Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: John Nakada Interview
Narrator: John Nakada
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: July 23, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-njohn-01-0002

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: And do you recall roughly when your father came to the United States?

JN: He came to the United States, let's see... oh, he entered United States September 14, 1916, in San Francisco. Actually, he first came to United States in 1907 and then he came back, he worked and then he went to Japan and he got married and then he came back, had five kids. And then he made enough money, he, during the Depression in the '20s, 1916, at that time, he farmed and he knew how to grow potatoes so he grew Irish potatoes. And so that was big demand in the United States because that was basically what the Americans ate. So that's where he made his money, does that make sense?

RP: So he came --

JN: Yeah, he came here, he first came in 1907.

RP: Do you know, did he settle in the Los Angeles area?

JN: Yeah, he settled in the Los Angeles area.

RP: And he was like most of the Isseis, you know, he came to rich and then go home.

JN: Yeah, just like all immigrants you know, usually that's what their intention was.

RP: What do you remember most about your father when you think about him in terms of personality or just physical features? What struck you the most?

JN: Well, he was very short, he was only like four foot ten and half inches tall and he only weighed hundred and nine, five pounds. So he was small in stature, he's a small person but he was very hard working, worked very hard and when he became a Christian he was very religious and he made us go to church every Sunday. And if you didn't go to church you had to work on the farm so we went to church. [Laughs] And he always... I know one thing that he mentioned to me is in Japan they have prejudices too and so he said that when you talk to some Japanese they're going to say that, "Where you from?" And he says, "Well, my parents are from Okinawa." And he says that a lot of people in the main part of Japan think Okinawa is kind of a sub or lower class people. And so they were kind of minorities so you might get some prejudices among the Japanese because you're from Okinawa.

RP: And did you during your life? Did that come up?

JN: Yeah, when I was dating a girl in Los Angeles and she said, "Well, I want you to meet my parents." And so I went to meet the parents and the parents asked me, "Where is your father from?" I says, "From Okinawa," and they wouldn't let me take her out again. So that prejudice came all the way across the ocean. Does that make any sense? [Laughs] So, you know, in America we have prejudice and in Japan they had prejudice too. So it's crazy and we all look Japanese.

RP: Do you... were you able to get an understanding of what exactly mainland Japanese... what was the rationale, I mean, there's really no rationale for prejudice but what were they basing their prejudice on towards the Okinawans? Was it the language they spoke or dialect or just that they were involved in lower class occupations or did you ever get an understanding of the basis of that prejudice?

JN: Well, I think... I read the history of Okinawa and way back when, Okinawa was an independent nation. And before Perry even came to Japan to trade, Okinawa was an independent nation and they traded with everybody. And they were a very peaceful country, independent country. And it was just a small island, see. And so when Japan went and conquered Okinawa they were peaceful so they didn't have any weapons so Japan just overtook 'em. And so Japan thought, oh, they were lower class people, they don't even have guns or swords or anything. So I think that's one of the reasons I think that they think the Okinawans are lower class and also they traded with everybody. Like in Australia and China and Philippines and so they think that our blood is all mixed up. So I don't know, that's just my own personal opinion on why there's prejudice and that's kind of the way it is. And one of the things that the Japanese told me is, you know, the Japanese says Okinawans look different. How do you say that? Don't we look Japanese? He says, "Oh yeah, you look Japanese but your face is darker, your skin is darker and also you have a double eyelid," like everybody has double eyelid. Most of the Japanese don't have a double eyelid, it's a single eyelid, it doesn't fold down. So that's why Okinawans, we can tell what you are. [Laughs] I don't know whether that situation we were black or white but they notice that.

RP: It's interesting you make that distinction in terms of prejudice in that respect to what you had to deal with as an American citizen here in your own country. So it's almost like two different levels, you know, other Japanese are looking at you sort of as an outcast. And then eventually the American government sees you the same way.

JN: The American government didn't consider Japanese and Okinawans different because my father says, "I'm not Japanese, I'm Okinawan." But they still put him in camp. [Laughs] See, my father, he still thinks he's Okinawan and not Japanese.

RP: Right, so he's living back in the time when you were...where Okinawa was still an independent country. And please don't lump me in with everybody else, you know. That was a good try to stay out of camp, you know. "You're taking Japanese not Okinawans."

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.