Oral History Interview

Narrators: Fudge Tokunaga (FT), Lillian Tokunaga (Lillian), and Joe Tokunaga (JT)
Interviewer: Joe Rogers (JR)
August 8, 1996
Lillian Tokunagaís Home, Moses Lake, Washington

[The following is a verbatim transcription]

Tape 1 of 1, Side A

JT: My family was living in an area near Seattle, called Redmond, Washington. . . Our family was involved in truck-gardening in a small area near the shores of Lake Samamish. When the war started, we were told to either go to internment camp, or to move inland. And the border of where we had to move was the Columbia River. Anything on the east side of Columbia River was the border. . . It was alright to move to. . .

They had zones and we were in the zone that was qualified to move into. My folks were raising vegetables for this frozen food organization in Wenatchee called Cedar Green Frozen Foods. . . They picked up vegetables in Monroe and shipped it to Wenatchee. We were doing that, so my dad was kind of acquainted with the Cedar Green Frozen Foods and they asked us if our family and a few others would move to Quincy to help on their farm. And so, thatís how we moved into the Columbia Basin area. . . We lived in Quincy and they had the plant in Wenatchee. . .

There was three of us Japanese families that moved to Quincy and we worked there for a little over two years. . . Aramakis and a family by the name of Manos were the other family. . . Aramakis went back to internment camp and the Manos were still in Quincy when we moved to Moses Lake.

. . . The fall of Ď44 is when we came to Moses Lake. Our family worked for a fellow that farmed in Cascade Valley.

. . . He was irrigating, so he taught us a lot of how to farm on irrigated crops. . .

JR: What about the people in Quincy and Moses Lake? Coming from Redmond over here, you must have been one of the first Japanese families into the area? What was that like?

JT: . . . When we went to Quincy, we heard rumors that there was some people that were objecting to us for coming into that area, so my youngest brother, who is in California now, and there was another girl from a family. . . and then there was the Manos. They had a boy that was still going to high school. Since there was some animosity there, we, our families hesitated about going to school there. So finally a group of high school students came to the area where we lived and asked the kids to come to school. Thatís how we first broke into the community at that time. But there was still people that objected to us. But as we lived there and worked

JR: . . . None are here? Theyíre all gone?

JT: They moved back into the Seattle area soon afterwards, and I guess Konishis and I think we came in about the same time, but this family, Harry Yamamoto, he farms, well the son farms in Warden area. His family was one of the originals that were here. I guess Kobas were here fairly early too.

JR: You and your family were here in 1945. Now was that your brotherís father? Who all were we talking about in your family here?

JT: . . . I had a younger brother who is living in California now, name of Sam. Were the ones that, besides my folks, started farming. And I had a older brother, but he was in the service at that time. So after he got out of the service, he came and joined us on the farm. And I think that was about the time you got married, wasnít it Lillian?

Lillian: . . . We were married in Ď48. . .

JR: And so he came to work on the farm. Did he come married, or?

Lillian: No.

JT: No.

JR: Well, letís pick that story up with Lillian then, as he comes to work on the farm, okay?

Lillian: Well I met him at church (laughs). . . . He must have farmed for about a year or two years before we got married. . . I think about a year. . . My folks used to live in Seattle, and then when the war broke out, they moved to Spokane and they went to work on my uncleís farm. . . I was living in Seattle, you know, in those days, the Japanese family, the oldest in the family, they would send them back to Japan to study. Then I was sent for them back to Japan. . .

JR: Then you would send for the family to go back to Japan?

Lillian: . . . Yeah, because they were intending on going back to Japan later.

JR: And so you would be the one to stay there in Japan and, and then?

Lillian: Get educated over there. . . that was the plan, but it didnít work out that way.

JR: So they sent you to Japan in what year?

Lillian: In 1940. . . I was a freshman in high school. I was over there all during the war.

JR: In what town?

Lillian: In Hiroshima. I was there when the atomic bomb fell.

JR: Why donít you talk. . . a little bit about that?

Lillian: I canít remember that well.

JR: What was it like to go to high school there during the war. School was normal or?

Lillian: No, it was hard because it was all in Japanese and I didnít speak very good Japanese at that time and it was really hard for me. But then the war broke out when I was in high school so we couldnít go to school, we had to go work in the factory, airplane factory. . . So we went to work at a airplane factory. . . On the train it took us forty-five minutes from the town of Hiroshima. . .

JR: Were you treated just. . . ?

Lillian: No, I wasnít treated too well, because I was American citizen.

JR: And would the other kids treat you different? . . . Talk a little bit about it, please.

Lillian: Well, there was another Japanese girl that was from California and she was the same class that I was. And we kind of stuck together because they would always tease us that we were from America and all that. But our class was divided in half, and the half went to work in Hiroshima and the other half went to work where I went to work. And the group that went to work at Hiroshima, they were all killed in that bomb. But lucky I was not there. . .

JR: But that was only forty-five minutes away, thatís close.

Lillian: Yeah we, I saw the bomb.

JR: Could you feel it or hear it?

Lillian: No, no the very next day I went home to where I lived with my aunt, and I went through the town of Hiroshima, and you could just see all those dead people, you know, all in the river. Because it was, I guess it was really hot and they just ran for the river.

JR: What about your aunt that?

Lillian: Well they lived out in the country, so she was fine. It was just the town of Hiroshima that was bombed, but my aunt lived out in the country. . . It was quite a ways out of the town of Hiroshima, so it didnít affect her at all. . . yeah, she was real lucky. And I wasnít affected either because I was not in the town of Hiroshima too. . . Oh, I was really lucky!

FT: You and the other.

Lillian: Yeah they all, that girl that was from California, she died you know, because she didnít go with me. . . She went to the other factory. . . We were making airplanes, because you know all the guys were going to war and they didnít have enough help, so we all had to work in the factory. . . Right after the war, I was one of the first ones to leave Japan, on this army ship. . .

FT: Was it a Japanese ship?

Lillian: No, it was a battleship. I think it was Meg, or something like that. . . but I was on this battleship. Then we landed in San Francisco. I remember that my dad came after me, you know from Spokane and we were driving home and we stopped. It was so hot because it was in July, I think. We stopped in this restaurant and he want to buy ice cream. And this guy says, ďWeíre out of. . . we donít have any more ice cream.Ē

And you could see all these guys sitting around this table eating ice cream and he wouldnít sell it to us because we were Japanese, because it was right after the war. . . I think it was in Oregon. But it made my dad so mad. Then we came back to Spokane, then I went to school for about a year and a half, went to business school. And then I met Harold at our Buddhist Church, then I got married. . . Harold is Joeís older brother.

JR: He would go to church in Spokane?

Lillian: Because they didnít have a church here. . .

JT: Weíd paper each one of the furrows, so they wouldnít wash out. . .

Lillian: We used to cut those paper up, the little pieces about this long.

FT: By the time I came, it was siphoned.

Lillian: Was it siphon then. Then we used to cut potato seed. . . We used to cut all our potato seed.

JR: . . . What made it so hard?

Lillian: I donít know, but the irrigation was hard for me, Ďcause I didnít know how to irrigate. I had to learn how to irrigate.

JR: What about the community in Moses Lake, were they accepting?

Lillian: Oh yeah!

JR: And you felt comfortable?

Lillian: Um-hum, very comfortable.

JR: By then there were a lot of other Japanese families and.

Lillian: Oh yeah. . .

JR: Did people get together?

Lillian: I donít think we did in those days, did we?

FT: Well, we had showers, baby showers.

Lillian: Yeah, baby showers and wedding shower, yeah.

FT: . . . When I came, that was the social life.

Lillian: . . .But after a while they had this Japanese Community Club, didnít they? Japanese American Association. Then we used to have a New Yearís Dance, a New Yearís Party. . . picnics. . .

JT: Before, used to be reverends out of Japan that were English speaking, but the one we had recently is a younger reverend, about third generation. And he speaks in English and conducts a service in. Some of the rituals, the chanting and stuff is in Japanese, but the sermon and stuff are in the English, so we are able to understand it better.

JR: Was there any ill feeling between the Christian groups and the Buddhists? . . .

JT: Not that I can recall. Some of the concepts of Buddhism is, they think itís a, a lot of them think itís a cult or something thatís way far out, but basically Buddhism is just teachings of more or less golden rules of living. . . Nothing really complicated about it. Itís hard to explain that. Teachings of Buddhism. But itís something that you should live a life like you want to be treated yourself. . . Youíre supposed to kind of live that life is what itís all about. . .

FT: We were more berry farmers. Thatís all we did was pick berries all summer long. . . strawberries, raspberries, blackberries. . . after one berry was finished, we went on to the next one. . . it was our. . . family farm.

JR: And then relocation came?

FT: . . . I was a senior in high school. . . . Evacuation came and so. It was in May, April or May when we evacuated. There was only a month or so of school left, so they gave us the diploma. And, and we all went on this. . . First thing, we went to the Puyallup. . . They called it the Assembly Center, but it was the Puyallup Fairgrounds. And we, we were assigned little cubbyholes under the grandstand. . . Thatís where we lived. . . from, well, it must have been May to, I donít know, August maybe. . .

JR: How old were you then, Fudge?

FT: Eighteen, I guess. . . It was a hot time of the year, so it probably was [August]. . . I thought, well, at the time I thought it wasnít right that we would have to go, Ďcause the Germans and Italians were in the war just as much as we were, and they didnít have to. But in some sense, it was kind of an adventure. . .

JT: ĎCause you were eighteen.

FT: . . . You just wonder what was gonna happen to us. Thatís one thing I really wondered. Whatís gonna happen to us, you know, whether we were going to be sent back to Japan. That kind of, really, I just wondered whatís going to happen to us when the war is over. Because I didnít want to go back to Japan. All I knew was my life in (unintelligible - 572) and I really was happy there. I really enjoyed my high school years there.

JR: In August they sent you and your family to. . .

FT: To Minidoka. And we were on the first train. We were, my family was one of the first ones to leave the camp, that assembly center and got on this old train. My first train ride. And gosh, we traveled on that train for days it seemed. I donít know how long it was from Puyallup to Twin Falls. But we were on there day and night. They just dumped us off in the middle of nowhere. I think it was the end of the railroad tracks or, just in the middle of, just a desert like. And thatís my first experience on this side of the mountain.

JR: Were there any buildings or?

FT: No, it was just the middle of the desert like. . . They must have came after us. . . I canít remember at all how we got to that camp. . . It was built, but since we were the first ones there, it was really just empty and desolate. It was really a desolate place to me. No trees, no nothing; just a bunch of barracks in the middle of nowhere.

JR: Do you remember how you felt?

FT: You know how I felt, the experience I had here in Moses Lake when the ash fell. It was the very same thing, real. . . desolate. . . and when I went to camp, the feeling was the same. Because you know when the ash fell, wherever you went, everybody, we were all in it together. You know you had this feeling of helping each other out because weíre all in it together. And thatís the way us Japanese were when we were in that camp. We Were all in it together and you just kind of felt. And I felt that the most. ĎCause I didnít grow up with Japanese. There was only two families in (Ording?). So I grew up with Caucasians. So it was really a new experience to live among Japanese for me. And thatís how it was, that we all were in it together.

JR: How long were you there?

FT: . . . From Ď42 to Ď45. . . I worked in the potato harvest, onion harvest. . . Another friend, she and I worked together and stayed at this kind of a reverendís house. . . After camp, I guess thatís how I got the job. . . In camp, they tried to find jobs for you before you left. I guess thatís how I got the job as a typist at the welfare office in Tacoma. . . I worked there for a while and then I moved on working for a naval station. . .

JR: When does Moses Lake come along?

FT: . . . I stayed at the YWCA in Tacoma, and there was two. . . sisters there. . . and they were from Fife, which is not to far from Ording, and they lived at the YW too, so we became friends. . . One year the other sister said she was going to visit Norma there in Wilson Creek and she asked me if I wanted to go and I said, yeah. . .

JR: And then what year would that be?

JT: Must have been in the fifties.

FT: Early fifties. . . And so, thatís when, well today I know it was arranged that he would come by Norma, the other older. . .

(End Side A)

(Begin Side B)

JR: What was the Basin like? Do you remember checking it out and thinking what it would be like here?

FT: . . . I was working in town, in Tacoma, and just thinking, gosh, am I gonna like living way out in the boonies like this. . . It was starting, J.C. Penny was a new store then, and Elmers was a new restaurant, and that was about it. . . and what a dusty place. The dust blew and . . .

FT: Had some terrible winters then too.

JR: Thatís before irrigation too, so. . . no big tree?

FT: No, thatís. But I knew about the desolation, because I was in Minidoka, and that was one thing I really noticed when I went to Minidoka and then weíd get a chance to go to Twin Falls. And you donít see any trees except where houses were. And I used to always wonder how come trees only grew around the houses. But now I know thatís the only place where thereís water. . .

JR: Talk a little bit about the early years, coming from the city life to the wife of a farmer. That had to be different.

FT: Yeah, it was. Well, it was, but. I will say this, I came with a noble thought that I was gonna be a good farmerís wife, even though I did come from the big city. I was gonna help him as much as I could. And thatís what Iíve been doing all these years. . .

. . . I was determined to learn whatever there is that I had to learn about farming. And I didnít know how to drive when I came. . . but I was gonna learn how to drive when I came, and I did. That was the first thing I did. . .

. . . it was so different. Originally we lived in town, on Lake Guittierez, for about five years. . .

JR: So far, nobodyís really talked about the feeling about being here in this town that was developing. I mean big things were sort of happening, the warís over, irrigation is coming. There were sort of big possibilities. Did you think in those terms?

. . . I mean the fifties really were a time of expansion for Moses Lake and the whole U.S. I donít know whether people saw that, or whether they just saw the next dayís work in front of them and the next yearís.

FT: Thatís all we saw. We never thought that weíre gonna be great or. . . be a big somebody. It was just year after year, make a living. . . and stay ahead of ourselves.

JT: . . . We had goals, but it seems like our goals always seemed to advance a little more. . . First you wanted enough tractors to farm, maybe one or two tractors in the beginning, but then after a while there was three or four. And trucks were the same way, and it was just a never ending battle to keep up with it. . . I guess thatís the way you make progress, and even today your wants are still there. Like us, weíre in our retirement age, so we donít have it, but our son thatís farming, heís always got, it seems like heís got plenty of equipment and things there, but thereís always wants there. And I guess maybe thatís the way you. . . get ahead farther and farther. Itís a kind of a never ending deal.

FT: I think thatís how we got where we are, if we are anywhere. . . Lillian and I, we never objected to what they were going to do on the farm, and buy, and so the two brothers. . . whatever they. . . thought they should have, well they went ahead and bought it. But us wives, we had to go without. And thatís how it was. Well, we didnít go without, but our wants were just way down the line. Secondary or tenth, or somewhere (laughs). . . Through all that process, they did make a success of it. . .

Lillian: . . . He [her husband, Harold] died on September 2nd. . . he had melanoma, and I think it was that chemical he used, all that chemical that he used to put on his crop. I think thatís how he got that. . .

JR: And didnít take care of it, probably.

Lillian: No, he never did. Youíre supposed to wear gloves and boots. He never put gloves or boots.

FT: Or a mask. Yeah, he never did. He was such a workaholic that he didnít want to bother with all that. He just wanted to get on with his work. . .

JT: Thatís why today Lillian. . .

Lillian: . . . has it easy!

JT: Yeah, and sheís comfortable living like this. . . That lifestyle, he wouldnít have had it any different if he lived it over again. . .

The other day I was reading an article about Bill Gates and some of the rules of success is, working hard and really working hard at it. And I think thatís really true that whatever you do, youíve gotta work hard at it. And so in our twilight years, I guess it hasnít been now that bad. . .

. . . Before I used to think if I had a wristwatch and a car, Iíd be happy and today you might have a couple of cars and the few dollars to go with it. And it doesnít seem like youíre all that successful, but I guess you feel fortunate that youíre able to have some of those things. . .

FT: . . . My philosophy is, you should work hard when youíre young. It shouldnít be given to you. Otherwise the person probably isnít gonna turn out as a good person. . .

JT: With this war and evacuation and this and that, when you look back on it, Moses Lake wasnít a bad place after all. For us. Who knows what it would have been like if there had been no war and we happened to be still farming over there near Seattle, truck gardening. It might not have been any better. This way, I think, one of the good parts about it is, weíre absorbed in a community that is not isolated like in the old days. Whereas before, Japanese communities were just one central area that everybody got together, and never associated with Caucasians or other groups of people. So, I donít know if there would be any Japanese in Moses Lake if it wasnít for this war situation, so. . . (163)

. . . The federal government today realizes that it wasnít really right for citizens of the United States to be incarcerated like that. So they did give us that, like I mentioned before, that twenty thousand dollar per person, to each individual with an apology from the president. . . itís more or less a recognition that there was a wrong there. . .

. . . A lot of our family things, we put it in big. . . storage shed, and we boarded it up and left it there and thatís the last we seen of the whole thing. . . and thereís nothing left of those things. . .

JR: Who is it who mentioned that. . . high school kids came to invite them to go to school?

FT: Oh, he did, when they moved to Quincy. And the kids who should be in school werenít going to school and they invited them to come. . . which I think was a very nice gesture.

JT: Them kids used to all work on the frozen food companies farm, so we all worked together during the harvest, so thatís how we got acquainted with them. In the town of Quincy, I donít know, there might have been about a hundred people there and the school was just a small school. . . Theyíd never seen Japanese families. It was the first time they seen Japanese family who move in and they kind of pictured us as carrying swords and that kind of a version. . . they were rather surprised after they got to know us that we were. . .

JR: Pretty normal people. . . Well all through even the late thirties and the early forties, there were all kinds of propaganda movies about Japanese and, kind of setting up the country. . . People must have been exposed to a lot of stereotypic stuff then, like they are now.

FT: . . . After we got married and. . . he was driving me to Moses Lake, I wondered whether I was really. . . making the right move. But now, I wouldnít go back to the coast. I like it over here.

Lillian: Wouldnít think of living anywhere else but Moses Lake, right?

FT: Yeah.

Lillian: I wouldnít want to live anywhere else. . .

JT: . . . One thing about all of else in general. . . as far as being successful, on an average itís been on the better side. . . If youíre. . . not wealthy or anything. If youíve kind of made a success out of yourself, why, really canít condemn that. . . You have to give some of that credit to the Moses Lake area too. . . Theyíve been good to us. . .

FT: I have never felt. . . discriminated here. I donít know if others have, but I never have.

Lillian: I never have either. . .

JT: . . . In Quincy. . . we heard through the grapevine, some of the people were kind of objecting to us. But later on a lot of those people came to us and said. . . through ignorance or whatever, we did say some of those things. . . but we really didnít know how you were. Now that we know how you are, well we would have never objected. . .

. . . It was during the war and there was a shortage of workers. At least they had that reliable core of workers on the farm. . .

FT: When I came to Moses Lake, it was a new town. . . Everybody that was there that I knew, were new there too, just like I was. And so, it just kind of, a feeling of weíre all. . . trying to make a living in a new place. . . And building the city. It was just growing with us. And everybody had kids going to school. . . There was no discrimination. We were more interested in making a living. . .

(End Side B, end of tape)


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