Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: George Kikuta Interview
Narrator: George Kikuta
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: July 18, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-kgeorge_2-01-0009

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RP: So you came back to Los Angeles, and what were your feelings as you saw, as you came towards the port?

GK: Yeah, I still remember my uncle's family came over and picked us up, and they brought Coca-cola and Danish. And I still remember that sweet Danish and Coca-cola. [Laughs] First day here in the United States.

RP: What more appropriate welcome can you get than Coca-cola?

GK: In the little bottle.

RP: In the bottle? So they were here to welcome you down?

GK: Right.

RP: Now, you say that your whole family came back over, that's including your dad, too?

GK: Yes. Except my, like I said, my oldest brother Henry came here a year before us. And living with the uncle's place, and instead of going to day school, he went to night school and worked during the daytime, try to save money to support our move and day-to-day living.

RP: So who took over the, the rice farm in Fukushima?

GK: We had, we still had the youngest brother of my father living nearby. So he took over the farm in Japan. But they eventually moved -- so he made out real good. He's the one that sold the entire estate, and kept it. [Laughs]

RP: And he came over here?

GK: Yeah.

RP: Oh, boy. [Laughs]

GK: He's the lucky one.

RP: Yeah. So where did you settle? Did you live with your uncle here originally?

GK: Settled across the street from Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights.

RP: You said you, you said you settled in a house right across the street from the house you were born.

GK: Okay, that was, we stayed across the street from Roosevelt High for a few months, small, two-bedroom apartment. Then we moved to Seventh Street in Soto, that's where, next door was my birthplace. Coincidence.

RP: That's a full circle story. Came right back to your home. So we talked about the transition or the adjustment for you adjusting to Japanese culture and school and everything else. So what was it like in terms of adjusting to, really, another new culture for you?

GK: Yeah, back, English was the biggest obstacle. But fortunately, three high schools here in Los Angeles, part of the Los Angeles school district, Roosevelt High and Los Angeles High, and Belmont High, they had, like, classes for foreign students. So we were, all the Japanese-speaking students were grouped into that program, and they had a special program to concentrate on English. And at the same time, we took regular college preparation type courses like history and math and English and all that. So at Roosevelt High, I think we had sixty to seventy bilingual Japanese students there. And so in that process, I think we were allowed, we were slowly acclimated into American lifestyle. And many people felt so comfortable, I think they didn't, they're not too motivated to study hard in other area and then move on. But some of us that we still are very close, we get together a couple times a year and play golf together, these are the group that went on to UCLA and state college and USC, and went through the education process. And so many, many of those are still maintaining pure bilingual lifestyle.

RP: And you're doing the same?

GK: Right. So we, we mix English and Japanese, mumbo-jumbo type. [Laughs]

RP: Of course, you got that, little bit of Hawaiian background in your family, too.

GK: Right.

RP: You could throw some pidgin in, too.

GK: [Laughs] Yeah, I think my parents never, never learned pidgin English, so we didn't, we didn't have that opportunity.

RP: What was Boyle Heights like when you...

GK: You know, it was very comfortable. Like this Seventh Street house, I can still remember one morning we got up and we saw a stranger sleeping on our couch. And because we never locked the door, I think nowadays in Boyle Heights, I think you lock up two or three padlock, and you have the bars and everything else. But back then, it was nice, peaceful place to live, and very convenient, of course, to Little Tokyo. I really enjoyed the life there.

RP: What did your father resettle into as far as for work experience?

GK: We, he started gardening work. Initially, he did just helping grocery stores and helping somebody else's gardening work. And after a while, he started his own gardening work. And that became his lifetime work, yes. So myself, I thought I'll be a gardener. But my cousin, one year younger, she was very bright, Roosevelt's school vice president, and she got a full scholarship from UCLA. So she convinced, says, "George, you have to get a college education in the United States. We are minorities, and unless you have a good college education, you're nobody. You don't want to do gardening for the rest of your life." So I said, "Okay, I'll try, I'll give it a try." And so I, you know, I feel really appreciative of her advice to get a college education. I was not that motivated back then.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.