Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gus Tanaka Interview
Narrator: Gus Tanaka
Interviewer: Linda Tamura
Location: Ontario, Oregon
Date: April 23, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-tgus-01-0002

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LT: And yet, in the first grade, when you received that red U, she had a significant role in helping you to perform well in school.

GT: That's right. Because he assigned my mom in teaching me how to spell. It was hard for me to understand afterwards how she was able to teach me how to spell words when she didn't know what she was teaching me, but she sat and worked with me hours on end how to do better in school. And largely through her efforts, I was getting to be a straight-A student.

LT: It seemed that your mother also was an observer who used some observations to help you learn by her own stories. As I recall, your father had asked your mother and you and your brother and sister to pick strawberries for three weeks, and you noticed a couple who were picking strawberries, doing something that you didn't really care to do, but your mother used that as a lesson for you?

GT: Yes. This couple was a Caucasian couple, and they were the first to get in the fields in the early morning, we could barely see, and they were the last to call it quits for the afternoon when it got too warm to pick strawberries and get it to the market. My mother would point to these kids and say, "Now, that married couple probably got married too soon, they had to earn enough to eat, so they took the best job that was, only job that they could find, and that was picking strawberries." They picked strawberries with more vigor than the rest of us out here. And says the reason they're doing that is that they want to get ahead in this world and not be strawberry pickers the rest of their lives. They must have other ambitions. And she used that as an example why we had to work so much harder than other kids in school.

LT: So what effect did that have on you?

GT: Well, I studied like the very dickens. And my dad always arranged toys at Christmastime that was designed to inspire me to work harder. For instance, when I was a little kid, when I could barely read simple things, he got me a -- I don't know if you remember a company called A.C. Gilbert. They made instructional chemistry sets and construction sets and games and so forth. And my dad would always make sure that I got something from A.C. Gilbert every Christmas and birthday time. And so I had plenty of things to work my brain. That had a great part in inspiring me to learn more about arithmetic, mathematics and so forth. So I was, by the time we got to high school, I knew more about Chemistry than the class would learn by the end of the time they graduated from high school. And that was a plus for me because I got, quickly got a reputation for being a good student right from day one. But I started at Reed College after finishing, graduating in May.

LT: That was 1941?

GT: 1941. And I started attending classes at Reed College that spring. Going there was hard because the city put a five-mile limit on the distance one could go from their home to anyplace without being in violation of the city security code. They're assuming that every "Jap" was a traitor, and they saw no reason why anyone would have to go more than five miles to get anything done that was absolutely necessary. And so I had to carry a little card that gave me permission to go to Reed College, first by trolley, Fifty-fourth Street down to Thirty-third which was the main cross town public transportation. It was by bus, and then they would actually drive into the college campus to drop the students off. So that's the way I was able to get to continue my education. The only problem was the... Reed College was a very liberal college. I think it still has a reputation for being very liberal. But the propaganda and the anger that took place at the time with the start of the war left them furious. So they weren't nearly as friendly with me as they might have been under ordinary circumstances.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2014 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.