Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Voices from the past: Part Three, The oral histories

ABOVE: Yukiko Furuta standing in front of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission and manse, circa 1910.  These structures remain intact at Warner (formerly Wintersburg) Avenue and Nichols Lane. © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   Arthur August Hansen is Emeritus Professor of History and Asian American Studies at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF).  He is the immediate past director of the CSUF Center for Oral and Public History (COPH) and the founding director of COPH’s Japanese American Oral History Project.  He currently serves as a historical consultant at the Japanese American National Museum, holding the position of senior historian between 2001 and 2005.

   Historic Wintersburg continues with Part 3 of 4 of the interview with Hansen (see Voices from the past Part 1, March 12, 2012 post,, and Voices from the past Part 2, March 19 post,  
Present-day north Huntington Beach includes the former Wintersburg Village area.  The Furuta home and barn, as well as the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission, Church and manse--at Warner (formerly Wintersburg) Avenue and Nichols Lane--have been called the "most significant extant Japanese American site in Orange County."  The earliest structures are over 100 years old--and the 1934 Church is over 80 years old.  

In Voices from the past Part 3 of 4, Arthur A. Hansen---delivering the keynote address at the 2008 annual Manzanar Pilgrimage at the Manzanar National Historic Site in Inyo County, California (Photo by Gann Matsuda of the Manzanar Committee)---discusses how the oral histories were conducted.

   The three most pertinent interviews with this connection were those done with Reverend Kenji Kikuchi, Henry Kiyomi Akiyama, and Yukiko Furuta.  All three of these Issei pioneer interviews were arranged by one of the two Nisei chairpersons for the project's initial History Committee, Charles Ishii.  I'd like to talk about how the interviews were conducted, and then discuss their content.

RIGHT: Rev. and Mrs. Kikuchi stayed at the manse of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission from 1926 - 1936, through the Depression and the construction of the new Church at the corner of Wintersburg Avenue and Nichols Lane.  See "The Wintersburg Mission," Feb. 20, 2012 post, © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   The interview with Rev. Kikuchi at his home in Huntington Beach (conducted Aug. 26, 1981), was the first interview conducted by me with an Issei.  However... I had conducted one with Charles Ishii eight days earlier.  Mr. Ishii was a longtime friend of Rev. Kikuchi and gave me excellent background information relative to the early years of the Japanese American community in Orange County and to Rev. Kikuchi himself.  Mr. Ishii also took me on an extensive driving tour of Orange County in which he pointed out and discussed significant historic sites bearing on the County's Nikkei experience.

   I recall that the Kikuchi home was located in a very well kept neighborhood and also that it was tastefully furnished and decorated.  Upon my arrival that particular afternoon, I was greeted not only by Rev. Kikuchi, but also his wife, Yukiko, and a young Sansei (third generation Japanese American), who I believe was the Kikuchi's grandson.

   At the time of the interview, Rev. Kikuchi--born in Japan in 1898--was eighty-three years old.  While mentally alert, he was then experiencing an assortment of health problems.

   It was a great blessing, therefore, that Rev. Kikuchi's Issei wife, Yukiko, sat through the entire interview.  She relayed my English-language questions to her husband in Japanese and often accompanied them with helpful interpretive gestures.  Much of the interview's success, in fact, is attributable to Mrs. Kikuchi, at time an equal partner narrator.

   Notwithstanding Rev. Kikuchi's health challenges, he radiated a warmth and good cheer rarely seen by me in any other people I have met in and out of interviewing settings.  It was both an honor and a pleasure to become acquainted with him and to interview him. 

   Rev. Kikuchi's taped testimony was very enlightening about virtually every phase of the community life of Japanese Americans in Orange County, but most especially for the period from the mid 1920s--when Rev. Kikuchi assumed his ministerial duties for the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission--through the mid-1930s, when he moved from Orange County.

Henry Kiyomi Akiyama and his wife, Masuko.  Masuko was the sister of Yukiko Furuta; the Akiyamas had lived with the Furutas when they first married (Furuta home on Warner Avenue at Nichols Lane).  See "Full of hope for a new life", March 4, 2012 post, © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
The three interview sessions with Henry Kiyomi Akiyama at his Westminster home were conducted when Mr. Akiyama was ninety-four years old (conducted June 10, 29, and July 27, 1982) .  He was born in Japan in 1888.

   It was to be my first experience interviewing someone through a foreign-language translator (in this case, Yasko Gama), and I fretted as to whether I would be able to get my questions to Mr. Akiyama posed precisely enough; something important, I feared, was bound to get lost in translation.  The recent death of Judge Stephen Tamura had dramatized for the (Bowers Museum's) Japanese American Council (JAC)  the urgency of interviewing Orange County's Issei survivors as soon as possible.

   Only the previous summer, Mr. Akiyama had been briefly interviewed for the JAC by my CSUF  Nisei History Department colleague, Dr. Kinji Yada.  I was concerned that this might well make Mr. Akiyama feel that his answers to my questions were somewhat redundant and therefore scale down his responses to them.

   To prepare, I talked both with Kinji Yada and Charles Ishii (present at Dr. Yada's interview with Mr. Akiyama) to secure background information useful for developing appropriate interview questions.  My preparation also involved reading the 1981 volume Through Harsh Winters: The Life of a Japanese Immigrant Woman by Dr. Akemi Kikumura, a younger Nisei anthropologist specializing in the life histories of Issei men and women.  This book was focused on her mother's life course.  (In 1991, a companion study by Dr. Kikumura centered on her father's life, Promises Kept: The Life of an Issei Man.)

   For the interview, I would ask a question, Mrs. Gamo would then translate.  Mr. Akiyama would answer in Japanese, and Mrs. Gamo would translate his answer into English.  I explained to Mrs. Gamo that my strength was in Japanese American history and that I knew very little about the history, culture, society and geography of Japan--and virtually nothing about the Japanese language.

RIGHT: Henry Akiyama, post WWII (circa 1945), at the Pacific Goldfish Farm.  (Photo, UC Berkeley Bancroft Library) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   ...We were met by Sumi Akiyama, a Nisei who lived on the same property, in a separate house, with her husband--Henry Akiyama's Nisei son, Joe Akiyama.  The size of the property appeared to be about one to one and one-half acres.  In addition to the two houses, there was the Pacific Goldfish Farm, which the family (first Henry, then Joe) had been operating for sixty years.  (Editor's note: Akiyama's first goldfish farm was in Wintersburg, see "Goldfish on Wintersburg Avenue," Feb. 11, 2012 post,

   Sumie Akiyama, who had coordinated all the arrangements for the interview with her father-in-law, led Mrs. Gamo and me...into the expansive living room, which was tastefully appointed and contained a large fireplace and open-beam ceiling.  Looking out into the patio, I could see a lawn and, behind it, an expansive vegetable garden.

   Mr. Akiyama, balding and wearing spectacles, was dressed in a grey checked shirt, charcoal alpaca sweater, and grey slacks.  Throughout the interview session, which lasted three hours, he was totally alert.

   During the interview (Sumie Akiyama) had apparently been harvesting vegetables in the garden for Mrs. Gamo and me, because she proceeded to give us each a sizable bag filled with luscious vegetables.  Whereas my bag contained mostly familiar American vegetables--green beans, squash, tomatoes and celery--Mrs. Gamo's appeared to be full of Asian vegetables such as daikon (giant white radishes), kabu (turnips), satsumaimo (sweet potatoes), and ninjin (carrots).

LEFT: Masuko Akiyama  at the Pacific Goldfish Farm in 1945.  (Photo, UC Berkeley Bancroft Library) © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   Sumie and Henry Akiyama toured me around the outside grounds, as well as the large greenhouse on their shared property.  I soon discovered that Mr. Akiyama, in spite of his advanced age, still nurtured an enormous variety of bonsai trees and raised numerous vegetables for the family's consumption (including a mountain variety of yam, nagaimo, indigenous to his native Nagano prefecture in Japan).

   We held two subsequent interview sessions with Mr. Akiyama (in 1982).  I prepared for these by reading W. Manchester Boddy's Japanese in America (1921); Robert A. Wilson's and Bill Hosokawa's, East to America: A History of the Japanese in the United States (1980); and Donald Keene's Living Japan: The Land, the People, and Their Changing World (1958).

RIGHT: Joe Akiyama at the Pacific Goldfish Farm, circa 1961.  Henry Akiyama purchased land under his son's name, due to the Alien Land Act of 1913.  (Photo, Los Angeles Examiner)

   Mr. Akiyama's son, Joe, supplied me with background information about his father's business career and the Akiyama family history.  We were impressed by Mr. Akiyama's prodigious memory and his penetrating insight, particularly in relationship to the goldfish farming business and the Nikkei community organizations in which he had participated before the outbreak of WWII.

   When the transcript of Mr. Akiyama's interview was returned to him in 1986 (for proofing and corrections), we learned his health had slipped a great deal.  Most of the changes on the transcript were made by other members of the Akiyama family.

LEFT: Mrs. Yukiko Furuta, wife of Charles M. Furuta, circa 1950s-1960s.  Yukiko moved to America to marry C.M. Furuta when she was 17.  She would take the "red car" (Pacific Electric Railroad) into Los Angeles for shopping and later became an avid Los Angeles Dodgers fan.  See "At home in Wintersburg," Feb. 22, 2012 post, © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   The interview with Yukiko Furuta, the Issei widow of Charles M. Furuta, was conducted by me, along with translator Yasko Gamo, in two sessions (June 17 and July 6, 1982).  I looked forward to this interview with the sister-in-law of the prominent Orange County Issei, Henry Kiyomi Akiyama, whom we had finished interviewing only one week earlier.  I wanted to counterbalance the two male Issei interviews with an interview from the perspective of an Issei woman.

   A second cause for my excitement was my deep-seated longing to look around Mrs. Furuta's home on Warner Avenue in Huntington Beach, formerly Wintersburg, which her late husband Charles had built for her in anticipation of her arrival from Japan in 1912 as his seventeen-year-old bride.  I also wanted to get a close look at the historic Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church and adjacent manse structures, which I had been informed were still standing on the five-acre Furuta property.

   To prepare, I telephoned Mrs. Furuta's daughter-in-law, Martha Furuta, the wife of Mrs. Furuta's son, Ray.  She provided me with an excellent background of the Furuta family and of the interviewee in particular.

   Although she was eighty-seven years old, Mrs. Furuta appeared to be in excellent health and possessed of a clear and vibrant mind.  Like most Issei women, she seemed short by Caucasian standards.  She wore eyeglasses, which heightened her dignity...she was attired in a pink dress, over which she wore a purple sweater.  On several occasions during the interview, she "hopped" up from her fetch Japanese tea (ocha) and Japanese rice crackers (senbei) for Mrs. Gamo and me.  The only indication that she was in any way hampered by age came from her remark that up until the current year she regularly traveled to Los Angeles--some forty miles away--to cheer on her beloved Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team at Dodger Stadium.

   Mrs. Furuta soon evidenced she could both understand and speak English quite well; in fact, she sometimes launched into her response to my English-language questions without waiting for Mrs. Gamo's Japanese translation.  The Furuta home stands quite near to Warner Avenue, now a very busy thoroughfare; the interview with Mrs. Furuta was conducted under less than idea sound conditions.

RIGHT: Charles M. Furuta--a charter member and first trustee of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission--he donated the land for the Mission and Church at the corner of Wintersburg (now Warner) Avenue and Nichols Lane. © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

   We were delighted with our interview session with Mrs. Furuta.  She spoke movingly and in depth about... the immigrant Japanese experience in Orange County.  She had so much to say in this regard, that it was necessary to schedule a follow-up interview session with her.

   During the second interview, we remained at the Furuta home (all day), sharing several snacks as well as lunch with not only Mrs. Furuta, but also Martha Furuta and her then twenty-nine-year-old Sansei son, Norman Furuta (a graduate of the Stanford School of Law and then an attorney in San Mateo County).  He had made a special visit to Orange County so he could sit in on the interview with his Issei grandmother.  (Editor's note: Norman Furuta attended Huntington Beach High School).

   Norman Furuta, who was vitally interested in the whole process of oral history, led me on a tour of the Furuta property, which then still contained remnants of the pre WWII goldfish farm maintained by his Issei grandfather (C.M. Furuta).  During the tour, Norman related fascinating tales of his boyhood playing around the nearby (Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian) church and manse.   Once the tour was over, Norman, with his grandmother, reviewed for me albums of family photographs, including some of a very historical nature.

   When the transcript of Mrs. Furuta's interview was returned to her for proofing in 1986, her health had deteriorated quite markedly.  Norman and his aunt, Kay Furuta Sakaguchi, reviewed the the transcripts.  They made many valuable additions and clarifications, and even enhanced the interview's value by providing a Furuta family genealogy.

Next in Part 4 of 4 Voices from the past: Arthur A. Hansen discusses his interviews with Rev. and Mrs. Kikuchi, Henry Kiyomi Akiyama, Yukiko Furuta and Clarence Nishizu.

ABOVE: Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church congregation, circa 1926, the year Princeton-educated Rev. Kenji Kikuchi came to Wintersburg. © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

© All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Orange County author and educator Georgia Day Robertson: Moved to write by her time in Poston

LEFT: Georgia Day Robertson, was in her nineties and living in Costa Mesa at the time she was located by California State University, Fullerton's Oral History Program.  She was 100 years old at the time her manuscript was published. (Photo, Poston Internment Camp Biographies)

   Georgia Day Robertson was a woman ahead of her time.  Her childhood was spent in rural Iowa, where the expectation might have been for her to become a farmer's wife.  Instead, she pursued a Bachelor of Science degree--working her way through school--bobbed her hair before it was fashionable, and embarked on a mission to China to teach at a boarding school for girls.  It was there she met her husband, John A.T. Robertson, continuing to work in China until conflicts in Manchuria forced them to leave.

   After her husband's early death, Robertson brought her two young sons, Angus and David, with her to Southern California while she pursued a master's degree in economic history at the University of Southern California (USC).  She eventually moved her family to Southern California as their permanent residence in 1933.

Teaching, selling eggs and short stories
   "When we came to California, we lived in Midway City... it was in August, after Roosevelt had gotten inaugurated, in August of 1933," remembered Robertson.  "People were still talking about the earthquake, you know; it had happened in March. Then the next eight years—from 1933 to 1941—by selling short stories and teaching at a Santa Ana... evening high school and raising chickens and selling eggs, I was able to make enough money to pay the rent and keep food on the table for all of us, and buy a bit of meat for the cat. I bought two gallons of gas a week to drive to market in Santa Ana."

ABOVE: Damage on Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach after March 1933 earthquake. (Photo, Santa Ana Public Library)

   Robertson recalls Midway City had a population of about a thousand people.  "When they opened the oil fields in Huntington Beach... they had to move a lot of houses out.  So they moved them to Midway City, and that's what started Midway City."

Memories of Orange County's Japanese
    Robertson continued raising her boys as a single parent in Midway City and by 1941 was pursuing a doctorate degree at USC.  She remembers the local Japanese American community.

   "They were ranchers (farmers) and they had their little wayside road stands, where we went and bought vegetables," described Robertson.  "...My son Dave's two best friends were Nisei...and we had very close contact with them. There was a Nisei family that lived right in Midway City that had a fish farm, goldfish for aquariums. They were nice people, lovely people."

   By 1942, Robertson was looking for another teaching job at the California Teacher Association's Placement Bureau in Los Angeles.  "Would you be willing to teach Japanese?" she was asked.  Robertson replied, "Why not?" And, she was told about the Poston, Arizona Relocation Center.

ABOVE: Signpost to Poston, Arizona Relocation Center.  The Colorado River Indian Reservation Tribal Council opposed the use of their land for a relocation center, but were overruled by the Army and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Most of Orange County's Japanese community were interned at Poston.  (Photo, National Archives)

Life at Poston
   Robertson's first impression of Poston was bleak.  "Bulldozers had scraped off mesquite, everything off the desert, before the barracks were built. When I went there, there was nothing but these black tar paper buildings...When I saw these Issei there sitting with idle hands, just sitting, sitting, sitting and looking down at the ground. Oh, the things I saw! It didn't take long for me to decide that this was a shameful thing, a tragedy, just a tragedy."

   Robertson became head of the mathematics department for all three high schools at Poston (camps I, II, and III).   The internees at Poston included families from Huntington Beach and Wintersburg, as well as most of Orange County's Japanese community.  Her teachers included Nisei (American born citizens), who she ended up counseling.  It was during this time, Robertson heard the personal stories of internees.

   "At least I could listen to them. They would tell their stories," Robertson explains.  "They were having a hard time handling the situation, because they knew their fathers had never done anything wrong, and there was no reason why they had to put them in prison camps. They just couldn't take it, you know."

   Robertson also describes the teaching conditions at Poston's schools.  "... I'll never forget that first morning when I went into the classroom—bare barracks and no seats even, and a little table for the teacher and a little chair and, back up on the wall, her own little blackboard. And that's all there was in the room. No textbooks, no seats. The kids came in carrying their little stools their fathers had made for them out of mesquite." 

A tone of perserverance
   Like many of the teachers who visited or worked at Poston (see Remembering Ma Shep, February 14, 2012 post,, Robertson acknowledged what was happening to her students and set a tone of perseverance that would be remembered.

   "I won't say I know how you feel, because that would be impossible, it wouldn't be true," Robertson told her students on the first day.  "I can't know how you feel. But I have a good idea. You're here and there's nothing you can do about it, and nothing I can do about it, so there's no reason to punish yourselves by not getting an education while you're here. So let's get down to business."

   Poston closed in November 1945.  Robertson's experiences at Poston left a deep impression on her.  The blog Poston Internment Camp Biographies remembers Robertson, "It was the postwar return to her native Iowa and the discovery that many Midwesterners had never heard of or refused to believe in the reality of the Evacuation that impelled her to put pen to paper in the service of civil liberties and social justice."

Moved to write
  With her Poston experiences fresh in her mind, Robertson set about writing a novel, Harvest of Hate.  It would be forty years before the novel was published. 

   Arthur A. Hansen, Emeritus Professor of History and Asian American Studies at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), conducted Robertson's oral history interview in 1979 when Robertson was 93 years old.  

   In 1972, Hansen had become aware of "a cache of documents in the university library's Special Collections" relating to the evacuation of Japanese Americans during World War II.  Most of the material had been donated by a "former teacher at Poston."  Among the items was "a large, boxed manuscript of an unpublished historical novel by the donor carrying the title 'Harvest of Hate.' "  

   For six years, attempts to find Robertson proved futile.  By chance in 1978, a letter arrived from Robertson's niece inquiring about the manuscript.  

   Robertson's niece, Dorsey Morris, told CSUF professors Robertson was alive and well, living in Costa Mesa.  

   Robertson's novel, Harvest of Hate, was published by CSUF in 1986, commemorating her 100th birthday.  The novel captures the shock, despair, and confusion felt by Southern California's Japanese Americans following Pearl Harbor, the loss of property, life in internment, and the turmoil of returning at the end of the war.  

   Robertson's novel relays the debates among Japanese Issei and Nissei about the prospect of internment.

   "I just can't believe our government would force us out of our homes," states one of the book's Nisei characters, confident that U.S. citizenship offered protection.  "...Men who are working on ranches raising food the Army needs so badly, they couldn't be spared, and women and little children and babies and harmless, crippled old men... a lot of us are doing work important to the war effort, and I think the thing for us to do is go right on working..."

   In one of the book's forewords, Orange County resident and principal founder of the Japanese American Council of the Bowers Museum Foundation of Orange County, Hiroshi Kamei recalls, "I first met Mrs. Robertson in 1944 in the second semester of my junior year at Poston...I remember her then as a stately, proud woman with silver-white hair, who made a tremendous impression on me..."  

   Kamei writes he is "forever grateful" to Robertson, who made a personal appeal to her alma mater, Iowa State College, enabling Kamei to pursue a mathematics degree.  

   Robertson continued her contact with the local Japanese American community after the war.

   "In the late 1940s, while I was away at college... my family ran a farm and roadside vegetable stand in Garden Grove..." recalls Kamei.  "Mrs. Robertson, by then having resumed her teaching career in Orange County, frequently stopped at my mother's stand to chat."  Kamei writes in his book foreword in 1986, "I can think of no greater (100th) birthday gift for her than the publication of her novel."

 Georgia Day Robertson died on December 6, 1991 in Orange County at the age of 105 years.  

Historic Wintersburg author's note:  While Harvest of Hate is out of print, copies can be found through rare and used book sellers, and online sources.  The Harvest of Hate, by Georgia Day Robertson. Edited by Arthur A. Hansen. Oral History Program California State University, Fullerton, 1986. ISBN: 0-930046-08-0 KBF

The oral history interview was conducted for the Japanese American Project of the CSUF Oral History Program.  The full oral history interview with Georgia Day Robertson can be viewed at;NAAN=13030&

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.  

Monday, March 19, 2012

Voices from the past: Part Two The oral histories of Orange County's and Wintersburg's Japanese Americans

   Arthur August Hansen is Emeritus Professor of History and Asian American Studies at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF).  He is the immediate past director of the CSUF Center for Oral and Public History (COPH) and the founding director of COPH’s Japanese American Oral History Project.  He currently serves as a historical consultant at the Japanese American National Museum, holding the position of senior historian between 2001 and 2005.

   Historic Wintersburg continues with Part 2 of the interview with Hansen (see Voices from the past Part 1, March 12, 2012 post), who conducted many of the oral histories for the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project that paint a picture of Wintersburg's past, including those with Yukiko Furuta (Furuta home at Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane), Rev. Kenji Kikuchi (pastor at Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission and Church) and goldfish farmer Henry Kiyomi Akiyama (a congregant at the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church). 

 Arthur A. Hansen, Emeritus Professor of History and Asian American Studies at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF).

The oral history interviews were conducted with Orange County's pioneering Issei and their older Nisei children.  What other considerations went into the interviewing process?

   One main consideration was geography.  An attempt was made to have project interviews with Nikkei drawn from the different geographical regions of Orange County.  

   For example, Yoneko Dobashi Iwatsuru was chosen in part because her birth family, the Dobashis, farmed in the north Orange County community of Yorba Linda (where, incidentally, she was President Richard Nixon's elementary school classmate).  On the other hand, Betty Oba Masukawa was partially selected as an interview because she came from the well-known Oba family of Fullerton, near Yorba Linda.  In the case of four interviewees--Kyotaro and Mine Yabuki Kaneko, George Jiro Abe, and Aiko Tanimachi Kaneko--they were selected because all made their pre-World War II (WWII) home within a residential enclave on the Hellman Ranch near Seal Beach (northwest Orange County, south of Long Beach, Los Angeles County).  

   As for Yoshiki Yoshida, the president of the Orange County chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League at the outbreak of WWII, it was driven to a certain extent by his family being part of the large contingent of prewar Nikkei family who lived and farmed on Irvine Ranch property (central Orange County).  Maki Kanno's* interview provided the project with a representative from Greenville, in unincorporated area west of Santa Ana.

Jim Kanno*, son of interviewee Maki Kanno,* was interviewed by CSU Fullerton in 1971.  He was the first mayor of the City of Fountain Valley and the first Japanese American mayor in the mainland United States.  The Kanno family were congregants of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission and Church.

   Three Issei (Henry Kiyomi Akiyama*, Yukiko Furuta* and Reverend Kenji Kikuchi*) and one Nisei (Charles Ishii) claimed the area of northwest Orange County now encompassing the cities of Westminster, Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley--the veritable cradle of the County's Japanese American community prior to WWII.

   The northern Orange County community of Garden Grove supplied two of the Project narrators, Issei Shizu Kamei and Nisei Clarence Iwao Nishizu.* Clarence Nishizu's family also farmed in north Orange County (Anaheim and Buena Park) during the prewar period.

Clarence Iwao Nishizu, one of the oral history interviewees, also a congregant of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church.  Nishizu was instrumental in the creation of the Orange County Agricultural and Nikkei Heritage Museum at the Fullerton Arboretum and the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

Was there a lack of representation in south Orange County?

   That was not by design so much as lack of time.  The intention was always to interview a Nikkei from Laguna Beach in south Orange County.  Finally, in 1992, I had a graduate student in American Studies connected with the CSUF Oral History Program, Alan Koch, who interviewed a representative from that area, Dr. Don Miyada, recently retired as a chemistry professor at the University of California, Irvine.  That brought the Honorable Stephen K. Tamura Orange County Japanese American Oral History Project to a total of sixteen interviews.

   Another consideration in the development of the Project was to achieve a reasonable degree of gender balance among those interviewed.  Among the Issei, there are three men and four women; as for the Nisei, there are six men and three women.  The Project objective was fairly well met.

   A final consideration for the Project was that the interviewees all came from pre-WWII farm families.  This was, after all, Orange County's agricultural era for non-Japanese Americans as well as Japanese Americans, but especially so for the latter.

   Over 90 percent of Japanese Americans were involved in farming.  We wanted to showcase those families farming Orange County's four major cash crops (celery, sugar beets, chili peppers and strawberries), plus families associated with another less customary agricultural activity, goldfish farming, that was particularly identified with the County's Nikkei community.

Partial view of Furuta family barn in Wintersburg, off Wintersburg (Warner) Avenue.  Over 90 percent of Orange County's Japanese Americans were involved in farming. (Photo, March 2012)

What was the general reaction of the interviewees when they learned you wanted to talk with them?

   I think it is fair to generalize to an extent in respect to how Issei interviewees reacted to the prospect of being interviewed on tape for the sake of posterity as compared to older Nisei interviewees.  Whereas the Issei tended to experience anxiety about being interviewed, it was due in large measure to the nature of those who would be interviewing them for the Project's bilingual interviews.  On the one hand, there were American college professors and students, who would be indirectly posing the questions in English for them to answer through translators; on the other hand, there were comparatively young graduates of Japanese universities who would be interviewing them in Japanese (translating the English questions posed and rendering in English their responses).

   What made the Issei interviewees anxious in relation to their English-speaking interviewers was their apprehension that the interviewers might find it strange that immigrants who had been in the United States for approximately half a century would still not be proficient in the English language.

   The anxiety that the Issei interviewees felt in relation to their Japanese translators, however, derived from a quite different circumstance.  Put simply, they felt that the "traditional" Japanese they had acquired in the Meiji-era (1868-1912) and Taisho-era (1912-1926) Japan prior to emigrating was "obsolete" and that this situation would hamper communication with their translators, who had been schooled in a "modern" variant of the Japanese language.

Nisei Kazuo "Kaz" Masuda* attended Huntington Beach High School and, along with his family, attended the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church.  The Masuda family's experience during WWII was recognized by President Ronald Reagan during his national address regarding the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.  (Photo,

   As for the older Nisei interviewees, their source of anxiety was not tied to language, since their monolingual interviews were exclusively in English.  As a consequence, their degree of proficiency in Japanese did not constitute a concern.  What worried these interviewees was that they would be expected by their academic interviewers to provide detailed information about their parents' background in Japan, as well as their migration experiences both from Japan to Hawaii and/or the continental United States, before their eventual settlement in Orange County.

   These older Nisei also nursed some trepidation that their scholarly questioners would assume that they could present a fairly polished and comprehensive account of the Japanese American historical experience.

   The Issei and older Nisei interviewees did share an acute unease about being interviewed for an oral history project that was rooted in their common WWII mass involuntary eviction from their West Coast homes and incarceration in American-style concentration camps located in the U.S. interior West.  

   Viewed as security risks, whether as aliens ineligible for U.S. citizenship, or as American-born U.S. citizens, Nikkei had been relentlessly barraged with questionnaires or interviews throughout the wartime interval, most of which revolved around whether or not they were "loyal" or "disloyal" to the United States.  These veritable interrogations freighted with possibly dire consequences naturally had the effect of making Americans of Japanese ancestry apprehensive toward all species of interviews.  This situation colored their outlook to being interviewed for even so benign an enterprise as the Oral History Project.

Southern California Japanese Americans in the process of evacuation via Pacific Electric Railway, circa 1941.

What allayed their apprehension and ultimately persuaded them to actively participate in the interviewing process?

   Most of the Issei and older Nisei interviewees were honored to be asked to share their life stories in relationship to the creation and development of the Japanese American community of Orange County.  Although typically self-effacing, they sensed the importance of communicating their experiences, not only for younger and/or newer members of the County's Nikkei community, but also for the edification and enjoyment of the County's non-Nikkei population.  

   Their racial-ethnic past--owing in great part to their unjust wartime exile and imprisonment--had largely been buried, even to their own children.

   The time seemed right in the early 1980s, during the rising tide of the movement among Japanese Americans for redress and reparations of their WWII mistreatment, for those interviewed to speak up for democracy, social justice and dignity.  It also was a time, at the peak moment of the so-called "Japanese miracle" in Japan, for Nikkei to give voice, though not ostentatiously so, to their pride in both their Japanese ancestry and heritage and their history and identity as patriotic Americans of Japanese descent.  

   So if the Project interviewees harbored reservations about telling their stories on tape, their incentives to do so fortunately overwhelmed their misgivings to the contrary.

What would you say were the common themes or stories you heard in the Project interviews? 

   Because of the generational differences between the Issei and the older Nisei, the stories and themes communicated reflected this bifurcation.  

   The Issei, quite naturally, focused their attention on their coming of age in Meiji and/or Taisho Japan, and the reasons governing their migration.  They also devoted much of their recollections to their transoceanic migration experience, including their preparation for it, the nature of the ship upon which they sailed, their personal accommodations, how they were received and treated at their respective port of disembarkation (usually Seattle or San Francisco), and their reaction to and interactions with their new American surroundings and population.  

   They also talked at considerable length about their early American employment, which characteristically was as workers in labor gangs for railroads, lumber mills, agricultural concerns, fishing endeavors, or as domestic servants on large rural estates or urban mansions.

   Many Issei told stories about their marriages, their family and institution-building activities, how they coped with or circumvented prejudicial laws and extralegal measures aimed at them as Japanese or Asian immigrants, and when they decided, and why, to forego returning to Japan and make America (most especially Orange County) their permanent home.

 Japanese American chili pepper farmers. (Photo, California State University, Fullerton)
   The older Nisei interviewees took a different tack in their Project interviews.  The difference had a great deal to do with their being American citizens as opposed to Japanese aliens ineligible for U.S. citizenship.  Most of the older Nisei interviewees--because they were among the first born of their generation in the U.S. and Orange County, emphasized stories and themes consistent with being bridges between their Issei parents' generational experiences and the experiences of their younger, co-generational Nisei siblings.  

   They related stories of having to enter American public schools without benefit of English-language facility and the concomitant need to acquire this competency, sometimes in segregated classrooms, and then pass it on not only to their younger siblings, but also to their mainly Japanese-speaking parents.  

   The older Nisei also discussed their obligation to carry a larger burden in respect to family labor, whether in the agricultural fields or in the family home.  They reflected upon their need to defer participation in school-related activities, such as team sports, music and dramatic productions, in order to buttress the family economy.  They commonly expressed their reaction to having to curtail their education after high school or junior college to assume a larger share of responsibility for managing their family farm and helping to subsidize the cost of higher education for their younger siblings.

Poston, Arizona Relocation Camp on the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation, about 12 miles south of Parker, Arizona.  Most, if not all, of Orange County's Japanese Americans were evacuated to Poston.  (Photo,

   Much more than the Issei, the older Nisei took up the theme of their family's eviction from their homes and communities, and subsequent incarceration in detention centers during WWII.  Most expressed their surprise and indignation that, as U.S. citizens, their civil and human rights could be so disregarded by the American government. 

   On the other hand--still being young adults at the time of the war--their camp experiences assumed a great prominence in their life stories.  These included wartime resettlement out of camp into so-called "free zone" areas throughout the country and their postwar return to Orange County.  Those who served in the U.S. military during the war also covered their experiences in considerable detail.

   Since in the postwar era many of the older Nisei carved out successful careers in a variety of different venues and raised children (third generation Sansei)--who often excelled in school and established themselves as business leaders and professionals--these experiences were frequently (and proudly) covered in their interviews.

*Congregants of Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission and Church.

Next in Part 3:  Arthur A. Hansen talks about the Wintersburg interviews.    

Shuji Kanno, a charter member, elder, and clerk of the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Mission (Warner Avenue and Nichols Lane).  Father of Jim Kanno, the first mayor of Fountain Valley and the first Japanese American mayor in the mainland U.S.

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hubert Latham's infamous aerial duck hunt over the Bolsa Chica: Part 2

Hubert Latham, circa 1910. Photo, Library of Congress 

   Describing him as a "little French king of the air," the Los Angeles Herald was ecstatic over Hubert Latham's airborne duck hunt over the Bolsa Chica wetlands and beach.  (See our first mention of Hubert Latham at Welcome to the peatlands: farmers, preachers, tycoons, oilmen and outlaws,
   Latham, flew to Bolsa Chica from the Dominguez Aero Park (present day Carson, California), "coming out of the east like a great winged monster that even the birds had not dreamed of, the man invaded the sacred domain of all winged creatures---the ocean---and sailing out over its blue expanse he flew...between great flocks of birds, at times flying faster than they, and to show that his mastery over them was complete he picked one from the air with a rifle shot, while his chugging terror-inspiring craft traveled at fifty miles an hour."

Left: Hubert Latham, circa 1910, the year of his infamous flight over the Bolsa Chica. Photo, Library of Congress

   John B. Miller, a Bolsa Chica Gun Club member and member of the Dominguez Aero Park aviation committee, had suggested the stunt to Latham, but later said he "didn't think the aviator would take the proposition seriously."  A group from the Gun Club, aviation committee and members of the media had assembled at the Bolsa Chica for the purportedly unexpected flight.  "It was seven minutes to 12 when a group of watchers at the Bolsa Chica saw a black speck against the eastern sky."

   The Herald continues, "then like a great sinister thing, the mammoth craft with its great wings casting ominous shadows on the waves below, swooped down over the ocean and a new terror was added to birddom.  The battle between the man and the bird was on."

   Latham reportedly used a 20-caliber rifle and the noise of his plane and rifle fire startled a group of cattle grazing on the outskirts of the Bolsa Chica or "little pockets" pastureland.  The cattle "found refuge in the water at the edge of the lagoons.  Others bellowed their protest at this the winged monster."

   Thousands of ducks resting in the Bolsa Chica "took wing when the manbird appeared and the flutter of their wings almost drowned the chug of the aeroplane's propeller as they soared away." 

   After news of Latham's widely-reported duck hunt circulated, the Bolsa Chica Gun Club received an offer to duplicate the flight from English aviator James Radley, in town for the Dominguez Aero Park international aviation meet.  The Gun Club, wisely, isn't reported as accepting the offer.

The Los Angeles Herald reports on Hubert Latham's duck hunt over the Bolsa Chica in his Antoinette monoplane, December 23, 1910. (Library of Congress, Chronicling America)
   About the ducks, Latham commented, "ordinarily they travel about fifty miles an hour, but when they are being chased, they go faster than this...I would have no trouble in overtaking them, for they tire and the machine does not."  Latham's only concern was that the birds would damage his plane.

   On hand to witness Latham's flight---which they claim they did not know would happen---were a number of members of the Dominguez Aero Park aviation committee, Bolsa Chica Gun Club members M.J. Connell, F.H. Stevens, Count von Schmidt, W.M. Bailey, H.C. Merritt, J.S. Cravens, F.E. Wilcox, Lawrence W. Burck, Dr. Granville MacGowan, P.H. Auten, H.L. Story, and Dr. John L. Haynes.  The Herald reports guests of the club included E.B. Tufts, W.G. Levin, H. MacGowan, "newspapermen and others."  

   Coincidentally, Dominguez Aero Park was hosting their Second Annual International Aviation Meet the day after Latham's flight was reported (see advertisement below from the same edition of the Los Angeles Herald).

   Missing from the Herald's report is the reaction of those toiling in the peatlands, who must have heard the commotion and witnessed the scattering of cattle and birds.  Five years earlier, hundreds of farmers and ranchers had petitioned President Roosevelt regarding the Bolsa Chica Gun Club's dam across the tidal inlet blocking navigable waters, without success.  Latham's flight is iconic of worlds colliding (tycoons vs. farmers and ranchers).

Advertisement from the December 23, 1910 evening edition of the Los Angeles Herald. (Library of Congress, Chronicling America, University of California - Riverside)   

All rights reserved.  No part of the Historic Wintersburg blog may be reproduced or duplicated without prior written permission from the author and publisher, M. Adams Urashima.