Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: George Tsugawa Interview
Narrator: George Tsugawa
Interviewer: Linda Tamura
Location: Woodland, Washington
Date: December 19, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-tgeorge-01-0003

<Begin Segment 3>

LT: George, your father was an Issei. Many, if not most of his customers were Caucasian. How did they communicate?

GT: Well, you know, this is fantastic and I can't even explain it. My dad, being Issei from Japan, could write English and read English. I can't explain how that happened, because most of the Isseis that were farming around there, they could just barely speak any English. Of course, they were good in Japanese, but their English was not very good. Then, I don't know where he learned that from, to be able to read and write that. In fact, he had this talent to do these things. The berry growers in that area, when I say the area, Banks, Mountaindale, all those around there, they had berry fields everywhere. They asked him to be kind of the leader or the president of the association. And here he is, he had no idea what a berry field was like, but he was their president because he could read and write English. And so that's what they elected him to be, the one to take care of the business for them.

LT: And about what time was that, and do you know what responsibilities he had?

GT: Well, let's see. About that time... I've lost time. I don't even remember what year that was when they moved from Washington to Hillsboro area. But it wasn't very long after he got settled in there that they elected him president of the association.

LT: I believe he moved in 1923 or '24?

GT: Well, that'd be about then, and that's about the time they asked him to be the president. And there were a lot of Japanese berry growers in that area at that time. And to show you just how the economy was at that time, I can still remember yet, to this day, these Japanese farmers had many acres, then they had nobody to pick 'em during the recession time. So what they did was it was all Caucasian berry pickers. They pitched camp, tents, and picked for the Japanese farmers. And everywhere you went, you saw these big camps of tents, and they were all Caucasian berry pickers. That's how bad the recession was at that time. I can't imagine them picking berries now, my gosh, you can't even get kids to pick 'em. But at that time, it was all families, Mom and Dad and their kids, and everybody moved out there during the summer months, lock stock and barrel, everything, they moved out there for the duration of the berry harvest. When that was over, they went back to Portland or wherever they came from.

LT: Thanks for that memory. Your father was busy with the produce market. What was your mother's role as you were growing up?

GT: Yeah, Mother's role was as a mother. She just could not hardly even speak English or even write English, but she could not hardly even speak it. So she had an awful time trying to wait on the Caucasian customers. So I think she was mostly in the background, as a mother would do for cooking and sewing and all the clothes and stuff. But that was her main goal just to keep the family going. There was a lot of us, too, at that time.

LT: Getting back to your father and his role in the market, do you remember watching him work with his customers? How did he interact with them? What did you see?

GT: I don't know if I was watching anything. Somehow he communicated with them, he sold things to them. I really don't know how he... but he must have been pretty nice to the Caucasians, because he had a pretty good following. But it took him time to get there, but he had quite a following of customers. But it must have been just polite, being polite to the Caucasians and everything, I guess that's how he was, done it. But otherwise, I'm not sure if he had a method or what, but don't know.

LT: I'm just wondering, how did he add the sales? Did he use an abacus or a cash resister?

GT: Hey, now, that's a good question. He did have an abacus there, and to this day, I don't know how you ever figure with those things, but I do remember Mom used it, too, but Dad had one all the time right by his side, that's right. I completely forgot about that. So that's what he must have used to do some figuring with. [Laughs]

LT: When you think about your father, what was he like? What was his personality like?

GT: Well, Dad, to me, his personality, as to us, to us kids, anyway, I think he was come up in the military style because he had a little bit of -- not a little bit, had had quite a bit of military in him yet. So he could have been very strict and rigid, very strict at times. I think he brought us up under the military system, because he used it on us.

LT: Can you give an example?

GT: Well, let's see, an example. No, he wouldn't stand for any goofing around. He was very military-style, and what he said, that's it. It's like that's the law, and there's no other way. And I do know that the time we were growing, I don't see much where we had much of a relationship with Dad. It was all military-style, "Just do as I say, don't question me," or that type of an attitude.

LT: What about your mother? How would you characterize her?

GT: See, now, Mother was the complete opposite. She was a very sweet person, very tender, she was just the complete opposite of Dad. So I guess between the two of them, it made it bearable to live there, but Mom was the back more as far as bringing up kids and tenderness and love. She had it all, where Dad had none.

LT: Can you give an example of your mother's tenderness?

GT: Well, gosh, I just can't give example. It's just the way she handled us kids, talked to us, and how we communicated is always tenderness and love there all the time. So that was probably the best I could tell you.

LT: What do you remember about the relationship between your mother and your father?

GT: It isn't like the American style, I can see that... I couldn't see any love there at all, like you would see in the American, the Caucasians. But there again, I guess he was the boss, and, "You do what I say," and we'd get along pretty good, then. But I think that's the only way, because there was no really a relationship like you would think for a married couple. Yeah, I think it was all military style.

LT: Can you think of any difficult situations they faced and how they might have addressed it together?

GT: Oh, boy. Gosh, no, I don't. No, I don't see any incident like that.

LT: Okay, that's okay.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2013 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.