Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Kena Gimba Interview
Narrator: Kena Gimba
Interviewer: Masako Hinatsu
Location: Milwaukie, Oregon
Date: January 29, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-gkena-01-

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

MH: This is an interview with Kena Gimba, a Nisei woman, eighty-eight years old, who lives in Milwaukie, Oregon, on this day of January 29, 2003. When were you born and where were you born, Kena?

KG: I was born May the 22nd, 1914, and I was born right here in Milwaukie about five blocks from where I presently live.

MH: And who were your parents?

KG: Motonosuke and Takano Tanabe.

MH: And what was your father's line of work? What did your father do?

KG: He farmed. This area was all farming area, and Dad had a berry farm at the time.

MH: And what did your mother do?

KG: Helped.

MH: How many siblings did you have?

KG: For the present time, I have just my two sisters, but I had a brother that lived 'til he was a little over two years old. But the baby, I do not remember, but I did have two brothers.

MH: And where were you in the line of your siblings?

KG: I was the second one.

MH: Okay. So the brother was older than you?

KG: Yeah. One brother was older than I am.

MH: What do you remember of those early years?

KG: What do I remember of those years? I don't remember anything other than when we lived here, but as getting into -- going to grade school, oh my, I can tell you all kinds of stories, but I don't know which --

MH: Begin with one of the stories, then. Tell me one of the stories of your grade school.

KG: Well, I remember going to grade school, and we had to walk almost two miles to get to school. And we got a nickel for lunch in those days, and that was a lot of money. We got... well, the ordinary childhood, played games and stuff. We played, and I remember some of our teachers were a little more stricter than the others. But, well, I can tell you about one incident where this -- this was after, I must have been about a seventh grader, there was one chap that we got out in the hall and he started to give, you know. In this day and age, we were not supposed to be talking about racial and things like that, but he come out there one day, and I was really telling him off. And the teacher caught us out there in the hall, and she says, "What are you two up to?" you know, and I just told her that what he had just said to me. And I remember her giving her the most strictest that I could remember because she says, "We do not," you know, "do this kind of thing here. We are all one people." But that's the thing that I remember going to grade school. But other than that, it was just an everyday routine.

MH: Now were there other Japanese children over at that --

KG: No. I was the only one.

MH: So did you feel like you were Japanese, Japanese American?

KG: No. I never felt like I was an outsider, I never did. That's one of those things that I guess I felt I was just as good as they were. I didn't think I was different. So that kid went and started in on me, and I was ready to battle for my rights. [Laughs]

MH: Did you go to Japanese school?

KG: Yes. That was much later in life. I think I was... must have been maybe like an eighth grader, seventh, eighth grader and then into high school. And we had classes once or twice a week, and we went every Saturday.

MH: Where was this Japanese school?

KG: It's here in Milwaukie just a short distance from where I now live.

MH: And besides learning to read and write Japanese, did you learn any of the cultural things there?

KG: Well, if you... yes and no, I guess. We learned Japanese dancing, and that's just about it that I can remember. I'm not very good at this. Whatever I learned in Japanese is all out of my head right now anyway, good gracious, plain blank.

MH: When you were home, when you were eating dinner, what kind of conversations did you have with your parents or siblings? Did you have a special place to sit?

KG: Good grief, I don't remember any of that kind of stuff. All I remember is I, being the oldest, I had to do a lot of cooking. That, I can remember that.

MH: How about high school?

KG: How about what?

MH: High school.

KG: High school. Well, I was known as a woman of silence here. So, you know, I had my good friends. I had dear girlfriend and neighbors. We were very close with the neighbors, but that's about all I can remember. We didn't do anything. I didn't stay for the games or nothing, so I couldn't tell you.


KG: No, I'm not much of a, I was just one of those quiet things, but I did have like I say a few good friends, but very close friends. We used to do a lot of going back and forth. I used to go and stay overnight with them and stuff like that.

MH: Were they Caucasian friends?

KG: Huh?

MH: Were they Caucasian friends?

KG: Yes. They were all hakujins. In fact, when I was growing up, there was, the nearest Japanese family was I'd say a good mile from where I resided, and they were much younger than I am too by I think about five or six years.

MH: What was the name of the high school that you went to?

KG: High school?

MH: Uh-huh.

KG: I went to Milwaukie, at the time I went, it was Milwaukie Union High School. But now, it's Milwaukie High School. That's right in the City of Milwaukie.

MH: As a teenager, did you date? Did you date?

KG: Heavens to Betsy, I didn't even date when I was old enough to do so. [Laughs] Goodness sakes.

MH: Did you think of ever getting married?

KG: No. That was the farthest thing from my mind. I was just a regular old tomboy. You couldn't give me --

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MH: After you graduated from high school, what did you do?

KG: What did I do? Well, I went to... what is it, post graduate for, I took up a little more sewing because I took up Home Ec. in high school. So I went on to Girl's Poly for a whole year. That was about all that I did. And then I helped on the farm after that. And then what happened after that? It was 1937 when I got married, so I was out of high school for what, almost five, six years. I got married, usual Japanese style. And then --

MH: What do you mean by Japanese style?

KG: Well, what is it, baishakunin type. You know, there was none of this dating stuff. It was all right. Then from there, my father got sick, so we didn't farm anymore. We, my husband was working in the sawmill, but that wouldn't take care of my parents too with my sisters. So we went out to Columbia Boulevard, and one of the fruit stands were out there were up, they wanted to sell it. So we went there, and I think we were there, golly, not too long. I can't remember how long it was, but I had Jean and Ronnie by that time. Then the war came along. So that was the end of that life, and the rest of our life was spent in the concentration camp for the full time because nobody wanted, I had the two small children, so we couldn't go out at our free will.

MH: How did you feel about that?

KG: That's a part of life that I don't talk too much about. I didn't, I could be real... shall I say it, nasty. I just didn't feel that it was right. That's all I can say in that respect. I don't have any hate. It's just that I just close the book on it because it's part of my life that's unpleasant.

MH: Going back to your husband, you said your marriage was by baishakunin?

KG: Yeah.

MH: What do you mean by baishakunin?

KG: Oh, my goodness. [Laughs] I don't remember who in the heck were in charge of that one, but I think, I think one of them was Mr. Niguma. Well anyway, they got, this chap, somehow they got a, you know, they was looking for a wife as they said in those days. They kind of get you together to see if you're compatible and that was that.

MH: Was your husband a Nisei or was he --

KG: No. He was Japan-born, but I'm kind of an easygoing person, so, you know, it was pretty easy for me to be, you know, compatible. He was a nice enough guy. So I thought well, okay. And I was twenty-three years old. That was old for a girl to be roaming around unhitched in those days.

MH: Where were you married?

KG: At Milwaukie, our grade school that we used to go Japanese school.

MH: The old Japanese school.

KG: The old Japanese school, and I think that building is still there.

MH: Who arranged the wedding, you know, the wedding party?

KG: I know one of them was Mr. Niiya, and I think the other one was Mr. Niguma, but I'm not sure. But I do remember Mr. Niiya because he was acquainted with people that worked in the sawmills and Elaine knew my husband.

MH: Did you have a Japanese style wedding?

KG: Both. We was, I think it was Konko first, and then we took off our outfits, and we got into our regular wedding dress.

MH: What do you mean by outfits?

KG: Japanese kimono, the whole attire, you know. That dress now is, my mother made it into a futon cover, so we don't have that. My sister, my daughter was kind of disappointed. She said she wished she hadn't done that because it was, they don't have that kind of things now days, so it's kind of priceless, I guess. Then we had a wedding dress so --

MH: You mean a regular American?

KG: Yeah, uh-huh, that was it.

MH: And was the Japanese community in Milwaukie invited to it?

KG: There was quite a few people, but I really don't remember.

MH: I remember going.

KG: You do? [Laughs] Fill me in.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MH: Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?

KG: Where was I, where?

MH: Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?

KG: We had the stand by then. We were over there on Columbia Boulevard, and I think we had just opened up our shop there. And I remember the news was coming over and some people that were our regular customers came back and gave us, they were sorry that something like this had happened. And the others, some of them in there would just come there. And as the news was coming over, I remember one gentleman in particular. He just turned around and walked off like it was just something horrible, you know. That we would be involved too which we were completely ignorant of that kind of stuff. I've never gone back to Japan, number one, so I wouldn't know.

MH: After you got married, you said you had two children. How did you take care of them?

KG: Because we have, we were on the stand, all our hands were needed out there. I think my mother did most the baby-sitting. There was a, I can't remember his name. He used to come back there, and he just loved Jeannie when she was a baby. He'd come out there, and he'd take her out in the back of the store and take care of her. And of course, you had, my husband had to go and buy all the produce stuff or material for the store. Then she got to ride along with him a good many of times. So she was a pretty popular baby in those days because people would see her and say, "Oh my, you have a baby in here." He'd come home, and he'd be proud as punch. He was a little disappointed though when she was a girl, when she was born. He wanted a boy first, but...

MH: You told me your father passed away. What happened to your mom, then? Did she come and live with you?

KG: She, they were still on the farm when my father passed away, and we were living at, we had rented our own home. So when Dad passed away, they sold the farm to another Japanese that wanted to run the place, and Mom and my two sisters came up and lived with us for, ever since.

MH: Until the war.

KG: Uh-huh.

MH: Where did you go during the war? What "assembly center" did you go to?

KG: First, we were sent to the, well, let's see, what is that? What is the name of that place? I can't remember. Anyway, we called it the horse barn when we went there, and it smelled like it too. I'll have to admit that. It was not very pleasant place. And I'd never seen so many Japanese in my life because my life from the time I was growing up was almost a hundred percent Caucasian. There was only a couple of other Japanese families that we kind of associated with and that was it. My life with the Japanese is kind of rare, I think.

MH: When you were at the Portland Assembly Center, what was your life like there?

KG: My first impression? My first impression was I'd never seen so many Japanese in my life, really, because I have lived like I say in all the Caucasian area. I didn't know there was that many families. I knew about five families or so. We never went visiting. My mother and father were sort of homebodies, and we didn't much of anything. We went to the community picnic once a year or whatever. That's about it. My background is very scant in the Japanese community.

MH: Did your husband work when he was in the "assembly center"?

KG: Yeah, he was a cook. He did the cooking in Block 32. That's where we were.

MH: No, in the "assembly center."

KG: Huh?

MH: In the "assembly center," in Portland.

KG: No. In the "assembly center," I don't know what he did, I really don't know. He must have did something.

MH: Did you work?

KG: No, I didn't do anything, uh-uh. Well, see, Jean would have been what, three years old, and Ronnie was just barely walking. So there was nothing we could do in there anyway.

MH: Was it difficult taking care of two little children at the "assembly center"?

KG: In that respect, I think I'm glad Mom was with us because, you know, we each take one child, you know. And it was because heavens, the walls, there was hardly any walls to speak of. They'd start ailing or crying. My heavens, it was terrible. It was horrible, not the life that I would recommend for anybody.

MH: So did you eat as a family at the "assembly center" in Portland?

KG: We ate but it was, we had to go to what they call the lunch center, whatever it was. It was all prepared for us, so we ate whatever was served to us.

MH: And did the kids get enough to eat?

KG: Well, I really can't remember that far back, but I'm sure they picked at their food because I know it wasn't that great.

MH: Why do you say it wasn't that great?

KG: Well, maybe it's because... well, it wasn't your cooking, your own cooking, let's put it that way.

MH: So it was more American type of food?

KG: Yeah, uh-huh.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MH: Now where did you go after the Portland Assembly Center?

KG: Well, after they left, we had to go into a darkened train. There was no lights or nothing, all the shades were drawn. They didn't tell us where we were going 'til we got there, and we found out it was Idaho. Then it was, got into a bus. They took us to this, and the day that we got there, it was windy, hot. And my son, he was so unhappy, and he wasn't feeling very well, and he wanted to go home, and I'll never forget that. I'll never forget that. I think maybe that's why probably I put a barrier between the life that we had and the life we were facing, I don't know, but I'll never forget that. It was like I say, it was dusty. Oh my, I've never been in an area that was that dusty. The wind was blowing, hot. Then we get taken down to these homes and somebody, I can remember saying barracks, we're in barracks. The heating system was those potbelly stoves, oh my. I think I blocked out a lot of the unpleasantness because I, well, you didn't want to make it sound like it was so unbearable. It was bad enough with the children, especially my son was very unhappy. And then he was, I think he got the flu. Anyway, he was sick, and he had to be put in the hospital there, and he was there for quite a while. I can't remember, but it seemed like years that he was there, and nobody could go down to see him because the minute he saw anybody, the family, he just let out a whoop and holler. He wanted to go home, and he wanted to go home as it was. In the barracks, he was not happy. So that's a part of life that I, maybe that's why I block everything out, I don't know.

MH: When you were in the "relocation center," did your husband work?

KG: Okay. I got stuck in the... what was that? I worked in an office. I don't remember. Like I say, I tried to block out everything, and it was in the office, and it had to do with filling out orders for the canteens, the stores. They called them canteens in there. It was stores. That's what I did, keeping up their inventory.

MH: And was this canteen as you call it, was it open to the people who lived --

KG: It was open to the people, yeah. It was opened to the people. You could buy whatever you want. They had just about anything, I guess, that you wanted to buy; although our food was cooked, prepared for us by cooks in the individual kitchens in your block that you were living in.

MH: And what block was that that you lived in?

KG: We were in Block 32, but half of that was being used as a school, so there was only half a block. We had our laundry and everything. We had to go out there for everything.

MH: What were you paid for this job that you did as a, taking inventory?

KG: Gosh, I can't really remember what... all I know is that I did a lot of typing and a lot of, I really can't remember exactly. But I do remember I had to do a lot of this and that concerning...

MH: But you did get paid?

KG: Yeah, we got paid. My husband got nineteen dollars, and I got sixteen dollars a month.

MH: And you said your husband was a cook?

KG: Yeah.

MH: Okay. You mentioned that there was a school. Part of Block 32 was a school. Do you remember anything about that school, what it was like? You said you lived in a barrack, right?

KG: Yeah.

MH: Was the school barracks?

KG: Well, all I know is all you did was you go into your barracks, and there was a bed there and a potbellied stove. That's all I remember. And the rest of the time, if you wanted to go, you did your laundry or any of the other stuff, your bathroom chores. You had to go out into, they had, I think they called them rec halls, and it was all off of these so-called rec halls. You took your showers or whatever there. It was a different life, definitely.

MH: Did you ever leave camp?

KG: No. I couldn't leave camp because of the two children, you know, and I didn't want to leave Mother. And like I said, my husband worked in the kitchen. He was one of the cooks there, so we never did. But if you want to talk about the family, my sister, she was going around with a gentleman at the time she'd met, and so they both went out. And then they got married out there, no formal wedding for the rest of us to go to. And my other sister, she got, they had, people would come in, and they wanted people that wanted to do housework or something. And so she went on one of those recruits of live-in helpers in the home, and that's what she did. My sisters weren't there in camp very long. They each went their own way.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MH: What happened when you, when they said you had to leave camp? Did you come back to where --

KG: When they were, you know, they were trying to get all of us relocated. You had a choice. You could come back to either where you used to live, and our living quarters were here in the western states. But a lot of people that had intentions of leaving, they all went to different parts of the eastern part of the country too. So my husband came back to look over the situation, and at that time I think they had, I think it was called the War Relocation or something like that, I can't remember, but he came back and they had an office here in Portland. They had already set up a place because they figured a lot of them would want to come back to this, wherever they lived before. And they had jobs that if they wanted to work in that kind of thing, I really can't remember the name of it, but he signed up for the job there and he came back. And then my mother didn't want to come back right then. She says she'll just take care of Ronnie when he was a baby. He was two, three years old, and then my husband brought back Jean. And I had her for a while. But then we both had to work in some way, and Mom wasn't quite ready to come back. So we kind of farmed her off to the Watanabes' back and forth for a short while. So Jean was their child for a while then our child at other times.

MH: You said your husband came back. Did he leave the camp to come to Portland to find a job, and then he came back after you?

KG: No. He came back, see, what they did is they asked if, they had what they call the War Relocation program or something. But anyway, they had work relief. I think it was called work relief, and so he worked in that. They had an office here in Portland. And so he signed up to go to work there, and he came back and looked at the situation. He came back, and then I think he came back by himself because I think I came back again by myself because... oh I know. He brought Jeannie back and then I followed. We, at that time, the Tsubois had a home, and I don't know where the Tsubois were, but we got into that home and it was a huge home, and we kind of acted like a stepping stone for other people. They came back and they stayed there. I think one of the families was the Ninomiyas, and the other one was the Yano family. It was a huge home so we could take care of them all. They could do their own cooking, so that was no problem.

MH: Did you come back by train?

KG: It was train. It was a train.

MH: Came back on the train. So when you came back and you said, you know, having childcare was very difficult, so you had the Watanabes going to take care of Jean. Did you find a job also?

KG: Did I what?

MH: Did you find a job also?

KG: Well, I can't remember the first job, but it was with the federal government. It was the treasury department, and they had steno type work. We had to type out checks for the people in that camps, so I had to do that. I was able to do that. If I could have moved along with them, I would have followed them up because the woman that was our boss for some reason, she took to me and really, she used some of the, she wasn't talking to me, but she was talking about those people over there, and they were the bad --

MH: What you do you mean by "those people"?

KG: She always referred to them as not Japanese, you know.

MH: But J-A-P?

KG: Yeah, uh-huh, yeah. She always did that. I don't know for some reason, and I don't know. I just let it wash over my head. She referred to that many times that I guess she was expecting me to do some kind of, you know, be react, but I did not. I could care less. I figured, well, if that's the way they want to talk, that was their business. So in fact, I think outside of that which she wasn't referring to me, I don't think, and I didn't feel any of that when I went out into the general public. I only had one instant where we were walking by. I was by myself, and I don't even know who the person was, whether it was a man or a woman and said something about that four-letter-word again and said, "You don't belong here, why don't you go back," or something like that. I didn't hear it all, but that's, I'm just presuming that's what they said because I heard that word. That was all. In my life, I think many of them have said that they've always got that other 4 letter word, and it was very unpleasant but, and then when I did get into a job, I was placed in the part time again. This time doing typing in one of their departments. Then I got called into the main office one day. And I thought oh, but she was real nice lady, and she wanted to know if I enjoyed working, you know. I said, "Yes." I have to work anyway. She says, "Well, we have an opening here that we've been unable to fill for quite some time." She says, "Would you be willing to learn something that's different?" And I said, "Well, I'm always game to learn anything that will help me get into the working field." And she says, "Well, we have a printing department that's been open for quite a while." She says, "We'll have someone teach you." And she says, "If you want to think you would like to do something like that, we'll have this person come in and teach you what to do." I had to think a little bit because being a printer, heavens to Betsy, what was I going to do? She told me, she took me up there, and she says we have this and we have this. And in those days, when I first went in, it was, they had where you had to set your own type and run a little press. And they had a little, I guess if we look at it now it was just an old mimeograph type machine that I had to run. Well, it looked interesting enough. I was always game for something new anyway. So we got in there. From where I was doing my typing, she had this woman come in and told me what I was to do and how I was to do it. For some reason, I enjoyed that typesetting part. It was fun. Each little tiny type, you set up your material whatever it was, and it didn't take me long to learn that. And the other, it was already prepared for the departments that I had to do it for. So all I had to learn was how to operate the machine. After a week or so, it just sort of fell into place. That was that. That's where I got started in the printing department.

MH: I'm going to go back a little bit. You said you worked for the government first, and then where did you go to?

KG: I went to the library. They sent me to the library after that because the government, they were being sent, they were closing up the offices here in Portland. And they wanted me, she wanted me to go to Salt Lake City with them, but there was no way I could go and follow, keep on my typing work or whatever, all that steno staff work as years went on. But if I was free, I certainly would have because it would have been something. But I'm not sorry that I couldn't go because I got into this here printing job that I thoroughly enjoyed because after that initial thing, we got into larger presses. So it just kind of grew, and it was something that I enjoyed. It was really something I enjoyed.

MH: So how long did you work at the Multnomah County library?

KG: I was there, I was there doing their printing for let's see, well, I'll just say roughly thirty-one years, thirty-one, thirty-two years, yeah.

MH: Okay. I'm going to go back to where you went to live at the Tsubois' home. How did it feel to live in a house different than when you lived in camp?

KG: Living camp life? I don't know. I just fell into it. It just, I thought this was the thing. We stayed there. We lived at that home there of the Tsubois' residence there for a while, and then the War Relocation Housing Authority kind of helped you too, you know. They kind of looked around. And heck, we didn't have any money in those days, but still they would, their question was would you like to buy or would you be more interested in renting? Well, it didn't really matter. I thought if we could get something that we liked, we might as well think about making it a permanent home. So we -- actually the War Relocation housing area people kind of checked over the neighborhood and see if there would be any animosity for anybody coming in that were of a different culture. They come back and told us that there was, nobody seemed to mind who they were just as long as we were good neighbors. So that's, I think that was really the first house we looked at that we said okay. It's close into town, and we lived there for... my, twenty, almost thirty years there.

MH: When did your mom and Ronnie come back from camp?

KG: They came back while we were still at this here first step, Mr. Tsubois' home. They came back there. That's when all, you know, the Ninomiyas' and, as they came back, they had to have some place to go, and we had this huge home. That's what we did. We sort of helped each other out. We lived as a big group there for a while.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MH: You talk about your children. Did they go to Japanese school? I know they went to a regular school.

KG: No, because Jean was the only one that was school age by that time. So in the meantime, Mother had come back too, so we were settled in that home. We stayed at the Tsubois' home 'til we found this other place. But they started school at the Holiday Park area. And then after we moved and bought that place, then we moved over there, but I can't remember just when that was, end of 1946 because we came back in '45, I think. I think it was in '46 that we found, they found us the place that was this, they say it is acceptable people, didn't mind whether we were Japanese or whatever. So that's what we did. We moved over there and Ronnie went to, Ronnie and Jean. Ronnie wasn't quite old enough to go, but Jean, they went to Buckman grade school. That's where they, and then onto high school from there.

MH: Did you at any point when they were going to grade school feel any racial discrimination towards them?

KG: That's really the part that, you know, the kids, the children never came back and said that anybody said anything bad about them. And like me as I say, my whole life, this is my whole life. Like I say, there was one instant, this was walking down the street in Portland. There was one woman that was, she worked in another department, but she just wouldn't, I don't know. She was a little hard to get to, and I remember, I met some very nice people there too. And this one woman, she was, we did a lot of things together, and I asked her about this particular person. She says, "Kena," she says, "forget her." She didn't know whether that woman was ready to accept me or not for some reason, but she didn't stay at the library very long. She moved on. I guess she didn't like the idea of having an Oriental there, I don't know. But most of the people there were very, very nice to me. So I can't say that I had any unpleasantness in my life, really.

MH: Now, where did your children go to high school?

KG: What did I major in in high school?

MH: No. Where did your children go to?

KG: Oh, where my kids went to. They went to Buckman. They finished there, and then they went onto Washington High School. That school is no more anymore. And then Jean went onto, I think she went to Willamette. And I know Ronnie went to Portland U., and they both finished there.

MH: Do you feel that they went on to college because of some influence that you might have had on them?

KG: What was that?

MH: Why do you think your children went to college?

KG: Oh, well, I impressed on them that they had better go on to college, otherwise, you know, their job opportunities wouldn't be that great. Neither one of them objected to going on and finishing their education which was -- I didn't have to "you got to." It wasn't that kind of a thing. I said, "It would be better for you if you did." So Ronnie finished in the engineering. And gosh, I think Jean just took a regular college course, I don't know. She didn't, she worked after school. That's all I can remember. She was working in the hospitals. She got into the, where they test things, you know. That's where she worked. She worked there for a while, so she must have been working, it's too long ago. My gosh, my eighty years are showing.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MH: After you retired from your job at the library, what did you do? What were your interests in retirement?

KG: Well, I didn't have much time to think because my darling husband decided they looking for person to carry, pick up the Japanese Ancestral Society office chores, and he had already says I think you better go. And so I was out in retirement less than a month when I had to go there, and I worked there for twenty years.

MH: And what is the Japanese Ancestor Society?

KG: Well, you know, A lot of people that ask me, "What do they do?" You have to really think. You hate to say this, but I really couldn't tell you exactly what their job was, but I do know they tried to keep the liaison between the, oh, what is it, the consul's offices and the general people. And they had community things too that they kind of overlooked for everybody. So that was, it was in general that they were looking after the interest of the Japanese populous, and they had, that's what they did.

MH: What did your job, what did you do?

KG: My job? My job was to keep their books and keep up their, well, they had the memberships so I had to keep up that. And they also had, they overlooked the Japanese cemetery part, and they had a group of men that took care of that part, and we had donations for the upkeep of the cemetery. So we had to take care of all that kind of things. And of course, we had, we checked to see that we kept their, they had meetings and stuff. We kept that so we kept that so they would know we wouldn't overlap or that kind of stuff. It's just general office work.

MH: And did you drive to work? Where was the office?

KG: I didn't mind, it just kept me, kept my, it just kept me thinking.

MH: Where did they have their office?

KG: Originally, they had it in Portland for gosh... well anyway, they had their office down there. I remember we had to go there. And then they opened up the retirement home for the, well, shall I say the low income people here for the Japanese people in Oak Grove, and then we moved over there.

MH: So the name of that retirement home is --

KG: Ikoi, so.

MH: Ikoi, so.

KG: Uh-huh. And the sad part is of that place is there is very, very few Japanese there. It was supposed to have been built for the Japanese people, but maybe it was because there were too many, there weren't too many Japanese people in the handicapped part of their life. They couldn't get in there because they had a little bit too much money.

MH: What else do you do besides having gone to, you know, work for the Nikkeijin?

KG: My private life is I like to putter. [Laughs]

MH: Tell me what you mean by putter?

KG: I like to putter in my backyard, in my garden. You know, I work a little bit here and go here just to kill the time, you know, the garden work when you weed and stuff like that. And I like to go out and have fun.

MH: What kind of fun do you look for?

KG: Well, the sad part of my life is the girlfriends that I had, they all passed on before me. They were all my age bracket. But we used to get into the car and sometimes she would drive, sometime I would drive. And we would go up to where she used to reside before which was in Washington along the coast there. And then other times we would just get in and where shall we go this time. And so we'd pack up a few of our clothes sometime, and we'd go up to British Columbia. We just did.

MH: You talked about this friend that you did this with. Who was she?

KG: Who was she?

MH: Uh-huh.

KG: She was Mrs. Mary Tsurusaki. She lost her husband. She's a sister of the Itamis, a family of florist there, and we got along like this.

MH: Did you ever get together with your high school friends?

KG: They were all, my real good friends in high school, they were all scattered. Well, in between, there was a war. And then because of the war, it made it a little bit worse. But no, I didn't get in touch with them until about, when did we have that Milwaukie/Clackamas get together? It was in the 1970s. We got together, and we met a lot of people, but they too were not here locally in Portland. They were down the coast in like Florence or down that way. So it was pretty hard for them to be commuting back and forth. We did write though. We wrote letters back and forth for quite a while there. And then this was my best girlfriend, she passed away. And for some reason, I kept up with her husband, real nice gentleman, and we kept writing. And then he took ill, and I think we quit corresponding after he was in a care home. And then I think he passed away because I haven't heard from him. And then my friends here in Milwaukie, Clackamas, they too, they all had farms. They still were farming, so we didn't do too much.

MH: When did your husband pass away?

KG: Let's see. 1986. 1986, he passed away.

MH: So you've been a widow for quite a while?

KG: Uh-huh. But I had my mother 'til 1990.

MH: And how old was your mother?

KG: She was a hundred and two years old. The last year of her life, I would have taken care of her at home, but my sisters kept insisting no, it's too hard, it's too hard. And so they, one day I remember, they both came in the car and I thought what, you know. And I thought they were just going to take her for a ride. No, they just packed her up and took off. And then as my sister said to me, she says, "We're taking mom to this place here." She says, "We won't be coming back." And I said, "How come?" She says, "No." She says, "Too much for you." So they took her up there into the care home. It's on 135th off of Glisan, I remember. That's where she spent her last one year. She was there about a year which is kind of bad for me, but then my sisters didn't want me to, I guess, wear myself out. All they had to do was to come down. I don't think they liked the idea of tying themselves down by if Kena wants to do something, so they got to go down and take care of Mom. I don't know.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MH: You have how many grandchildren?

KG: Five. I had to think. I only have two kids, two boys and three girls.

MH: What kind of advice would you give them now?

KG: Oh heavens, they don't take advice from their grandmother. They got their own mind, heavens to Betsy.

MH: Did you ever give them advice when they were younger?

KG: No. They tell me what to do.

MH: If you were, what would you say to them if you could?

KG: Like I say, you know, Grandma's advice isn't any, they might listen to you, but as far as taking your advice, uh-uh. But that's one thing, they will listen to you especially the oldest one. She's quite a young lady. Maybe I favor her too much, huh?

MH: Do you go and eat at Ikoi no Kai?

KG: Yes.

MH: And why do you go?

KG: Companion. The people there, you get to see people. You can visit with them, you know. It's diversion from your everyday humdrum.

MH: Does your family all live near you?

KG: Does my what?

MH: Your family, you know, your kids. Do they live close by?

KG: Yeah. They all live within a block, a block, a mile, couple of miles. I'd say two or three miles from here, yeah.

MH: What would you say is your biggest worry?

KG: My worries? I really, I don't really worry. You know why? My two children, they're well-off on their own. They don't have to have any dependency on mother here, and I'm ancient anyway, so why should I? Good grief. Just keep my mouth shut, and I'm in the better graces of them.

MH: What makes you happy?

KG: I guess it's because I don't have any -- I have no worries of my, I know I can live comfortably, and my health is good. I can still get into my car and just drive wherever I want to go, very independent. So I am really, I may think differently if I were sick, but I'm very thankful that I'm healthy.

MH: Well, thank you, Kena, for sharing your story with us.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

KG: For some reason, I was a shy thing. It took me a little while to open up. It doesn't take me much nowadays. I don't care what people think.

MH: What made you open up?

KG: I really don't know. It was just all of a sudden...

MH: Was it before you got married or after you got married?

KG: This was all after I got married because all through high school, heck, you had to take a crowbar to crow me open really. I didn't do too much chattering.

MH: You told me that your husband was from Japan. Did you speak Japanese in the home?

KG: We had to talk to my mother in Japanese, you know. But if we didn't want her to understand what we were talking about, we definitely, we could go into the English, you know. But the most interesting part was Mom could understand pretty much what we were chattering about. She says, she always says, "Yeah, okay, I know. You're talking about me or you don't want me to understand what you want me to hear what you want to say." So we learned not to speak too much in English while we were talking in front of her because sometimes she felt like she was being left out, I think. But other than that, we had quite a, it was an interesting family.

MH: What about your kids? If you didn't want them to hear or know what you were talking about with your husband, did you talk Japanese with your husband or --

KG: My husband tended to more, speak more Japanese. I could talk to him in English, but he would know what I was talking about. So there was no distinction that we had anything special that we didn't want the kids to hear. They wouldn't have understood, but they would have said, "Oh, here they go again."

MH: What did your husband do after the war?

KG: He used to work in a cleaning shop for some friends that he knew, and he was able to get, buy out of the Akagi family. They had established cleaning outfit in North Portland, and he heard about it because he was working for his friend. He had a cleaning shop, so he decided that's what he was going to do. So he took over the Akagi cleaning shop and that's where he spent his, until he retired. I guess he liked it.

MH: And did you help him at all?

KG: No. I worked at, I was working. See I did my own thing. He did his thing. I worked, like I say, I was with the treasury department. And I went on, and I got into the library, and I learn my whatever job. I thoroughly enjoyed it, you know.

MH: You said your husband had a cleaning place, right?

KG: Uh-huh.

MH: What do you mean by that? What did he clean?

KG: Clothes, cleaning shop, clothes and laundry. He took in laundry, but he did none of the laundry part. He had people come in and pick it up. The laundry part is washing, washing shirts and whatever. Then he had a woman there part time to mend the clothes that people would bring in and want it to mend.

MH: So then people came to the shop and brought the things that they needed cleaning?

KG: No. He didn't go after any of them. They all came to him. And the person that sold the cleaning part to him was hakujin. And he used to come down there and pick up the laundry part.

MH: The laundry part, they send out?

KG: Yeah. The laundry, the shirts, and things like that that came in.

MH: Did he do the pressing?

KG: He did the pressing for the other part, your suits and whatever. Yeah, he did that.

MH: But not for the laundry?

KG: He did the shirts, I think. But other than that, it was just bulk laundry.

MH: Where was it in North Portland?

KG: It was, I couldn't remember the address, but it's just about a block or so off of interstate on Russell Street, North Russell Street. That's where he made his living. He was his own boss, and he didn't have somebody telling him you got to do this. So that's it. That was his life. We were sort of very independent. Maybe that's why if I want to do something, he would always say, "Well, you go ahead and do it." He wasn't much for gallivanting around like I was.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MH: It sounds like after you left camp, your connection to the Japanese community became wider than when you were growing up?

KG: Definitely, definitely. Like I say, when I, even after I grew... after I was married even, from one life of living in all Caucasian neighborhood and then going into the stand store business, all your people that came to you were all Caucasians. Here again, you didn't, like I say, my husband and, we weren't very socializing people, I guess, so we didn't know too many people. We knew who they were and what they did, that's about it. Outcasts, that's what we were.

MH: I don't think so. There was a Japanese church here in Milwaukie, were you active in that church?

KG: Sad to say, not really. My husband was really a very staunch church person, very, very much. My mother was too, but maybe it's because of the language barrier. I don't know. Like I say, growing up in an all Caucasian, your attitude is so much different.

MH: This church in Milwaukie, what was it called and what kind of church was it?

KG: It was a, wasn't it called Shinoi church? You know as much as I do. Why are you making me think like this? I think it was Shinoi, a Buddhist sect.

MH: And where in Milwaukie was that church?

KG: It's right in Milwaukie, what's the street name, huh? I don't know. What was it, forty?

MH: What was that building before it became a church?

KG: It was a Japanese church, I mean Japanese language school.

MH: That was the Milwaukie Japanese school.

KG: Yeah, yeah.

MH: Is it still in existence?

KG: It's still there, but I think it's, the original owners, I think they rent it out as a home. I don't know.

MH: I mean the building is still there?

KG: The building is still there. The church, no. Everything they had in the church went back to their mother church which is in Los Angeles. All of the church, I don't know what they call them, but they were all packed and sent back. Everything that was there was sent back because they didn't want to keep it there, and no one was there to take care of it. All of the people that were involved in that church were, had passed on or too elderly to take care. And then my husband, I think was one of the last remaining members. He just packed everything up and sent it back to the mother church in Los Angeles.

MH: And did you have a minister?

KG: Did we have what?

MH: A minister?

KG: Yes, uh-huh. You know, after, I think he broke away from, our first minister, he broke away from the church. He got married and he broke away. In the meantime, he had taken up dentistry. So he's a dentist right now in Portland. So we've had bachelors come in there.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MH: You wanted to talk about your Caucasian friends.

KG: Yeah. They were the kind where, actually just like one big family. There was one of the girls, she was much older than I was, but she'd come over many times when my mom and dad wouldn't be home at nighttime. She'd babysit with her. She'd sit down and help herself to whatever food we had. And I remember her, I still can't learn to eat that. She'd put cream and sugar on top of hot rice. That's what is it, rice pudding or whatever they call it now. And they were over there, especially Clara, that was her name. And she would watch over us, and we'd go over their house, and we'd, you know.

MH: Did your mom and dad ask her to come over or --

KG: No. They just seemed to know when Mom and Dad weren't going to be home. I mean, I can't remember whether they asked Clara to come over, but she was there always. She was there just like a sister was a great deal of the time, you know. It was, I never thought anything different about it. We just thought it was a natural thing. Of course, the younger kids never came over. Well, they did, but then, Melva did, but the boy, he never came over. But we'd go over to their home, you know, and visit.

MH: And you would sometime have dinner there?

KG: I don't remember having any dinner or anything, but the casual visiting was always, you know. If we were out in the farm out there, I think Mister works, but the mother would come out and talk to us, you know. And of course, Dad was very generous with his vegetables. So they'd come out and they would come home. I'll have to tell you about the turkey, our other neighbor. Like I say, my dad was always the giving kind. For one Thanksgiving, I don't remember the full particulars, but I do remember part of it that they brought over a turkey for my family and very unusual. They brought it home. I don't remember the full preparation of this thing, but the story is that my father had this real good friend in town who had a restaurant and he asked him if it was okay if he brought this turkey over, and he would cook it for us. And being a very generous gentleman that Mister, what was his name, Manaze, I think. Not Manaze, it was something like that. Anyway, he says, oh yeah, he'll fix it for him, no problem. So the part I don't remember was although the story is that my dad had put the turkey in the gunnysack and taken it over to his friend there that had the restaurant, Dad didn't tell him nothing, just here's the turkey. Well, afterwards, it had turned out that the turkey was still alive and very much alive. And we'll never live it down because this man used to tell Dad, he says, "It's a good thing that I opened that before I opened up his restaurant or it would have been havoc." That is the story of my dad that did that. Maybe the story part was so interesting, I don't remember having a turkey.

MH: You don't remember having the turkey?

KG: But we must have because, you know. [Laughs]

MH: So you talked about your dad as being very generous, what do you mean by that?

KG: By that, I could almost say he'd give you the shirt off of his back. I mean, he was, we were not a rich family by a long shot. Everything we grew on our farm is, that was what we had. Of course, we had meat, but everything wasn't prepared. Everything was out of our yard. But whatever he had, here, here's this. He was just a giving star. He didn't care. It was, you know, make them happy. That's the kind of person he was.

MH: How about your mother?

KG: I don't remember too much about my mother. She was the one that wielded the... but that didn't make any difference to Dad. They got along real good. I think she would have been the same way, but she had a husband that was outgoing enough. She didn't have to be I guess, I don't know.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

MH: Now you said earlier that you left Ronnie with your grandmother at the relocation center in Idaho, and you came back with your husband and Jean, and you both were working. And you said you had somebody take care of Jean. How did that work?

KG: You know, he had brought Jeannie back before I was back. Yeah, he brought her back, and I followed and he'd already, I guess he must have had made plans for him to, if they would take care of Jean.

MH: Who's "them"?

KG: Huh?

MH: Who's them? Who are you talking about? Who's going to take care of the children?

KG: The Watanabes.

MH: And where did they live?

KG: They lived in Milwaukie here. And for some reason, my husband and the Watanabes were, well because I think because of the church and all that, they were very, very close. So he must have talked it over with them. I don't think he says, "I'm going to bring my child here." I really don't know the particulars because it had already happened before I came back even because he brought her back before I came back. There wasn't too much time between, but he did come back. I guess, Jean was able to adjust herself to any life, I think. She was very easy to get along with. She must have been quite a character then because I would hear stories about what she would do, you know. But outside of that, I really don't know. And when I came back, I don't think she particularly cared whether she came back to Mom and Dad or not. Baachan came back because, then Baachan was there all the time, but I think Jean was just as happy where she was. She liked company, liked people.

MH: The Watanabe family was, they had quite an extended family living there.

KG: Oh, yes, uh-huh. So they must have really, I really don't know because my husband was the one that --

MH: Made the arrangements?

KG: Yeah. Here again, I think we talk about language barriers. It isn't a language barrier, it's just that I'm not very good in Japanese. Sure, I can talk daily conversations, but whatever my husband and them talked about, I really don't know. I would swear that, maybe that Mr. Watanabe and him could have lived together like father and son, so I really don't know. That part, he did everything himself.

MH: So your daughter, Jean, she went back to live with you after your mother came back with Ronnie?

KG: Uh-huh. I think she didn't particularly care whether she come back or not. just for my husband and myself because he'd go over there but he never, well he would bring her back sometime but, you know, he would have to take her back.

MH: How long did that last?

KG: My mother didn't come back for, until the place closed. So I really don't know when that place closed. She came back just before they closed.

MH: So it was several months that --

KG: Yeah, I would say several months, yeah. I think if Grandma were back with us, I think Jean would have been old enough to go to kindergarten. That's all I can say about that part of the life. What else we're going talk about? I can't think. You got to give me a clue, and then I'll chatter off. [Laughs] Things that you do, you can't remember everything.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MH: Do you remember doing any really Japanese things when, early in your life like mochitsuki, that kind of stuff?

KG: Not really, not really. I think here again that's my background. I mean, when you live, you don't see another person that looks like you. You have to go at least twenty, twenty-five minutes away from where you live, and then it was only once a year, New Year's time that we got together. I bring that onto my parents. We didn't have too much -- we'd come, we would come down here, the Watanabe's doing the Fourth of July, and we'd have a one "whooping windig," yes.

MH: What do you mean by "whooping windig"? Tell me about that.

KG: They would get together. Somebody in the family would go after crawfishes. You know what they are? They would have buckets full of them, and we would be out there. In between, they would have all of these 4th of July things, all these fire crackers and whatnot. We didn't care, but all the boys there, you know. And then at nightfall, it would begin. They would start putting up those. And in the meantime, we wouldn't eat like a dinner-dinner. We'd have this crawfishes. They would have pans for them. I remember that kind of thing.

MH: And who cooked the crawfish and who --

KG: It must have been Mrs. Watanabe because Ruth and May wouldn't have been old enough. They would still be youngsters. But I think it was the young men that went out there like Ed and Fred. But I remember the crawfishes. Like I say, the childhood days of those is just --

MH: Okay. When night came, you said they would let the firecrackers go. Which way did they shoot off those Roman candles?

KG: Okay. They lived up on a sort of a knoll on the east side of the railroad tracks. There was the railroad track there, and they'd shoot them all into the, they grew celery. Their main product vegetable, celery, and they shoot them into the celery farm there.

MH: And you remember that?

KG: I remember that. Those days were something. Okay. The young people talk about mochitsuki now. Do you remember the mochitsuki then, the great big huge barn on the other side of the railroad tracks? I remember all those people coming there. I remember that.

MH: So you did mochitsuki?

KG: Yeah.

MH: What did they do in this barn?

KG: They did everything the old traditional way from what I understand, knowing no better in those days. That's the way you did it. There would be, there was quite a few men there. And they would take these wooden mallets, and they would pound into that. My mother was the chief turner. Those are the things that I remember.

MH: And what did you do?

KG: Nothing except move on the side. I don't think I was too old then. [Laughs]

MH: So you do remember mochitsuki, and it was always held --

KG: This was when we were still kids. I'm sure this is when we were little, yeah, definitely, we had to be.

MH: And this was held where?

KG: Huh?

MH: Where did they do this?

KG: In that barn on the other --

MH: Whose place was it?

KG: Watanabes and everybody got there. They all lived together more or less, the Yoshitomis and the Watanabes, you know. The only one that didn't live together was that, we called them the Keichan family, and they lived across, there's a lot about my childhood and that kind of thing. I don't know. I think I had a pretty good childhood.

MH: Can you remember any one thing that your mother and father said to you that has meaning in your life now?

KG: What was that?

MH: Is there anything your mom and dad said to you that really has meaning to you now?

KG: Not really. I think we got along real good with Dad and Mom. No, there's nothing that sticks out in mind about Mom or Dad. No, I think I was quite a brat, so I know that much. That's it. I think we had a good relationship.

MH: Did they tell you like, you know, you should work hard. You should work hard at school? Do they ever voice that to you? Did they ever say that to you?

KG: No. I don't think they were that kind of, no, they didn't, uh-uh. They didn't say you have to study this way or study that way. No, I don't think so. I really remember a very carefree life, no worries at all. I think they did all the worrying part even through a part of those years especially in the 1920, late '20s and early '30s, the Depression was pretty bad. I remember them saying well, we can't do this. We don't have enough money for that. We have to conserve. But outside of that, I think they shielded us pretty much from the hardship part of life. So I don't remember any of that. Every day was just like any other day.

MH: Okay.

KG: I think we probably covered every end of my life.

<Begin Segment 13>