Iwao Suzuki. But when I came back from Siberia and went to work for the occupation, it was my boss, Mr. Judge, says, "Don't you have an English name?" And I said, "Yeah, but I've never used it." And he said, "What is it? What was it?" And I said, "Peter." So he called me that, and then I've always gone by Peter working for the occupation. And then, so my spouse -- well, they called me "Pete" instead of Peter. And then, so my spouse still calls me Pete. In our family, she's the only one that does that, and then all my friends which are related through work or church, I go by Peter. And when I had to become a U.S. citizen again and had to register, I put that "Peter" in there. So my, legally it is Iwao Peter Sano now.

TI: Oh, so it's interesting. So you can almost tell by what people address you by, kind of, who they are or where they are in your, the family, old friend, professional acquaintance. So if I'm walking down the street with you and someone says, "Hi, Peter," then it's probably someone that was postwar, maybe professional career.

IS: Exactly, yes.

TI: Versus if someone said, "Iwao," then you'd say, well, that might be family or someone that knew you before the war.

IS: Yes, exactly.

TI: In terms of... do you do anything with Japanese American organizations right now?

IS: No. Well, I used to go, when I came back to the United States in '52, I was going to a Japanese Methodist church in Palo Alto. And then in '55 I got married, and we went there just for about three, four years.

TI: So at that place, what did they call you? Was it Peter or Iwao?

IS: It was sort of mixed, but there was more Iwao.

TI: [Laughs] That's interesting.

IS: And then my spouse -- this was a Methodist church -- and then my spouse was Baptized in the Presbyterian church when she was a foreign student in San Francisco. So then we had a very good friend that was attending the Presbyterian church in Palo Alto, and he's the one that invited us to come and join their church. So we've been going there since 1960.

TI: Now, if you were meet another, say, a Nisei today, and they asked you your name, which one would you use, Peter or Iwao?

IS: I would use Peter because it's most often what I hear now, yes. And for instance... well, the person who wrote, he's a hakujin, but he's a historian, Stanley Faulk, I think. And he's the one that wrote something on there, but his name is not given. It's under Nisei Veterans Association or something in Maryland. So he had a good, a Nisei friend in the service, and he retired, and because of his family, he moved out to California after retiring, and lives in what they call the Hyatt... on Stanford campus retirement home, a very nice retirement place, but he lives there now. He goes to the old church that I used to go to, a Japanese church where everybody calls, knows me by Iwao, but he calls me Peter because of this, how he met me. He met me actually through somebody who knows me as Peter, so he calls me Peter.

TI: It just interests me how, especially for Niseis in terms of having a Japanese name and sort of an English name and how it goes back and forth. But when your father, kindergarten, he wrote "Peter" and told the teacher your name was Peter, why didn't that stick then? I mean, oftentimes, that's when it changes right then, but you kept Iwao. How did that happen?

IS: Maybe this shouldn't go on the record, but Peter was, you thought of, you know, it had that...

TI: Right, okay. So you didn't like that name back then.

IS: Yeah. [Laughs] So I'm the one who stopped it right there. Right there meaning even though my father even put that, I still remember, on my lunch bag, Peter, I never used that.

TI: And did your father ever say anything to you about why, "Doushite?" "Why not Peter?"

IS: No, he didn't. I mean, it wasn't that big of a deal, I guess, it never came up. And because everybody else in the family, like my older brother, he was born on March the 17th, St. Patrick's Day, so he was named Patrick, too, but he had a Japanese name, but he always went by that, Tetsuro. And the Niseis called him "Tet," T-E-T. But he did switch, after he started college, he went to "Patrick." And among most people... it's real old people in Brawley that would remember him by Tet. But everybody else knows him by Patrick or Pat. And he goes by that also. And my other siblings, Florence, that's the daughter younger than me, and Belle, and then Roy, they all have Japanese names, too. It's Florence Fujiko, Belle Emiko, and Roy Isao.

TI: But they used their, mostly their English names?

IS: Yes.

TI: And you were really the only one who used...

IS: I'm the only one, yes.

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