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1-Introductions & Childhood
My name is Max, my name is Hilary, my name is Ashlyn, and my name is Jawanza and we are interviewing Rose Nieda on May 13, 2005, in San Francisco, California.
Can you please state your full name?
My full name is Rose Nieda.
Where and when were you born?
I was born in Walville, Washington. State of Washington, that is. April 26,1923.
What camps were you interned in?
First, I was sent to Fresno Assembly Center. Then from there, I went to Tule Lake.
What were your parents' names and professions?
My father's name was Koichiro Serizawa and my mother's name was Ai Serizawa.
What were your adopted parents' names?
That was my adopted parents' name.
What were your biological parents' names?
I don't remember.
What generation are you?
I am Nisei, second generation.
Do you have any siblings?
Yes and no. Because I was adopted, everything is murky.
Yes, I understand later on. I found out that I did have a brother. I mean I do have a brother and one sister. The sister passed away about three years ago.
Are you in touch with your brother at all?
What is your earliest memory?
Walking around with a tin lunch box, going around the veranda, and I had rice balls in it for my afternoon snack.
Did you grow up in Washington?
Yes I did.
Were you there up until the internment?
We moved around quite a bit. I can't quite remember. I was evacuated from a place called Bryn Mawr, Washington which is right above Lake Washington.
What was your childhood like?
We were very creative in those days because we did not have the Game Boys, the television, the radio. We did have the radio, but no videos. We did make a lot of things out of left-over lumber and things. We made trucks, and we punched out the cork in the Coke-a-Cola bottle caps and we wore them as badges. We made stilts, and we played "can as stilts"—we'd smash the middle and then tie them up. We made our own kites, and then a lot of things like that.
Do you have any really close childhood friends?
Yes I do. I have two. I met them when I was six years old, and I still am in contact with them.
What are their names?
One is in Seattle. She's eighty-six or eighty-seven and her name is Lillian Yamamoto and she is a cousin to Gordon Hirabayashi, and so I have a lot of interaction with all these people that are quite well known.
Do you have favorite games that you played with your friends?
Yes, we played a lot of games. We played ping pong. We played card games like gin rummy, and we played Karuta which was a Japanese game. My mother was instilling in me all these mottos like "When a dog walks it gets hit" and all that kind of stuff. Of course, it was in Japanese. Now that it comes back to me, she was programming me.
What are some others you can remember?
A lot of things like "If the tree grows, the wind will blow it down." "The fire is on the other side of the river." This is all in Japanese, so it's kind of a poetic thing. Also, at the same time, you are learning Japanese. You begin to sing-song it. And then you relate the motto to the picture, so it was a lot of fun. Especially the one where he says something about "You can hide your head but you don't hide the other part"—there was a man with his head covered. Do you remember that one? You didn't play those games? Oh.
Can you remember one that you learned as a sing-song?
Kaji wa Kawa mooko meaning, "The fire is on the other side of the river.
Did you go to Japanese school when you were young?
Yes, my mother tried to make me go on Saturdays, but I hated it because it seemed like I was going to school everyday of the year.
What was you early schooling like?
That is very interesting because English is my second language. When I entered the first grade, all I could say were simple words like "hello," "good-bye," "thank you," "no thank you," "yes," "no". The teacher was aghast because I couldn't read. I'd put up my hands and I'd call another Nisei who was in the eighth grade and I'd say, "Yoshiko san." "Come here I can't understand anything." She would be embarrassed—she is in the eighth grade after all—and here is this little kid saying "Yoshiko san." I tried very hard to learn English.
Were there a lot of Japanese Americans in your school?
No, there weren't too many. The point was that I went to a school where the whole classroom, first through eighth, there were only twenty-eight students. And we were hand picked from the lady that owned all that land around there. She named the school after herself and that school is still standing today. I went back a couple years ago.
What's the name of the school?
Elliott School and Elliott is the name of the family that owned all the property around there. Hundreds and hundreds of acres and we were surrounded by Scandinavian people—Hansons, Andersons, Johnsons. All the "sons".
How did you get to school?
That's a good one. I walked two miles each way. Yes, really. My children say, "My goodness, you tell that story over and over and over." We stopped and picked corn on the way because there were fields of corn, and we picked salmon berries, and I don't know.
Who did you go with?
Neighbors, children. As a matter of fact we would take the tar paper off the road and chew it as gum. I mean, we didn't have any money for gum. It was a wonder we didn't get sick.
What was the area that you grew up in like?
The grammar school days were all farm country and we lived next to a river because of the water, for the irrigation system. Also across the street, there was a big golf course, which we were not allowed on, because it was for whites only. One of our neighbors had a son who wanted to work, so they hired him as a groundskeeper. The members protested, so he had to quit. They didn't want any Japanese Americans on, even as a groundskeeper.
When did you start feeling discrimination?
I think around the fourth or fifth grade because I used to be very good in math and they would skip me a grade or two. Then all of a sudden I would get smart and then they would put me right back again.
Can you remember any specific incidences at school, where you experienced discrimination?
Not really. I think more or less I was teased about, "We know something you don't know," and things like that. And I couldn't figure out what they were saying. They'd say, "That's not your real mother." "That's not your real father." I used to shudder and I used to go home and ask my parents, "Is that so?". They would say, "No, no, no." In those days, they denied all this.
They denied the adoption?
Was the area that you lived in mostly Japanese American?
The funny thing was that there were three families all together and we were the ones that developed that area, and cleaned up the rocks out of the soil. I remember having a huge pile of rocks that my mother had picked up so that we could grow vegetables.
What did you do with the vegetables that you grew?
Oh, we sold them of course.
Where did you sell them?
I think my father took it to the produce market in Seattle.
What did your parents do for a living?
They were truck farmers.
Tell us what that means.
Well the small truck that they would rotate the vegetables like tomatoes, beans, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, potatoes. You know just keep it going around, all year round. And we used to have horses, pigs, goats, dogs, rabbits, chickens, geese that when my parents weren't around they used to chase me and honk at me and tear my sweater up. They would just wait for the parents not to be around. To this day I fear them. And I used to go swimming in the river. It was cold, but that's where I learned how to swim.
Could you tell us about the day when you learned how to swim?
Older people were with us and one day I saw the older person jump in so I jumped in and I nearly drowned. A six foot fellow pulled me out by my hair she said "don't you ever do that again." But I learned how to dog paddle.
Do you remember which river it was?
Cedar River. Are you familiar with Cedar River? Are you from the Seattle area?
No, I've been there.
Have you? It's still there. Do you know Maple Valley? Oh you do?
Yes, I lived in Seattle for fifteen years.
Really, after the war or before the war?
Long after the war.
That's when Boeing was up and everything was right?
I did not go back after camp. That was the last place I wanted to return to, because it's damp, and I just didn't like the thought of being evacuated from that area.
Can you think of other examples growing up where you now realize that it was something you did because you didn't have enough money to go and get what you wanted?
Oh, let's see, I can't remember really, anything else, just picking wild salmon berries. Are you familiar with salmon berries? I think that's peculiar to the Seattle area, isn't it? And we used to be able to pick currants, wild currants too. There were mushrooms in the back forest—the spongy ones. What are they called? You can get them at the Berkeley Bowl now, very expensive, but we were able to pick them up.
What did the tar gum taste like?
I don't know. I can't remember that far back. My goodness, I bet that thing was toxic. They would lay it down when it was still warm and you'd just scoop it up.
Was there trouble transitioning from middle school to high school?
No, not from the Elliot School. It was quite cool in those days. I even put on a Japanese show in the eighth grade. I made cherry blossoms and had to sing Japanese songs. I was the director, producer—not at this particular school, another school—and I was on the basketball team.
Was the high school a lot bigger than your grammar school?
Yes, I went to Franklin High School in Seattle, which was way out in Baker Hill, Mt. Baker. Anyone here familiar with Seattle? Well it's still standing, Franklin High School.
It's still a school?
Yes, I thought they would tear it down. There was a movement there. But I wanted to go to that particular school, instead of going to Renton High School, so I had to take a bus, and it took me one hour to get to that school. I had to walk to the bus, which was another one mile or so. But I was determined to go to a nice city school.
What did you like about this school?
Oh, I don't know. They had sports and it was huge. Different from Renton High School. Besides, at Renton High school my friend was the valedictorian and I didn't want to have to follow in her footsteps.
Were there a lot of Japanese at the school?
At Franklin High School? Not from where I was from. See I came from the South End, so there weren't any. Most of them came from the North End, from the city, and so I didn't have any contact with them.
What was the play that you directed like?
The Japanese Play? It was the whole thing. We did a little bit of Odori and sang Japanese songs and things like that.
Who did you do it with?
I directed it myself and I gathered some people up.
Were they all Japanese?
Yeah. I think there were only two or three of us, but it's amazing how many roles one can take on.
What made you want to do this?
I don't know. They asked me to, as a matter of fact. They wanted to keep me busy because I was a rebel.
Where did you perform the play?
At the school. At Bryn Mawr school. This was more or less eighth grade. They didn't know what to do with me because I was way advanced. The interesting thing was I went to an all Japanese school in the country where the competition was so stiff.
Was it all Japanese?
Not Japanese, but mainly Japanese.
Was it elementary School?
Yes, elementary school. I then changed over to Bryn Mawr school where it wasn't so competitive. Then the school didn't know what to do with me because I was so used to competing with the other advanced students.
In what way were you a rebel in high School?
How so? I would challenge the teacher all the time. Like, "I think that fraction is wrong." "I think that wording is wrong." "I think your grammatical structure is wrong." We had to diagram everything in the olden days. The subject, adverb, and all that stuff.
Yes. Do they still do that? Do you still diagram?
Public schools? Oh I see.
Do you remember a specific incident when you were arguing with a teacher?
It was usually in math class. I said, "You're teaching them all wrong."
Were you right?
Of course, I mean, sure, I was right.
I think your grandson does that a little bit too.
Oh my goodness, it's my genes! I hear that all the time.
Do you have a particular teacher that you argued with frequently?
In this K through 8 school, the teacher was always selected by Mrs. Elliott. We called her "Grandma Elliott" and she lived on top of the hill in a four story house—it was white and on top of the hill. Anyway, the teacher always lived with her. The one she selected, this is the only teacher's name I remember. Her name was Mrs. Beesucker. She was huge and she used to tuck her handkerchief in between her breasts and she would whip it out and we used to imitate her all day. She would have an opera singer come once a week to expose us to opera and her name was Mrs. Cavanaugh. That's another one I remember. Oh, I hated it when she came because she would have her little pinky out with her little handkerchief and she'd go "oh oh oh oh". Oh goodness, I'd rather go out and play. Anyway, Mrs. Beesucker was really tough. Really tough, and I didn't like her. If I was out of hand, in those days you could hit the hand with a ruler. Or I'd sit in the corner with a dunce cap. It was okay with me; that's the way it was. Anyway, she is the only name that I remember, and to this day I am thankful that she was so engrossed in our learning something. She wanted to gather all of us together about ten years ago. Low and behold, before I could get up there, she passed away. I wanted to thank her and also apologize.
Do you consider her your favorite teacher?
Yes, because I remember her name and we always talk about her when I get together with my friend in Seattle. "Remember Mrs. Beesucker?"
How often do you visit Seattle?
Lately I have been going every year. Because we—I had to say this—but we don't have much time left—at eighty-two and eighty-seven.