Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: George Hara Interview
Narrator: George Hara
Interviewer: Loen Dozono
Date: February 5, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-hgeorge_2-01-0007

<Begin Segment 7>

GH: Now after finishing grade school, I began another period in my life that I want to go into and that was high school. The kids that I grew up with in Southwest Portland may -- went to Lincoln High School which is few blocks north of Shattuck on Broadway. But I, for some reason I chose to go to another high school, and the one I chose was Washington High which is about Tenth and Southwest, southeast Portland. And the way I got to change school district was I used address of a Nisei family who live in that area. And so I started by riding a street car which crossed over the Morrison Bridge and dumped me off one or two blocks from Washington High. So I began in my high school in an entirely different atmosphere. Most the kids there were hakujin. There were Niseis, about ten or so, but we were in the minority. And as a freshman, I remembered, I was without friends because most of them just came up from grade school, and they knew others, but I didn't. But gradually over the course of time, I made friends, eating lunch with them and talking with them, and some were just as lonely as I was, and we sort of congregated, and I grew, and I got to know more hakujin kids. And as our friendship got established, I found out where they lived, maybe what their family did, and I noticed the marked discrepancy. It seemed like they came from another country. I grew up in southwest Portland in skid row and that was normal, but these kids lived in the residential areas, lived in residential homes, and they had bedrooms by themselves or with their brothers and sisters, and they had bathrooms for their own use. We had to use sort of a community bathroom on each floor, and the bath, one on each floor, oh, my dad took care of that. He confiscated for our use the bathroom, and for the customers, they had to go on the second floor. And that's the kind of set up for most of us there in southwest Portland. But these kids in residential homes, they got it pretty nice. Anyway, I got to know them, and I got to know the Niseis there too. And but it was a different kind of a relation, more American-oriented.

And by the end of our freshmen year, kids were inviting me out, and at that time, they came from good residential districts in Portland to Washington High, the Laurelhurst area and Eastmoreland, and those were middle class up or middle-class dwellings. You know, you forget about these differences between friends, and they invited you not into their home but when they had access to the swimming pool at Reed College in Eastmoreland, and so they invited me to go swimming there. And so I did go there by trolley or by bus, and so I learned how that group of people lived. It was entirely different from what I was used to, and I had sort of a complex about that. I didn't think I can invite these friends from these residential areas down to my hotel in skid row. I thought I would, probably ashamed of the background.

But as my social horizon at Washington increased, my friends encouraged me to try out for the position of cheerleader. They weren't particularly fond of the incumbent cheerleader, and I began to think seriously of that. And one area where I found, I spent a lot of hours within the North Park blocks. There is a handball court, rings, and swings and all that sort of thing and organized activity. And the park director, there was a fellow named Art Brody, a real nice hakujin fellow. When I say hakujin, I'm talking about Caucasian as opposed to Niseis. Anyway, Art happened to be a cheerleader, head cheerleader at Oregon State, and I got to know Art playing handball and all, and he encouraged me and was delighted that I was interested. And so during the summer, we worked up a routine of yells. He taught me the fine intricacies and the tricks of cheerleading, and he spent a great deal of time trying to get me to master a running front flip or a standing back flip. But he just found out that my poor skinny old legs just wouldn't propel me high enough, and before I injured myself, we omitted that part of the routine. By the time the tryouts for the yell leading came about, as nervous as I was, I felt well prepared, and this is the first time I had gone on stage with an auditorium full of students, and some were, you know, very supportive of me. They wanted me to succeed. As I grew on, I gained more confidence. Then when I got into yell, you know, they're listening to me give the instructions. Actually when I got into the yell itself, it was a tremendous sense of relief and sense of exultation that I was able to lead that whole group, and they followed whatever I was trying to accomplish. And fortunately, there was no doubt about my winning. I walked away in that contest, and it was all I can do not to get, you know, overly confident because of that.

Anyway, this opened up a new area in school. In high school, there is sort of a social political system. Athletic, you know, football players, the lettermen were at the head, and then there came the other doers, politicians and fellows active in school activity, and they all had prestigious boys' only group and girls' only group and the mix group, and this opened up doors. The next semester, school -- I was invited to join one of the most prestigious groups, and I was delighted to, and I felt accepted by these fellow students, and then I got into another one which not only includes the athletes too. And in my final year, I was president of both of the clubs, and I really felt at home [inaudible] looking forward to going onto college, probably becoming a frat member, you know, continuing on at that high level. But during my senior year, unfortunately, Pearl Harbor came along.

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