Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Jean Matsumoto Interview
Narrator: Jean Matsumoto
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Portland, Oregon
Date: July 10, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-mjean-01-0002

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KL: Did they come here right after Bainbridge Island?

JM: I think they worked in fish canneries up in Canada. I think my mother did. But they eventually, they settled in the hotel business.

KL: Did she have trouble learning English?

JM: Yes, she did, and she really didn't have to learn English, because I can remember that the two department stores, one was Furuya and one was Teikoku, run by Matsushimas here in Portland. They used to have people that went out every week and took your orders for the following week, and so every week you got... and they all spoke Japanese. When she went to the Buddhist church, they all spoke Japanese, so even if she lived here, and she was ninety-three when she passed away, she could get by with English, because when she was in the nursing home, she did get by with enough English. And she understood probably a lot more. But we spoke half and half, this broken Japanese, and as much English as we thought she knew. And people would hear me on the phone at work talking this half-Japanese and half English. They used to tease me about that. She understood a lot more, but she didn't really learn how to speak English.

KL: Did your dad tell you how he met this Native American person who tutored him?

JM: No. He worked somewhere, maybe in Canada, and oh, he had another interesting job. He told me that he worked for Governor Meier, and his job was staying on a little island on, I'm assuming, the Columbia River. And he fed the ducks and geese all week, and then Governor Meier would bring his friends on the weekends for shooting, and my father used to make breakfast for them. And that was one of his interesting jobs. That was before he got married.

KL: Do you know -- oh, go ahead.

JM: I was just going to say, I don't know when the Benson Hotel was built, but...

KL: Was that his hotel, the Benson?

JM: No.

KL: No, that's where he worked.

JM: He was working as the bellhop. Oh, and he worked for the railroad, and I remember because of this small stature, he was given the job of just keeping in touch with Japan and bringing workers over. He didn't have to go on those rails and kind of stuff, so he had a pretty easy job.

KL: Keeping in touch with people who were in Japan? Did he write letters or how did he recruit people?

JM: Yeah, in Japanese, I guess. They wrote letters and so that the railroad workers... 'cause he said he never had to do the heavy work. Those were some of the things I remember him telling, and wishing I had taped him back then. So then... and that's where we lived until we went to camp.

KL: What took them to Portland, do you think?

JM: I don't know, but I'm sure glad he did. [Laughs]

KL: Did he have other jobs before he owned the hotel?

JM: No, just, I think after he was married, let's see, they got married in '27, I think, I figured it out, and so I think shortly thereafter they went into the hotel business, the two of them.

KL: Your mom was probably happy, too. [Laughs] "Get me into the city." So were you born in Portland, then?

JM: Yes, I was born in Portland. My sister's two years older. My mother had a stillborn child.

KL: What is your mother's name?

JM: Oh, her name was Mikiye, Mikiye Matsushita before she was married.

KL: Would you spell it?

JM: M-A-T-S-U-S-H-I-T-A. And they had, they farmed right up, even after they got, they came back from camp. I think they might have gone to Tule Lake first, through Puyallup, and then they were moved to Minidoka to Block 44, which was mostly the Bainbridge people. So eventually they were all there, too. My aunt and uncle with three little boys were farming Hillsboro, and they all went to Minidoka, too.

KL: Were your mom's two younger sisters, they were born in Washington, in Bainbridge Island?

JM: Yes.

KL: Did she ever talk about what it was like to come meet them for the first time?

JM: She just said she knew she had these two young, much younger sisters. And my uncle, I think, was always envious of their American citizenship. He sort of had a chip on his shoulder, had a harder time adjusting to having two younger sisters, and I think he always resented the fact that they had American citizenship and he had to wait 'til he became a naturalized citizen. So, yeah, I was going through some old papers to find their wedding certificate, 'cause I knew that I'd seen one. Because Robbie Tsuboi's grandfather was a witness to their marriage. And so somewhere up in Washington is where they got married. And I made a copy for her and then I didn't put the marriage license back where it was supposed to go. I was really hunting around for it. So I knew there was one.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2012 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.