page 6 of 11
April 6, 2006 - Part 6 of 6
Section below transcribed by Joseph Werhan (intern).
So it felt very different being in New York compared to California?
We tried to help with that. Pete Seeger and his wife and a nissei dancer—they also joined the group. We had a black fellow—he was an entertainer. There were two of them in fact.
Did you know Pete Seeger? Tell us about your relationship.
I just knew him that's about all. I got to know him. I heard him sing and things when he came out here—but we got to first to know him when I went to New York. It was just a brief encounter because his wife was Japanese too—nisei. That's how I got to know her. We met with them once in a while. We had dinner with them—things like that.
Was it hard getting the money you needed, when you came out of the camp?
It was hard getting a job for one thing.
Why was it hard?
I was recovering from pneumonia so I didn't want to get a full time job because it tired me. I went into pressing which I did before the war. I learned that—and that was a pretty good paying job—so I took that as a part-time job.
Where were you staying?
New York. But it was kind of hard for Chiz—because in the mean time we had Patty—and Chiz couldn't work. Trying to live on what I was making was kind of hard. For a few years it was hard until we got into Chicago—that was about five years. We went to Chicago and then I got into assembly work. I got to know this union representative and he said, "With your background, I can get you a better job." He got me in as a machinist—where I could train to become a machinist—so I trained as a machinist. Then in about a year I became a full time machinist. I started working at a machine shop. I was an assembler until then and then I got into machinist. I became a steward—I got involved in union activities after that—and then I became a chief steward of the shop. That was an experience because Japanese aren't used to yelling and screaming—demanding things—we would go in and talk with them. The former chief steward said that I was chicken. He said that I didn't yell at the owner, and my union representative said, "No, he's not chicken, he does things differently than you, that's all."
Did you feel like there was a lot of discrimination?
No, not against Japanese. Well in a sense—yeah because in housing we were discriminated against. So we felt it there. But in work it was just the blacks. They were the ones that were discriminated against. That's why I got to know them a lot more—because I fought for them.
How were you discriminated against in regards to housing?
We couldn't get housing. I would see an ad in the paper and I would call and they said "Yeah, come on out." So I would go out and when they open the door and see my face—you could see their face drop. They say, "Oh, I'm sorry, but we just sold it," or something like that. My little daughter—she was about three or so— when we came home one time she said "It's unfair, they don't sell the house to us."
How did you get to California?
After about eight years in Chicago—and several years we tried to get housing, couldn't get it—my wife's sister came back to California and she wrote and said, "Come on out here." She said that I could get a machinist job out there—there's lots of them. So we decided, “Well maybe I'll go back on our vacation and see. Then if there is a chance I could pull up and go out there.” All of us went back on our vacation, and by that time we had Mark. When we went back he was one—not quite one and half—one and about three months—and we drove back. It was hard because we had to camp out. We couldn't afford to stay at motels and things. We finally got back and then I looked around and there were a lot of jobs that I could get into. I said, "Okay, let's see if we can get out here then.” I came back by myself and then my friend helped me pack. I worked and then packed at night and that was too hard for me. So I went to my boss—I had already told him that I wanted to leave—and he said, “Okay, two weeks.” I told him, "It's kind of hard for me, can you let me off earlier?" He said, “okay.” He was a good guy. So he let me off so then I packed all day and then finally packed everything and then had to send it out here. Then I came out and then I started looking for a house. I couldn't get a place—discrimination again. It was the same story, and I was surprised because I thought we could get a place back here. I couldn't get it so then I found a place in Richmond Heights so I moved there. We were there for about two years.
What year was this?
This was in 1963 or so. After working there for a few years—my sister-in-law—Chiz's older sister was in real estate—so she was looking around. I said, "If you find a place, let us know." For two years we waited and they didn't find anything. We said, "The kids are getting big now." We had three bedrooms but we only had one bath. With three kids that was hard. But I guess the grace-saver was that I worked nights. That opened up that bathroom a little bit. It wasn't so hard. Then the sister-in-law said that they have an opening going to Japan, “Want to go?” I said, “Okay, let's go.” We decided to go and then—when we decided—she said she found a couple places. “You want to look at it?” So we came and looked. The first one was down below our place—way down there—and we said, “No, we don't like this.” So we went up and came up to the place where we're staying now. We walked in and as soon as we walked in Chiz said, "I like this one!" because of the view. We said okay and we negotiated with them. He had a place already bought up in Whiskey Town—he had retired—and he was paying on this one and that one. He wanted to get rid of this one in a hurry. He came down and we were able to get it by selling the other house and using that money as a down payment. That's how we got into this house. We just barely made it. But we left to go on vacation right away because her sister was the one that is in the Lion's Club in Berkeley and she had two tickets left that they wanted to fill. That's how we got in on it. We moved everything in the house—just left it there—and then went on vacation. We came back from vacation and then cleaned up and re-packed and everything—it was a mess. That's how we got into this house. But it was a good buy—it was hard for us at the time—but it turned out to be a good buy. Now, it's about ten times what we paid.
How were you involved in the civil rights movement?
That's another story. After we got involved in this business then the civil rights movement came along. Between the two of us we got really involved in civil rights. We started going out talking and things like that. In the civil rights movement we started to talk to the Japanese-Americans more and we got a lot of people involved. There was one gal especially—she passed away recently—Socks we called her—she went around and she got people to sign letters to Congressmen and things like that. Then the Fred Korematsu case came up, and I got involved in that.
Did you know him?
Yeah. We got to know him well. Katherine too—we still see Katherine once in a while. Fred's gone but we got involved in that and we got involved in the one up north. We got involved more in the Japanese-American community after that—both of us. That's how we got in that so now we go out and we speak and we try to convince people that this shouldn't happen again. We're trying to get the education committee in the state to get this in the textbooks but they won't put it in yet. They just mention that it was done but we want them to really get into it—to show that this was a violation of civil rights. That's the point that we want to get across. That's all we try to do when we go out to talk. That's the main point to what we do. Some people among the nisei go out and talk but they only talk about their own suffering. They don’t bring out the civil rights question. We try to convince these people to talk about these other things too.
Did you receive reparations?
Yeah we received. That's another story. Some of the people among Japanese Americans didn't want to ask for money. They said, "It's a shame to ask for money." But we finally convinced most of them that in America—when you do something wrong like a crime—you pay a fine. If you speed and you get caught you have to pay a fine. That's the same thing. They did this and it's wrong. Let them pay because unless they pay and it hurts them a little they're going to do it again. We have to do it so that it at least hurts a little. This twenty-thousand isn't much but let's take it. We took twenty-thousand because the commission that was set up made a report. They're the ones—it was their recommendation—that the government apologize in a letter to us and they pay twenty thousand in cash to each surviving internee. We were trying to get it for everyone— even those that passed away. Their kids should get it because they suffered too. But the government wouldn't do it. Anyway that's the reason why we fought for this—even though it's a small amount—we fought for the twenty thousand and got it.
What was your role in fighting for this?
I just participated in the various movements. Like the Fred Korematsu case—we made a movie—and I went to the courthouse and became a witness. I also went to the county courthouse and we got reparations there. I didn't go to the state but we had people in the state bring it up and we got the same thing there too. We still go out and talk—both Chiz and I. We can't do much more because of our age. I don't want to drive too far. After all I'm ninety-four! I drive as far as San Jose—I'll go there—but I don't want to take a chance on driving more because if I fall asleep that's all. [Gestures: Throws hands up in air] There's no second chance! I've been driving up to Sonoma, Saratoga, and San Jose. I drive that far. I can drive. Chiz doesn't like to drive—that's why I do the driving.
What do you do when you go driving places? Do you give talks?
I give talks, yeah.
Did you get a check for twenty-thousand dollars, and do you have a receipt?
No, we don't get any receipts. But we got a letter of thanks from the person who sponsored the thing. It's usually one of the teachers. She has a class, or several classes.
Did you get a check for twenty thousand dollars and a receipt from the United States government?
Yeah, I have it at home. The first letter that Bush sent us was on a brown paper sheet—like wrapping paper. That made us madder than heck! I wrote back to them. I said, "What kind of person are you to send stuff like this?" I said, "After all if you're apologizing, apologize!" They sent out a regular letter next time. We got a different letter from them. Then Reagan—when he gave us the money—on August the 10th we had our national convention of the JACL. We were in session when we got a telegram from Washington—that he will sign it. That was a surprise because we thought we would have to have a fight with Reagan to get him to sign that thing. That's another story. The story that we think is the correct one is that one guy who got the Congressional Medal of Honor in Los Angeles—Reagan was captain in the army at the time—he was the one that brought the flag—folded the flag down to this fellow's sister. The sister accepted the flag. At that time Reagan made a speech. She came back with that speech and showed it to him. She said, "You said there's no difference between an American who is White or whatever. Japanese-Americans are just the same. So will you sign this?" And he said okay, and that's why he signed it. That's what they say—we don't know if that was the thing that influenced him or not—but that's the story. It's plausible because he was a sentimental guy.
Telling His Story
Can you make a comment about the importance of the oral history process that we're doing right now?
For one thing part of the oral history—when we collect them—is a legacy. That this is what happened to different people. You could hear different stories, but when you hear it from the tape when they themselves are saying it then it leaves a better impression. That's one of the reasons why we go out. The other one is we try to get across this idea of the civil rights and see if these people will talk to others too. Those are the two reasons that we go out to speak to people even though it's a little bit hard sometimes. [laughs]