Densho Digital Repository
Seattle JACL Oral History Collection
Title: Janice Deguchi Interview
Narrator: Janice Deguchi
Interviewers: Alison Fujimoto, Joy Misako St. Germain
Date: November 11, 2020
Densho ID: ddr-sjacl-2-24

<Begin Segment 1>

AF: Okay, thank you, Janice, again, for coming back and doing this. Again, this is just like a brief overview, I guess. The project is for the 100th anniversary of JACL, so we're going to do a bunch of pop up screens where we show basically the activism history of JACL. So a lot of these interviews will go into, like, I guess, sort of an archive so JACL can go back and use it. And also for us interns to pull information, important information that we get from you and other people that will be interviewing. So thank you for doing this again.

JD: Yeah, no problem.

AF: And so I'll be asking the questions again, I think you got them ahead of time. And so to Joy, and Joy, if you have anything you want to add at any point, you can just jump in. It's totally fine if you want to ask any questions of your own. And then at the end, I'll go back to Joy and see if she wants to add anything at all, and then we'll finish up. It'll be like maybe thirty to like sixty minutes. Yeah. I can start I guess asking the questions. So just some background information. Can you tell us, Janice, a bit about your background, where you grew up? Your family history during World War II, how they came to America, all of that?

JD: Okay, great, thank you. Let's see. So my family immigrated, gosh, I'm thinking like in the early 1900s. And also on my mom's side, they, my great grandfather and grandfather came over from Japan from Shizuoka-ken. And they came to make money, basically. And they moved to Bellevue and they were able to purchase a farm in Bellevue. So I think they were renting farmland for a while and farming, and then they ended up buying a piece of land that they were able to, because of alien land laws, weren't able to own property. But my aunt was an American citizen, �she was born in the U.S. And so she was old enough that they were able to put the property in her name. But I recall that my grandfather and great grandfather, after like regular farming, then they went to their new plot of land to clear it and prepare it to be a farm. So it was all for, they had to dynamite, you know, they had to cut down trees and dynamite stumps and all of that to clear the land to make a farm. And so they farmed there all the way up until World War II, and they actually were one of many Japanese American farmers that brought produce into the Pike Place Market on the ferry. So they'd go into town and sell the produce in the Pike Place Market. And my mom said that they made a lot of money at that, because there was no middleman to kind of take the profits, it was directly selling to the customer. So they were doing well. And then my grandparents, my great grandparents moved back to Japan. And they wanted to take my mom with them, but my grandmother wouldn't let them because she knew that my mom would just be a servant to them. And so stayed in the U.S.

And then they were interned in Tule Lake because they lived in Bellevue. I know Seattle people went to Minidoka and people that weren't in Seattle went other places, and so they went to Tule Lake, which was the segregation center. And they had a really rough time. My grandfather wanted to go back to Japan, he thought naively that Japan would win the war. And the rest of the family were like, no way. We're not going back to Japan. But it caused a lot of strife because of the pressure in that camp to, you know, be loyal to Japan. And so my aunt, the oldest daughter, my mom's older sister, was forced to renounce their citizenship. My Uncle Ed and Auntie Sue had to go to Japanese school so that they weren't going to American school. So they, when they got out of camp, they had to kind of go back and redo school because they didn't have a lot of the... they missed a couple years of American school because they were in Japanese school. So yeah, and then they sold the farm to Safeway, and lived in Seattle, and then my mom lived in... well, she was working in Bellevue house cleaning and stuff like that after the war. I know it was really tough. And she met my dad probably in the '50s and they got married and lived in the central area for a while and then moved to Beacon Hill where they were they spent the rest of their lives in Beacon Hill. That's where I grew up, Beacon Hill.

And then my dad's side -- oh, and there were like nine kids on my mom's side, so there were a lot of farm hands. No birth control back then. [Laughs] And then my dad's side, they're from Shiga-ken and I know less about them. So my grandmother grandfather came over probably around the same time, and then my grandmother had six kids. And unfortunately, her husband, my grandfather, died when she was still pregnant with her sixth kid, my Uncle Tommy. And so I know they really struggled. They didn't have anything. My grandmother had to do piecework so she was a seamstress, so she would just sew in her apartment and then sell that for piecework. So, yeah, they didn't have much and they really struggled. But they lived in the Eleanor Apartments for a while, you know, they lived in the International District for a while. And yeah, I mean, my dad growing up, he saved everything, we recycled everything, nothing went to waste. The chicken necks and just everything that you could think, he took care of everything, he never threw anything away, our cars, our everything was always use it 'til the last amount of, you know, used impossible. So yeah, and he went to Minidoka, he was a sophomore at U-Dub when the when the war hit, and then so he had, his studies were interrupted. They were in Idaho, I think he was just... I don't know if this was when they were in camp, but I know that he was arrested just for hanging around not doing anything and the police thought that he shouldn't be, you know, serving in the war or doing something more productive than just hanging out. He did serve in the MIS.. So he was he was in the MIS and then he went back to Japan after the war to just like help out his family and he like bought stuff at the PX and bring rice and even the clothes off his back, he left for them in Japan because they were so desperate and poor. But then he ended up working at the City of Seattle in the engineering department. And then I went to high school at Rainier Beach High School and then went to the University of Washington as well.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AF: And was there anything about the academics you studied at U-Dub or maybe even high school that contributed to your involvement in the Japanese community today or not really?

JD: Well, we're a part of the Seattle Betsuin Buddhist church, and so I grew up in that tradition. And so I had a lot of Japanese -- I had my church friends, and then I had my school friends. I wouldn't say that the church was very activist at that time, we were in like Camp Fire girls and my brother was in Scouts. But unlike today, where I think the Buddhist church is more activist and more open, we weren't really at that time. And then I didn't really know a lot about the Japanese American experience until probably college, and I took Tetsu Kashima's Asian American Studies, whatever, 201 class or, you know, your traditional classes and learned about... and then, you know, I joined JACL, well, this is after college. But while I was in college, I learned a lot about the Japanese American experience. We read Personal Justice Denied, which is the whole commission that studied the incarceration. So we read that, and that was one of our assigned texts as well as Frank... is it Miyamoto or Kitamura? I can't remember, on the history of Japanese Americans in the Seattle area. And we got to meet Gordon Hirabayashi. So, yeah, that was really cool to meet him in person and have that have that as part of your college coursework. But I guess that I didn't really know that I wanted to do stuff, you know, activism or that at all. And so after I was like, almost done with college, I signed up for a political campaign and thought I would help out Lloyd Hara, who was the city treasurer, run for state treasurer, Japanese American, and I got to meet other people. I got to meet Ruth Woo, [inaudible], Gary Locke, bunch of different people, Belle Nishioka, who's the one that encouraged me, recruited me to join the board of JACL. So I didn't even know much about JACL at all until I got involved in that kind of tangential way to community.

AF: And were you intimidated by it at all, I guess, like at becoming president of JACL at a young age?

JD: Well, yeah. I mean, I wasn't president until I spent a number of years on the board. And so the first thing I did on the board was the scholarship committee. I think that they give all the young people, like, "Here, you're young, you do Scholarship Committee." So I did Scholarship Committee, and then, you know, I got to, I didn't know how to run a meeting. I didn't know Robert's Rules, I didn't know any of that stuff. And so that's how I became president. I've had like, maybe six or seven years of watching and learning and kind of seeing other presidents, you know, lead meetings and stuff like that. So by the time I was president, I felt like it was this family and so it wasn't as intimidating because, you know, you're on a first name basis with all of these icons like Sam Shoji and Cherry Kinoshita and May Namba and, you know, Kazzie Katayama, their friends, so it didn't feel too intimidating.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AF: Got it. And can you talk about like any, I guess, significant accomplishments or takeaways you had from leading JACL in that period in your life?

JD: Yeah, it was... two things that come to mind. One is the campaign for, against I-200, which was the anti-affirmative action initiative in the state of Washington. And so that hit right about the time that I was, I think, president-elect or something like that. And I, you know, this is just right up our alley as JACL. Like we have to do something about I-200. And if you know, we just have to, and we have the organization, we have the membership, we have the money, we have leadership, and we are positioned to be able to activate ourselves to do something about I-200. And so we did a couple of things. First, you know, we're like, well, we need money so that we can, you know, mobilize and organize. And we had some, but we didn't have too much. So we wanted to... we, Sharon Sobie Seymour, Jeffrey Hattori, I think the three of us went down to JACL national board for money to help this campaign fight I-200, and we were rebuffed. They were, "Why don't we table this?" We came all the way here from Seattle to talk to you and ask you for this. And we didn't really get anywhere with them. And then around the corner was the convention. And so we knew that we wanted a bigger ask, I think we were going to ask for $5,000 or something like that from JACL national. And so when we got to convention time, they were putting in a resolution and we're going to ask $10,000. So we've doubled the ask to $10,000, and we lobbied that whole convention. And one of the vice presidents for JACL on the national board approached us and wanted us to make a backroom deal to lower it or, you know, like, well, how about something? And up until this point, like everybody we talked to was like, yeah, you go, Seattle, you got it. And I'm like, why would we agree to that? And if somebody wants to make an amendment to our motion, let them do it in the light of day, not agreeing to any backroom deal. So we passed the motion, nobody made an amendment, we got our $10,000 and we started, we brought the money to basically get APACE going. So Akemi Matsumoto basically used those, our seed money to create APACE, to create the organization to fight against I-200. And so that was one really, you know, memorable, cool triumph, I think.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

JD: And then one is the Pike Place Market art project. So we did, around the time I was president, the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund became available. So when redress passed, they passed two things. One was the $20,000 reparations, and the other one was to create an education fund. And so the Education Fund was going to become available. And so we knew these funds are going to be available and we're trying to figure out what can we do with these funds to educate the public about the internment? And so there were two projects, one that I helped get started but then passed off to Sharon. And that was Shorai, which was to create a curriculum for kids in school, K-12, around the incarceration and that experience. So her, and I think Mako Nakagawa and Larry Matsuda, and I'm not sure who else, but they kind of took that ball and ran with that for the chapter.

And then the other one was, because of my family history, I was really interested in the Pike Place Market, doing something, and I didn't know what, but doing something in the Pike Place Market that would commemorate and tell the story of the Japanese American farmers. And so I applied for, I don't remember how much, but we got $3,000 from the

Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. And I'm, like, very bitter about that, because, in my mind, you know, the Pike Place Market has millions of visitors that come every single year to learn about market, and they have no idea that Japanese Americans were over two-thirds of the farmers before the war. And once the war hit, those stalls were empty, and they were gone, just poof. And so, you know, we took the $3,000 and we did a call for artists. So we had a process to, you know, invite artists to submit proposals and a budget. But what would you do? What would you do in Pike Place Market? And Pike Place Market is a historic district, so you can't just put a big plaque up there. You have to get the approval of the historic commission. And they had just said, you know, previously, no more memorials because there's all kinds of memorials down there. There's all those bricks on the floors, they're just, it had been becoming the bronzing of the Pike Place Market, and so there was resistance to anything that would do that. And when we did work with them, work with the Pike Place Market, we pitched it as public art, because, you know, everybody likes public art, and it's not a memorial. And so we pitched it as public art and we selected Aki Sogabe, and she did the panels that you see above the pig. And then we asked her to do the panel, the beginning and the end, which basically is just kind of tells the story. Like in 1941, two-thirds of the farmers in the Pike Place Market were Japanese American. Today, none. And then the last level is Executive Order 9066, you know, incarcerated over 120,000 Japanese, Japanese Americans. And I don't remember what the exact wording is, but it just kind of tells the story, kind of bookends the story. And so, yeah, it was very proud. It took three years to get that from start to finish done. And we ended up getting money from King County, from the City of Seattle, from Seattle Foundation, all these other places, and so we were able to leverage that $3,000 and make it like $15,000, because that's how much it actually cost to do the installation.

AF: Were there any other issues you ran into, like, putting it up? Or was it just mostly maybe getting the money?

JD: The main issue was the historic commission, because we'd have to get their approval. But they were okay. And we had, I think one of the things that we did was I recruited Robert Shinbo, who is a landscape architect who lives in the market, who was a former president of the Pike Place Market Historic Commission. My ex-husband used to work at the Pike Place Market, so he knew the executive director and their director of property management. And so because of those inside connections, we kind of knew where we could push. So it needed to be public art. There was never any guarantee that it was going to happen, but I think we had a chance because we kind of knew a little bit about the landscape. When we first had the idea for it, I reached out to the Seattle Art Commission and I'm like, you know, there's a Japanese American woman that works at Seattle Art Commission, it's like hey, Japanese American woman, why don't you help us? And she's like, here's a book that we wrote on how to do public art. Never opened it, never even looked at the thing.

AF: That's cold.

JD: Yeah, thanks but no thanks. And then the other thing was the actual art. So Aki does paper cutting. So, well, you can't just... Pike Place Market is an open air market and you can't, paper cutting is not going to stand up to the elements. And she had proposed gator board, which is basically paper cutting, that's got like a coating on it. But Robert Shimbo, who's the landscape architect, he knows materials that, you know, could survive outside, and he had a vendor. So he was suggesting that we use porcelain enamel, which is basically what they make refrigerators out of and it's indestructible, but it's all different colors and you can do things with it. And so he's the one that sort of helped us kind of get from this concept of paper cutting to something indestructible, that will last and it's still there. This was in like 1999, that those panels were installed, and they're still there. And because, you know, it's this material, all you have to do is just hose it off. There's really no maintenance, keeping it.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AF: And I guess I'm just shifting away from JACL in particular, do you want to talk a little bit about the activities you did outside JACL? I know you're involved with a lot of organizations.

JD: So what was the question? What have I done outside?

AF: Yeah, outside of JACL, the orgs you were involved with, yeah.

JD: Well, one of the organizations that I'm involved in now is the Asian Pacific Directors Coalition. And that organization has been around for probably thirty years. And it was started by Alan Sugiyama when he was director of Center for Career Alternatives. And it has evolved over the years, from being sort of like all Asian, like nonprofit directors, to being more inclusive of just any leaders or emerging leaders, and nonprofit, for-profit, philanthropy, government, what have you. And so I've been the chair for three years, and tried to really expand our mission and being really clear about our mission. So it's kind of like an affinity group for Asian leaders across the sector. So we have... our goal is networking, so supporting each other, educating ourselves about issues and advocacy on things like appointments. So one of the things that we've been pushing Superintendent Denise Juneau on is, look, you know, like thirty percent, or I don't know, fifty percent of the population of students of Seattle Public Schools are Asian or Pacific Islander. So where is your API leaders in your cabinet? And we've called her to task on that a couple of times, I don't think she's really made any progress on it, unfortunately.

Another thing that we did was after the murder of George Floyd, we joined with the King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle to write a letter in support of their demands. And so we had over three hundred individuals, businesses and organizations sign on for our letter to meet with those two groups. And then, you know, we were trying to, like, build bridges, too, so we've invited... we had a reception for, like, some of the Asian director level people. So we had Leo [inaudible] Mami Hara, Marie Kurose, I can't remember who else. But anyways, you know, just like, hi, we want to we want to have relationship with you. We're so happy to see APIs in leadership positions in government and policymaking and so we want to be a bridge to you. And we want to have your back and we want to help, we want to hold you accountable but let's reach out to each other. So that's probably the most relevant, and the other non JACL thing that I do.

AF: Yeah, got it. And what else has, I guess, kept you motivated to keep in touch with the community? Or what even started your interest in working with the community?

AF: Well, because I didn't really know what that was. What is the community? And so I think, you know, when I got out of college, I just wanted to do something that would have an impact, and I really didn't know what. And so I just, you know, I joined JACL, because I wasn't really doing anything else. And I was invited by, you know, somebody that was my age, and I didn't really even know who Kip Tokuda was, or I really didn't even know who these people, even though they were like icons, found out later, of course, but yeah, I just, I didn't really know. But once I started doing it and started, you know, feeling like I was growing, and really, you know, JACL, I was in JACL for ten years, and that's where I got to meet people, like, you know, Al and Kip and Naomi Sanchez, and people like that, that inspired me to become, like, well, I want to do what they're doing, I want to be executive director of a nonprofit or something like that, something where it matters, you know, that I can have an impact. And so JACL was really kind of a training ground for that for me. Because like I said, when I started, I didn't know how to run a meeting. I didn't know Robert's Rules, I didn't know... I mean, I'd never done public art before. Like who was gonna let some twenty-something-year-old manage a whole public art project? Nobody, nobody. So I really had the permission of JACL to do what I wanted to do, or what, you know, I mean, I had the blessing and the support of JACL. But it was a way to gain experience, like real life, hands on experience, for high level work that no one else would necessarily entrust you to do. And because it's volunteer, you just get to do it. So, and it's just, there's so many different opportunities. Like, well, there's the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund there's I-200, there's always something, you know, kids in cages, I mean, JACL needs to be doing something about that stuff. And so, you know, it's just a great vehicle of, you know, there's resources, there's mentorship, there's a structure, there's credibility. I mean, JACL has name recognition and credibility to be able to say, "Yeah, I'm the president of JACL," or, I'm the chair of some research committee, Seattle JACL. And you don't get blown off because you're actually part of something, a bonafide organization.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AF: And I guess, like, with younger generations, do you see more involvement today getting involved with the community than you did maybe in your day?

JD: Yeah, I mean, I'm not involved in JACL so much anymore, so I really don't know. But I was looking at the APDC work, the organizing work that we did around the letter in support of King County Equity Now and Decriminalize Seattle, that was all young people that wrote that. I mean, I was like, okay, this is when we're gonna meet, eight o'clock. I was like, okay, I can meet tonight. And they're like, okay. But they showed up and they helped get, they helped write the letter. I mean, some of them are part of those networks on King County Equity Now and Decriminalize, so they are a part of those networks. And they are the ones helping to get those signatures, too. So those weren't all three hundred of my friends. You know, obviously, there were some in my network, but there were tons of people that were outside of my network that, you know, other young people were able to secure, it wasn't me. I mean, for things like that, like my son, he's twenty, and he likes demonstrating, he's at the CHOP or the CHAZ or whatever it was. Yeah, it's a thing that they're passionate about for sure.

AF: And I guess just going back to JACL, are there any people that we haven't mentioned that you think we could contact or any events that you think we haven't covered that are worth mentioning?

JD: Well, I would contact Sharon Sobie Seymour because of the Shorai project. I think that was a pretty amazing project. And I, you know, just to find out where they left off and where that is. Yeah, I mean, the whole... and I don't think this is necessarily JACL, I don't think, the recognizing that people that were, that couldn't finish their college degrees at University of Washington. So there was a movement when Tetsu Kashima was there, and I have the program for that, and there was a big ceremony and my mom got, you know, on behalf of my dad, like an honorary degree from the U-Dub because of that, so I think that that's really cool. Let me think. Yeah, and I think Sharon is also a good person, because of that last Puyallup Valley thing, that the Puyallup, not the Puyallup Fair, but there was a big program to bring some of the seniors to "Camp Harmony" for a program and ceremony and things like that. So I think that she was really behind that as well. So she would be really good to talk to.

AF: Okay, and I guess, just to wrap up, are there any other topics you wanted to cover personally, or anything else you wanted to touch on?

JD: Let's see, for JACL? Yeah, not... I think I just really am so grateful that the people, that JACL believed in me, and, you know, when I had no track record of anything, that I had a vehicle of all these, an organization, and I had mentors, and I had just a purpose to improve my community, and I could sort of grow my own leadership, because of, because of JACL. And I don't think I would be here without JACL. Because, like, who else is gonna give a twenty-something-year-old that kind of responsibility and that kind of opportunity? So I'm really grateful for the start that I got, that JACL gave me.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AF: �I'm all out of questions. Joy, if there's anything you want to add, you can go ahead.

JSG: No, so I learned a lot about you, Janice, that I didn't know, and it's wonderful to have worked with you, too. But I just think, just one question about the future of JACL and your thoughts about it. Because I think JACL is still relevant, as you pointed out, with the recent letters that you talked about with King County Equity Now, Decriminalize Seattle. What are your thoughts about how just the future of JACL, and what you might suggest that JACL might focus on to make sure that there's continuity and sustainability of the organization as we approach this 100 year time frame?

JD: Yeah, that's a really interesting question. I mean, I think that, you know, like I said, I don't think I would be here without JACL. And I know it's not a leadership development program like ACLF or EDI, it's not a leadership development program. But it creates leaders through its activism and through its mentorship and through its mission. And I think, you know, there's so much work to do. There's so much work to do to repair all the wrongs in society and just thinking about, like, our own reparations that we were able to win for our parents and grandparents. And is there... can we -- and I think we talked about this when we talked with Bill, that JACL has taken a position in support of reparations for formerly slave, you know, descendants of enslaved individuals. And so, you know, if there's some leadership that can be had around that, you know, or you know, locally too, like what is the repair and the reconciliation that needs to happen? I mean, I don't know. I mean, I think, you know, part of it is, like, what is the interest and the passion of the current membership of JACL, too, and that was kind of the beauty when I was in JACL. There was this fund for the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, and I was really passionate about telling this story that hadn't been told. Or I-200, I mean, that was a big thing that I cared deeply about. And so I don't think I would be the right person ask, I think JACL needs to ask its members and its board and the people that are going, the young people that are going to keep JACL going and what's relevant to them, and what, what's their passion for what JACL can do. Because, you know, it has a hundred years of history, that can help create that credibility to do the next thing. I mean, and that's why with APDC, like, it was one thing when I when I when I got there and took the chair, but now it's something different, because, for me, what I wanted it to be was leadership and networking and some advocacy and holding people accountable, and I wanted to be more inclusive. And so as the membership changes, as leadership changes, then JACL needs to change based on, you know, what's going to be responsive to them, and what direction they want to take it. So I guess I put that back on you, maybe Alison or Joy, like, where do you see JACL going?

AF: I think... I don't know. I'm kind of interested to see how my generation gets involved with JACL. Because I feel like a lot of the Japanese American friends I have don't know about Japanese history. And kind of like you said, Janice, I didn't learn about this history until I entered U-Dub, basically, and I started taking these courses, because this isn't taught in my high school. This isn't taught in middle school. So I think that's something that's really important is like, how do we talk about Japanese American history and get it implemented into our education system, because it's so overlooked. They spend like, maybe a paragraph on it, that's all I remember. So I think I'm interested to see, maybe yeah, how my generation could get more involved with just learning about Japanese history, and then how you branch from the Japanese community helping other communities. That, like, often suffer from the same, like, oppression or difficulties that we face in society. So yeah, that's what I want to kind of see where JACL goes with that, and their involvement with the younger generations, yeah.

JD: Yeah, yeah. And I would agree. And I don't think my son or my daughter got any of that either in their high school. I know I didn't. Because, I mean, my daughter's school was different, her elementary school. Like me, and my mom and my daughter, we all went down to one of her, like her third grade class. And I'm like, "This is my mother. She was in a camp," and read the story Baseball Saved Us and we talked about it. But not every school is inviting like that, not every school is like that, or you're never you're never going to have that kind of experience. But things like, like the Minidoka pilgrimage, my son participated in the Minidoka pilgrimage for the first time in 2019, and it's life changing. It was life changing. So he's a different person than before. Yeah, I mean, and, you know, there's different things for everybody, and some people are into that and some people are into civil rights or whatever. But yeah, yeah, there's definitely, you know, if you can find that whatever, spark or thing that that helps people or connects people, then yeah, that's where you should go.

AF: Yeah, definitely. Cool. Okay, any more questions, Joy, you have or any last thoughts you want to ask?

JSG: No. It's just nice to connect with you, Janice. And I hope to come to one of your APDC meetings, too, now that it's virtual.

JD: I know. It's a lot easier now that it's virtual.

AF: And I guess if we have any follow up questions, we can just email you again like last time, yeah. Thank you so much again for this.

JD: No problem, yeah. Thank you.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.