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April 6, 2006 - Part 2 of 6

Section below transcribed by Joseph Werhan (intern).
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How old were you during this time?

At that time I was about twenty-two or twenty-three.

Are there specific events that you can remember prior to this that encouraged you to do this work? What made you decide to do this work?

The main thing concerning Japanese-Americans was that we couldn't get jobs when we got out of school. That was the key thing that moved us. We felt that we had to do something and that is why we got involved in that. At that time there wasn't much we could do because we did not have much support to fight anything. That is why it was only after the camps were over that we got involved in the civil rights movement. Then our young kids who graduated became lawyers. They're the ones that started all this movement. That's how we got involved in fighting for our civil rights and the civil rights movement after the war.

How did you feel about the war between Japan and China?

Before the war broke out we studied civil rights. We came to the conclusion that the Japanese militarists fighting and going into China was wrong. We had resolutions passed against the Japanese militarists going into China. The Nisei Young Democrats took this position, and of course the Japanese leaders of the JACL didn't like it because they said we were being anti-Japanese. I said we were not being “anti-Japanese” we were “anti-Japanese militarists." There is a difference. We were not against the Japanese people.  We pointed out this difference and we had resolutions passed in the Nisei Young Democrats against sending oil—which was being sent from San Diego. American ships were sending oil over to Japan. They were sending scrap iron to Japan. We put out resolutions against it and sent letters to Congress urging that they stop sending the war materials to Japan. This was a position that we took before Pearl Harbor. People don't realize this they think that all Japanese think alike. That was one of the reasons General DeWitt gave, "You can't tell what the Japanese are thinking because they all think alike." The Nisei Young Democrats took a position against the Japanese Militarists and of course we were against Hitler too. We were against sending war materials to any place.

Did you manage to get any support from Congress and other progressive unions?

The reaction from the Congress were the same as with any other group. Any other progressive group that took a position were not treated as friends by our Congress. However, the progressives began to see the difference and that was how we got support from the so-called progressive unions—like the Steel Workers' Union, the United Electrical Union, and others. We got support from them. When Pearl Harbor happened and the Executive Order 9066 came out, I went around to the unions and asked for their support to fight against this. They wouldn't do it. They said that if we did that then it would be against our war effort. They didn't want to get involved in fighting the Japanese evacuation. That is the reason why we couldn't get any support—because the progressives wouldn't take a position on it. No one came out against this thing and Nisei Young Democrats didn't come out against it openly either.

After this resolution came out we finally—among the Nisei Young Democrats—discussed this and said that we were against it but we would cooperate with the government.  And that was our position concerning the evacuation at the time.  We were against it in principle because we saw that we didn't have the strength to fight it all the way.  Since no other organizations supported us we couldn't fight it either. The position we took was that we were against it in principle but we would support the government and go along and not fight the evacuation.

Did anyone else agree with this resolution?

It was only the Nisei Young Democrats among the Japanese-Americans that took this position.  In fact even the progressive organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union wouldn't support us.  It was only later on that Ernest Blessing—who was the chairman of the ACLU of Northern California—came out as an individual against it.  And he's the one that took up the Formats case finally.  There were three Nisei who stood up against the evacuation, and Fred Korematsu was one from Oakland.  Ernest Besig was the only individual.  I can't recall the name of the guy from the Longshoremen but there was one guy who—as an individual—came out against it.

Do you guys remember this? Yeah, Zach’s presentation. And you remember reading in that paper—Aaron and Zach’s presentation—about DeWitt? Oh yeah, early on. So Zach talk about the Ernest Besig and the trial.{go ahead and transcribe the discussion going on here...}

Where was your family at this time?

Unfortunately my family wasn't with me—I was alone.  My family was in Japan—I came here by myself—so I didn't have a family actually.  That's why in evacuation—I was a bachelor—three other bachelors also came in with me.  One of them was a student at UC—he wanted to stay and finish his school.  His family moved to Fresno to be with friends but he stayed and he said he would go with me.  Another friend did the same thing—his family moved out and he stayed.  And there was another fellow also. There were four of us who batched together. We went in as a family—so we had a family number—the number that was given to us.  One thing good that came out of this was that—being progressive—we didn't want to just sit alone in there.  When we went into Tanforan—we were in there as a group—so the Nisei Young Democrats got together and said, "Let's run a progressive as a camp councilman."  And so—since I knew Japanese—they thought that I would be the best candidate.  I was run as the candidate and because we had this nucleus we won.  So I became a councilman of Tanforan.  Then we went to Topaz, and the Nisei Young Democrats did the same thing.  

Were you guys still a family?

Yeah.  And because of our progressive background and since we were in a barracks by ourselves—the four of us got a room to ourselves—we organized a study group.  We would have a study group and talk about the discriminatory cases and things like that so we would educate the people.  That's how I met Chizu. She was interested.  She came and I met her for the first time.  I got to know her, and then, of course, later we worked in the same department, the social service department, and we got to know each other better.  She for the first time learned about discrimination just like when I first got into Cal and that's how she became progressive too.

Do you remember your family number?

No, I don't remember.  I can't.

What did being a Camp Counselor entail?

It meant that we had contact with the administration.  We were able to talk with them and get some concessions from them.  Like the kibei had nothing to do—they didn't have any activity that they could get involved in.  Japanese couldn't be spoken at the camp so they couldn't do anything.  So I talked to the administration.  I said, "How about getting judo and kendo and things like that in?"  And they said, "No, that's military stuff so you can't do it."  And I said, "That's not military!  Judo is just like wrestling—it's an exercise.  Kendo is the same thing!" I was finally able to convince them, so they got kendo and judo into the camps. Then, we were able to get the issei to become what they call "block managers."  They helped people get things done, if they had something they wanted done with laundry, for example, the manager would bring it up and have it fixed and stuff like that.  Even though the issei didn't speak English well—they spoke Japanese, mainly—originally, they weren't going to be given jobs, but they allowed them to become managers of the camps.  There were little things that we helped people get.

What was your worst moment in the camps?

I never had any feeling like that, because I always thought of ways of getting things done.  Whenever we needed something, or whenever we felt we should get something, we always talked it over. I didn't make any decisions by myself, because we had other progressives.  We had the whole Nisei Young Democrats in the camp with us.  We got together and I talked with these people, and we would discuss a lot of these things.  We would discuss them and then figure out what we should do.  And that's how I was able to get support on many of the things that I did.  Because we discussed them beforehand, we had a group that already agreed on this.  It was because of that that we were able to get things done.

For one thing, they knew that I wasn't afraid to go to the administration and talk about these things.  I didn't have any feeling that I was supporting Japan, or anything like that.  I was against them, just like anybody else.  I wasn't afraid to go to the administration and ask for things that I felt we were entitled to, even if the admin disagreed with us. We would get things like a co-op set up, for example.  We also got libraries set up, and we asked the admin if they could contact libraries and get books that they didn't need sent in and so we could use them, and things of that sort.  We felt a lot stronger than we did as an individual.  If we had pro-Japan feelings or something we would be afraid to go in and ask them.  But we never had those feelings—so we weren't afraid to go in and demand things if we felt it was right. We also had some progressives among the administration people, too.  Like in the social welfare department the head of that was progressive.  We could talk to him and get ideas from him of how to approach the administration.  That's the reason why we were able to get a lot of things done which a more conservative group would probably have been afraid to go in and do.

Were you the liaison between the internees and the administration?

No, I can't say that I was a spokesperson for anybody.  But I will say that I was a leader in one aspect.  I felt that we had to win this war.  We discussed this in the Nisei Young Democrats and our position was that we had to defeat Hitler; we had to defeat the Japanese militarists.  Because of this, the positions that I took in the camp were based on that.  In 1943, around March, April, the administration came in with the loyalty oath, and then they asked if the Nisei would volunteer to serve in the United States army. Now, this caused a lot of discussion.  You could imagine, here we were sent into this camp by this government, and this same government came and asked us to fight for them!  What do you think you would do?  It took a lot of discussion.  My position was that we had to win the war.  As a leader of that group—I spoke.  I was Executive Secretary of the Council, too.  I didn't abuse my positions but people would listen to me more.  Naturally I used that.  My position was that we had to win this war and I gave my reasons why.

I urged that the nisei go and volunteer for the United States army.  Secondly, I said that it also helped the Japanese-Americans because it would prove that we support the United States, that we're not anti-United States.  There were others who got up and spoke and they felt that we should fight for this army because we want to prove our loyalty to America.  That was one of the reasons that we were put in the camps—because people thought that we were pro-Japan. That was one of the reasons that were given for volunteering for the army. Of course there was the opposition, too.  There were pro-Japan groups in there.  There were fights and things of that sort.  But after a lot of discussion we finally got enough people to form a regiment.  That was something—because we formed a regiment to fight for the government which put us in the camps.

Was that the 442nd?

That was the 442nd regimental combat team.

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