Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: George Azumano Interview
Narrator: George Azumano
Interviewer: Stephan Gilchrist
Date: September 20, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-ageorge-01-0002

<Begin Segment 2>

SG: And do you remember what it was like growing up in Portland?

GA: Growing up? I don't remember too much about my preschool years. I know my father used to operate a hotel in downtown Portland, but he came to the conclusion that raising a family in a hotel was not good, so he decided to come to the east side of Portland, and he bought a grocery store on North Russell and Williams Avenue, and he continued his grocery business until the time that World War II started.

SG: Do you remember the name of the hotel and the grocery store?

GA: Hotel's name was Panama Hotel. Of course, it's no longer there, but the location is now occupied by I think it's called Great China Restaurant on the second floor. The ground floor used to be Tuklong, but now it's some kind of a general merchandise store I think, gift shop on Fourth and Davis.

SG: How long, how old were you when you moved to the east side?

GA: Six years old.

SG: Do you remember what it was like living in the hotel?

GA: I don't remember too much about that, I really don't. I remember more after I moved to the east side. I grew up in the grocery store really.

SG: Was the hotel mostly, did it cater mostly to Japanese clients?

GA: No, no, to American working men, laborers. In those days, there were many working men working in the timber, timber fields and railroads and farms, and those people would come in especially during the weekends.

SG: And would your mom do, work on the hotel as well?

GA: Oh, yeah. She would make the beds and clean the rooms. I think my father also, at that time, he operated a fruit stand, vegetable stand on Yamhill Street. Yamhill Street in those days was a street lined with all, many, many stands, vegetables and fruit, very bustling street in those days. It was between Front Avenue and like Fourth Avenue on Yamhill.

SG: Did you help out at the fruit stand?

GA: No, I didn't, no. I was too young in those days.

SG: I just thought of something. I just wanted to ask a question, just to go back a little bit, but where were you born? Like were you born in a hospital?

GA: Hospital, the old Saint Vincent Hospital that has been torn down now, and the new Saint Vincent Hospital is located out here in Northwest Portland.

SG: So you said after you were six, you moved over to the east side?

GA: Yes.

SG: Where did you live on the east side?

GA: On Williams Avenue near Tillamook Street. Tillamook is about three blocks north of Broadway.

SG: So you lived close to the grocery store?

GA: Just two blocks, two blocks from the grocery store, yes.

SG: What was that neighborhood like then?

GA: Well, it was a regular working men's neighborhood, people of modest means, not a rich neighborhood at all. And I remember starting, I started waiting on customers when I was about eight years old, so I got my, I got to know people, be able to talk to people at an early age.

SG: You have many, was it a Japanese grocery store?

GA: No, no. It catered to Americans.

SG: So you start, you, with your parents, did you speak mostly Japanese?

GA: With my parents, I did, yes.

SG: And did you, where did you learn to speak English with the customers?

GA: Oh, I just, it just came naturally I guess because I was able to speak English. Of course, I went to, started grammar school at age six. School is only two blocks away from the grocery store.

SG: Did your parents, how was their English?

GA: Enough to be understood. They were not fluent in English but enough to be understood. And my mother too, she also waited on customers, so she picked up English pretty fast.

SG: So they didn't rely on you to, for translation?

GA: Oh, no, no.

SG: So what kind of work did you do around the grocery store?

GA: Oh, filling shelves, bringing out the produce, displaying the produce. And in those days, the grocery stores were not self-service. You waited on each customer as they, when they came in. And as they decided on what to, what to buy, they would bring it to the counter. I would help them bring the items to the counter. When they got finished, of course, we would compute the total and collect the money. Stores are now operating, as you know, they are self-service, and it was nothing like that in those days.

SG: Did you enjoy working at the grocery store?

GA: Oh, I did. I had fun, yes.

SG: What are, do you have some fond memories that come to mind?

GA: Well, some of those customers came to be friends. And until just a few years ago, I was able to be in touch with them. Of course, now they are all gone and those days are gone forever.

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