Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Sue Kunitomi Embrey
Narrator: Sue Kunitomi Embrey
Interviewer: John Allen
Date: November 6, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-esue-02-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

JA: Just for the record, to have it on tape, would you give me your name and where you live?

SE: My name is Sue Kunitomi Embrey, and I live in Los Angeles.


JA: I'd be interested in having you tell me about your family when you were young before the war.

SE: Uh-huh.

JA: Where they came from, what they did.

SE: My father came from southern Japan, a place called Okayama, a farming community, which is now part of Okayama City. He came to Hawaii first and worked as an itinerant worker on the plantations, and rather than going back to Japan he came to California and worked his way from San Francisco down to Los Angeles. Actually lived in Hollywood for a while, doing gardening work, work like a houseboy. Then he sent for my mother, who also came from the same area, and they were married in San Francisco, I think around 1910. And then they moved back to Hollywood, and that's where they lived most of their life.

JA: What motivated him to come to the United States in the first place?

SE: I'm not sure. I thought he was the oldest son but he was -- he was the second son in a big family, and I think that he had kind of an adventurous spirit and, and I think he wanted to be pretty independent also. He, when he reached, I think he was sixty, he told his friends he was not planning to go back to Japan, and he died in an auto accident prewar.

JA: What do you know about the history of Japanese moving to America in the early part of this century?

SE: Well, originally they were recruited by agents to work in Hawaii on the plantation, the sugar and the pineapple plantations, and I think they had -- my father had a two-year contract. Then most of them went back to Japan, saving whatever they could save out of their meager wages, but a number of them came, came to California to the West Coast. I've heard stories of men jumping ship in Seattle, coming across the border from Mexico, and also coming across to San Francisco and Seattle and then coming in legally. About a month ago I came across my father's passport and my mother's passport, and they never went back, neither one of them. My mother went back for a visit but not 'til many years later.

JA: What were the attractions for so many people from Japan to come at that time?

SE: I think part of it was there was a lack of food, the jobs, and they weren't getting the rice harvests. Also, many of them believed, like a lot of other immigrants, that you could make money in the United States and go back home and you can build a fancy house and live a better life from the money that you saved. I think that was true of the European immigrants also, they were hoping someday to make a fortune and go back. Many of them did, but my father stayed on.

JA: What were some of the restrictions faced by people of your parents' generation in this country, relative to citizenship, property, whatever?

SE: Well, there was what they called an alien land law where they could not buy property. There were also restrictions in getting licenses for businesses, in the fishing industry especially. And there were restrictions in terms of school segregation. There was a school in San Francisco that had a segregated, Japanese students-only school, and I think President Teddy Roosevelt negotiated a deal with Japan so that they could, they came across with a 'gentleman's agreement' so that Japan would not send anymore people from there to emigrate to the United States. And there were other restrictions, you know. You couldn't live in certain areas, and that's how 'Little Tokyo' and some of the little ethnic areas began to develop, because they could not find places to live.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.