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1-Introductions & Community
My name is Michael, my name is Alexa, and my name is Zach, and we are here on May 22nd, 2006, in Mill Valley, California, interviewing Janet Daijogo.
I am Janet Daijogo. I was born in San Francisco at the St. Francis Hospital on March 21, 1937. My parents where living in Pescadero—farming at that time. When I was 5 years old, World War II began and Pearl Harbor was bombed. At that time, we were relocated to Tanforan—the assembly center—and then we went to Topaz, Utah where I lived in a relocation camp until I was eight years old, at which time my father had a job teaching the Navy Japanese in Stillwater, Oklahoma. I went to the third grade there. Then my dad got a job for the Army—translating for the U.S. Army—and we went to Tokyo, Japan. There, I went to school from the fourth grade through high school, to the twelfth grade. After I graduated from high school, I went to the University of California at Berkeley and finished school there—got my teaching credential. I worked in San Francisco, South San Francisco, San Diego, Chula Vista, and Tokyo, Japan, where I began teaching kindergarten. Falling in love with kindergarten, I stayed at that level. I had two children of my own and then went back to school because I didn't like being a housewife. I started teaching at a school called the Marin Child Development Center, which was for developmentally challenged children—actually they were disturbed—and I did that for eighteen years. I was called a therapist teacher, as we were then, all of us at that school. Then, that school started to get a problem funding at which time I got a job through the San Francisco Chronicle at the Marin Country Day School, and there I taught kindergarten for twenty-one years. Now I'm here, with you all.
In the preliminary interview you mentioned a teacher that you had in Topaz. What was her name?
Miss Light. Miss Emily Light.
What year did you have her?
I had her in the first grade because they didn't have kindergarten there.
What was class size like?
I have no idea. I would say there were at least twenty of us.
Did you have any other teachers there?
It's interesting, I must have had a second grade teacher, but I have no memory of that. But I have a very clear memory of Ms. Light—I have a sense of her, I cant say I have an absolute clear memory because she conveyed to us that we were important to her—each one of us was important, and she somehow motivated but I had the sense she really cared and loved us. When somebody feels like that you can basically teach them anything. As a teacher I know that now. She gave you—whatever she did, she did with a passion, so we learned things from her like songs that she taught us. I still remember. Some of the songs are strange little songs. I can still recall it and every once in a while I find myself humming it. Some of the songs we knew but some I had never heard. I'm not sure if they came from her past, but I never heard them since.
Where there any songs that you remember?
"Once I had a marble as blue as blue can be. And once while playing in the grass it slipped away from me. And I have never found it yet and can't because you see it's turned into a violet as blue as blue can be." I have a really rotten voice.
Do you sing this for your students?
I never have because just as we were talking about that, I thought, "I could do that," because now I could play the ukulele, which I'm learning to do. Music is like my most low intelligence, when they talk about multiple intelligence theory, no doubt about it, it's on the same gene as the computer. I could do that. Have you ever heard that song? No. It's a "Ms. Light song." I think she taught us in the desert, I can see a violet and I didn't even know what a violet was at that point in my life. Now I never see a violet without thinking about that and it's like, "ding!" and violet and there's something very loving in me that gets connected to that. It's her, it's her sprit.
Did you keep in touch with her while you were in college?
I did, I wrote to her from the time I could write in the third grade and probably we communicated all through my high school, maybe just once or twice a year, but whenever you wrote, she always wrote back in her beautiful long hand. When I was in college she had a stroke and she still wrote, but she wrote with her left hand which was very tenuous. She kept communicating and I wrote back until finally I received a letter from one of her relatives that she had passed away. She was in her 80's and the retirement center—Black Mountain, I think, in North Carolina—she died there. I have to think it was a peaceful thing because she was very peaceful. That's what she conveyed. I guess she was one of the early teachers and maybe an important one. I think—except in Urban School probably—I probably can only remember five teachers in college and high school, but I always remembered her. Maybe she was the reason I hang out with the little kids because I know what it meant to me to be recognized and acknowledged as a little person and be empowered by somebody recognizing who I was.
What was the structure of your school when you were there? I know you were young but what were you learning in first grade?
I learned to read. We all—most of us couldn't read word by word, and suddenly—I remember the day that she let me go to another group of better readers because suddenly I just knew how to do it. You know how that happens? I didn't learn phonetically, I think in those days we learned more whole word approach and suddenly I could do it. It was like a miracle, it was the "ta-dah!" moment.
Was it English or Japanese?
It was all in English. I don't really speak Japanese. I wish I did but I actually refused to learn it.
Can you read Japanese?
"N.O." But the daughter you met, Tayme, she's fluent and her Caucasian husband is fluent in reading and writing and speaking.
You refused to learn Japanese?
I refused to learn Japanese. After relocation we went to Tokyo and we were on an Army base. All my friends were Caucasian. It was like a Little America that was set into the conquered country of Japan at that point. What we knew as kids was that those Japanese were the conquered people and we didn't really want to identify, nor could we, because we couldn't speak the language. My parents were both fluent in Japanese and they tried to—they wanted us to speak it. They said, "Okay, at dinner time," this was when I was in maybe junior high or high school, "We're just going to speak Japanese so we can talk about our day and you can learn Japanese because its going be a wonderful thing for you to be bilingual." We sat there at the dinner table and we wouldn't say anything. Talk about slitting your throat, our magical time, we blew it. Later I tried to learn it but it's difficult to learn it if you're not in the country and you don't have anyone to practice with. Both of my kids went to Japan—one of them majored in Japanese, so of course she is totally fluent. The other one was just interested. She learned enough Japanese that she could get around the country. It was a regrettable decision that we made as children. We just didn't want to do it.
Would it start making you more isolated from your friends? Or just nobody did that?
Nobody did that. All of my friends where Caucasian, there was nobody else on the army base—hardly anybody. I think there was one other Japanese American family and they lived on another base. We went to school with them but I didn't know them that well. It just wasn't cool. It had no relevance and I think we were trying very hard to be American. I was told in Hawaii many, many, many years later that I was "over-colonized." I would have to agree with them from that point of view because I just really wanted to distance myself from that part of my being.
How did your parents feel about that?
They probably were very disappointed in some ways but they were also wise enough not to insist or force because I think that wouldn't have served very much. To be spanked into learning something I don't think—as a teacher—is a good thing. We just weren't motivated.
Japanese Community Reactions
Did you ever feel for your race, for being Japanese American, or did you ever feel it was your fault for being interned?
I actually didn't know that it was a shameful thing until I was at the University of California. I think I told that story. My parents never talked about camp. I didn't really know—I mean they talked about camp but not with the feeling that it was a disgraceful thing because they simply—that generation did not talk about pain. It wasn't until afterwards, when Reagan apologized, that my mother said even one sentence about that, "This was injustice," or "This was an outrage." As I said I wasn't the kind of girl who asked questions—I didn't go to Urban School. I wasn't taught to analyze. It was my personality, I was kind of quiet and like a "good girl." I had other things to do. It wasn't a huge part of who I was or who I became, except at a subtle level.
Where you aware of people who were protesting? Was it in your own age group?
No. Not. No. Not in my age group. Probably the people that you interviewed that were older than I was—or older than I am—who were 18 or 19 or 20 years old, probably have strong feelings and bitterness about it. It was my mother who said, "It doesn't do any good to transmit bitterness." And they meant it. They never told us how they felt. Sometimes regret maybe emerged but mostly it was like the spirit of gaman, which is a Japanese word—I don't know exactly what it means but it's like, "stiff upper lip," or you just go through it. If it's hard, you go through it. You bear up. It's kind of like the Samurai spirit. You don't whine. You don't complain.
Will you say a little more about this time period when Reagan apologized? I'm curious because you said you never heard anybody in your family talk about it prior to that but you remember that time frame. Can you remember any events around Reagan coming out on this issue and the reaction of your family?
Not so much. We were aware when the Reparations Committee started gathering speed. Among the JACL—the Japanese American Citizens League—and people who were really looking for reparations and for apology. Sam—my husband then—and I went to a couple of the meetings and were absolutely amazed at how focused and almost—it wasn't militant because the Japanese have a softer way of being—but it was absolutely—they believed it was going to happen and they were not going to be deterred. These were meetings we went to in the city. They were people who were a community. Sam and I—my husband and I—were not part of the Japanese community because we lived in Marin and neither one of us—it was who we were, we were not involved with that generation, with the part of the Japanese American community that made that happen—and hats off to them—we were not part of that. We were on the periphery, way on the periphery—interested, and dubious that anything was going to happen. When it did, we were so astonished and also amazed and grateful that that happened—that those people were able to make it happen. I'm sure leaders that you would be able to name as you read that spearheaded that. They were mainly, I think, Nisei-Sansei kind of representatives that did that.
Did you ever feel frustrated because you said that JACL had their own way of going about fighting this? Did you feel frustrated by the lack of indirect confrontation?
No, not at all. I think that however they did it, it worked. If they did it in a softer way than another style, I think that, whatever works to bring justice is good. I think they did it in their own way. There's a—I don't know if this is true but when we went to one of these meetings, the people who went—there was one contingent who were invited to the White House—or they got into the White House—they had an appointment for 45 minutes or something, and they said, "What are we going to say to the President." What they decided to do was they took a book of the 442nd military troops‚ the most decorated troop in World War 2. They took that coffee table book because they that that would speak to him, knowing who he was in a way that then a lot of cerebral kind of ways. They went right to a way that they thought. I guess it worked. They got there and they presented the book and said a little bit about it and because that regiment had already been honored it was like a direct line to whatever to get him on their side. It turned out he was the president who issued the apology. And the money.
Which was more important to you?
Way the apology. I remember being at one of the meetings and they talked about reparations and apology, those two things. They felt that the government would not take just an apology seriously unless it were tied to the money because this is America. That's the way it went. The government issued the apology with the check.
What does that mean?
It means money speaks.
Do you think the money was to pay off the guilt the U.S. government felt?
I think it was a token because nothing can really repay three years of people's lives just in the middle of their lives. My parents were in their mid-thirties and to just be lifted out of your life and your livelihood and taken—really as a prisoner—to somewhere you didn't want to go—you didn't know where you were going and you didn't like it when you got there—was an astounding thing. Not that things hadn't happened in our history, heaven knows, but I think that it was really the apology and the acknowledgement that this was an unconstitutional outrageous way to treat a citizen on the basis of their race.