Densho Digital Repository
JACL Philadelphia Oral History Collection
Title: Hiroshi Uyehara Interview
Narrator: Hiroshi Uyehara
Interviewer: Herbert J. Horikawa
Location: Medford, New Jersey
Date: October 23, 1994
Densho ID: ddr-phljacl-1-13

<Begin Segment 1>

HH: This is Sunday, October 23rd. We're recording this project today at Medford Leas, New Jersey. What is your full name?

HU: My full name is Hiroshi Uyehara.

HH: What is the name of your spouse?

HU: My wife's name is Grayce.

HH: And how many siblings do you have?

HU: I have one brother and one sister.

HH: At this point, then, how many children do you have?

HU: I have four children.

HH: And who are they?

HU: Christopher is the oldest, he's fifty-one, Lisa is forty-nine, Lawrence is forty-seven. I don't know whether I got that right. I don't... yeah, I have to read, refer to my notes. Christopher is forty-six, Lisa is forty-four, Larry is forty-two, and Paul is thirty-nine.

HH: When were you born?

HU: I was born January 1, 1916.

HH: January 1st?

HU: January 1st.

HH: 1916, New Year's Day. And where were you born?

HU: I was born in Oakland, California.

HH: And what was the occupation of your father?

HU: My father's occupation was a shoe repair man.

HH: Where did you fall in, in the children in the family? Were you oldest?

HU: Well, I was the oldest, because there was an older brother, but he died at age, he was only one year old when he died.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

HH: So you lived in Oakland, California?

HU: I lived in Oakland, California, for the first five years. And then we moved down to Los Angeles when my father started a kamaboko factory, which was a fish cake, fish cakes.

HH: I see. What kind of school did you attend?

HU: Well, I attended kindergarten, then I went to Ninth Street Elementary School, the Lafayette junior high school, and Thomas Jefferson High School. Then I went to, two years to UCLA, and then I finished at UC Berkeley in 1937.

HH: And what did you do after you graduated from Berkeley?

HU: Well, I couldn't find a job. In fact, I really didn't look for a job, because I knew that most Niseis, even if they got a degree, it was very difficult to find a job. So I was working with my father. By that time, he had moved his shop to Terminal Island, and I was working in his shoe repair shop for about a year or so. Then he got me a job working as a fisherman in Terminal Island. Isseis had a lot of fishing boats. So I worked, I don't remember, two or three years as a fisherman.

HH: You mean going out to sea?

HU: Going out to sea.

HH: What kind of fish did you catch?

HU: Well, in the summertime, we caught tuna and mackerel, and then in the wintertime we caught sardines.

HH: I see. And this is all while you were carrying a degree in, was it electrical engineering?

HU: That's right.

HH: And did you use any of that education at all?

HU: Well, then, one of my classmates at Cal Berkeley, he told me that they're hiring some people at the Department of Water and Power in the City of Los Angeles, so I went there and I got a job as an electrical draftsman. And later I found out there was a whole group of them working in another building, working on a new power plant.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

HH: So that's what you were doing prior to December 7th?

HU: Well, I guess right after Pearl Harbor, you know, in fact, I was sitting, we all listened to President Roosevelt's radio broadcast. And here, I was the only Japanese American in that particular department, you know. But then soon after that, I guess by the end of January, we were all discharged, all the civil service workers.

HH: Because you were Japanese American?

HU: That's right, but they didn't tell us any reason why we were discharged or anything. Well, we knew why we were discharged.

HH: What were some of the other kinds of experiences you've had regarding discrimination? For instance, one of the things that you did or you did not do was look for a job after graduating because you didn't think you could get a job. Other than areas of employment, can you think of other areas and other ways in which Japanese Americans were discriminated against?

HU: Well, I don't think I... I guess must have stayed away from any incidents that, were I could... we were well aware that there was discrimination, so I guess I didn't go into any areas where you might experience discrimination. I was just trying to remember, I used to go swimming at the Evergreen Park. And I don't remember whether we were excluded from that, but I know I used to go every day during the summer. But then I also heard that other places that, only time you could go swimming was the day before they changed the water or something.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

HH: At this point, the Second World War has just started. What happened to you after Executive Order 9066?

HU: Well, at the end of January, I was discharged. I think I got a job as a bus driver for the Evergreen Baptist Church, I think it was Kimiko something, day school or something. So that's what I was doing, and I had to get a license to learn how to drive a bus, and that's what I was doing. Then later on, we got this exclusion order on the telephone posts, and we were throwing away, I had a small glass, I threw that into an empty lot. Because we heard too many rumors about people having to get rid of the photographs of their relatives in Japan that had military uniforms on. But we didn't get rid of those things like that, but we heard other people had done that. And then, of course, we had to turn in our cameras. I had a box camera, I never did get it back. We took it to the closest police station. So then we had to pack and get ready for evacuation, and my father, he had a sewing machine in the shoe repair shop that, well, even before that, my father had to move his, all of his machinery and goods, and I had to rent a low bed truck because we had to take away the machinery. And then we had to take it to see the... the stitching machine was, we had to pay a royalty of five dollars a month and it didn't belong to us, I guess. So we had to take it back to the company that owned the machine and then we left all the other machinery right there. And then my father was also selling new shoes and rubber boots, you know, hip boots to the fishermen. And so we had to take them all back to Los Angeles and put 'em in the garage, and then we had to contact secondhand dealers to buy the shoes. And so we went through quite an ordeal. I think we got a pretty good price, and we got rid of all that merchandise.

HH: What was the first relocation camp you had to move to?

HU: Well, we went to the Santa Anita Assembly Center where there were about twenty thousand people there. Then we got a job there working in each district area had a post office, I worked in the post office.

HH: How many, how much time did you have to move from your home to Santa Anita?

HU: Well, I don't remember, but we had enough time, and so we had to sell off... I remember selling our gas stove, and then there were a few things that we left with our next door neighbor, who happened to, I think was a Mexican, and he kept that in his cellar for us.

HH: From Santa Anita, where did you go?

HU: Well, we went by train, you know, with military escort, all the way down to Rohwer, Arkansas.

HH: I see, okay. So you went to Arkansas. Now, prior to this time, were you affiliated with JACL?

HU: Well, I remember I was a member of JACL. I don't know whether it was Terminal Island or Los Angeles, I don't remember which one. But I remember going to the JACL office in downtown, Japantown in Los Angeles. So I think I was a member from way back then.

HH: Do you recall what motivated you to become affiliated with JACL at that time?

HU: Well, I don't know what motivated me, but I know at that time, the emphasis was becoming a better American citizen, you know, to register and vote.

HH: Mostly to, as another way of becoming an American?

HU: That's right.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

HH: So you were in Rohwer, Arkansas, and then from Rohwer, what did you do after that, from Rohwer?

HU: Well, I applied for leave, and then was delayed for about six months because apparently there was another person with the same name, and they had to investigate me further until I got finally released. I came out to Philadelphia in January of 1944. It was just at the same time that the Eastern Defense Command had opened up. The reason why I came to Philadelphia was because there were too many people going to Chicago and to Denver. I said, "Well, I'll just go east then." I looked it up in the encyclopedia, all these Boston, New York and all that, and I decided on Philadelphia because there was a lot of manufacturing there.

HH: What were the circumstances surrounding your marriage? Where did you meet your wife and when did you get married?

HU: Well, you know, there were a few Niseis had come here before me, before us, and there was a Nisei council there and they met at the International House on 645 North Fifteenth Street. And we had something going on every month. So that's where all the Niseis congregated, and we used to put out a, we used to go to Twelfth and Chestnut Street, upstairs using the typewriters, and we used to publish a newsletter there. And one night, you cut the stencils, and you write it off under mimeograph, and staple it and address it, and take it down to the post office and then go home. We used to do that whole thing in one night.

HH: So this is where, I'm assuming this is where you met your wife?

HU: That's right. Well, there was no other place where we could meet, you know.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

HH: And then what kind of work were you doing at that time?

HU: Well, I had looked around and found a job, but then I couldn't find a job as an engineer, so I found a job as an electrical draftsman at Westinghouse Electric Corporation in Lester, Pennsylvania, but my application, I had to fill out a big form to get clearance from the Provost Marshal's office in Baltimore. So the first six months, I was working at the Cuneo Press. I was a paper machine loader. What happens is you get these big pieces of paper that have been printed, and you put it on a machine that cuts it and folds it. Eventually, you get on the bigger machine that will put all the pages together and then cut the fourth, I mean, the three sides to make a magazine. They used to do Time and Life and Good Housekeeping, all kinds of magazines that were printed and published there, so that's what we did.

HH: Since we're on this topic, what kind of job did you have until retired recently?

HU: Well, as soon as my clearance came through, I went to Westinghouse and I worked there for, as a draftsman for some time, and then later on became a drafting supervisor, and then in 1976, I decided to apply for an opening as an electrical engineer in the control group. And I stayed in there until I retired in 1982, and by that time, the division had broken up and someone in manufacturing had gone to Charlotte, North Carolina, and then eventually the engineering department moved on to Orlando, Florida. And I decided, well, I don't think I'll go down to Orlando, because my wife had a job in the school system, and to move down to Orlando and find a comparable job would be pretty difficult. So I stayed on, I think I was sixty-seven by the time I actually retired from Westinghouse. So I was there thirty-nine years at Westinghouse.

HH: Let's see, thirty-nine years.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

HH: Now, throughout this time, you were in Philadelphia, and it really goes back to your times and your days in California. You were, had the beginnings with JACL in California, but you continued here in Philadelphia. What are some of the various things you've been involved with as far as JACL is concerned?

HU: Well, I was, I joined the Nisei Council, and then later on, Mas Sato, the Japanese secretary of JACL in San Francisco, he came to Philadelphia. He wanted to form a chapter, so then I was, I think I was the president at the time, but then I'm the president of the Nisei Council, so I can't do it, so you'll have to see somebody else. So he got a hold of Tetsu Osaki and Jack Ozawa, and they formed the first JACL chapter in Philadelphia. And then when that was formed, then we dissolved our group and we merged with the JACL chapter.

HH: You have done many things with JACL since then.

HU: Well, I was the president in 1959, but my treasurer married the secretary and they left, and I had to struggle in '59 to even run the chapter because of... you know, every year we change the president, you know, and we had a hard time trying to get people to run and keep the chapter going. So right now, I'm the chapter treasurer now.

HH: For many years you were also the historian.

HU: Yeah, I would be the historian, I mean, by default. In fact, I can't even keep track of the stuff everybody gives me. They give me photographs, I'm keeping them separate, and then every year, someone is supposed to make up a historian's book, and I had quite a few volumes of that in the basement here. And I know I made a list once of all the albums, but I know different people have albums in their records someplace, and we've got to get them all together and then decide what we're going to do, and maybe we'll have to give 'em to the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies eventually.

HH: I understand that, if there's any one person who knows about the history of JACL, not only nationally but in particular in the Philadelphia area, it would be you. Would you agree with that?

HU: Well, I don't think I know that much about the history of JACL in Philadelphia because Grayce, she was the one that really helped me when I one of presidents of the Nisei Council before JACL chapter started, because she's been in JACL longer than I have.

HH: A considerable time nonetheless.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

HH: As far as your life in Philadelphia is concerned, how would you describe the level of acceptance or discrimination that you experienced here in Philadelphia?

HU: Well, you know, after, I don't know when after I started at Westinghouse, that somebody told me that even after I was accepted for employment office there, but then there was a question of who was I going to work, which department I was going to work in, even in the drafting area. They have what they call squad leaders. They had to go to all the squad leaders, find out who would accept me. And I didn't know that until way later, that this particular squad leader was, he was open minded about accepting me. I didn't think I would have any problem that way.

HH: How about as far as housing? Did you experience any kind of --

HU: Well, yeah. In housing, we had a problem because we bought a, when we first started, we were living in a housing, federal housing project. And then from there, we went to Ridley Park, we bought a house there. Well, before we bought that house, we were looking at another house in the small, very small development. And we put our down payment down and then a week later, they told us that... let's see, what was the reason they said that we're not allowed to sell to Japanese Americans or something like that. And so we took back our, or let other people would object to having us in that neighborhood. We got that sort of thing in a couple places where we went and tried to buy a house. But we finally found a house in Ridley Park. And we lived there, I was there about five years, and then we found a place in Chester County in Westtown Township, and we lived there for thirty-nine years and we had no problems as far as housing.

HH: As far as the education of your children are concerned, did your children experience any kind of discrimination?

HU: No, no. They were all well-accepted.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

HH: And, let's see. When you first arrived in Philadelphia, what kind of resources did you have at that time? Did the government give you money to make the adjustment?

HU: Well, when I was going out to Philadelphia from the Rohwer relocation center, they give you twenty-five dollars and they paid your train fare, and I don't know what the train fare was. And we landed here in the train station. I don't remember whether the hostel still was there, but there was a WRA office here, you know, the War Relocation office that had been established. We went there and they would give you some indication of where you might find apartments to rent or possible employment.

HH: Are you saying that when you came to Philadelphia you had your train fare and twenty-five dollars and that was it?

HU: Well, that's what the government took care of, that's right.

HH: But you may have brought some of your own money besides that.

HU: Yeah, I don't remember how much money I brought or probably had only one suitcase of clothes.

HH: Did you have any idea of what you would do if you happened to, in some kind of crisis as far as help was concerned, became ill or something?

HU: No, I had no idea what I would have done if I had gotten ill at the time. [Laughs]

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

HH: Do you identify yourself as one of the "quiet Americans"?

HU: That's right. I consider myself a loner, I guess. I'm not that, very social, I don't make friends that easily.

HH: How about being visible or invisible or conspicuous? Do you have any feelings about any one of those conditions? Do you prefer being inconspicuous?

HU: Yeah, I like being inconspicuous, I don't like to stand out in the public. I'm not that forward.

HH: And did you ever, as you were in the process of growing up, did you ever remember a time when you were ashamed of being a Japanese American?

HU: No, I don't think I was ever ashamed of being a Japanese American. I know... no.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

HH: In your home that you were growing up in California, what was the primary language in your home?

HU: Well, because my mother and father, my father could speak English than my mother, so my mother was mostly Japanese. But in school, everything was English, so I had no problem with growing up with Japanese in the home and English outside.

HH: Many Nisei went to Japanese school after regular school. Were you among those?

HU: Yeah. My parents thought that I should learn Japanese, so I went to, I was sent to Japanese school. I went about ten years, I went all the way through high school. Forty-five minutes a day, six days a week for ten years.

HH: Six days a week?

HU: Six days a week. We used to go on Saturdays, but it was only forty-five minutes a day.

HH: Do you still maintain your language?

HU: Well, on and off.

HH: Can you read and write?

HU: I can read a little bit and I can write enough by referring back to some... I bought a book, how to write letters in Japanese, you know, in Japanese now, the simple one. And so sometimes I write letters to my relatives in Japan, my cousins. But although some of the cousins, I can write, like my Christmas letters all in English, and I send that to them and sometimes will write something in Japanese.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

HH: To what extent can you identify with other people of color in this country such as Latinos, African Americans?

HU: Well, see, in Los Angeles, I went to Lafayette junior high and, well, Ninth Street School and Lafayette junior high, Thomas Jefferson High. Well, I would think at Thomas Jefferson High, I think it was fifty percent Black. And then there was Jewish people, Russian people, Filipinos, Chinese, and then the Japanese. So it was a pretty cosmopolitan school. And then I grew up away from the Japanese community. It was only about five or six Japanese families in the area that I lived, but then there were Mexican families, so my playmates were Mexicans mostly.

HH: So you were very, as far as being multicultural considering you grew up with a variety of people. Would you say that the kinds of concerns that Asian Americans had are similar to those as Latinos and African Americans?

HU: Yeah, I would think so.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

HH: You've heard the term "model minority" as Asian Americans are often referred to as a "model minority."

HU: That's right.

HH: How do you feel about that label?

HU: Well, being a "model minority" gives you a, you have a good reputation. On the other hand, of course, nowadays there are a lot of recent immigrants from Asia, and some of those, they didn't come with many of the advantages that we came with. At least if your parents were well-educated, then you became well-educated because of their aspirations for you.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

HH: As you sit here today, what would you label as some of the characteristics that you possess in your personality that are attributable to you being a Japanese American?

HU: Well, I don't know whether it's attributable because I grew up in a, with parents of Japanese descent, but then, you know, naturally I got some of their characteristics. Because I'm a hard-working guy, serious. I don't know too many jokes. [Laughs]

HH: Okay, yeah. As you look back from your days in California to days working in California and the days also at Rohwer and you're arriving Philadelphia, what are some of the events, one or two events that stand out most clearly in your mind as being memorable?

HU: Well, you know, in Rohwer, I think eventually I became a Sunday school superintendent in Rohwer, and I had a lot of Sunday school teachers helping me. And I never thought I'd become a Sunday school superintendent because there were so many other more capable people ahead of me when I was in California. So I said, well, I mean, I guess when the more adventuresome left the camp and I got an opportunity to be a superintendent, but I never thought I'd be doing that sort of thing.

HH: For a person who doesn't like to be visible, you find yourself in a place that's very, very visible.

HU: [Laughs] In fact, I used to like to sing, but I can't read music that well. And I remember one time I was asked to sing a duet, and then, you know, I can sing bass, but if I have to sing anything else, I have a hard time reading the music, and I remember I was embarrassed. I mean, I don't think I was reading the music. [Laughs]

HH: I know that people in Philadelphia value you very much. Thank you very much.

HU: Okay, you're welcome.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1994 JACL Philadelphia. All Rights Reserved.