Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Michiko Wada Interview
Narrator: Michiko Wada
Interviewers: Kristen Luetkemeier (primary), Larisa
Proulx (secondary)
Location: Laguna Woods, California
Date: November 20, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-wmichiko-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

KL: My name is Kristen Luetkemeier, I'm a park ranger at Manzanar National Historic Site, here with Larisa Proulx of the Tule Lake Unit, for an interview with Michiko Wada. Her caregiver Kris is also in the room and may come and go, and today is November the 20, 2014, and we're in Michiko's home in Laguna Woods. And I just want to confirm before we start that I have your permission to record this interview and make it available to the public.

MW: Yes, you have my permission.

KL: Thank you, this is a good opportunity. I want to start by asking you for a little bit of a picture of your parents. Would you, maybe starting with your mom, tell us her name, when and where she was born, and what you know about her family background?

MW: I don't know too much about her family background, but she was born in Okayama, Japan. And I think she was born in... I can't remember.

KL: The records say 1897, does that sound about right?

MW: Yes, because my father was (born) about 1881, because they were quite a few (years) age difference. And he was also in Okayama, and I don't know too much about his side of the family, except that there is a, I call her a niece that comes here to visit or bring her grandchildren. Whenever they turned thirteen, she always brings them for a week or so for a visit to America, and she brought her eldest son when he was thirteen, and she just left in August with her thirteen year old granddaughter. And so she had three children, and she did bring her grandson, who's the oldest, and so she'll probably come back in a few years when the youngest one turns thirteen.

KL: That's neat.

MW: Very interesting, uh-huh.

KL: What was your dad's name?

MW: My dad's name was Suezo, S-U-E-Z-O, Mikami, M-I-K-A-M-I, that was my maiden name, too. And so he actually adopted his sister's son, because he was going to be a lawyer, to bring him to educate him in America. And I don't remember the year, but that's when they cut the quota and wouldn't let anyone come through from foreign countries, so he got stuck back there.

KL: The sister's son?

MW: My father's sister, so that would be his nephew. But he had to change his name to my dad's last name in order to come here as his son. And so he got married and he had one son, and it's his son's wife that comes here and brings the grandchildren.

KL: Oh, wow.

MW: So it's close enough, although the father was not actually a Mikami, which was my maiden name, (...) it was his sister's (son and) his nephew. But in order to come to this country to study, (he) had to change his name.

KL: Was he successful though?

MW: Very.

KL: I mean, was he able to come to the United States?

MW: No, he did not ever come to the... he died too soon after he had a child, he got married and he had a child, he had a son, one son, but he died too soon. He didn't have a chance to work long enough.

KL: What was the nephew's name, his first name?

MW: You know, I can't remember his name, because I never heard it mentioned.

KL: Do you know what motivated your father to immigrate to the United States?

MW: For better opportunity, I think. But I have to tell you something. When he used to come by, and he would tell me, they would follow the railroad tracks in order to find a town, because the railroad tracks would lead you to some town always. And I said, "What did you do at the town," or, "How would you find anything to eat?" He said they made noise like a pig or a chicken, and then they would understand what they were looking for at the grocery store. Like a pig, like a chicken or like a rabbit or whatever it was. He said that's how they used to buy things. But, of course, they weren't plentiful back then, we're talking about way back, it was way before I was born.

KL: When was it that he came? Do you know around what year?

MW: No, I don't recall.

KL: I found some records that indicate that maybe he came into El Paso in 1907?

MW: Yeah, that sounds like it, because I remember him telling (me) about all the railroad tracks, and they had to follow that in order to find (a) town because they didn't read or write, they couldn't talk to ask anyone, and so that's what he said, and I said, "Well, that's pretty clever." But the same thing, him being a farmer, when I was real young he was a farmer, we were farmers in Watts. And they always had a bathhouse, (where) everyone took a bath, but in Japanese bath, in the tub, you don't wash yourself in the tub, you wash outside the bath and you soak yourself in the tub. And it was my brother's duty, being the oldest to put the fire under that to warm it up so that the men could come back and take a bath. And I remember him coming out of the bathhouse and saying, looking up in the skies and saying, "Tomorrow's going to be a good day," and I said, "How can you tell?" Or, "Tomorrow's going to be a rainy day," and I said, "Dad, how do you know?" He said, "Oh, it's just knowing," that's all he would tell me. No answer in particular. But I guess that's how they predicted it before, and they had to go by their own intuition.

KL: He had that farmer's knowledge.

MW: Yeah, the farmer's knowledge, that's what it is.

KL: How did he get from El Paso to Watts?

MW: I don't know, but he must have been, there must have been other people, because I heard him mention, I don't know who they were, but probably people that did the same thing as he did, migrated out here for maybe a better job, better working, I don't know what it was. Couldn't have been better working conditions, it wasn't that easy. Well, I don't remember too much because I was extremely young, but I certainly had a lot of fun on the farm. That's what I could remember.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2014 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

KL: Before I get to your childhood on the farm, I wonder how your parents decided to marry.

MW: They were all fixed marriages. In the foreign countries long ago, that's what they... the parents or some of the friends fixed you up with someone they knew that was a good person, and that's how they, that's what my mother said. And I said, "You didn't know that?" And then he was (sixteen) years older than her, and I said, "Why would you marry someone so old?" [Laughs] She said that was all arranged.

KL: Did she ever speak about what it was like to meet him the first time?

MW: I asked her, I said, "How could you marry someone you don't even know and never even seen?" She says, "I had to depend on..." oh, and her mother died when she was young, so her sister and brother (...) had to be scattered off, and she was sent to Grandma, my mother's mother, and in Okayama, but she said, "I did what she told me to," and that's what it was. She probably had someone else who arranged it, but then, back then, you didn't disagree too much with Grandma or your parents, only she didn't have a mother, but the father had some sort of business and he couldn't take care of the children. That's the reason why he had to have somebody else in the family take over. And so she didn't really grow up (...) with (her) sister and brother. (...) But I know the sister is gone, she went to Japan to meet her. Her brother-in-law had told her that they're at wherever it was that they were gonna meet. But before she could get there, her sister died, so she never got to talk to her sister. So I don't know who the brother and sister were raised by. And this was... my goodness, you say camp days are long ago, this has been longer.

KL: Did your parents adopt your dad's nephew together, or was that before they were married?

MW: No, I think they had to adopt him together, that's probably why. They were probably married by then.

KL: Do you know when you, did your dad go back to pick her up or did she come along?

MW: No, I think he came first with, like all the fellows. I think it was a little easier that way, I presume, but no, he went back. But there was so much age difference, but you know, back then, that didn't matter, as long as the person was a decent person, that's what they were concerned with.

KL: How was their marriage, do you think? How did they interact with each other?

MW: Well, I asked her that. She said, "When a person is so much older than you," she said, "from young, you learn respect." And she was not an argumentative person or anything, disagreed a lot. So she seemed to have gotten along well with him. But she told me that, when I was having children, and I have four, and she said, "Don't have too many, it's only hard on the mother." And I said, "Oh, Mother, you can help me." And she said, "Yes, I can," but she says, "it's just hard for you." And she said she only wanted two, and here I came (as) the third one. My brother was the oldest, my sister was two years older than I. And then I came along, and then later on she said, "I really only wanted two," and she said, "But my goodness," because my brother died at fifty-seven, my sister died at forty-four, so they were all young when they died. And she said, "No child should go before parents." She always used to tell me that. I said, "Don't worry, Mother, I'll be around." And so I used to, when they were gone and she lived with my sister-in-law, my brother's wife.

KL: Tell me your brother and sister's names.

MW: My sister's name was Toshiko, and my brother's name was Masashi, like the warriors, the samurai warriors. And so I have a grandson that's taken my brother's name as his middle name, my daughter gave it to him.

KL: And then were you the last of your parents' children?

MW: Yes, I was the last one.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2014 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.