Second Interview Insert Key
Introduction of Interviewers
Please give us a one-minute overview of your life.
I'm Hiroshi Kashiwagi. I was born in Sacramento on November 8, 1922, in a house that's no longer there. Actually, it belonged to the midwife. I looked it up, the address, and I'm going to use it when I do the reading in Sacramento next week. The address is 1410 Fourth Street. But in 1942, we were sent to the camp, and I ended up in Tule Lake Segregation Camp. And I came out in March of 1946, and eventually I went to Los Angeles and went to LACC [Los Angeles Community College] and then transferred to UCLA where I graduated in 1952. I worked for the Buddhist headquarters for about six years, then I went back to UC Berkeley and I got my library degree, and I spent my professional life as a librarian for twenty years. I retired in 1987.
Do you have any siblings?
I have a brother and sister and one deceased sister.
Did your parents have any plans for employment coming to America?
My father came first. I don't know what kind of plans he had. His brother, he had two brothers already here, I think his father was here too: my grandfather. So he came, but I don't know if he had any plans. I don't know what the brothers were doing. They were probably working on a farm or something, but when he first came, he went to work on the railroad. So he was up in somewhere in Oregon or Washington and he also came through Seattle, so that's probably why he worked on the railroad.
Why did he leave Japan?
He was married and it was a kind of a forced marriage and he didn't like the marriage so he wanted to leave from that. Then I think Japan had been involved in the Russo-Japanese War—or would have been involved, that was in 1903—and it had something to do with military service. I don't think that he wanted to be part of that, so maybe it was to escape that, that he might have left Japan. Also the fact that his brothers and father were already here in America, so he being one of the younger—I think he was the younger son—so that's why I think he came.
Do you remember a memory from when you were young?
I spoke Japanese until I started school. I started school when I was five, going to kindergarden. And then, from six I started grade school. I was still beginning to learn English, and I didn't feel comfortable with it until I was in second grade when I was about seven. It wasn't until I was in the third or fourth grade that I became comfortable —really comfortable—in school so that tests did not frighten me. I was able to do pretty well, although reading was always a problem. I had to concentrate on that. But, then it became easier and easier, so I was able to handle it.
Do you have any stories about the racism or segregation that went on in the schools and community?
As I look back now I think we were tracked, which means that we were kept together and then promoted each year as a group. We had the same classmates from about third grade on up through the eighth grade, and it was one of those schools were we had eight grades. Our class was composed of Japanese American students, who were for the most part were tenant—their parents were tenant farmers. So they didn't own the ranches. Then the others—there were two divisions, two classes—the other group made up white students who were owners of the ranches, so economically they were higher than the other group.
It was the wealthy whites over here, and then everyone else over there?
So did the minorities stick together, or did Japanese students stay together?
We were in the same group, so that we were always together, year after year, and we also happened to have the same teacher who was promoted along with us. We had the same teacher for about three or four years, and I don't know why that happened, but either she liked us, she felt she knew us better. I don't know what it was, but we had her and she was a good teacher.
Was school difficult in other ways beside you just didn't know English? What was your social life like?
I made friends quite easily. When I was in the second grade my father quit the farm and bought a store, so that I was a "townie". I was able to walk to school, which was only about five or ten minutes. And I used to walk to school with white kids in town, because there were no Japanese families living in town. So I had these buddies with whom I walked and walked home from school. And I have a poem that tells about that.
Yes, I had a friend who was of German background and he was very good. I had a kind of obese friend who was kind of an object of jokes—classroom jokes. The three of us would walk to school and walk home and this poem is about the games we played when we walked home.
Did you experience tension about becoming friends with a German kid?
No, he happened to be of German descent, and he had Germanic features, but he was a good kid, nice, his parents—his father was also very liberal and friendly. I don't remember, just that he was interested in flying, so in fact he joined the British air force, RAF, and flew that way during the war. He was shot down and killed early in the war, even before US entered the war. But, the interesting thing is, you were friends as kids, when you were about seven or eight, but as you grew older—and as I said, we were in separate groups—so we were not in the same classroom. We were not as close as we grew older. By the time we were in high school we were definitely hardly friends.