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1-Introductions, Berkeley & Tanforan
I'm Woody and I'm here interviewing Fumi Hayashi for the Urban Telling Their Stories website. It's February 9, 2006, in Berkeley, California.
I'm Fumi Hayashi and I was born in Alameda, California in 1926 and I've lived in Berkeley since I was two years old. Except for the time in Topaz and then schooling in St. Louis, I've returned and spent most of my life here in Berkeley.
What do you think happened to that easygoing attitude of the past?
I think that when we were growing up in Berkeley, we lived in neighborhoods and went to neighborhood schools, so we got to know each other quite well. We could play in peoples' yards—in each other's yards. We used to play out in the street in the evenings and we always felt safe.
I think these days that we worry about children and what might happen to them. Maybe it's because television shows all the worst things that could happen to children. We are always worried about picking up children after school or making sure that they arrive someplace safely. When we were very young, we used to walk maybe a mile to a public library every single Saturday and bring home a bunch of books and return them. Nobody ever thought that my mom had to come along with us or anything, we just did it. The youngest ones in our family weren't even in kindergarten yet and we used to walk that mile.
Your grandchildren have to be walked with to school?
They don't have to be walked to school but we are more concerned about them and whether their parents are home when they go to play, that type of thing.
Could you tell us about your junior high experience?
Junior high was very interesting. I think that in Berkeley there were clear lines in society. People who lived down—I guess you would call it a port of entry—down near Burbank School, had less money than the people who lived up a little higher, all the way up to the people up in the John Muir School, who were very wealthy. Even in those days the kids all went for ballet lessons, piano lessons, this lesson, that lesson, and every single day they would be going out for something. The people that came from my area, I think, had a lot harder time competing in school. It was very distinct. The kids that went to John Muir, if somebody ran for office, they only voted for other people who came from John Muir, and they said so.
Do you remember what kind of kids they hung out with? What they looked like?
I hung around with what I would call, "the kids that were going to go to college." It was very interesting, the local school here—which is just two blocks away from this church—had a History Day of some sort. They showed a picture of the school at that time. The school had maybe three Asian kids and maybe one or two black children and all the rest are all white. Now I think it's almost the other way around.
So most of you friends weren't Japanese?
No, there were a lot of Japanese people here, or what I consider a lot. If you lived in Chinatown, I'm sure you wouldn't consider it a lot. There were five churches in Berkeley, Japanese churches. There were a lot of Japanese people. I guess on my block, just facing one way, there were maybe four families of Japanese people, then the other ones who were not. So we played with black kids and white kids and there were Italian kids, and Scottish people, and what have you. All kinds of people. We all played together until we grew older. World War II disrupted not only our lives—the Japanese people who went to camps—but the lives of all the other people. They either came back from the army after two or three years or went on to college or something. I met most of them again, but of course we were not playing on the streets anymore. We just graduated from all that stuff.
You once said that you found it hard to see people that you knew before camp?
I still do. I find it very difficult.
But you met up with the people you used to play with on the streets? Right?
Yes, and partly it is age, and interests. I know there is one man that has really kept in touch with everybody that we all played with.
You think it is mainly age?
Maybe some of it has to do with age and interests. But, I think, going to camp, I probably feel closer to people who went through the same experience as I did. There is almost something that is the common experience. They say when Japanese meet it is always, "what camp did you go to?" And most of us know, say in the San Francisco, Bay Area.
How did you feel racism in Junior High? Did you feel its presence?
I think, again, with a lot of the white kids, I knew that I couldn't join their clubs. There was a Girl Scout Club and I was told that you have to be asked to join it. Almost all of the school organizations—like the student body—were run by the same kids.
So you felt like they had a lot of privileges?
I felt like they had a lot of privileges but I don't think I thought of it as racism.
What did you think of it?
My mother went to work—not full time, but part time—she cleaned other people's houses. She would always try to clean a house in four hours and I know it was a lot of work for her. Maybe one or two times in my life when she wasn't feeling well, I went with her. I could not keep up with her. My dad, he worked as a gardener. I remember once he had to have his appendix out. I had to call his customers to tell them that he wasn't coming in. One of the men that answered the phone, swore at me. I had never had that happen before. He swore at me and said, "Who is going to clean my yard?" I had no idea, because I was in junior high school then.
Can you recall your reaction to that?
I also spoke to one lady who told me that she knew who my dad worked for on the block, so she was going to talk to them, which was very nice of her, but not too helpful to me, because I couldn't tell from my dad's list which people they were. She was going to walk up and down her area and tell the people that the gardener wouldn't be able to come in.
You mentioned that after Pearl Harbor, your principal held an assembly and he told them that the Japanese kids had nothing to do with it. To me that is interesting, because after 9/11, there was absolutely nothing like that in the schools. Could you tell me what was different back then?
I think the difference in 9/11 is, unless it was somebody in your school that might have been connected with the perpetrators, it would be different. I know my sister had a friend who lived across the street from us. This friend told her, "I'm not going to play with you anymore because you're part of the Japs that bombed Pearl Harbor." My sister started to cry, and one of the teachers came and talked to her and told her that she was okay, and she was not to feel that way. But, of course, those two never stayed friends. I think because we always look like we are Japanese, we are—no matter what or how many generations you are in the country—you will always be associated with Japan or China, or whatever.
What does Pearl Harbor mean to you now?
When I went to Hawaii, I couldn't visit Pearl Harbor. One of the things I couldn't do is go to the cemetery where all the Japanese-American servicemen were buried. They really, really had a hard time with it in the war. They volunteered and they were up-front troops that really had to go in and sacrifice themselves. I thought, if I go in there I am going to go on a crying-jag, and it would just not do. I couldn't go in there.
What prevented you from visiting Pearl Harbor?
There is just too much. Too many bad memories, sad memories, I should say. I shouldn't say memories because I was never there before, because I was never in Hawaii before.
Your husband served in the war, right?
Right, and he was fortunate because they needed people to act as interpreters. The war had become less important in Europe and more important in the Pacific. So he was chosen to go to a language school where they had to listen to Japanese newscasts and things like that, and interpret. So he went to a school for a year at Fort Snelling in Minnesota. He went to Japan as an interpreter translator under, it would be General MacArthur at that time.
I'm curious on how you guys communicated when he was gone. You were in St. Louis?
How did you meet your husband? When and where?
I met him in Tanforan. The racetrack at Tanforan was turned into a holding center for Japanese Americans, and we lived in the horse stalls. There were six of us in a horse stall. My dad really got mad and raised a fuss. They finally put us in one of the newer barracks. You know, as people say, their claim to fame, "I lived in the same place as Seabiscuit," is the thing you hear these days. Those horse stalls were fairly clean but not really clean. I think there was one window on the front part of it, but not in the second half. If you were a small family, you only got one half of horse stall. So it's not very big.
Did you guys spend a lot of time together at Tanforan?
I guess we were there, maybe half a year.
You and your husband though?
Oh no, I wasn't married then, I was fifteen. I didn't get married until I came back after the war.
Did you spend time with him?
Yes, I met him there in Tanforan, after we moved into the barracks. His family was quarantined. They had mumps. They stayed in a 20 by 20 room, and were not allowed to leave. The father was the only one that could leave. So they just passed the mumps. Then they got measles or something, and they passed that back and forth.
You said your father was very relaxed when you were a child?
I think so. It all depends on how you look at things. My parents never made a big thing about whether we studied—somehow we knew that we were supposed to study. I can't really remember anybody saying so in so many words.
Why do you think your father, out of I don't know how many people, put up a fuss about your living situation?
I don't really know. They weren't ready for us at Tanforan when we went there. We all had to all walk across the racetrack to the grandstand to use the bathrooms. The bathrooms were soon overflowing. You just can't have that many people. There must have been, in the end, about eight thousand people there. They were not accustomed to having whole families staying there. We had to walk clear across that field. You know, a horse track gets real muddy—it's not like concrete sidewalks or something to walk on. It was a mess. I know there was one time I was like, "Can't make it," so you go in the bushes. It's very difficult.
Were you surprised by your dad?
I don't think so.
I'm curious nowadays, when you drive to the airport and you drive by that sign with the horses, what's that like for you?
I always think that someday I'll go, but I don't think I ever will. Actually, I would like to go to the San Bruno, the national archives there, and go through the archives. There was a Chinese man there that did a lot of work with the Angel Island building and he ran across pictures of Japanese war brides. He couldn't figure out the numerical sequence, what it meant. I think in Ellis Island it's the date or the name of the ship or something like that. But with these they were not able to find it. A lot of the Japanese ones are missing, so, we don't know where they are. But I'm sure they'll come up someplace.
I've been to the archives in Washington—I think they're in Maryland now. I've gone to the Bancroft a little bit, but the Bancroft ones have to be organized more. The acquisition/accessing process is very slow, or they may not have the money for it or something. A great deal of the JCL materials went to UCLA. I think some of those become very difficult to find. I'm sure nobody throws them away, but here they get sent the Ford plant, which is out in Richmond. Once they go out there then it becomes difficult to retrieve—unless you know how, or if the accessing process isn't completed or, at least, accessible.