Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Alfred "Al" Miyagishima Interview
Narrator: Alfred "Al" Miyagishima
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Denver, Colorado
Date: May 13, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-malfred-01-0002

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TI: So let's talk about your father first. What was his name and where in Japan was he born?

AM: Well, for some reason, he started out, his name was Gontaro Miyagishima, and he was born in Shizuoka, Japan, and I don't know what town it was. I believe the year was 1890, and later on he changed his name to Toshiro, and I remember he used to sign our, my report cards "Fred G. Miyagishima" for the longest time, then all of a sudden it changed to "Fred T." So I really don't know what transpired at that time to change the name. Gontaro is a very ancient name, you know. My mother --

TI: Before you get to your mother, your father's family, what did they do in Japan? What did your father's family do in Japan?

AM: I have no idea. My father passed away when he was fifty-six or fifty-seven. I spent two years in the service probably at the time that I should be asking a lot of questions. But we were put in the camp, you know, the evacuation camps at that time, and then I spent I spent two years in the service. And then in the meantime, he passed away, so there's a void there that, well, the circumstances as it were created those things, and I wasn't ever able to ask him some of those questions. Because when you're younger, you don't, you're not inquisitive about those things, you're not mature enough to ask about 'em. When you get older, then you understand, you'd like to know.

TI: Did you ever get a chance to find out why he left Japan and came to the United States?

AM: No. I think he was, he was in San Francisco, 1906, and it had to be before April because I think he told me that he was there during the earthquake, and he remembers the buildings coming down and shaking and fires and all that. He survived that, he didn't, he never told me what he did at that time or anything like that, but I think he was only fourteen years old or thirteen years old when he came across. No, he had to be older than that, sixteen, maybe. And it was soon after, I guess, he went to work on the railroad.

TI: And so when he was sixteen in San Francisco, do you know what he was doing? Did he come, did he come with his parents or did he come by himself?

AM: No, he came by himself. He had his passport and everything, we still have his passport. And I don't know what other records, but I do know we still have that, and we were looking at it a couple years back.

TI: Yeah, it's always amazing to think he was sixteen years old, going to a different country to start a life. It just seems so, I guess, adventuresome to do that.

AM: Yeah. See, I think the Union Pacific Railroad at that time, I think they made the connection in Salt Lake City in 1860 or something like that, and I guess it took a lot of time and a lot of years to make all these other spurs and the rest of the railroad to all these other towns, probably passengers, shipping goods and stuff like that. But there was a big, there was a big push for getting laborers to go up north and work these places, and that's where he went. So when he got to the gang to where he was supposed to work, the supervisor said he was too young to work with the rest of the men, so he said he needed a houseboy. He had some children that still was in school and this and that, and he thought that my dad could take care of them, take 'em to school and all that. And while they were in the school, my dad would sit in and take his pencil and paper out and study along with the kids, although he was much older, that's how he learned.

TI: Do you know in what towns or cities he did this?

AM: No.

TI: Interesting. What experience -- so this is pretty unique. So he was probably, what's different was he had the time to learn English during this time because he sat in...

AM: Yeah, with the children in school, that's how he learned. And then, of course, being with the kids that didn't know Japanese, of course, then he had to learn. He had to learn English, how to communicate with the kids and all that, so I think that's, that helped him quite a bit.

TI: So do you recall any stories from that time period? This is kind of interesting, that he had this experience. Do you recall any stories that he said in terms of how people accepted him in the classroom, or was he kind of shunned, or were people fond of him? Do you know anything?

AM: No, the only thing that I remember is he said he had relatives that was working along with the railroad, and some ended up in Salt Lake. I remember him saying that he had some relatives that was in Billings, Montana. I think he said he had a relative that owned a hotel there. I remember a lady and her two kids came to Scottsbluff to visit, and they were from Billings, and that my dad had registered for the draft during the war. Of course he said, by the time they started considering him, why, the war was over.

TI: So this was World War I?

AM: Yes.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.