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2-Before the War & Pearl Harbor
Were you aware of the war that was going on in the United States before you were interned?
I wasn't aware of a lot of things. I did know, for example, we went swimming. I guess it was with school. I'm trying to remember. Maybe I was in a group, I don't know. But we went swimming. We would go swimming to the pools, and then I could remember that I and some of the Japanese kids all sat outside. We had to sit on benches and watch the other kids go swimming because we weren't allowed to go swimming. Places like Sutro Baths. I could remember we all used to envy people who could go swimming there because we couldn't, but it never occurred to us to challenge it in any way. We just said, "Well, that's the way it is." But I did not encounter discrimination per se because we were in a sense prized. The teachers really loved us because we worked so hard. And we were so good. So when we were so good in American school, we let loose in the Japanese school. I felt so sorry for the teacher in Japanese school because everybody was so rambunctious. We would go to school till three o'clock or something, and then about from four to six was Japanese school. And we were terrible. I think if you ask most Japanese my age who went to Japanese school, they will say they did not learn Japanese. We socialized with each other, and the poor teachers were really distraught. When I was in high school, I used to cut Japanese school all the time. And the Japanese school teacher never told my parents because, you know, we were tuition. My father used to pay to have us go to Japanese school, but if we didn't appear then my father would not pay. So they didn't tell them, and we used to cut all of the time.
We had a social life of our own. Like junior high school I think—I loved elementary school—junior high was a little bit different because kids were becoming much more aware of themselves. I think of it in terms of kids teasing each other about who they like and stuff like that. I used to get really upset because they always paired me with this Japanese boy who I did not like at all, but the only person they could think of was another Japanese kid. But most of the people in Jean Parker School were Italian, and they were very open. I could remember my father used to give us fifteen cents for lunch on Mondays because my mother did not want to make sandwiches on Sunday night, so we would get that. If you could imagine, a group of us would go to a restaurant with five cents to get soup and we would sit there and drink soup. Then we would say, "My god, we got ten cents left," and we would go and there was a corner candy store and they had these penny candies. What's interesting is that they still have some of those little candies with these little bits of sugar on, these little sugar things on, and those whips that they have, the black whips and things like that. Well, they were all a penny a piece or two for a penny. So we would get five cents worth of candy, and then we would keep that five cents for something special. And I could remember once we kept our five cents, my sister and I kept our five cents for Christmas to give my mother and father a Christmas present. You know again, as I said, because we had a large family, and people were always surprised because we didn't really fight. My mother would not let us hit each other and she would not let us scream at each other. She would always stop that, so we got along very well.
Do you know of any families who were getting along as well as you and your family were?
Yes, some of our girlfriends had that. But, I remember these three boys who were like our brothers. We were really like them. We used to do a lot of things with them. But their father was very strict and these boys were really out of hand. It's interesting because my brother did a study—my brother is a professor at UCLA—and he did a study. He said one of the things that happened was, when the kids were too rambunctious and were too difficult, the families would send them to Japan so that they would learn a little discipline. So in this family there were three boys and they were my sisters' age. They were all a little bit older than I. They were very close to us, but I could remember seeing once going over there and they were defying their father. The father took them and put them under the faucet and put water on them, and they're screaming and kicking and we couldn't believe that. We'd get home and tell my mother about what had happened. They were difficult and he sent them to Japan. Two of them ended up in Japan because they were difficult. The third one, the middle guy, stayed here in the United States with his family.
I could remember things. For example, when I was a kid I could remember one of the men come running over to our house and he and his little boy came running to my house. My father said, "What's the matter?" and he said his wife ran aw ay. One of the things that happened was that these were all—my mother was married just looking at pictures—picture brides, and she was a picture bride. Sometimes those picture brides really had terrible, terrible experiences, and evidently this was one of them and the woman ran away. I could remember the little boy and the father crying and crying and saying, "I'm going to kill her. I'm going to kill her," and my father saying, "No, don't do that, don't do that." He never found her. He never found his wife. Many of the women, or actually I should say some of the women, went off to Colorado with their new husbands or whatever. But there wasn't that one happy—like what I'm describing my family to be. There were other families that had problems and a lot had to do with the poverty and the discrimination that they endured.
Can you explain what a picture bride is?
Yes, a picture bride. Let me tell you how my mother and father got together. As a picture bride, my mother said that her mother and my father's mother were washing clothes in the stream—they were living in rural Japan and washing—and my father's mother said, "You know, I have a son who is in the United States and he is looking for a bride, and would your daughter be interested?" My mother at that time was pretty old. If you are eighteen, you are over the hill, and she was at that time about twenty-one or twenty-two. She never told us why she didn't get married before, and we figured she might have been ill. In Japan, if you have tuberculosis or anything like that it was like a shame. So you were not marriageable material. We figured my mother must have had something like that because she was twenty-one, twenty-two when she got married, which was over the hill. But anyway she said, "My mother said, 'Yes, I have a daughter who would be fine.'" My mother went to a fortune-teller. My mother—she was in her twenties—went to a fortune-teller and said, "Look, I have an opportunity to get married to somebody in the States," or there was this other man who wanted to marry—his family wanted her to get married—who was living in the same area who was fairly wealthy. And so, my mother and father said, “You pick out which one you want.” And the fortune-teller said to her, "You'd do better if you went to the States." Can you imagine a fortune-teller telling her what to do? And so she did.
She talked about what it was like to get married. She said she was on the boat as a picture bride. They exchanged pictures, and my father was not handsome and my mother was not pretty, you know, really pretty. But they decided that this was going to be a stable thing. Their names went onto the roster in their town. Then they came to the United States. My mother said she was on the boat, she was looking out as she sees this young man, and he’s throwing rocks into the water. They went to the island, and they said he was throwing rocks in there. She said, "I bet you that's my husband," and it was. She said he was always different, always doing something kind of peculiar. But she said while he was waiting he was trying to skim rocks. My father must have been about five years older than her. Many times, the difference in age was very high. My father was kind of an entrepreneur. Although he only had a third grade education, my mother was a school teacher and the difference in their backgrounds was pretty sharp. But they seemed to get along okay, and mother and father, they had seven children. But a picture bride was one where that was the way they got married.
Pearl Harbor Day
How had your life change right up until you were interned after the war started?
We went to high school, and when I was in high school that was when I began to feel the difference, the difference between being a white American and an American of a minority group like the Japanese. And I had a black friend, but at Galileo there weren't many black kids. But the Japanese got together, the Chinese got together—we didn't do it together—but we had all kinds of social activities even though we were not part of the school activities per se. I could remember, for example, going to a prom and dancing all night just with my escort who came, whereas the other white kids were dancing with other white kids. And I think that's when we realized we've got to go in a group so that we would at least be able to exchange partners. So we had our own dances, our own socials, our own parties, very separate. We lived a separate life from the white life that we had with the high school that we went to. Although people in high school were okay, but they didn't have social ties. I used to help people with their homework because I always did my homework and gave it out if people wanted to copy some of the stuff. They were very happy to get that, but when they had a party in their house or whatever we were never invited. So we felt that distinction between the whites and between us as minority people.
When I went to Cal, we had again wonderful social groups of Japanese Americans, and to this day I see them. We have a group that meets—my college friends—but they are all Japanese Americans. I did not have any real good Caucasian friends. I was in my senior year. I was in the Fair Labor Standard Club—or something like that—to make sure that everybody got wages that were I think at that time forty cents an hour, and I remember working for forty cents an hour. We made sure that at least that was the minimum standard that they had. I knew people along that line, but never became close with them. My closest friends then and now are Japanese Americans. I regret that because I wish that I knew some people. I wish that I had been more forward in trying to make friends with them, but, you know, it was one of those things.
December 7th, are you leading up to December 7th? December 7th, we were in church, and we came out of church and we heard. At that time we had boys running up and down with extras. And they're saying, "Extra! Extra! The Japs Bomb Pearl Harbor." We looked at each other and said, "Where is Pearl Harbor?" We didn't know where it was. We came running home to my father. We said to my father, "Look at that, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor is in Hawaii. Why did they do that?" And my father who was very nationalistic said, "Oh, Japan wouldn't do that. That is British propaganda," he says. We said, "British propaganda? Is that what it is?"
I went to Cal, and Cal is a wonderful, wonderful place, I think. It really expanded my world in many ways. The world of literature, the world of history, the world of science, all of that was expanded. I was a liberal arts major for a long time, a psychology major. Let me tell you, when I went to Cal, I had an advisor and the advisor said, "Well, Miss Kitano, what would you like to do? What would you like to be?" I said, "I would like to be a teacher. I really want to be a teacher or a librarian." I said, "Teacher." And he said, "Well, I hate to tell you this," he said, "but there are no jobs for Japanese teachers," that Japanese Americans can not become teachers. And you know instead of challenging it, at that time I said, "Well, then what else could I be?," and he thought social worker, and my sister said, "Oh, be a social worker." So then I took psychology as my major and enjoyed that very much, wonderful teachers. But I could remember while I was in there that remnants of feelings of what was going on in the world began to seep into us even though we were a very closed Japanese American group. I remember going to a lecture just in September, and this guy—I don't know who he is, I can't remember who he was—but he came in to speak to the Japanese American group, our club. He said, "Things are not good between Japan and the United States. You know, there might possibly be a war." We all laughed. We said, "How could there possibly be a war between Japan and the United States?," because we didn't know enough to be able to see what was going on.
I could remember that we were really closed in on our own activities. One of the things that I tell, when I go to the University of California to speak, I tell them that we used to have things like treasure hunts on the campus, and we would be out at twelve o'clock at night looking for all of the clues, etc., etc. A bunch of girls going out there. Nobody ever thought that you would get hurt. Today, when I go to Cal at night, coming home my husband always calls and says, "Are you okay?" I have to check with him going back. But, it was so different, the times were so different. Everybody was poor. At Cal, we could immediately see the class distinctions of people who were able to live in some of the nice—we saw the sorority kids and how different they were from us. But, it didn't really bother us in any way because we had our own things we could be involved with.
December 7th comes, and we get this thing. We go home. Then I went to the library because it was during the period of finals at Cal. So we went to the library and there some of the girls were really upset. They began to cry. And I said, "Why are you crying?" And they said, "Because something is going to happen to us, something is going to happen to us because we're Japanese." We all kept saying, "But we're citizens, we're citizens." But it didn't seem to make any difference. At the beginning, things were pretty quiet. About a month later, the newspapers came out with a lot of stories about Pearl Harbor and how the Japanese in Hawaii sabotaged the war effort and things of that kind. We didn't know. We knew that we had friends in Hawaii. The first thing we worried about was, “Are they safe? Did the Japanese bombs hit them?” Evidently, some of them did. But we didn't know about that. So it was a terrible period. I could remember when getting into the war effort and being stranded in a Berkeley streetcar for about two hours one time, because the "Clear" didn't go through and we had to stay where we were. We were sitting in the streetcar like sitting ducks if they ever had a bomb. We were so totally unprepared—there were no places you could go to for shelter, or whatever. It was a period where really we felt odd because we're Japanese Americans. We have faces of the enemy. In January, the whole thing began to come apart. All these people began talking about the Japanese and how they were living close to the, I guess, vital parts of America—like the oil things—that they were close to the coast and they were flashing all kinds of messages, none of which were true, but they were all in the newspapers.