Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Kenji Ogawa Interview
Narrator: Kenji Ogawa
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: May 21, 2015
Densho ID: denshovh-okenji_2-01-0017

<Begin Segment 17>

KL: So you've said a little bit, but I want to hear more about your trip back to the United States.

KO: It was hard. I came in '57, oh, it was hard.

KL: How was it hard?

KO: [Laughs] You know, I can't go Hollywood, Westwood, they don't like me, Japanese, I guess. They called me a name and everything. You go school, those professors, they talk about history, first thing, "You sneaky Jap." [Laughs] Wow, come on. It was hard after the war. Then I went to, you know, I used to hang around a lot of Caucasians, you know, mixed. Then one time, house party, I went to the guys, my friend's father said, "That Jap's got to stay outside." Then my friend said, "Sorry, my dad." That's okay. I said, "It's okay."

KL: How old were you when that happened?

KO: I was about fourteen, fifteen, thirteen. Fourteen, fifteen --

KL: High school?

KO: Yeah, high school.

KL: Where did you guys live when you came back?

KO: Came, Sawtelle, West L.A.

KL: And your teachers would say things like, "You're a sneaky Jap"?

KO: [Nods].

KL: That sounds hard.

KO: Yeah. Boy, you know, a lot of people experience my age, you know, fifties.

KL: What's the name of your high school?

KO: High school? Uni. [Inaudible] High, yeah, same thing. I guess happens, (after war).

KL: It's interesting, I've heard other stories about University High like that, after the war, that if you look at their web page now, it talks about how proud they are of how diverse their school is.

KO: Different.

KL: Very different.

KO: You know, the guys picking, "Jap, Jap," so (...) stabbed a pencil.

KL: Started a what?

KO: Stabbed the back with pencil.

KL: Did (he) stop?

Off camera: Yeah, they stopped.

KO: [Laughs]

Off camera: We're like ten years apart.

KL: So that was in the '60s that you had. At Uni High?

Off camera: This is, what junior high, so it was in the mid-'60s. And the teacher didn't say nothing, she didn't stop him. And he stopped right away.

KL: I don't know if the camera can hear. Kenji said the same thing happened to Alice, someone would call her "Jap, Jap," and so she stabbed him with a pencil and he stopped.

RM: And the teacher did nothing.

KO: Yeah, those days, teacher...

Off camera: My class, everything was in alphabetical order, so he kind of always sat in front of me.

KL: Yeah, everything was alphabetical, so he was always in front of you.

Off camera: And later on, in high school, this happened in junior high, and then in high school, I bumped into him, and we're good friends. [Laughs]

KO: Yeah, even the Japanese born here, second generation, used to call me. I said, "What's wrong with you? You're Japanese. You don't speak Japanese?" I used to fight with those guys. Own people called me a "Jap." I was born here, but I went to Japan and came back. So they're more better than us, I guess. I used to call them "banana," "you banana." You don't speak Japanese, you banana. [Laughs]

KL: So you would fight with them, you said?

KO: Oh, yeah.

KL: What about the Caucasian kids?

KO: I used to fight, too. The one time, coming home party... no, I was going to party in, I had to go bathroom, the off-duty police see me, I was coming home, bunch of guys stop, three cops stopped me. "What you doing your friend's place?" Didn't do nothing. "I didn't do nothing." "No, you did something. You got to go back over there." Then he took over there, "What you doing here?" "I didn't do nothing." "You did something, I saw you." "I didn't do nothing." "No, you did something." I tell 'em, I should have never said, "I don't speak English." Oh, he got mad, he beat me so bad. "You did something." "Okay, I did it." You know, those days, '50s, racial thing, it was bad.

KL: So he beat you and then they left after you said okay?

KO: Yeah.

RM: Was it pretty regularly that you faced --

KO: Oh, yeah. I hate to go school. You know, the history, you talk about history, government, "Jap," always "Jap."

RM: What did you think about the way that they taught World War II history when they were talking about Japan?

KO: I used to don't like it, talk about war, because you hear "Jap." You hear "Jap." So I didn't like school too much, because you go history or government, you got to hear it.

RM: Did your parents know what was happening to you in school?

KO: I never talked 'em, that.

RM: Do you think they faced anything like that?

KO: I don't know.

KL: What about your little brother? What was it like for him?

KO: He's a five year, about her age, so maybe he got experience, I don't know. Fifties was bad, '50s to '60s, still.

KL: What was your housing in Sawtelle?

KO: You know, a lot of Japanese can't buy it, lot of place. Yeah, you had to buy this area.

KL: Did you guys buy a house?

KO: No, we came... we went into a place, tried to buy a little bit better area, you can't buy it. Said, "No." Not a Japanese, don't buy here. So lot of places you can't buy. Even your job, you can't get a good job. That's why a lot of Japanese doing laundry, (gardening).

KL: How did you learn English?

KO: Before, when I came back, I didn't like it. But you know, you have to speak English. [Laughs]

KL: Did you take special classes or you just...

KO: No.

KL: So you were just stuck in junior high in the normal curriculum?

KO: Besides, hang around a lot of different nationalities.

KL: So you did some, you did make some friends?

KO: Oh, yeah, I had a lot of friends. But I didn't hang around Japanese, here Japanese, because they put down me, you know.

KL: Did you know anyone else like you whose family or who had been in Tule Lake and then in Japan and came back around that time, were there other kids?

KO: You know, when I was a young age, I didn't know, we don't talk about camp. So lot of guys think I'm from Japan, born there. Never pay attention to those kind of stuff.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2015 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.