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2-Step Father and Moving to Rural Country
Can you tell us about the wedding day when your mother re-married and how you felt?
This again goes back to children not being told anything. All we were told is we were going to move. This is my brother, by then was a sophomore in high school. I was in fourth grade and my younger sister must have been in second grade. We were told we were going to move, and so we go to San Jose and we stop off at the church, and I thought, the service was in Japanese, but I thought it was so much like the service my older sister went through. Oh, my brother knew what was going on and he walked out. We were not told. Then after the ceremony we go to a Chinese restaurant, that seemed to be the thing to do in those days. You have a reception later. They were all people we didn't know, and then we go to the house. My step-father had three children, an older son, and a daughter, and my younger sister and I were to share a room with her, and my brother was to share a room with the younger boy. So here we are, not told what was going on, because children weren't told, and thrust into that situation.
What was your brother's reaction like when he left the wedding?
See, he was five years older, he knew what was going on, and not being told- he just walked out. Somebody must have gone out after him because he came back.
Was he angry?
I think so, most upset.
Did he remain upset for a long time?
What happened was, shortly after that he was sent to Japan. He was sent to Japan to go to school and live with my grandparents, and I think that was the happiest time for him.
What was your initial reaction once you realized what had happened?
I'm young, I'm only fourth grade, so I think you just go along with it.
It didn't bother you?
I guess not.
As you grew older and started to understand what happened more did your opinion change?
No because this was Depression time, and my mother was having a hard time raising three children, and I think she had to do something.
How did life change for you after you moved in with your step family?
It was going to school, having to walk a half mile even to get the bus, this is country—life changed in that I was a city girl and moved into a farming community at that time. Everything changed, as walking half a mile to catch a school bus. But I think one adapts and I think I did. I think I have said before in my interview too that I became a snob and didn't associate with the other Japanese children because they are farming children from the farming community. If you know Japanese at all there are many dialects, and my mother was very proud that she was from the Tokyo area where she spoke the Tokyo dialect. The people who are farmers are from other areas, and so they have a different dialect which they speak. I speak the Tokyo dialect, so I'm not associating with these others because I can't understand them. I think now "Oh," but that's how I was, and so my friends were all Caucasian.
Did your step family consist of farmers?
He had a farm, yes.
Did they have that farming dialect?
Did that make a difference in your relationships with them?
There must have been, because right away the daughter who was there, my step sister then, she went into a home like an au pair, because she was older. She might have been out of high school—almost out of high school—and I can think of what a traumatic experience it was for her. It was just as hard on them as it was for us.
So there was some distance?
Could you please talk about living a double life of both American customs and Japanese customs?
As a child I learned Japanese culture in that I learned to do Japanese dancing. I learned to do what's called the classical NOH drama in Japan—the dances that go with it. It's only now that I appreciate what I went through because I know what it was all about, now I know what it's about. At the time it was just something that I had to do. Then you ask about the American culture, it was my life as a child speaking Japanese and English, you learn the Japanese culture, you learn the American culture and you just learn to live with both.
What was "it" all about?
The NOH drama? As a child I didn't know what it was. Now I know it's a classical drama, the particular dances that I learned, for instance are old folk tales, legends. But as a child I learned the words to it, learned to go through the motions, but didn't know what it was about.
Would you identify yourself as Japanese or American, or Japanese-American, as a child?
Probably more Japanese because the school I went to, I find out about two thirds of the students there were Japanese. The church was all Japanese, so our neighborhood was all Japanese so that I was probably very Japanese.
Before War as Au Pair
Do you remember the day you went to go live as an au pair?
I went to this family but I could go home on weekends or on Sundays anyway, so that I probably just took clothes, it probably meant I change high schools because I was going to Campbell but then I went to Los Gatos. So I would have to make new friends. The situation is new moving into a family of two boys, but I don't remember that it was a difficult time.
What was your reaction within the Caucasian family?
I didn't know anything was going to happen to me. Neither did they and I was not treated any differently.
Was their reaction any different from that of yours?
I don't think so, because by that time I am considering myself an American and I listen to the radio just like they were doing and reacted to the reports that we heard as they did.
Can you tell me more about working and living in an American house as an au pair?
It was learning how to eat food that was different, prepare food that was different. I remember this lady said "we're going to have cobbler for dessert tonight," and I had no idea what she was talking about, and I learned quickly because that was part of what I was to do was to help prepare dinner. I'm trying to think what else would I have learned that would be different—the way a family communicates with each other.
How is it different?
There's a lot more interaction, because as we are growing up, we are children, we are not to speak until it's our turn. We didn't express ourselves because it was just not allowed.
Were there kids in the Caucasian family.
Yes there were two boys.
Did you see a difference in the way you behaved around the house?
Because of the boys.
Was it different living with a culturally different family?
It wasn't for me. These two boys were like my younger brothers. They helped me with my homework as I helped them with theirs. They taught me how to play tennis. The younger one especially. We would go to movies, that's where I learned to appreciate culture that is. I was taken to concerts and it was always the younger one who went with me.
Did you run into any discrimination as a Japanese-American when you were with this family?
Not at all, not at all. There weren't that many. I had found out, I went to Los Gatos High from Saratoga, and I just recently met someone who was there at the same time I was, and we said we all knew each other because there was just maybe a handful of Asians. This is Los Gatos, so there were no African Americans that I remember. I don't know that there were any Latinos.
Did that kind of atmosphere change as the war neared?
I did not feel it, not in school. I just had a great time in high school.
Did you continue to hang out with those Caucasian boys at school?
There weren't enough Asians in my class so that I could be friends with anybody. My step brother was one of them in my class I think. But there was maybe two or three others who were girls and we're not particularly friends. Yes, we're acquaintances. My friends were Caucasian, and I was the only girl taking advanced math or physics. My acquaintances there were all the boys.
Did you do well in school?
Did your family pressure you to do well in school or were you self-driven?
What does it mean that you were "expected" to do well in school, how was that expressed?
I'm trying to think, how would she have told us? My older sister was good in school, my brother was excellent, and so I am following in their footsteps, so I'm supposed to be like them.
Do you recall everyone being expected to perform well?
I'm next to the youngest, and the youngest one was sickly as a child, so nothing was expected of her.
Did you put a lot of pressure on yourself to keep to the standard that your older siblings set?
I think I did, because I worked hard in school.
Did these expectations apply to other things other than school?
I think it was mostly school.
How did your sister, being sickly, alter the family dynamic?
The older sister was the first grandchild, and of course she's the first- born so she gets things alright. And then along came my brother. Actually I have another sister who was born in Japan and left there with my grandparents, so when you ask me at first about how many I have in my family, I really pause because I don't know whether to count her in or not, but she was left with my grandparents.
So how did your younger sister alter this dynamic?
She was the youngest one, so it's always "poor thing." My father died when she was four, I was six, and she was four, so poor thing because she's lost her father. My older sister, she graduated from high school and that very night is when my father died. So these two become rather special in my mother's eye, and to this day we say, "Those two are spoiled." And me being in-between I got the full brunt of it.
How close were you to your siblings?
Very close to my brother, and I just lost him the other day, because he was five years older, he was a great reader. He said that in the attic in the house we lived in, the lady had kept books, many books apparently. That's where he learned to read the classics. He then taught me to read and appreciate literature.
Do you have any specific memories about experiences with your brother?
Other than teaching me how to read? In recent times, I could talk with him about politics, people. I depended a lot on him for just a conversation—someone to talk to and get feedback from. He was more a talker, I was the listener.