Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Eiko Yamaichi Interview
Narrator: Eiko Yamaichi
Interviewers: Larisa Proulx, Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: San Jose, California
Date: July 15, 2015
Densho ID: denshovh-yeiko-01-0002

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LP: And what... can you tell us about some of your childhood memories in Washington?

EY: Let's see, how should I put this? Up until fourth grade, I was doing fine. I had a girlfriend, two girlfriends, they were both black, and I had no idea of their being different from me. It's just that they were a little darker than I, and I'm dark, too. So it didn't matter to me, but we were really good friends. And then when I moved away, then I went up to Snoqualmie Falls and most of those people were fair-skinned, which is okay. But I noticed there was a little discrimination because there were a lot of American Indians attending school, too, so that's when I really felt discrimination. And why? I mean, we're all the same. But I learned from then on.

LP: When you say discrimination, was there anything in particular that happened that caused you to feel that way?

EY: First of all, I think when I went to the stores, especially I think after I became a teenager, let's see, I was a junior in high school, so that wasn't too bad. But after I got married and I came to San Jose, I was in Los Angeles when I met Jimi, but before that, I would say that even at school, there seemed to be a kind of a fine line, and the fair-skinned people would be over there, and there was only six of us in the whole student body of about a hundred fifty. So it was a very small school. So when they had junior prom or senior balls, we were never part of it. Although for junior prom, I was asked to help serve punch or something, so I had a chance to see what really went on. Otherwise I would have never known what would happen at a junior prom or even a senior ball. But that was my first exposure there, and I thought, gee, these kids are lucky we don't have that opportunity, but that's the part of life kind of thing.

LP: During, like, elementary school and those years, what was the neighborhood like that you were in, or what was your home life like?

EY: My home life, I think, would be a little different because as I said, my mom was the way she was, and so at Depression time, too, we didn't have the money. And my job was to make sure that my brothers had enough to eat, and so I'd ask my mom, I said, "I think we need some milk." Okay, so she gave me four pennies. And I'd go to the corner store run by a Jewish man, and I said, "I need some milk but I can't afford that, so I'll buy Carnation canned milk," this small, and that was four cents. And come home and then she would put the milk in a cup and then we'd add hot water to it, put a little bit sugar, and that was our milk. Then on our bread, we lived close to the Wonder Bread, and they sold day-old bread, so I'd take five cents and go up there and look for the bread that the wrapping was not quite as torn as the others, and I'd give him the five cents and come home.


LP: All right, we're back from a brief break, and we were talking about the Wonder Bread factory and going in and...

EY: Yeah. And butter, we could only buy one cube at a time, couldn't buy a whole pound. And there again, I'd take four cents, four pennies, and I'd go to the Jewish man, "Okay, what do you want today?" So I'd say, "A cube of butter," that had to last at least two weeks, because there were three of us, Mom and Dad, they prefer rice, but they still ate bread and then jam, butter and jam. We survived.

LP: What did your father do to make a living? What was his occupation?

EY: Well, he was working at a grocery store, and then he decided, okay, maybe he'll be a peddler. So somehow he was able to get a truck and he fixed it so that he could put veggies and tofu and age and daikon, and he'd go out to the country and sell. And some days were good, some days were bad. So sometimes the leftover, he would bring home tofu, and said, "Okay, we got to eat these." Said, "Why? Leave it for next day." He said, no, tofu you got to eat that day. So I remember digging a hole in the center of this tofu, square thing, filling that with shoyu, kind of working toward it.

LP: Was there like a local farmer or something that he would get the vegetables and stuff from?

EY: No. In fact, we lived in a house off of Jackson, I think it was seventeenth street. And he just commuted. So I guess you'd call him a city person, he really wasn't a country bumpkin at all.

LP: And then your mom stayed at home and...

EY: Yeah, she was a stay-at-home mom. And because she was a hypochondriac, I was absent from grade school because of her more than myself being sick. Because for a little thing, like she would be sewing or darning socks or something and she'd prick her finger with a needle, "Oh, it hurts so bad, and I got to go to bed." Okay, so, I mean, now that I think back, maybe it was her escape mechanism. Then again, too, I don't know if she was depressed or what, but I keep thinking she was because she, as I said before, I think she was very disillusioned with America. I never got a chance to really talk to her about that, so I don't know.

LP: Did you get a sense of what her educational background was at all? Did she complete...

EY: Well, I thought she went to grammar school and high school, but evidently she didn't. The reason being, I was talking to my auntie a long time ago and she mentioned the fact about my mother didn't really take to going to school, so she never really completed her high school education. Wow, I didn't know that.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2015 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.