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1-Introductions & Life Summary
My name is Eli. My name is Amanda. My name is Will. We are interviewing Rose Nieda for the Urban School Telling Their Stories Project. The date is May 8, 2006 and we're interviewing Rose in Tiburon, California.
My name is Rose Nieda. I was born in, whoops, 1923 in a place called Wallville, Washington which I understand was a saw mill town, and I don't know whether it exists today or not. Then I moved to Seattle. See I don't know who my biological parents were because I was adopted by the Ceriza family and then I went to grammar school at Elliott grammar school which was twenty four students in the whole school. One teacher was able to keep all of us attentive by reading us one book, which was Peter Pan, and I was just fascinated. Then she read us Sherlock Holmes. We had an opera singer once a week which I dreaded, and we'd go on field trips maybe once a month, get our own bus, but it was sort of a private school because this lady who owned all the land around there, she picked her students according to who she wanted in her school. And I think this lady probably is part of the Elliott Bay family in Seattle because she owned all of the acreage around there, I found out later, where she lived and she lived in a white house on the top of the hill. Anyway, the teacher always lived with her, she selected the teachers and I had a wonderful time.
Then we moved someplace else and then I went two or three years to middle school and then I transferred and went up to Franklin High school in Seattle, Washington. Then after I graduated early, I think at the age of sixteen, I wanted to go to the University of Washington, but meanwhile the war was breaking out so I thought I’d wait two or three years. Then I couldn't go anymore because the evacuation orders came down and from there we went to camp. That's all.
First camp I went to was the Pinedale Assembly Center from Seattle down to Fresno. Then from Fresno I was sent up to Tulle Lake, and from Tulle Lake I had to relocate to a place called Detroit, Michigan, although I wanted to go to New York to the Parson Schools of Design, but they told me I couldn't go from one coast to the other coast. Then I wanted to go to Chicago and the government said, "no because we have too many relocatees there already so you have to go to Detroit and open it up." Which was ironic enough because they were making tanks and all the army equipment there. They sent us out with 25 dollars and we had to have a job and it was with an essential industry which was a milk industry. I was more or less very unhappy there, and at that time I think we were getting twenty-two dollars and a half a week. So I quit. I just couldn't stand it. The head of the company called me, said "we're going to report you to the government because we're an essential industry and you can't quit on us and that's why you were able to come out.” So by that time I was very strong and very resilient, so I said, "OK, alright. From one camp to another, I don't care. Just put me in jail if you want to.” But they never did come after me. So I worked at several places.
I met a German-American woman who helped me and she helped me find a job, but I got fired from every job because as soon as they found out I was Japanese-American everyone said they'd go on strike and they wouldn't work with me. So finally I had to go work for a company that was just starting up. After five or six years I became part of the corporation because it got so big that I was the treasurer of the company. From there I met my husband who was in Detroit training as a radiologist and then we got married. Is that about all?
What happened after you got married?
I kept on working for a little bit, then my husband went to work for Huston Motor Company. In those days, I don't know if you all know Huston Motor Company, but I think they're closed now for sure, but they had in-house physicians at the Huston Motor Company, so he worked there for a while through a friend. Then he wanted to finish his residency so he went on to get a job in Japan, and he went first and then I was able to join him about six months later.
From there we returned back to the United States, but he worked for the U.S. Army and I worked for the Intelligence Unit. That's about it. Then I returned to the United States in 1951, so I think I was in Japan for about three or four years. We came back and we started our family. So my husband went back to a hospital in San Francisco and finished his training in radiology and we also bought a house in Castro Valley. Then we decided to move to San Francisco. So we built this house that I'm speaking from or at right now. I've been here ever since. So the house was built in 1958-59. And I'm still here.
The first thing we would like to ask you is if you can remember your first house. And if you can, can you describe it?
It was a huge house and had a long driveway and it was surrounded by trees and it had a porch wrapped around. It was very isolated and we used artificial light - I don't know what you call those lamps where you pump it and then they had little bags on it - and so that's what we did. We used a coal stove and it was a huge house and I was always afraid to go into my bedroom because it had high ceilings. My parents were truck farmers and we had a well, we had chickens and I fed the chickens, picked up the eggs and it was lots of fun in a way.
Then we had some Japanese friends about two or three blocks away. Fortunately, most of the Japanese, people from Japan - my parents' generation - they all came from the same village. So we all associated with each other. To this day, I still know the children and I visit them once in a while - the ones who are still living - but they're scattered all over the United States, some are doctors, some are dietitians, some are gardeners, and whatever. Landowners. So, we're very diversified.
Did you have a garden in your home?
Yes we did.
What was the backyard like? You said you had chickens?
Yes, it was an old farm and so we had all kinds of animals. The geese would chase me down the road and rip my sweater up, but they would wait until there weren't any adults around, and say, "there she is! Let's get her!"
Did you grow you're own vegetables?
Because they were truck farmers in the beginning, we had all fresh vegetables like cauliflower, peas, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, let's see, what else? I can't remember too well. But later on we moved to a huge farm and then we had about ten employees - that was before the union started. And then the union started picketing so then by that time it was 1928-29, I think that's when the depression started. Since they were getting unionized we couldn't afford to raise vegetables anymore because of the high wages and farming is a gamble because you're depending on the weather. It's not like the greenhouse business where you can control the heat and the sun and all that. If it rains on your tomatoes when they're beginning to ripen, the whole crop is gone. So, farming is a gamble. So my parents decided that they would rather go into the nursery business, so we went into the flower nursery business which is more or less controllable because you're under glass, right? You put lime on the glass when it's hot, and the windows you open up, so it was easier. So they would rotate the things that they grew. Sometimes they grew cucumbers and in between - you just rotated cucumbers, tomatoes, chrysanthemums, snapdragons outside, bedding plants outside - it was just a year-round work.
Do you remember the landscape around your home?
Yeah. Since I'm from Seattle, Lilacs grow well, dogwood, and lilies of the valley which I love today. It's very difficult to raise lilies of the valley here in this California weather because you have to ice them during the summer, but I'm having a good crop this year - lilies of the valley.
Can you tell me about any memories you have of your biological parents?
No. I do not have any. It's just completely blanked out.
Do you remember what you were told about them as a child?
I did not know I was adopted till the age of seventeen which came as a shock to me. When I was told, I thought,"Oh my goodness, I'm the only odd one around here." And I always wondered why other families, Japanese families, had so many children, and I was the only one in one family.
Do you remember how you found out?
I think two lawyers came to the house and I was in the house and knocked on the door and they said, "Are you so-and-so?" And I said, "Yes", and he says, "We came to see you about your brother and sister," and I said, "What?!". So I said, "Mother, mother, mother. What's going on here?" and she said, "Oh my goodness, the truth is out now." And I just went into shock and I was traumatized.
Why do you think your parents didn't tell you that you were adopted?
I like to think about that, but in those days, I don't think they talked about things like that. I think illnesses they kept secret, especially Tuberculosis or something like that. Besides, the Japanese people - I don't know whether it's true - I think it's in every society they like to keep things hidden. They don't let the skeletons out of the closet, you might say.
How did you feel about you're parents not telling you? Did you accept it?
It was hard for me to accept, but I said, “OK what am I going to do with it?" And then I just decided that they did their best. I mean, they didn't do it deliberately, they felt that would be better for me.
So can you tell me about your foster parents?
Oh they were just wonderful, I loved them. And they loved me.=
So what did they do?
They were truck farmers in the beginning - see I was only four, so from the nursery business we were sent to camp, so that's all I remember. Although they're not my biological parents, I don't know any other parent, so my adoptive parents they did their best and I appreciate it.
How would you describe the rules and the general attitude in the house? Were there a lot of rules?
My parents coming from Japan, they were so strict. Even to this day, if the newspaper came, I wasn't able to open it until my dad opened it first. And we didn't eat until he got home from work. He'd go to the market to deliver the vegetables and we waited whenever he came home. But later on as we grew up, my mother got more lenient, she says, "OK, you have your homework to do, so we'll just set a place for him and put the food out for him, and then you can go ahead and eat. So things do change.
Would you describe your family as working class, middle class?
It's very hard for me to say anything due to the fact that they were educated in Japan, but they couldn't get citizenship here or own land, there were so many restrictions placed upon them. And, like myself, even if I graduated high school I could not go work in a bank, department stores would not hire me, and it's just a no-no.
After I grew up and retired, after raising children, I thought, "Oh, I wonder it is about working at the bank that they didn't give me a job. So I went to work for a bank here and I thought, "Oh my goodness, I didn't miss anything." And then I wanted to work at a department store in Seattle so I went to go get a job and they said, "Nope, nope." So I went to work for a department store here. I thought, "Oh my goodness, oh I'm glad they turned me down, I don't think I would have lasted!
Do you remember if you spoke Japanese at home or when you were introduced to speaking Japanese?
Yes, I did not speak English until I entered school, so it was all Japanese. My mother was educated in English in Japan, but we spoke Japanese at home. And so when I started school here, all I could say was "goodbye", "thank you", "how much?" and things like that. But it was very difficult for me, but you learn quick, to be accepted into the group.
We've learned a little bit about gender roles in Japan and I was wondering what the gender dynamic between your mother and father was like.
They were not demonstrative. I never saw them hold hands or kiss. And that's the way I am myself, I'm very cold. I've changed recently, but really. You're not forward about anything.
Did you ever consider following your mother in poetry?
No, I didn't because I was so busy learning English and trying to get into college - I was good in math, and I tutored in math. No I didn't, I just wanted to go into design.
School and Learning English
What was it like to start school without knowing how to speak English?
I was in the first grade and there was a neighbor that was Japanese American - she was in the eighth grade and her name was [Yoshgo]. Since there were only twenty-four in the whole school, I'd say "Yoshgo Sang!" She was so embarrassed cause I didn't know what the teacher was saying. I understand she's still living today. And so next time I go to Seattle, I expect to look her up. I'd like to before she passes away. But, she dreaded my calling her out.
But she helped you?
Yes, she interpreted for me. Then I learned that I have to learn how to speak English, and fast. So I did.
How long did it take you once you started?
Oh, it didn't even take me a year. Children pick it up very fast. I think you find that here too.
Did you take English classes?
No, just in school you just plop yourself into this English-speaking group and, I mean out of necessity you'll learn. Maybe it's one or two words a day, but you learn fast because you want to be like the others.
Were there a lot of Japanese Americans at your school?
No. I think there were three or four out of twenty-four. Because Lady, Mrs. Elliot just chose whoever she wanted to go to her school and so she hand-picked everybody to get a diversity, I think because she was a Christian leader.
How do you think she chose the students?
I really don't know, because when you're a little girl we were just afraid of her in a way. Because the teacher always stayed with her. I knew if I crossed the teacher, I'm in trouble.
Did you have a lot of Caucasian friends?
Yes, my classmates. I think there were only three in my class. And I understand that my classmate passed away.
Was that difficult, did anyone raise any trouble about inter-racial friendships at all?
Not at this first school that I went to, and not the middle school. Not in high school. I know: it was because I heard that my parents couldn't buy property. Then I started to delve in why they couldn't become U.S. citizens and why they could not buy property and then and there I realized. Then the war climate was coming on so they refused to serve me in some restaurants. They said, "You can have it, but take it outside and eat it", and I couldn't understand that.
In our pre-interview, you said you were a rebel at your school.
I was just very independent and for instance, she said we're going to have a around-the-world program, so she says, "you're going to be Japanese, and you you're going to have a bowl of rice and chopsticks." I said, "Fine", and then she put one chopstick in each hand and she said, "this is the way you do it." I said, "Oh my goodness, this is interesting," so I said, "No, that isn't the way I do it". And she says, "That's the way we do it." So I went home and complained to my mother and things like that, and my mother said, "Teacher is always right. Don't cross her" - out of respect to the teacher. I started challenging everything. If it was wrong, it was wrong.
Did you ever challenge you're parents at all?
Can you tell us about that?
Oh, I don't know. Challenge them in what way? In discipline... No I don't think that... we lived next to a river and I wanted to go swimming everyday. And so they'd take my bathing suit away. So I would just go jump in the river. But being a little kid, I just hung out the wet clothes on the clothes line - that's how they found out, and I get disciplined for going against order. But they said, "it was because I'm always catching colds, it was too cold today and I told you not to go," and I said, "Oh, OK". Come to think of it now, I thought, "My goodness that was stupid of me to hang my clothes out in the clothes line."