Thursday, July 31, 2008

Watsonville Interviews – Tom

While in Watsonville I had the opportunity to do four interviews with Jiro Sugidono, Tom Mine, Kiyoko Morey Kaneko, and Mas Hashimoto. Each of these interviews will be a valuable addition to the growing collection of visual history interviews in the Densho archive.

Jiro Sugidono (84) told how Main Street in Watsonville was a boundary line for the issei. The issei were restricted from the west side (ocean side) of the street. Jiro’s mother had to sit in a car on the east side of Main Street and watch as her five children came out on the sidewalk with possible clothes and suitcases to buy before being removed from Watsonville. If Jiro's mother approved, the kids would go back and buy their items.

Tom Mine’s (90) focus was on prewar baseball and farming. Tom talked about the long car trips nisei ballplayers made to play against teams in Florin, Sacramento and San Jose. He also shared how he became successful in the difficult business of farming by gradually adding more and more land.

Kiyoko Morey Kaneko (97) told a riveting story of being in Pearl City on the morning of the attack at Pearl Harbor. She recounts being dressed in a colorful yukata standing on the grass while watching a Japanese fighter plane only yards away. She looked into the face of the pilot and wondered if the pilot was confused to see a Japanese girl on the ground.

Mas Hashimoto (73) is a retired high school Social Studies teacher who grew up and taught in Watsonville. He told a touching story of having his pet dog “Sunny” while incarcerated at Poston. Mas has a wealth of knowledge about Japanese American history in Watsonville and shares this information with volunteer school visits to thousands of students each year.

Leaving Watsonville

Last night we had a nice dinner with Mas and Marcia Hashimoto of the Watsonville/Santa Cruz JACL. They took us to a restaurant on the Santa Cruz Wharf, and we were treated to a panoramic view of the famous Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The weather was beautiful although a little chilly. Afterwards, we drove to Emeryville (between Berkeley and Oakland), where we are preparing to conduct several more interviews today...

Monday, July 28, 2008

First day of interviews

We conducted our first Watsonville interviews today, which went very well. We were lucky to be able to shoot our interviews in Kizuka Hall, home to the Watsonville-Santa Cruz JACL chapter. Chiyoko, who I blogged about in a previous post, was our very first interviewee and provided a wonderful overview of Watsonville history. Chiyoko owned and managed Yagi's Tackle Shop until 2004, retiring after 57 years in business! My second interviewee was Kitako, a Watsonville native and really unique personality. She discussed the discrimination and hardship many Japanese Americans faced in Watsonville after the war. I'm looking forward to hearing more stories tomorrow!

Watsonville Pre-interview Presentation

On the day we arrived at Watsonville I gave a short presentation about what we do at Densho and to also describe what was going to happen over the next few days of interviewing. The photo shows me talking to the group in Kizuka Hall, a building the JACL chapter owns and operates as a community center. This is also where we will conduct the interviews.

My presentation followed a wonderful potluck dinner. And after the talk I had the opportunity to sit around and chat. It was fun to find out some Watsonville-Seattle connections. One woman was the aunt of my favorite high school teacher when I attended Franklin High School in Seattle. I also saw a display of Watsonville veterans that included a former boss whom I worked with as a college chemistry intern at Weyerhaeuser Company.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Watsonville: Arrival and Potluck Dinner

Tom, Megan and I arrived in Watsonville today after a short flight into San Jose. We hit a long stretch of traffic on the drive into Watsonville, so it took us most of the afternoon to get here. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted by members of the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL chapter, who treated us to a delicious potluck dinner! As you can probably guess, we were quite excited about the food, which included Spam musubi, Chinese chicken salad, and chocolate-dipped locally-grown strawberries. It was wonderful to be able to meet some of the folks we'll be interviewing and working with in the coming days, so we're excited to get started!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Salt Lake City - JACL national convention

Last weekend I was in Salt Lake City attending the JACL national convention. This was a great opportunity for Densho to share some video interview segments from the interviews we conducted in Salt Lake City last month. I was also able to share some wonderful historic photographs of Salt Lake City that we got from Ted Nagata.

During my presentation I showed video clips of Jun Kurumada, Nelson Akagi, Grace Oshita, Ted Nagata, Helen Harano Christ, Roy Ebihara and Alice Hirai who shared memories of Salt Lake City and the Topaz concentration camp. While I was attending the convention I also had the opportunity of seeing the wonderful musical, “Nihon Machi.” This is a Grateful Crane production that I highly recommend.

Next week we go to Watsonville and Berkeley for more interviewing. I'll have the opportunity to interview Jiro Sugidono, Tom Mine, Mas Hashimoto, Norman Hirose and Kiyoko Morey Kaneko. The community in Watsonville is being especially welcoming with a potluck dinner on Sunday to greet us!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Off to Watsonville & Berkeley

Tom, Dana and I will be traveling to California next week to conduct interviews with Japanese Americans from Watsonville and Berkeley. It will be my last interviewing trip before I leave for grad school in August. Here is a preview of some of the stories we will be collecting:

Nancy is 94 years old and still going strong. A Watsonville native, Nancy's family sharecropped on strawberry farms, and her husband, Charlie, operated a barbershop prior to WWII. She has great stories to tell about prewar Watsonville.

Chiyoko, 88 years old, is also a Watsonville native whose family worked in the strawberry fields. She was on her honeymoon when the war broke out and remembers staying in a San Francisco Japantown hotel that was being raided by the FBI. Chiyoko and her husband, Harry, opened Yagi's Barbershop and Fishing Tackle Shop after the war.

Bob was born in Oakland to an Issei father and a Nisei mother. Bob's father, who operated a photography studio before the war, worked as a photographer for the Topaz camp co-op. Part of the last graduating class of Topaz High School, Bob has great insights about student life and the education system in camp.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Satirical video

For those of you who appreciate this type of satire, we're posting a video from "The Onion" that a friend brought to our attention.


U.S. Finally Gets Around To Closing Last WWII Internment Camp

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Home from Denver


While Tom, Megan, and Dana were busy interviewing people at the Denver conference, I was manning an information table and photography display. It felt like hundreds of people visited the Densho booth between sessions. Lots of Nisei and their families were interested in newly discovered photos of the Amache camp that we shared in advance of placing them in the Digital Archive. I talked with many appreciative teachers, graduate students, and other users of our website. I even met a Nisei gentleman who knew my mother well in the difficult last years at the Tule Lake camp. He confirmed how stressful life in that camp was during the time of renunciation. All in all, the whole conference sent me back to Seattle inspired and motivated to promote Densho’s work. No offense to dusty Denver, but it’s good to be back in the gorgeous green Pacific Northwest.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Tom’s Denver interviews

I am back in Seattle after a whirlwind 5 days in Denver participating at the JANM national conference. There are so many good memories of meeting people, listening to and giving presentations, good conversations in the evenings, and singing in the lobby during the early morning hours.

However, the highlight for me was doing interviews. I had the honor of interviewing former Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta about redress and to see how emotionally moved he was as he described the redress bill being introduced on the floor of the House of Representatives. It was also an opportunity to discuss how his experiences affected him while he was making critical decisions during the aftermath of September 11, 2001.



I interviewed Roy Ebihara who was an 8-year-old boy in Clovis New Mexico who describes being driven away along with 30 other Japanese Americans by state troopers while an angry anti-Japanese mob approached after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He and the others were then taken to the Old Raton Ranch, a little known confinement site where he spent a year before going to Topaz.

I also had a short interview with John Tateishi that focused on his early anti-JACL feelings because of how his father was treated by the JACL during the war, and then his decision to join the JACL because of the possibility of redress.

Senator Inouye talked about the continuous and difficult journey towards the ideals of our democracy and how redress played a role in making our country better. He also discussed his role in seeking an entitlement to fund the redress payments after President Reagan signed the bill.

I was also fortunate to interview Toyo Okumura, a beautiful 92-year-old woman who was born in Gardena, then sent to Santa Anita, Jerome, and Tule Lake, before choosing to go to Japan right after the war with her parents and sibling. During the interview she described stepping off the boat in Japan, and being heavily recruited by the U.S. military for work because of her bilingual abilities.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Star Sightings!


More Interviews

We have collected some really great interviews so far. The narrators (most of whom are conference attendees) come from such different backgrounds and consequently their stories are very diverse. Yesterday I interviewed Yae Aihara who is originally from Seattle, but currently lives in Los Angeles. Her father was picked up by the FBI on December 7, 1941, and was sent to Missoula internment camp. During this time he decided he wanted the family to repatriate to Japan. Yae and her family took the train to Ellis Island to meet her father and go on the ship SS Gripsholm, which was part of the prisoner of war exchange with Japan. The ship was full, so they stayed in Ellis Island for 4 days and then were transfered to Crystal City internment camp in Texas. They stayed in Crystal City for the duration of the war and then resettled to Boyle Heights in LA.


George Fujimoto, who I interviewed today, also told an interesting story. Born in California but raised in Ault, Colorado, George's family operated a produce and sugar beet farm. George's father suffered a debilitating accident when George was 15, forcing him to drop out of school and manage the farm. George was drafted into the army in 1942 and was injured in 1943 while guarding German POWs in Alabama. After the war George moved with his family to South Texas, where he lives currently. George is a real southern gentleman - it was fun talking with him!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Interview with James Hirabayashi

I just finished my interview with James Hirabayashi, Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Professor Hirabayashi was Dean of the nation's first school of Ethnic Studies, which started at SFSU after the longest student strike in US history. Unlike most Densho interviews, which take a life-history approach, my interview with Professor Hirabayashi (or Jim, as he insisted on being called) began with his experiences in academia, as an undergraduate at the University of Washington. Our interview touched on several milestones in his professional life - as a Fulbright Fellow conducting fieldwork in Japan; his PhD studies at Harvard; working in rural Nigeria; involvement with the Asian American Political Alliance and student strike at SFSU; his tenure as Dean of Ethnic Studies; the influence of his brother, Gordon Hirabayashi, on his own activism.

On a personal note, it was a real honor to interview Jim today. As a student of Ethnic Studies and as someone about to embark on a career in academia, I will continue to benefit from his groundbreaking work. He (and others) really paved the way for someone like me to succeed and even thrive in academia while continuing to question and challenge the status quo.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Arrival in Denver

We arrived in Denver today for another series of interviews, this time at the Japanese American National Museum's "Whose America? Who's American? Diversity, Civil Liberties, and Social Justice" conference. We're shooting the interviews at the Hyatt Regency, a beautiful hotel with enormous furniture in the lobby...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

NHK visits Densho office


The last couple of days have been spent thinking about and answering questions about my Japanese American identity. A film crew from NHK, the Japanese public television station, is visiting west coast cities to produce a documentary about Japanese Americans. They are in Seattle trying to find out why it is so important for Japanese Americans to document their own history, and how doing this work affects perceptions of identity. They will be following the Densho staff to Denver as we conduct interviews during the Denver JANM conference.

Being asked these types of questions on camera is not that easy and I have to admit I feel a lot more comfortable being the person behind the camera asking the questions. Yesterday, after finishing a session with my parents and me, it was fun to relax with the Japanese film crew over a simple dinner and some good wine to continue the conversation, and to watch the Japanese try to understand my dad’s golf jokes!