June 6, 2018 SH: Sherian Hamamoto, Fresno, California TC: Tilden Chao, Ithaca, New York
TC: Even though you were an infant at Tule Lake, did you receive reparations in 1988? SH: Yes, I did. You just had to be in camp for no matter how long, so yes, I did. TC: Did you feel that you should have received reparations? Did you feel that this was a legitimate apology? SH: Yes, it was symbolic, but I felt that it was an apology. As for feeling that I deserved it, no I didn't, but I was lucky to get it. TC: It seems like it evens out considering that the people who passed away in camp or shortly after never received reparations. SH: It's true that the families were never compensated either. It was kind of strange, but I think that I still have [the money] in stocks. TC: Did your parents experience any discrimination after they left camp? SH: Sure. The one story that I remember is that my mother went to Safeway to go grocery shopping, and they wouldn't wait on her, so she left. That must have made a big impression on me, because I hardly ever shop at Safeway. I'm sure that my parents suffered discrimination, and in camp, my mother had given up her citizenship when they had that "no; no." She and her brothers who were old enough--my grandmother made them say "no; no" to those questions because she told them that they had no property in America, but there might be something in Japan. Then, after the war, my parents couldn't actually buy their first house, so their friend bought it on their behalf. TC: Is that because you had to be an American citizen to buy a home? SH: That's right. You had to be a citizen. The friend was Japanese, so it wasn't really racial. It was because they weren't citizens. TC: Did that promised land your grandmother describe ever come to fruition? Did it exist? SH: No, I don't think so. Actually, after the war, my Obachan [grandmother] decided that it would be better to stay here. So we moved to the Lodi area and started working. TC: Do you know if your mother eventually reapplied for American citizenship? SH: Yes, I know that my mother and my brothers got their citizenship back, and my grandmother and my father took the citizenship exam, so they became naturalized citizens. I remember them studying for it. TC: Was your father able to take the Loyalty Oath, or was he sent to Tule Lake because he was an Issei? SH: You know what? I don't really know. He wasn't just an Issei, he was actually illegal. Maybe that's why he got sent there. TC: It seems like most Japanese immigrants after 1924 were illegal because of the Asian immigrant quotas at the time. So I find that the Issei demographic is split into two groups: illegal and legal around then. I've been asking a lot of people this: I read some statistics in The Economist, and I found that Asians have quickly risen to one of the most privileged races in society, on the whole. How do you think they got to this point? SH: Well, I think it's probably the culture in education. I find it really amazing that the Nisei were able to come out of camp with nothing and go pretty far. Most were able to send their kids to college. Like my parents--a gardener, and my mother with various different jobs--they weren't college graduates or anything, but they were able to send us all to college and save a lot of money. The way the economy was during that time, it allowed people to accumulate a lot of money and save it. Of course, they worked really hard. I think that a big part of the Japanese culture is to do things for their children. TC: After internment, what did your dad do before he could restart his gardening business? SH: He had to harvest asparagus with 10 men. Each man harvested an acre apiece. Do you know how asparagus grows? It grows very close to the ground and you need a knife to cut it. They would literally run through the field. They would cut the ones that were ready to be harvested, but I think they were obligated to harvest 10 acres a day, so they couldn't just walk leisurely around. TC: Was he eventually able to get his business back? SH: Yes, he eventually got enough money to start a gardening business. I think that's what he was doing in Los Angeles [before the war]. He never had his own land to have a farm, but he did garden all his life. TC: Do you have anything that you would like to tell me about internment? SH: Well, recently, there have been some good documentaries on internment. The last one that I saw was titled, Resistance at Tule Lake. You know how everyone that said "no; no" was sent to Tule Lake? Well, the commentator said that that was a big mistake because they sent all the leaders to one place. It turns out that were was a lot of resistance there, with riots. My parents never talked about stuff like that, but I saw some pictures with fire in the Archives. TC: I actually found that it was interesting that very few of of interviewees had negative views about their personal lives in camp. It seems like they were so young that they were rather oblivious to what was going on--they just played all the time. Their understanding of internment also didn't come from their parents, necessarily. It mostly came from their investigations as adults. SH: Before the war, my grandmother had to work to support her seven kids and she was a widow. But in camp, there was more leisure, so she could work on flower arranging, music, and dance. In their normal life, they wouldn't have been able to do this. The people that suffered the most were the Issei because they lost everything that they had built and worked for in the United States. There were a lot of suicides and broken men and women that came out. But I think that the younger people, yeah, it wasn't that bad for them. TC: What happened to Japanese culture after internment? SH: The Issei were largely broken, so the Nisei had to take over. Maybe a few Issei started over, but I imagine that they were very bitter. Some families had businesses, and others lost a lot of property. My family didn't have anything before the war, so they didn't lose that kind of stuff. But after talking to people and watching these films, one learns how they suffered psychologically. TC: Thank you so much for talking with me. I feel that this was really informative, and I find that it's really valuable to learn the broader context of my familial history. I hope to visit you all soon!
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