Camera Rolls: 314:40-41
Sound Rolls: 314:22
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Togo Tanaka , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on April 8, 1992, and December 22, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.*
Mark, take one.
—and I want you to stay always in 1934.
So I want you to first tell me, kind of how the Depression affected your family, what was it like to live in Los Angeles, in 1934?
Well, in 1934, I was a student at UCLA finishing my sophomore year, and having to elect a major at that time. The Depression was something that we learned about, reading the newspapers, and you know, seeing people selling apples on the corner.
But what about you personally, I mean, was it hard times for your family?
Well, it was always hard times for my family, so it didn't make too much difference. We owned a fruit and vegetable stand, so we had enough to eat, and when we sold that, then we grew vegetables in our back yard. But, I don't recall [phone rings] it being any harder or easier.
OK, let's stop.
Oh, I'll tell you what—
OK, can you tell me how you first heard about Upton Sinclair?
Yes, I first was made conscious of him from those billboards in Barnsdall Park.
OK, I'd like you to start again if that's OK? Instead of saying "him"—
You say "Upton Sinclair"—
Oh, all right, fine, all right.
All right, fine.
Just kind of put yourself, talk with, you know, enthusiasm.
All right. [laughs]
It's all right to laugh. Try not to be so serious.
I remember Upton Sinclair from having read about him, and having read his messages on those billboards that surrounded Barnsdall Park in Hollywood, across the street from the Los Feliz Elementary School, where I had attended school, during the green years. I also read about him in the political science classes that I took at UCLA, and became aware of what he stood for in discussions with fellow students and reading that I did for classes.
OK, let's just go back to Barnsdall Park. If I was walking, if I was in 1934 and walking up to Barnsdall Park, what would I see? Tell me, were there a lot of signs? Tell me, describe to me a little—
Oh, there were signs—
I'm sorry, just a—I was talking when you were talking.
I remember Barnsdall Park as a place that we call Olive Hill. It was across the street from a school that I first attended kindergarten through the sixth grade, and it was a favorite place for pupils who were allowed to cross the street—Frank Lloyd Wright had built some homes there, we were aware of that. There were places to play, playgrounds, on Olive Hill, and it was a place that we were quite aware of all through grade school. In the second year when I was at UCLA, since we lived in Hollywood not too far from Barnsdall Park—it wasn't called Barnsdall Park then, it was simply Olive Hill—and
these billboards sprouted all the way around, it was quite spectacular, and you couldn't help
** —I remember spending time reading each one and going from one to another
** and was quite impressed by it because we were now studying about what Upton Sinclair stood for.
And tell me, what did the signs, what kind of things did the signs say?
Well, EPIC stood for "End Poverty In California," and, although in our family we didn't know we were poor, I guess we were by any measure, but we had enough to eat, and we had a roof over our heads, but we always, all of us worked in the store that my parents owned and ran, so that the idea that we could improve our economic lot, somehow or another, came to life as we read what Upton Sinclair was promising us. He stood for change, that as you went to school and learned what democracy was all about, he was like a shining light.
Tell me a little more about Upton Sinclair, what you thought about him and what he represented. Help me understand if I wasn't around then. Was it something totally new, was he just one of another number of people who were outspoken at that time?
I don't remember if he was that different. You know, we were also bombarded with signs that said "Free Tom Mooney," you know, in that, on those same billboards—I later learned that the lady who owned that hill was the heiress to the Anaconda Copper Company, and she apparently had the social concerns that I think were pretty much expressed by Upton Sinclair and the campaign that he was conducting in that particular year.
I thought it was very hopeful because it meant change, and there were lots of things about California and life as we knew it, that weren't totally satisfactory.
** If you came from where I came from, at that time.
OK, so tell me a little bit about, what, you know, you started to say, what were some of the things that needed to be changed? You told me before, well, you came from the wrong side of the tracks, and-
Well, in that sense, yes. [laughs]
You could not be a person born of Oriental extraction—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or whatever—and live in California during the '20s and the '30s and know that the laws governing us were not equal. My parents, for example, under the California Alien Land Law, could not own a home,
** so we were forever condemned to be renters. If any one of us in the family desired to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or enter into any of the professions, we could, but my parents could not, because they were what they at that time called Aliens Ineligible to American citizenship. And historically California had a record of anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese laws that had been successfully, I think, passed through the conflicts in organized labor. Beside the very elementary things, housing, and work, I think that the idea that there were laws that prevented inter-marriage, not that any of us, you know, contemplated that, but there, it seemed to me, that there was an inequity there. The more that you studied the Constitution of the United States and American history, and you realized that the democratic principles upon which this republic was based, really were a goal and had not yet been achieved. And so, if you learned this in political science class at UCLA, then you accept the fact that, here comes someone who is not established but says, let's change some of these things, and Upton Sinclair, I think, appealed to me and all through the years I remembered him in that light.
OK very good. Can we stop for a second?
—again ask you to talk about some of the discrimination and the difficulties that you felt, and how you were looking for somebody that could represent change.
I remember Upton Sinclair as a political candidate who, to me, held out hope for change and some of the things that I had become aware of in our society, were not equitable.
That's what you—
So I welcomed his candidacy.
Again, let's try this—you did too much of a summary.
Oh, I see.
How it affected you? You know—
—about what you couldn't have, or could or couldn't do. So I understand personally, you know, we remember how we sometimes forget what it was like—
Well, for example, we always lived in a rented house. And my friends at school lived in homes that their parents owned. And when I raised that question of my own parents, they said, that the laws forbid them from owning a home, and so in school, especially when you got to college, or in high school when you attended civics classes, and you read the constitution, and you looked for anything in the basic laws of the land that said, why should my parents not be able to own land or a home, when my friends could, you found the answer in such legislation as the California Alien Land Law. And so, when you become aware of that, even as a teenager, and a student at college, then when someone like—
—Upton Sinclair comes along and says, well I'll end poverty in California, but I also will bring about an improvement in a lot of citizens, that appealed to me.
OK, good. Thanks.
We ran out about Upton Sinclair.
OK, so we'll change our—
Since we ran out of film right at the end of what you were saying—
I need you to say it again. [laughs]
[laughs] OK, all right.
So, tell me again, what did Sinclair represent to you? When you started listening, you, you know, heard, you read some of the literature, you saw the signs, right?
Did you feel excitement? Did you feel like that there was a possibility of some real change?
I don't think I felt excitement so much as a sense of relief, at last something is possible. I think that, in our family, my father had taught us not to expect too much in this country. I don't think he ever wanted to stay here, he felt that there was no future for anyone except a person of Caucasian background, because this was, as he said, a white man's country. And the belief that any real substantive change would take place in the laws that would give equal opportunity to someone of Japanese decent, was something that he had long since given up. And so, when Upton Sinclair's, you know, promises of change and improvement for the under-privileged came along, I accepted that as great hope, and something that I can use to argue my father about. But the enthusiasm that would come with the kind of dedication that people would believe in that, that wasn't yet a part of what I experienced at that time—that came later and more, and you had to make a choice—but I think Sinclair was a, what is it, an introduction to a period of hope.
Great, you knew about him mostly through the signs in Barnsdall Park, or did you read?
Oh, I did a lot of reading, and I used to read everything in sight. When I worked in the fruit stand for my parents, you know, our customers would give us discarded books, and a lot of these paperback, you know, _Popular Mechanics_, and Western stories, and newspapers, we wrapped vegetables in newspapers, but the magazines I always put aside, and I read all of them. And we went to a library, but, and I read newspapers, we had six or seven daily newspapers in the city, and you read about and began to clip things about Upton Sinclair, and I also, I, I think, discussed with friends, but the introduction to it came from those sign boards, I remember those very vividly.
OK, so you need to tell me once again about seeing the signs because there was a little problem—
Oh, sure. [laughs]
So tell me again about, was it Olive Hill?
Olive Hill right.
Can we cut for a second? I need—
Give me one second.
All right. [coughs]
OK. OK then.
Well today in Los Angeles it's known as Barnsdall Park—
I'm sorry, you have to—
Oh, I have to [laughs] In 1934 it was Olive Hill as far as I was concerned. And I had gone to grade school from kindergarten through the sixth grade at Los Feliz Elementary School on Hollywood Blvd. between New Hampshire and Vermont, and Olive Hill across the street extended many blocks, from Vermont all the way to Edgemont, South to Sunset Blvd., and then again East to Vermont. It was a tremendously large plot of land, and I think I did sense a great deal of, what is it, not only surprise, but delight when I read the sign boards set around the entire, Olive Hill, advertising Upton Sinclair's candidacy to End Poverty in California. And I remember that very vividly as one of the things about Hollywood, where I grew up.
And so these signs were surround [sic] the whole area?
How many signs do you think there were? Twenty?
Oh no, there must have been much than twenty. I don't know. All I remember is that they were there and you read them, and people couldn't help but see them. And I can't remember whether that "Free Tom Mooney" was before or after, but those lasted much longer.
So it was like one big block long?
Yes, there were.
You had a good friend that was the son of one of the editors of the . What did the represent at that point to you, and did you ever have disagreements, did you-?
Well the was a very staunchy, stayed, [sic] newspaper, that probably represented in a very dignified way, what the establishment stood for. This was a white man's country, it was the feeling toward people, you know, who were from the, from Asia, was not expressed as vocally or as, I think, obviously as in the William Randolph Hearst newspaper, and . The expression "yellow peril" appeared less often in the Times than it did in or , and the people who wrote in the cartoons that appeared too, were not as openly racist as we would call it today, but the Times was not the most influential newspaper, as I recall, in those years. The Hearst papers were more, and I believe they had a bigger circulation.
OK, did you read the book, ever read the book, , Sinclair's book?
, did you ever read-?
Oh yes, yes I did, I certainly did. I—
Was that the first time you ever heard about Upton Sinclair, was reading that book?
Oh no, no. That came in the course of some poli sci classes at UCLA.
OK, you had said, in school, that you used to write, have discussions, and write papers about the campaign, do you remember at all any of the kinds of discussions you had with other students? Or what those [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] may have been?
Well, I don't remember too much in detail, except that, it seemed to me, the people that I went to school with were evenly divided between, you know, feeling that California's future was in the hands of, was in good hands, that the Republican party was providing the kind of leadership that we needed. And, I rode to UCLA with two friends who were neighbors, we were classmates through grade school, junior high school, high school, and in college together, and it seemed to me that my views, generally, were left of center and theirs were in the middle or to the right of center, that they felt—one who's father was a political editor for the —felt that the stability and the growth of the California government rested firmly in the hands of the Republican party, and I regard myself as a prospective Democratic party member.
OK, did you ever receive any anti-Sinclair literature, did you see any of that?
Oh, I'm sure I did. I have not saved any of it, and I don't remember much of it. I think at that time you had kind of a closed mind against the opposition so [laughs] I, I was a reader in political science for several professors at UCLA, and I know that, I tutored some football players at Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, and I used to delight in the fact since they weren't very bright or studious in the courses that I read for, I used to slip in Sinclair propaganda in [laughs] some of the lessons that I corrected for them.
When your parents moved to California, did they think of it as being—many people thought of California as being a "land of opportunity," a place where more things were possible—well was that ever a feeling in your family?
If they did I never heard it. No, they just moved here because it was the thing to do I guess, and they had run out of work up in the Orient.
OK. Can we stop for a minute?
No slate was marked for this next take, it was just roll out.
OK. Can we stop for a minute.
Oh, I see. [laughs]
This is take six. Audio only, wild track.
OK, so tell me about the newsreels that you saw.
I used to, go through all of the Cowboy Western movies, you know, like , this was in the '20s as well as the '30s, and that was our cheap form of recreation. So newsreels, Fox Movietone News, anything like that was one. There were a number of them that they usually, they were like a preface to a book, they showed them first and then you saw the main feature. And, I remember in 1934 when Upton Sinclair was pictured as a menace to stability, and law and order in our society, and the fact is that, if you voted for him or if you campaigned for him, he was going to bring in chaos and the unemployed would flood California. Everything short of a Bolshevik or a communist, this is what Upton Sinclair and his so called campaign to End Poverty in California stood for. Then, when we did see them I was, it could very well have been because I had found myself suddenly a minority of, people around there were cheering, and applauding, and I thought that they had turned up the sound for that portion, and what I think we do with television these days, commercials get turned up more, I think that's what they did, in those movies.
And what did you think about those?
I didn't care for them [laughs] particularly. I was, wished that they would get over with them as quickly as possible, but you ran into them everywhere, and you knew that someone was able to pay for those.
OK. OK, very good.
OK, all right.
Can I run some film?
Yes. OK, now what we're doing is, well you've been [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ] room tone.
All right, we're just going to call this room tone in Westwood. Everybody get comfortable for thirty seconds and-
And we're rolling.
OK, let's start off by, if you could tell me, where you were in 1937, what you were doing that year?
I lived in Glendale, California. [coughs] I take it back I lived in Hollywood, Los Feliz and Vermont. I moved to Glendale the following year. I was working, full-time, as an English editor of a daily newspaper called the , still being published here in Los Angeles after ninety years, but I had received a degree from UCLA in political science, and had gone to work, in my senior year, for the .
So, one of the things that we're looking at in this film is the economic climate in the end of the decade there, '37 and '38, and there were a lot of reports that everything was getting better, and the Depression was over, I wonder if you could tell me what it was like for you at that point, were things getting better economically for you?
I always thought that every new job that I had I improved my condition. While in school I worked twelve hours on Saturdays at the Hollymont Market for three dollars a Saturday, and the job at the paid me I think sixty-five dollars a month, plus three meals in the commissary, you know of the newspaper. And, as I look back it never occurred to me that it was, you know, hard times. There was enough to eat, we had a roof over our head, paid our rent, and I took the street car down to the job everyday and I enjoyed it.
Did you see a lot of hardship around you still, or—?
Yes, yes I did. I saw people on the street corner selling apples. I read about in the newspaper that we were in a deep depression, that there was unemployment. I think about that time they talked about a bonus march through Washington D.C., and you couldn't work for a daily newspaper, reporting what was happening in the city, even though this was an ethnic newspaper, without being aware of the fact that there was a world-wide depression. Times were hard. The government in Washington D.C. had started out by declaring a bank holiday, and we knew that times were hard. I think the wage scale was such a, I think I remember at that time that we quoted the fact that if you were a manager of a Safeway store, and earned enough to support a family of four, two children and a couple, and if you got $125 a month that was going scale. The dollar was worth a great deal more in those days, and so you didn't get as many of them. But we were in a depression, and what little economic I had studied at UCLA, I had learned that in the early days in the Nineteenth Century, we didn't call it a depression, we called it a panic. And then in the 1930s newspapers picked up the term depression and that's what we were suffering.
I wonder if you can help me understand a little bit what kind of opportunities there were for Japanese Americans? Would you mind telling a little bit about some of the obstacles that you talked about?
Yes. Well it was a standing—it wasn't a joke, it was kind of ironic—but the most successful entrepreneur among Japanese Americans, I think one of the more successful in the Los Angeles area was a man named Susumu Hasuike, H-A-S-U-I-K-E, Japan born, but he had had the drive to not only own one fruit and vegetable store, but he had a chain of them. I don't remember how many he had at it's peak, but it ran into several dozen. And it was said that if you got an engineering degree at UC Berkley—they weren't handing out those degrees at UCLA—you could get a job polishing apples and stacking potatoes for Three Star Produce, but it wasn't unusual to go to a fruit stand and discover that ingredient. In my own case I was offered a scholarship to the University of Missouri, Journalism, but it was just for tuition, but it didn't cover the cost of living. So I chose to go where I could work and earn a salary. I think the jobs were relatively limited for people of Japanese descent in those days, as they were for other ethnic groups who belonged to so-called minorities.
So was California very receptive of a community for Japanese-Americans?
Well, we were born here, [laughs] most of us were. I think that California had a long history of anti-Oriental, political agitation, the organized labor, first because when the Chinese were brought in to build the railroads, I think successive ways the Asian immigrants all ran into the same thing, the same thing that Southern Europeans ran into in New York and on the East Coast.
I'm going to have to interrupt you, and I want to pick up that story. We've run out on this roll.
-five minutes to warm up and then we'll, then we'll give you a full ten minute roll.
OK, you were in the middle of telling me about the situation in California for Japanese-Americans and whether you felt welcome here.
I think that, during my student days at UCLA-
Let's hold for a second.
Oh, a helicopter.
OK, let's start where we-
All right, fine.
-about California and whether or not if felt like a receptive place, like a home to you.
If you lived in California, in the 1920s, I've lived here since 1916, but you knew that you were not really a first-class citizen on an equal footing with other classmates. One, it wasn't just an economic difference, I think it was more a question of knowing that customs that were cast in concrete here. I remember the first time I walked down here to Westwood Village to get a haircut, I was a sophomore at that time, and I was told that your hair is different so go to Little Tokyo. [laughs] That was not an uncommon experience, you see. If you went into good restaurants, couldn't afford them anyway, but you know, you might be seated in the back. Now, this might not have been that common an experience, but I think it was in that, for most people who were visibly different, you know if you were black, we didn't say black in those days, but if you were Negro or those other, or Japanese or Chinese. There weren't many other Asians, but the Japanese and Chinese were more of the brunt of the early anti-Oriental, you know, feelings just generally. I think most noticeably, and I ran into this on graduation from UCLA and attempting to buy a home, and you discover that within the legal framework of how you buy a home, there was a thing called the, I think it was a deed, which said, "Occupancy of this property can be only by a person of Caucasian descent," which eliminated a lot of us. So I think in those ways—later as I became an English editor of the and discovered that literally in Little Tokyo, I had never lived in a segregated, racial community until I began to work for the newspaper. My parents had always lived in, you know we had the worst house in the Caucasian neighborhood, you see. My exposure was to customers of my parent's fruit stand, and of course at day if I talked to a hundred people or waited on them, and often I did more than that, there probably not [sic] a single Japanese person, but the discovery that in a way we were hammed in in a ghetto because there were so many laws and rules that said, you cannot do this and you cannot be, you cannot be licensed as a lawyer, or as a doctor, or as an accountant, or in the professions, because there were restrictions based upon your race, and that was pretty much typical. I think it was accepted by the first generation Japanese, but not so by the second.
Did that affect the way you, the way you felt about your citizenship here? Did you feel at home here? Did your parents feel at home here?
My parents never did feel at home, I think my mother did, she accommodated with whatever happened, and she was, I think, I don't think she was baptised but she accepted Christianity and sent her children to Christian Sunday school. My father, who took refuge as a Confucian scholar, and a background in Buddhism, simply said that "this was a white man's country. There's no place for me." If he had ever been successful in business or otherwise he probably would have taken us all back to Japan, but he was not a businessman and so he could never afford to, so he merely put up with it.
How did you feel? You were in the '30s, how did you feel about your place in this country?
Well, you know, I had very dear and good friends at school. One friend I lost this past year, we had known each other since we were in the third grade, at Los Feliz Elementary School, that's a long time. And, I would say most of my friends, all of my friends in school days were not Japanese. I felt very much at home, very much a part of it. And, I think in 1923 when Japan had that very severe earthquake, and my father had [coughs] brought me up to believe that you could never get a square deal in dealing with anybody that was not Japanese, but I remember taking a shopping bag and walking all over Hollywood collecting donations from people to help people who were made destitute by that earthquake, and brought bag a lot of money, a bag full of coins and bills, and I began to question my father, if they're all that bad, how come? [laughs] He began to feel that much of what he was saying applied to him, but not necessarily to his children.
So was there a sense of dual-allegiances at all on your part?
Oh I think so, yes, very much so.
[ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]
Well, you know, I think it was kind of funny, when I was—I read a great deal, I went to the library constantly—and I remember one year, we were to, he, you know the idea of putting a bookmark with your name on it, and I think my father's influence showed because I looked at some of those early bookmarks and I had carved a Japanese sword and then my name, and I put that in a book, and I thought that was kind of, [laughs] as I look back on it in later years I was kind of funny, but it certainly indicated that—my father came from what they call a samurai family in Japan, he was very proud of that. And I, I know one of the greatest disappointments that he expressed to my wife was that, when he was getting older he asked me would I like his collection of swords, or his books, and I made the comment, "What would I do the sword, cut cheese with it?" [laughs] I mean you know, he thought, that to him was blasphemy. He left me his books, and he left my wife his swords, [laughs] but the books, I can't read them, so I gifted them to UCLA or an Asian-American Studies Center or to, I think some went to the Japanese-American Museum. I wish I had learned to read Japanese, I never did.
We talked on the phone a little bit about the, kind of uncertain citizenship status that existed among Japanese-Americans, I wonder if you can help me understand that and how it effected your family?
Well, I was typical I think of those who—when I was born, I believe my father, I was born at home in Portland, Oregon, and my father, a year or two later I think, registered me as a Japanese subject. They did that in Japan, so I was, but by virtue of having been born in the United States I was an American citizen. And, at the outbreak of, or before the outbreak of war, we were made conscious of the fact that, if you had dual-citizenship you were subject to the laws. If I were in Japan I'd have to serve in the Japanese army, in this country I'd be eligible for the draft. And that was my situation when—just before Pearl Harbor—when my wife and I married, I renounced Japanese citizenship. Part of it was due because of my boss, the publisher of the , had believed strongly himself that, if we were going to live here, we should be citizens of the United States, now he couldn't become one because the laws forbid that. But there was that dual loyalty fear in much of the public in California, and I think that may account for the behavior of Japanese-Americans during World War II. They were out to prove that they belong here.
Talk to me about what happened to you during Pearl Harbor. Start if you could by telling me where you were when you heard and what happened-?
Oh, I was home in Glendale, and it was Sunday, and I had this call from my friend who was on the staff of the , Magda White [?], and he called and said, "The Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor," and so my immediate reaction, well I'll have to go down to the newspaper and put out an extra, which I did, and I think the, I can't, my mind is fuzzy and the entry in my red books don't show it, but I thought that during that hectic day we worked on putting out—the calls were coming in everywhere, from everywhere—and I believe it was on that day that
I think maybe we should stop for a second so we have time to change camera rolls.
Oh, all right, fine. [laughs] OK.
And you know what I might do, when we put in the next roll, before we get to Pearl Harbor I meant to ask you about [ gap: ;reason: inaudible ]
That's roll out. Camera roll 100.
I want to talk about your awareness of what was going on in Japan, and perhaps you can tell me about your job at the newspaper and what that was, and how you became aware of what was going on?
The English section staff was very small at the time, Louis Siskiyou, had been editor for many years, she was the first editor, was the person with whom I worked. They had another bilingual editor named George Nakamoto who had, thought he had greater opportunities in Japan, and he left so I took his place. And, the first responsibility that Mr. Colmi, the publisher gave me was he said, "You work with the Japanese section editor who does the front page," and I said, "Well I don't," you know "read or speak Japanese very well." "Well you understand enough," so every morning my job was to take the, either rango or denzu shortwave wireless dispatches that came in from Tokyo every morning. And there it was in English, Japanese written in English, "koro mag e," and Mr. Shimojima would read that to me and it would be like Greek or Latin, and then he would explain to me what it meant and I would be taking notes. And I would each morning write in English the article that appeared in the paper. I did six years of that and I got to be fairly good, and I became conversant with the sound of Japanese words, and I—
What did this do for your awareness of—
Well, what that did was that, you know I was reporting about the Japanese invasion in China, the I guess, the occupation of Manchuria, the military, you know, influence in the Japanese government, and reporting that. At the same time reporting on the impact of that in the United States, you know the sinking of the gunboat Panay in the Yangtze River. There are many incidents that made me aware that the thing that was happening was growing hostility, the clash of interests between the United States and Japan. And, that made me realize that one day—and I'd taken, I think, in my major in political science, I think if you go back to the 1930s, one of the lectures there was a Professor Charles Titus who had been in, I think in military or army intelligence, and he lectured on what he called the Columbian Picture, a theory in development by professors at Corrum University[?], on why, eventually, Japan and the United States would fight a war in the Pacific. And, I think I also mentioned my reading of a book that I read many times over by Homer Lea, the , pointed out how these two forces would meet and fight a war in the Pacific. He also predicted that Japan would lose. He didn't go further on to say what they were doing economics for following the war, but that was something that I lived with everyday, being with the Japanese language newspaper—and incidentally the still is being published, it's the largest Japanese language newspaper in the United States.
So you were, what kind of articles were you writing?
Well, as I look back on it, I was writing propaganda. Apologizing for what Japan was doing. And that was, you know, considered the role that, if you were a "Japanese American with a sensitivity about the need for what you were doing for your own people," then you were defensive about, and you wanted to explain all the good things that were coming out of what Japan was doing in East Asia.
Tell me how this growing concern about the inevitability of war between Japan and the United States made you feel?
we were being attacked in the mainstream media,
** the Hearst newspapers, with people who were,
** you know, writing about the "yellow peril," the threat to the safety of the republic,
** you know, with people were multiplying like rabbits on the West Coast. The Japanese, we were not Japanese-Americans, we just simply were Japanese,
** and the, I think the tone of the , which today is regarded as middle-of-the-road or even left-of-center on many issues, felt that there really may or may not have been a place for the descendants of the Japanese immigrants. I think they felt the same way about the Chinese. You had the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, the American Legion,
** the Grange these were
** organizations, groups of people who really owned and ran cities, and communities, and areas up and down California. And, I think their ability to influence a legislature, to pass laws that restricted the opportunities for people who were not of Caucasian descent, that was the order of the day.
So what were you, you had told me that you were afraid about what this might mean for Japanese-Americans, this war was building-
Well, the thing we feared probably was that we would either be incarcerated, put into camps, or deported. we had in the Congress of the United States senators from say Mississippi, I think it was a man named Stuart, there was another one named Rankin. Stuart was from Tennessee, but people who, you know, used to subscribe to and read the Congressional Record, and I remember [laughs] that, you know, Senator Stuart quoted a very popular sportswriter whom I read faithfully, except when he wrote about anti-Jap—he was named Henry McLemore—and he says you know, [laughs] "by God, once a Jap, always a Jap. And when war comes, the only thing we can do is to round them all up, put them on an island in the Pacific and sink the island." I mean, this was not an uncommon point of view. This made, you know, people who are living in these, if they weren't physical ghettos they were mental ghettos, people who felt that the walls around them were so high it was hard to get over them. And that, most of us, you know, had been born and raised on the West Coast, we didn't know what the rest of the country was like, and as a consequence
I think there was a great deal of anxiety that, my god what's going to happen if and when the war comes.
** And this may count in my, as I look back in my perspect [sic], the only vocal organization representing this beleaguered group was called the Japanese-American Citizen League, and you know, much of what this group and its leaders did at that time, maybe was an overreaction to this fear that, 'my god, we don't have too many defenses, and we haven't got too great a chance.' I think is what happened.
You moved back to Washington at one point-
In October of 1941, two months before Pearl Harbor, if I could've predicted that [laughs] I don't think I would've gone. But I had been for some time talking with my publisher, I had, I think in 1939 and '40, created some real problems for the business office in my, I think, eagerness to fight against discriminatory practices. I had picked up a quotation from a San Francisco publication called a newsletter in , and I quoted them because at that time there was a drive on to deprive Japanese fisherman in the Terminal Island area of their right to run those, to earn a livelihood. They were going to pass laws that would restrict them, and I picked up a quotation from a newsletter in in San Francisco and ran it without permission, and we got sued by that paper, $1,500. Now for someone earning $65 dollars a month that's a fortune, and I thought he was going to fire me. Instead he sent me to a lawyer that represented the newspaper, a man named Marcus Roberts, and said, "He's gonna lecture to you on what you should do. That, out of ignorance you've done these things. It's going to cost the publisher," you know, "more than a year's salary for you." I said, "Well, if he's going to fire me I guess I'll go back to work in a fruit stand." He didn't fire me, he told me to go and study law. I didn't know where I could find the time, I was holding another job beside the newspaper because I wanted to earn some more money, but I went down to the University of Southern California library and began reading things. Eventually I took a correspondence course from La Salle Extension University in Chicago.
But in my reading—
No, that's all right.
Does that bother you?
Is your machine on?
Yeah, it'll go off shortly. I think it rings three-and-a-half times. [coughs]
I can take it off the hook. Would that be better?
That's a roll out on camera roll 318:101.
So if you could just start by telling me about what you did in October of 1941.
Well, in October I had suggested to Mr. Colmi, my publisher, that in the reading he had had me do in the law library-
Let's stop. There's a fly and I'm picking it-
OK, marker. Mark
OK, if you could tell me about your trip to Washington.
Yes, when I had reported to Mr. Colmi that during World War I German language newspapers owned by "enemy aliens" were allowed to publish under what was called the Espionage Act of 1917, and expressed to him the opinion that perhaps that might apply to us, if and when war came. He arranged with the Central Japanese Association, which was an organization of first generation Japanese, to have its president, a man named Nakamura, go to Washington and I would go with him, and Mr. Nakamura would take care of Central Japanese Association business and I would see Mr. Francis Biddle, the Attorney General, and ask him if he could then grant to the the permission to publish. And, I did, I flew in, It was about two months before Pearl Harbor, to Washington D.C., the first time I really had been out of Los Angeles Country I think, since I moved here as an infant. And I saw Mr. Biddle, and I also then took that occasion to interview and visit about eighty members of the Senate and Congress, the House of Representatives, beginning with the California delegation, and wrote articles for the for it. And, in that experience I discovered that, you know, I was ordered by the War Department to appear the day after my visit with Mr. Biddle, to go to the Munitions building of the War Department, and I was interviewed and interrogated for a good part of the day by a man named Colonel Sumter Bratton, head of G2, which was intelligence of the army, and his assistant, a Major Wallace Moore. At that time I discovered for the first time to my surprise that the army had a complete set of the , all the editorials that I had ever written in six years that I was an English editor. And they also had things in the Japanese section. And I was questioned as to whether or not I had written for both sections because they were in contradiction to one another: One waved the American flag, they said, the other waved the Japanese flag. They made it quite plain that it looked rather suspicious. It was to me a learning experience of course.
They were really questioning your allegiance at that point, I guess?
Well yes. How do you say that, you know, for the greater glory of the Emperor of Japan and the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere that the Japanese are like big brothers to the Chinese, you're going to teach them, you know, not only manners, but to be civilized.
Did that whole experience make you feel quite vulnerable at that point?
Well, yeah, it shook me up, wondering what in the world—and then at that point I realized how inadequate I had been, because I didn't understand Japanese, I didn't read it and I didn't write it, and I was certain in my own mind, they don't believe a word that I said, when I said I don't know what's going on there.
Tell me about Pearl Harbor now, what happened-
Well, Pearl Harbor, after I had been notified by a friend at the that, the Japanese were and had bombed Pearl Harbor, I drove down to the newspaper—by then I had come into an automobile, didn't have to take a train or streetcar—and I spent the day there, on that day, we were answering inquiries, and I jotted down that, you know, a man named Damon Runyon came in to interview me about what, he wanted to know how I felt, and when I said, "What do you think's going to us?" [sic] he said, [laughs] "Well, who knows." But, I, he wrote a column about Little Tokyo on that day, and
I remember being approached by two gentlemen from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who said they had a "Presidential warrant for my arrest," and I must come along with them,
** so I didn't have time to say—we had five or six staff people too there— as well I want to call my lawyer, no, no time for that, I want to call my wife.
**[laughs] I thought I'd call Marcus Roberts, I couldn't call him just to come along, so I was taken to the central jail and booked. And, they finger-printed me, took my picture, took all of my things, and I was put into a cell with, there was a young Mexican, who, I said, "What are you in here for?" He said he had been "taking and selling drugs," but he carved a little crucifix out of a toothbrush handle and gave it to me. I carried that for years. [laughs] The other man was, I think, he said he was a German, but I think he was a Russian, and I said, "Why are you in here?" And he says, "Well, there's this Jewish restaurant I've been going to for years and every time I go in I sing 'Heil Hitler'," [laughs] and so he was in there, these were my cell mates for my first night in jail.
So how long were you there? Did they ever let you call your wife?
No, no they didn't. They moved me on the third or fourth day to Lincoln Heights. All of my friends, Japanese-American, they're all first generation Japanese, I knew them all. They moved us around and I was taken to Lincoln Heights, and then from there moved to County Jail on top of the Hall of Justice.
I was in for eleven days and nights, my wife thought I was dead.
** You know there was a doctor from Gardiner, I think his name was Honda, or Honeda [?], and he committed suicide in there. He had been accused of being the head of the Japanese Veteran Association, he died in there, but they released me. I think they, one reason I have a fetish about keeping a diary all of these years is that the FBI got a hold of my diary then, and of course I went everywhere as a, what is it, as a reporter and editor. I know being, when I was interrogated on my way by the two agents I said, "What are you," you know, "arresting me for?" "Well you've been there to see Attorney General Biddle, you've been in the White House to see Mrs. Roosevelt, and all these congressmen, and your movements are so suspicious," and I said, "Well I'm a newspaper man." But they told me that's the reason, I'm held on suspicion. Years later under the Freedom of Information Act, I was a member of the Black Dragon Society, I was a member of the Communist Party, I was an agent for the Imperial Japanese Government, and furthermore, they didn't believe that my name was my own, you see, because Togo was a name of a Japanese admiral who had sunk the Russian fleet in a battle during the Russo-Japanese War.
So were you feeling rather desperate for those eleven days? Or angry, or-?
Well I was worried about my wife and she was pregnant,
she was nine months pregnant,
** but you make the best of it and I prayed a great deal, and this young man gave me, this drug addict [laughs] gave me a crucifix. And I wasn't even properly churched, I had been married in an Episcopal service, but I had never been baptised.
Tell me about, you then went to the camps, and I wonder if you can tell me a little bit about what the climate was like there, what the attitude among the people inside the camps was towards America?
I think people tended to accommodate, you know, they simply made the best of what they could, and I think the, the older generations said, 'well you know, it's got whatever happens, make the best of it.'
Well I guess I'm wondering about, when we talked on the phone, you mentioned there was sort of a bitterness about the way you, you were, not a bitterness, but it-
I think it was a bitterness, we were mad. I must've found an outlet for it by writing to people that I had known. There was one gentleman who later became, he ran for governor of California, Robert Walker Kenny, he became Attorney General when Earl Warren was governor. And I had met Bob Kenny when he was a reporter, later became a Superior Court judge, and he was a great teacher about, you know, politics. And I corresponded with him, and I said, "You know I don't understand, I'm now Enemy Alien 3C," yeah that's what it was. In 1944 when I was now out and a volunteer worker for the American Friends Service Committee helping to bring people out of, you know, Auschwitz and Belsen, and European death camps, and finding jobs for them in Chicago. He wrote me and said, "I'm coming to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention," and he was a Henry Wallace delegate. So he invited me to the Palmer House and we had lunch. Now I could only go to a YMCA [laughs] and treat him, and he said, "I finally found out that you still think you're going to be taken into either Naval Intelligence or into the Army," he says, "Forget it! You'll never make it." And I said, "Why?" and he said, "Well simple. You've got people on your draft orders say that 'You are a figment of some Japanese spy master's, that you've been planted in this country and that's why." I said, "Well I don't even read or write Japanese." "Well that's why you fit the need for," you know," them to find someone who-
Oh, John Malkovich.
It's so good.
Yeah, he was.
OK, we're rolling now. Tell me about the migrants and what you knew about the Okies and Arkies who were coming into California?
Well, I learned secondhand about the overall problem in California from a man named Carey McWilliams, who was a wonderful teacher. He had become, I think under Governor Olson, the Democratic governor, had chief of Housing and Immigration, immigration referring to, you know, Oklahoma migrants who were coming here. And I shared with him the feeling that
the arrogance of the established people, who were well off in California and trying to exclude these people, was no different from the racial bigotry that victimized people who were not, you know, within the majority group.
** And so, not only was I empathetic or sympathetic to their plight, but wondered what in the world people could do in any way, to help. And, later on in my Chicago years, I had the chance to become an editor of _The American School News_, which was a correspondence publication. And I met many, many people [laughs] from Oklahoma and I found that I, you know, I had always felt deprived because of my race, and yet I had the ability now to help, you know, thousands, actually there were several hundred thousand of these students around the world, but in the United States, who were deprived of a decent education. And so I felt that it was an interesting topsy-turvy kind of role where you had an opportunity to use what you had to help others, and I think the blight of the Okies, you know, the Chief of Police of Los Angeles had patrols at the border to turn these people back in every way, and so, you know, when I mention the John Steinbeck's book and the movie that was made of it, I think that helped to enlighten people about the '30s and what the economic blight. There are examples of that today because we have the same kind of problems on a bigger scale.
You went to the fair, I know, and I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about what it felt like that was all about to you?
My recollection [laughs] is that like everybody else somebody said Sally Rand might be there from Chicago. [laughs] No, I, well I, that was my first World's Fair in Treasure Island, San Francisco, and I was impressed by the foreign exhibits, but it was nothing like subsequent fairs that I have been to. But I think it was California's effort to begin to dig itself out of the economic depression, and that kind of attempt, you see it even today, you hope that it succeeds.
I wanted to go back and just ask you again about the Panay, if you could describe for me then, how you felt the night you heard about that and how you heard about it?
I want to ask you to kind of reflect now on these years, we've talked a lot about some of the citizenship rights issues and I wonder, when you look back on them, how do you think those years shaped you or your attitude about this country?
I think with all of the things that people say may be wrong with this, you know, my wife and I have visited, by last count, forty-three countries around the world, but since then we've been all over the world. We've met people, we've visited with them in their homes, we love to travel. With all of the things that are wrong, I think, you know we talk about the goals in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, and these are, there's nothing static about them, and the fact that we have not been able to, you know, fulfill those goals. It's I think, each time we come home to, this is home, whatever is wrong with it we prefer it to be here to any other place in the world. And we have, I think, a lot of friends who feel exactly that way.
You mentioned the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, do you think all of those kinds of rights were something that was being tested and pushed and explored during the 1930s?
Always has been and may still be.
Can you talk to me about that?
Well, [coughs] I served on the board for a few years of an organization here called Constitutional Rights Foundation, and we observed the bicentennial of it I think last year, I no longer am on that board. And, you know, for about forty-five years I've been a recipient of the Lincoln Foundation's publication, and a few years ago, after you know, we had been enraged for all these years about what had happened to us and the violation of our civil rights, I learned that the "Great Emancipator" suspended the Bill of Rights in order that the Union could survive. If it's a question of survival, what choice do we have? The fact that we happened to be on the wrong end of the thing [laughs] made us, you know, victims, but had we been sitting where the people who had to make those hard decisions were, we might have done the same thing. But, ultimately, I think justice does prevail.
And, one of the other things I think that kind of went on during that period where there was a reexamination of the rights of poor people and how to, what are attitudes towards the poor were, and I, I wonder if you've given any thought to that when you think about the Okies or the migrants?
Well, when [coughs] I had the privilege of working for the, and with the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago for, I guess it was 1943, '44, up to '5, so about two-and-a-half years, every morning, see I was not, [laughs] I never been a, I couldn't be a Quaker because I didn't feel I was good enough to adopt their principles, but every morning, you know, we'd hold hands in a circle, the whole staff would be, and they would pray in their fashion, whatever came to mind, you see. And, they defined it as, you know, not living by the teachings of Jesus that, you know, the lack of concern for those less fortunate, which typified the attitudes of so many people when they talked about the homeless, the poor, and the Okies. And then I remembered, we were rescued in the very depths of the worst experience we had when, we didn't know whether we were going to have to go back, whether they were going to kill us, or were they going to deport us to Japan. The Quakers came along and made it possible for us to get over that and come to Chicago. And, they were the first people who were welcomed on both sides of the battle zone, so we, and we look back and members of various Christian church groups did a great deal to salvage and to save, you know, us, why shouldn't we do the same for others? I think this is one of the lessons that we learned out of our evacuation experience.
You talked to me a little bit about certain values that you thought you developed during the Depression years, what were they?
Well, you die very hard. [laughs] You don't, you don't give up, and that whatever the obstacles may be, you do not lose faith. And, you know I choose to try to take the positive reaction to whatever may happen.
That's interesting. You think that's something you learned living through the '30s and the-
I think so. You know you're going to go eventually, but you want to delay it as long as possible. But if you've been close to it, you get a sense of values, and I think it begins with family. We just celebrated our 52nd anniversary in Honolulu last month.
That's terrific, that's great.
OK, I think we can cut. That's fine, we're just about out. So you're a free man now. Thanks.
[laughs] Thank you.
This is room tone in the Togo Tanaka residence. OK, quiet please.