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Legacies Project Oral History: David Yamamoto

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 9:53am

When: 2020

David Yamamoto was born in 1938 in San Jose, California. He grew up in a predominantly Japanese American community. When he was four, his family was forced to move to an internment camp, Heart Mountain Relocation Center, in Wyoming. The discrimination his family faced during and after World War II shaped his life profoundly. Yamamoto graduated from San Jose State University and got his PhD in special education from Stanford. He received a Rockefeller Fellowship to support his career in educational administration. He has spoken out against civil rights violations throughout his adult life.

David Yamamoto was interviewed by students from Skyline High School in Ann Arbor in 2016 as part of the Legacies Project.

Transcript

  • [00:00:08.89] SPEAKER 1: --and putting them together to archive for future generations. To the best of your ability, please ignore the camera.
  • [00:00:17.20] While your eyes can certainly wander, mainly look at me and please do not look directly at the camera lens, if you can.
  • [00:00:22.99] Each video tape is about-- this does not apply to us. If you're in the middle of answering a question, we will have to change the tape and I will ask you-- what?
  • [00:00:31.61] Oh, we're using HD, never mind. Ignore everything I just said about tapes. We just upgraded our system, so this is from the old tape system.
  • [00:00:38.66] But now we have a very cool-- it will look very professional. It's awesome. So to the room-- there's no one in here. Turn off all cell phones, pagers, or anything else that beeps, chimes, or will make noise.
  • [00:01:01.06] And you can call for a break during any time that you want. And please remember that you can decline to answer any questions or terminate the interview at any time for any reason. All right, ready? Yeah, yeah?
  • [00:01:15.32] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yes.
  • [00:01:15.69] SPEAKER 1: All right. First, I'm going to ask you some simple demographic questions. While these questions may jog memories, please try to keep your answers brief and to the point for now. We can elaborate on them later in the future. Could you please say and spell your name?
  • [00:01:32.19] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: David, D-A-V-I-D-- Hiroshi, H-I-R-O-S-H-I-- Yamamoto, Y-A-M-A-M-O-T-O.
  • [00:01:41.81] SPEAKER 1: What is your birth date, including the year?
  • [00:01:44.57] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: May 17th, 1938.
  • [00:01:46.73] SPEAKER 1: And how old are you?
  • [00:01:47.77] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: 77.
  • [00:01:49.22] SPEAKER 1: How would you describe your ethnic background?
  • [00:01:51.47] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: My what?
  • [00:01:52.10] SPEAKER 1: Ethnic background.
  • [00:01:53.45] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Japanese-American.
  • [00:01:55.19] SPEAKER 1: What is your religious affiliation, if any?
  • [00:01:57.88] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: None.
  • [00:01:59.30] SPEAKER 1: What is the highest level of formal education you have completed.
  • [00:02:02.60] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I have a PhD from Stanford.
  • [00:02:05.87] SPEAKER 1: What is your marital status.
  • [00:02:07.43] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Married.
  • [00:02:08.56] SPEAKER 1: Is your spouse still living?
  • [00:02:10.37] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yes.
  • [00:02:11.27] SPEAKER 1: How many children do you have?
  • [00:02:12.59] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Four.
  • [00:02:13.40] SPEAKER 1: How many siblings do you have?
  • [00:02:15.65] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Two.
  • [00:02:16.43] SPEAKER 1: Are they still living?
  • [00:02:17.57] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yes.
  • [00:02:19.04] SPEAKER 1: Would you consider your primary occupation to have been?
  • [00:02:23.36] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Educational administration.
  • [00:02:25.43] SPEAKER 1: At what age did you retire?
  • [00:02:27.62] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Was I hired?
  • [00:02:28.76] SPEAKER 1: Did you retire?
  • [00:02:29.60] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Did I retire? 62.
  • [00:02:34.16] SPEAKER 1: Now we can begin the first part of our interview, beginning with some of the things you can recall about your family history.
  • [00:02:39.26] We're beginning with family naming history, by this we mean any story about your last name, or family name, or family traditions in selecting first or middle names.
  • [00:02:48.95] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: OK.
  • [00:02:49.88] SPEAKER 1: Do you know any stories about your family name?
  • [00:02:51.80] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yes. The last name Yamamoto is actually-- my father was the second oldest son. His name, last name, was [? Inoue ?] and this was in Japan.
  • [00:03:05.19] And he came over to the United States around 1915 and met the Yamamoto family. The couple did not have any children. And they were concerned about the family name being carried on.
  • [00:03:21.74] And so they approached Mr. And Mrs. [? Inoue ?] about adopting one of the sons to carry on the Yamamoto name.
  • [00:03:30.80] And my dad was the second oldest, male child. And so the arrangement was made. And he moved over and became adopted by the Yamamoto family. And that's how we have our name.
  • [00:03:47.36] SPEAKER 1: My goodness. Are there any naming traditions in your family?
  • [00:03:53.45] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: No, not really.
  • [00:03:55.34] SPEAKER 1: Why did your ancestors leave to come to the United States?
  • [00:03:58.79] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: To make their fortune and go back to Japan rich.
  • [00:04:02.63] SPEAKER 1: Did you know any stories about how your family first came to the United States or where they lived?
  • [00:04:07.04] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yes. My parents both lived in a small village on the west side of Japan. And when my dad came here, he was of an age that the Yamamoto family decided he needed to get married. He was 19.
  • [00:04:27.68] And so there was an intermediary hired and that intermediary approached my mother's parents. And my mother at that time was 14.
  • [00:04:41.30] And she just graduated from elementary school and was not wanting to think about anything like marriage and going to another country.
  • [00:04:54.36] And so she said, no. And her grandmother actually changed her mind. Her basic argument was, there's nothing here for you. You have no future in this village.
  • [00:05:08.39] You're going to be stuck here and you're going to end up to be just a little, old lady in this village. And that persuaded my mother to agree to the marriage.
  • [00:05:19.98] And so my dad went to Japan to get married and bring her back to the United States. And that was the first time they saw each other, was when she applied for a passport.
  • [00:05:34.16] And so they were married in Japan and came across the Pacific to Seattle. And once in Seattle, they took a train down to San Jose where they eventually set up home.
  • [00:05:52.40] SPEAKER 1: How did they make a living here or in the old country before they came to the US?
  • [00:05:56.87] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: They were tenant farmers.
  • [00:05:59.84] SPEAKER 1: Describe any family migration once they arrived in the United States and how they came to live in this area.
  • [00:06:05.30] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: They lived mostly in the Santa Clara Valley once they came down from Seattle. They moved around the Santa Clara Valley farming and, eventually, settled in a place called Hillsdale in San Jose.
  • [00:06:24.17] SPEAKER 1: What possessions did they bring with them and why?
  • [00:06:26.87] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: None.
  • [00:06:29.18] SPEAKER 1: Which family members came along or stayed behind?
  • [00:06:34.04] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: My dad was-- there were how many-- five siblings. All five came to the United States as did both the adoptive parents, the Yamamotos and the [? Inoue ?] families. So they all came.
  • [00:06:49.49] SPEAKER 1: To your knowledge, did they make an effort to preserve any traditions or customs from the country of origin?
  • [00:06:57.38] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Mostly around-- yeah, one was religion. They were born and raised Buddhist. And so they established a Buddhist-- not they, but the Japanese in the United States established a Buddhist church in San Jose, which is still standing.
  • [00:07:17.24] And so they carried on the Buddhist tradition. They observed all of the national holidays of Japan at that time. And mostly the food that they ate was Japanese.
  • [00:07:35.77] SPEAKER 1: Is there any traditions that your family has given up or changed?
  • [00:07:44.08] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I can't think of any.
  • [00:07:46.74] SPEAKER 1: Why did you leave to come to the United States?
  • [00:07:49.72] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: It was to make a fortune and go back.
  • [00:07:57.54] SPEAKER 1: What stories have come down to you about your parents, and grandparents, or more distant ancestors?
  • [00:08:03.94] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Those stories that I told you just now about how they got married. And the part that I didn't say was my dad actually lied to my mother about how well off he was. He was really a worker on a farm.
  • [00:08:20.94] And her background was one of a middle class. Her father was the mayor of the village and a teacher, both positions very revered in Japan.
  • [00:08:38.13] They were educated and my father's side was not. And he actually spent all of his money going to Japan to get married and come back.
  • [00:08:52.02] And so when my mother saw Seattle for the first time, she saw a beautiful city. And so she, of course, wanted to go shopping.
  • [00:09:00.69] And so he did. They went shopping and, unknown to my mother, he spent every last nickle on that shopping trip.
  • [00:09:13.50] And so when they got on the train to come down to San Jose, they didn't eat. And my mother couldn't figure out why not. And it was because he had no money.
  • [00:09:24.59] SPEAKER 1: Do you know any courtship stories about your grandparents, or great-grandparents, or anything like that?
  • [00:09:29.28] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, the courtship was-- I don't think you can call an arranged marriage a courtship. But that's how they got married.
  • [00:09:37.80] SPEAKER 1: So then we'll start interviewing about your childhood up until you began attending school. Even if these memories jog memories about other times in your life, please try to respond with memories from the earliest parts of your life. Where did you grow up and what are your strongest memories of that place?
  • [00:09:53.76] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: This is before school?
  • [00:09:54.97] SPEAKER 1: Before school.
  • [00:09:57.01] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I was born in San Jose, California on a ranch. And when World War II started-- which was after the attack on Pearl Harbor-- so I was 3 and 1/2 at that time. And that following March, 1942-- then we were all ordered to evacuate.
  • [00:10:23.16] And so we had to leave and reestablish ourselves in internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. So up until my public school years in California, I was in the camps.
  • [00:10:40.08] SPEAKER 1: What was your house like?
  • [00:10:41.79] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, it wasn't a house. It was a barracks. And there were four living units in a barrack.
  • [00:10:48.87] SPEAKER 1: How many people lived in that house with you while you were growing up and what was their relationship to you?
  • [00:10:52.80] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: You know, I'll take that back. Actually, before we went to camp, we had a white house. My dad became part owner of a ranch. And so part of that ranch-- there was a house. And so after we moved-- we lived in the barracks.
  • [00:11:16.65] SPEAKER 1: Before you lived in the barracks, what people lived in the house with you and what was their relationship to you?
  • [00:11:21.09] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: It would be my mother, father, brother, and two sisters. I didn't mention my brother before because he passed away when he was about 20.
  • [00:11:30.73] SPEAKER 1: I'm very sorry about that. What languages are spoken in and/or around your house?
  • [00:11:36.05] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Japanese.
  • [00:11:39.03] SPEAKER 1: In your neighborhood, were there different languages spoken in different settings? Would you speak a different language at home versus when you were around other people?
  • [00:11:47.37] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: It was really a Japanese community. And so the primary language was Japanese.
  • [00:11:54.12] SPEAKER 1: What sort of work did your father and mother do when you were a child?
  • [00:11:56.82] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Farming.
  • [00:11:58.42] SPEAKER 1: What is your earliest memory?
  • [00:12:01.14] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: My earliest memory would be in the camps and playing in the camps.
  • [00:12:08.64] SPEAKER 1: What was a typical day like for you in that situation?
  • [00:12:14.56] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: All of the males were not eaten in the barracks. We were served meals-- breakfast, lunch, and dinner-- in what they call a mess hall, so it was a communal place.
  • [00:12:27.03] And so I can remember those communal meals where, basically, everybody came. And I also can remember playing within the camp structure of-- the camp was enclosed by fences.
  • [00:12:46.47] And there was an eight-foot fence around the camp. And also there were watchtowers which were manned by soldiers. And so I can remember the watchtowers. I can remember the searchlights at night, stuff like that.
  • [00:13:03.63] SPEAKER 1: What did you do for fun?
  • [00:13:07.71] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Typical things that a four or five-year-old would do, just played a lot. And there were a lot of kids in the area, so we hung out a lot.
  • [00:13:20.13] SPEAKER 1: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions that you remember from this time?
  • [00:13:26.37] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I remember one Christmas maybe-- I don't know. I must have been about four. And I remember my mother hung-- we lived in one unit which was about 20-feet long.
  • [00:13:44.34] And so all the beds were in there and our [? cool ?] living room was there. She hung a our stockings on a rope across the room.
  • [00:13:56.40] And I couldn't figure out how Santa Claus would find us in this place, plus we had no chimney. So I'm going, how in the heck is he going to find us in this place?
  • [00:14:08.91] And I can remember getting my present. And the reason I remember it is because Santa Claus gave me an autograph book. It was a wooden cover and it said Heart Mountain on it.
  • [00:14:23.61] And I went, why would he give me a autograph book with Heart Mountain on it? And so that's my earliest memory of a holiday.
  • [00:14:33.36] SPEAKER 1: So now we'll discussing your time as a young person, from about the time that school attendance typically begins until you begin your personal career or work life.
  • [00:14:43.17] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, I started pre-school and kindergarten in the camps. And when the war was over, I started elementary school, first grade. And what I remember about those early years was I was in continual fights.
  • [00:15:03.24] Being Japanese after the war was not the best place to be, particularly on the West Coast. And so my early years, I would say were really one of a lot of fights. After that-- went to the regular public schools, learned English.
  • [00:15:26.85] My English was terrible. I was always in the remedial group. I was always staying after school to learn the language. English was a hard language for me to pick up.
  • [00:15:42.00] SPEAKER 1: Did you go to high school?
  • [00:15:43.36] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I went to high school at San Jose High School. I was the editor of the school newspaper, played sports, and graduated in 1956, and then went to San Jose State.
  • [00:16:00.99] SPEAKER 1: What do you remember about any of your schooling after high school?
  • [00:16:05.85] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: After high school-- it was that I got my bachelor's degree at San Jose State, got my master's there at San Jose State, and then got my PhD at Stanford in 1970. So I was 32 when I got that degree.
  • [00:16:24.15] SPEAKER 1: That's very impressive. When you were younger, can you describe the popular music of the time?
  • [00:16:30.70] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Oh, it was rock and roll. Yeah.
  • [00:16:33.63] SPEAKER 1: Did the music have any particular dances associated with it?
  • [00:16:37.08] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Any what?
  • [00:16:38.19] SPEAKER 1: Dances-- particular dances?
  • [00:16:39.81] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yeah, there was-- what was it? I don't know. It was Chubby Checker's and the twist. I remember that, yeah.
  • [00:16:53.50] SPEAKER 1: Was there any popular clothing or hair styles at the time?
  • [00:16:56.76] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: For boys it was white shoes.
  • [00:16:59.24] SPEAKER 1: White shoes, really?
  • [00:17:00.27] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: White suede shoes and blue suede shoes. There was a song called "Blue Suede Shoes," and so white shoes and blue suede shoes were big deals among the boys.
  • [00:17:12.87] SPEAKER 1: Can you describe any other fads or style trends from that era?
  • [00:17:18.00] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: The 50s were kind of a quiet generation compared to the 60s and so, yeah, there were some. But there weren't really memorable ones, that I can recall anyway.
  • [00:17:30.54] SPEAKER 1: Were there any slang terms, phrases, or words that aren't used today that were used back then?
  • [00:17:36.69] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I can't think of any. But my children laugh because some of them come out even today, and they laugh because they never heard of it before.
  • [00:17:46.68] And it's just second nature. I wish I could think of one right now. But it's so much a part of me, it just comes out.
  • [00:17:54.19] SPEAKER 1: Absolutely. What was a typical day like for you during this time period?
  • [00:17:59.88] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: During--
  • [00:18:01.17] SPEAKER 1: High school, college.
  • [00:18:06.54] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, growing up as a teenager, there were social clubs through the church. I went to the Buddhist church growing up and there were youth clubs.
  • [00:18:18.90] And so there were dances, there were basketball teams-- the church was really the center of the Japanese community. And so mostly in my teenage years, I had some affiliation with social life around the church.
  • [00:18:35.25] SPEAKER 1: What did you do for fun during that time period?
  • [00:18:37.41] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Mostly sports.
  • [00:18:39.10] SPEAKER 1: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions you remember from that time?
  • [00:18:43.14] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: New Year's Day. New Year's Day, for the Japanese, was a very big day, and so it was a big celebration, and there would always be a lot of people and a lot of food.
  • [00:18:54.81] SPEAKER 1: Did your family have any special sayings or expressions during this time period?
  • [00:18:58.23] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Not really, no.
  • [00:19:01.26] SPEAKER 1: Were there any changes in your family life during your later school years?
  • [00:19:06.71] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, my brother died. My brother was in camp. And it's actually a very sad story because when the war broke out, we all went to camp.
  • [00:19:21.68] And in 1943, the government wanted the Japanese-American boys who were in the camp to join the Army. And they did this through a series of [? loyal ?] deals.
  • [00:19:39.89] And my brother wanted to go into the Army, wanted to fight for the United States, wanted to show that he was a good American. And my father vehemently opposed him to go. And there were fights.
  • [00:19:59.15] I can remember the arguments about whether he was going to go or not. My father, ultimately, told him, I'm your dad. You do as I say. You're not going. So he didn't go.
  • [00:20:14.42] And as a result, he was labeled a draft resistor and was sent to prison along with 350 other young men. And they were listed as draft dodgers.
  • [00:20:30.89] And so he was in prison, and was writing all these letters back to my dad about how much he was getting beaten by the guards, and how miserable. And he wanted to get out of there.
  • [00:20:45.80] And so my dad had to leave the family and go work on the railroads to hire an attorney to try to get my brother out of the prison.
  • [00:20:55.34] So my brother suffered a lot in prison and that reflected on our family. And in 1946, he was released. And six months later, he died of cancer. And that affected our family profoundly.
  • [00:21:12.41] My dad forbid all of us to say his name. He told us to burn all of his pictures. And so it was a traumatic event. And it lasted like that for about 30 years. And then one day he just started talking about him and then things changed.
  • [00:21:38.18] SPEAKER 1: Are there any recipes that have been passed down through your family from generation to generation or any family stories connected to the preparation of special food.
  • [00:21:48.47] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: My mother couldn't fry an egg when she came to the United States. And she became actually a pretty good cook. When I think about her life, it was pretty tough because there were all these expectations of a Japanese woman.
  • [00:22:04.96] And she was a little girl when she got married. And she didn't know anything about domestic life nor cared at that time. And then here she was in a different country. So she actually learned a lot of-- things weren't handed down in terms of recipes and stuff so much as she learned.
  • [00:22:29.76] SPEAKER 1: When you were thinking back on your school years, what important social or historical events were taking place at the time?
  • [00:22:42.52] YAMAMOTO: Well, I'll start from Stanford going backwards. The Vietnam War was going on at that time. And then in junior high school the Korean War was going on. And there were a series of-- the Cuban Missile Crisis was in 1961. So there were a lot of social events and then-- did you say before-- what period?
  • [00:23:15.18] SPEAKER 1: High school, college.
  • [00:23:16.30] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yeah. So those would be the main ones.
  • [00:23:20.69] SPEAKER 1: Yeah, it's a good thing. So the next set of questions will cover a relatively long time period in your life. From the time you completed college, entered the labor force or started a family, until your children left home and where your spouse retired from work. So it's-- it could be--
  • [00:23:36.20] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Wow, that is a long stretch.
  • [00:23:37.70] SPEAKER 1: It's a very long stretch of time. So after you finished high school, where did you live?
  • [00:23:44.44] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I lived in San Jose, and got married when I was 23. And started teaching at high school level, and then we had a daughter. And so there I was, on 24, with a family, and eventually, had a son. And so the those years were pretty much around raising children. And then-- how far up, how far, how recent do you want to go?
  • [00:24:32.60] SPEAKER 1: We'll get to the more recent years.
  • [00:24:34.02] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: All right.
  • [00:24:34.71] SPEAKER 1: We'll just go in sections, so it's a little bit easier to remember.
  • [00:24:37.81] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: OK.
  • [00:24:38.65] SPEAKER 1: So where and when did you meet your spouse?
  • [00:24:43.57] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Through work. Well, it depends on which one you want to talk about. I'm divorced and had two wives. So the first one, we grew up together as teenagers through the church. And that's where my first two children was born, that was our family then. Divorced, and then my current wife-- we met through work.
  • [00:25:10.54] SPEAKER 1: What was it like when you were dating for both, either/or, whichever you prefer to talk about.
  • [00:25:15.67] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Hm, it gets complicated. I'll talk about my second one because-- my current wife-- because I think that that was really-- by then, I was a mature person. I kind of knew who I was. I had my feet on the ground better. And so the courtship was more meaningful in that sense. I knew what to look for, and I knew what kind of lifestyle I was leading and what I wanted. Whereas, the first time around, I mean, I did a lot of supposed to's.
  • [00:25:57.34] You're supposed to do this, you're supposed to do that. So anyway, my courtship with my current wife, Mary, was wonderful. It was short. We started in October, and we were married the following June. So relatively short.
  • [00:26:17.16] SPEAKER 1: So can you tell me about your engagement or your wedding?
  • [00:26:20.68] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Our wedding was wonderful. We were married in Oakland, California in July. And it was at her sister's home, which was in the Oakland Hills. And it was one of the happiest days of my life. It was a wonderful, happy occasion. And fortunately, both of our parents were still alive at that time. Both sides now are gone. And so it was a wonderful gathering of family and friends.
  • [00:26:56.01] SPEAKER 1: So what was it like living with your children when they were younger, and still lived in the house?
  • [00:27:02.48] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, again, it depends. The first time around, it was very nice. And again, we were governed a lot by what we were supposed to do. And our second set of children were both adopted from Japan. And-- strike that. Actually, I don't want that part filmed.
  • [00:27:27.85] SPEAKER 1: OK. Lovely. Morning to you again. So this is an interview for the Legacies Project, which has students gathering oral histories and putting them into an archive for future generations. To the best of your ability, please ignore the camera. While your eyes can certainly waver, mainly look at me, and please do not look directly at the camera lens. Announce to the room that it is time to turn off or to silence cell phones, pagers, or anything else that beeps, chimes, or otherwise makes noise.
  • [00:28:00.61] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I keep forgetting that. OK.
  • [00:28:04.97] SPEAKER 1: You can call for a break anytime that you want one. Also, please remember that you can decline to answer any questions or terminate the interview at any time for any reason. All right. And then we can just get right back to our last two questions. All right.
  • [00:28:21.80] SPEAKER 2: Wait. For the video, it's just going to be text asking the questions, because this doesn't pick up what she asks.
  • [00:28:32.33] SPEAKER 1: No. It's fine, because they're all the same as the question for every video.
  • [00:28:35.05] SPEAKER 2: OK.
  • [00:28:35.39] SPEAKER 1: So it's like standardized. What advice would you give to my generation?
  • [00:28:40.46] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: What advice?
  • [00:28:41.30] SPEAKER 1: Uh-huh.
  • [00:28:45.23] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: These questions have really gotten me to think about things. What advice? I guess the one advice that I would give people is to have a dream, to have a goal, and to lay out a plan on how you're going to achieve it.
  • [00:29:10.95] Too many people have dreams, but they don't really know how to go about it. Or they haven't given a lot of thought to the things you have to do to prepare to get yourself there. And so my advice, which I wish I had followed when I was a teenager, was to have a clear idea-- a vision, to have a vision-- and then to figure out what I needed to do to realize that vision.
  • [00:29:38.97] SPEAKER 1: Is there anything you would like to add that we haven't talked about?
  • [00:29:41.85] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: No, I think that it's been pretty comprehensive.
  • [00:29:45.72] SPEAKER 1: All right. So that's it. We are done.
  • [00:29:51.12] SPEAKER 2: Since he can talk about extra things, would you mind repeating what it was like in the camps? Would that be fine?
  • [00:30:00.09] SPEAKER 1: Yeah.
  • [00:30:01.39] SPEAKER 2: [INAUDIBLE].
  • [00:30:03.91] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: One that I wasn't expecting to give. Fact is, if I had thought about that question coming into this room, I probably would have given a different answer. And so it surprised me when I said the thing I'm most proud of is my overcoming my childhood.
  • [00:30:23.88] And I was really quite shocked at that answer. I never even thought about it like that before, at least consciously I never have. And so I reflected a lot about where did that answer come from?
  • [00:30:42.06] And I remember going, after the interview, I went back home and talked to my wife about that and said, you'll never guess what the answer was that I gave. And so, yeah, I would like to talk about that a little bit, as to why I said what I did.
  • [00:31:06.07] SPEAKER 1: So, go ahead. Why did you say what you said?
  • [00:31:08.66] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: OK. Well, I have a bunch of theories about that. I'm not sure any one of them is the right answer. And maybe they all are the right answer.
  • [00:31:22.77] My role in the family was that I was the youngest child. And there were three siblings-- my brother and two sisters-- and then myself. The relationship between my father and my oldest brother was one of extreme closeness. They were very close. And they were also very committed to the tasks that needed to be done for the family to survive and to-- they were both pretty similar in their thinking.
  • [00:32:05.46] And my mother was a woman who physically was not the strongest person. And so she had a lot of health problems. And as a young kid, when you're four, five, six, seven, I mean, you really don't-- unless somebody really sat down and talked with you about what's going on, you really come up with your own ideas of what's going on.
  • [00:32:32.73] And so I think I mentioned that as a child, I was a real angry child. And part of that was that I never knew what was going on. We were in a ranch. We were on our ranch my first four years.
  • [00:32:53.04] And all of the sudden, we were on a train going to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. And I didn't know why. And I didn't even know that we were moving.
  • [00:33:03.24] And when we were in the camps, the life of a four- or five-year-old is a lot different than an adult or a teenager. I saw a lot of the things as fun. And this was not a fun time for the family.
  • [00:33:21.31] So here I was, thinking that this was a great adventure. And my parents are suffering, and my brother is trying to help with the family. And so those things were very serious. And so I was completely out of sync with where the family was.
  • [00:33:42.66] And then when my brother was drafted and he, along with others, did not go into the Army, resisted the draft, because their position was they would fight for this country, but they would have to get their constitutional rights reinstated. And the government, of course, said no. And so as a result of that, he went to prison.
  • [00:34:16.14] And that really broke my father's heart. And when the war ended and my brother died two years later, that really caused my father to go into isolation. He almost decided on his own to become a Buddhist monk and go to Australia. And that would have left the family with just my mother and two sisters and myself.
  • [00:34:49.05] Well, I guess he figured that out and decided not to. But I didn't know that my brother was sick. I didn't know that he died. I had to find out from neighbors that my brother died.
  • [00:35:04.77] I was coming home from school on the school bus one day, and there were a lot of cars. There were a lot of cars in the area of our house. We were on a ranch at that time.
  • [00:35:20.95] And so I remember getting off the bus and seeing all these people around and all these cars and wondering what is going on here. And I ran into somebody. I don't even know who it was. And I said, why are all these people here? And that's when I found out that my brother died.
  • [00:35:42.61] And so those kinds of stories, that happened just over and over and over again, where things happened that I didn't know what was going on and I was out of step with the family. And I never did get in step with the family for a long, long time. And so I think it was pretty natural for me to then act out.
  • [00:36:04.71] And as an adolescent, I really did. And I really caused a lot of pain to my parents. And it didn't affect me that much.
  • [00:36:19.26] I remember once when I was arrested, and I had to go before the judge. And I was sitting in the car. My sister and I were sitting in the car waiting for my father to come out to go to court.
  • [00:36:35.49] And so my sister is trying to make me feel guilty. She said, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Look at all the heartache you're causing your father and mother. And just as she said that, my father came out and he was laughing. I don't know why he was laughing, but he was laughing.
  • [00:36:54.97] And I looked at my sister and gave her this mean smirk. Yeah, right, he's really suffering. And so that was the kind of relationship I had with the family.
  • [00:37:10.99] And that, of course, just played out my whole life. And as a young adult, that anger and that lack of connection continued. And so it took a lifetime for me to overcome all that.
  • [00:37:29.39] And I'm always thankful that I turned out as good as I did, because it could have been a lot worse. And I regret a lot all the pain I caused people because I was so angry. So I wanted to just talk about that a little bit because I was so surprised by my answer last time.
  • [00:37:52.11] SPEAKER 1: Absolutely. So if you at this moment-- not saying that this is what we will end up doing-- had to pick a topic that you would like to talk about in the final video, which one would you choose?
  • [00:38:07.67] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, I guess there--
  • [00:38:09.00] SPEAKER 1: Would you like to continue about your children at home now?
  • [00:38:12.53] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: So, the second set of children, again, by then we were established. We had a certain amount of wealth. And so we were able to take trips.
  • [00:38:26.11] So it was a lot more fun time, because, again, both my wife and I were older. And same thing, we were better people. We knew ourselves better.
  • [00:38:40.68] SPEAKER 1: So tell me about your working years.
  • [00:38:43.75] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: My working years, I taught for seven years at a high school in California. I taught both classes for children with disabilities and also US history. And then in 1970, I got my PhD from Stanford and became a special education administrator. And then most of my career was in that field.
  • [00:39:18.63] SPEAKER 1: So what was a typical day like during working years of your adult life?
  • [00:39:21.89] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Long. Usually I'm an early riser. So invariably I'd be in the office by 7:00, oftentimes by 6:00. And we went through a big transformation in education during that time. And that was an exciting time because of those changes.
  • [00:39:45.50] Some of it was painful. Some of it was very painful. But it was also a very interesting time.
  • [00:39:52.42] SPEAKER 1: What did your family enjoy to do together while your kids were still at home?
  • [00:39:56.32] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Travel. And just picnics, doing small trips. So we would do a lot of outings. And then every once in a while, we'd do some traveling.
  • [00:40:11.38] SPEAKER 1: What was your personal favorite thing to do for fun during this time period?
  • [00:40:14.38] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I'm sorry?
  • [00:40:15.01] SPEAKER 1: What was your personal favorite thing to do for fun during this time period?
  • [00:40:18.94] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: With the kids?
  • [00:40:19.95] SPEAKER 1: By yourself.
  • [00:40:20.77] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Oh, by myself? It was listening to music at that time.
  • [00:40:32.20] SPEAKER 1: Were there any special days, events, or family traditions that you practiced during that time that were different from the ones that you practiced when you were a child?
  • [00:40:43.30] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Not really, no.
  • [00:40:47.79] SPEAKER 1: Describe the popular music of the time period when you were an adult.
  • [00:40:51.47] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, it was mainly rock and roll and their introduction of rock and roll. And so that was a lot of fun to see the transformation of music from the '30s, '40s. And then all of a sudden, rock and roll came in. And also black music became more popular, more mainstream during that time, too.
  • [00:41:12.45] SPEAKER 1: So then, compared to that, what was the music like now when you were an adult, when your kids were still at home, more recently.
  • [00:41:20.00] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I think that the same impact it's having then it has now. Like the older generation didn't understand rock and roll. There were a lot of churches that thought it was evil, stuff like that.
  • [00:41:37.06] Modern-day music today, you've got rappers. And you get the whole same kind of reaction. So music's changed, but the reaction hasn't.
  • [00:41:47.47] SPEAKER 1: How do you feel about the particular dance styles associated with music when you were an adult?
  • [00:41:52.69] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Say again?
  • [00:41:53.75] SPEAKER 1: So when you were an adult, when your children were high school, college aged, how did you feel about the dance styles that occurred in popular culture, if you had a reaction.
  • [00:42:05.24] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I didn't.
  • [00:42:06.34] SPEAKER 1: How about the clothing or hairstyles?
  • [00:42:09.97] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Now?
  • [00:42:11.01] SPEAKER 1: Now and in recent history.
  • [00:42:14.38] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, the hairstyles are very interesting to me here-- I mean currently. There's a lot more diversity of styles than there was then, and certainly a lot more self-expression now than there was then. So those would be my impressions, is that there's a lot more freedom around appearance than there was then.
  • [00:42:43.14] SPEAKER 1: Do you think that's a good thing?
  • [00:42:44.41] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Um-hm. I do.
  • [00:42:46.58] SPEAKER 1: When thinking back on your working adult life, what important social or historical events were taking place, and how did they personally affect you and your family?
  • [00:42:55.63] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: The civil rights movement, both in terms of the racial integration and strive for racial justice. And also, the same thing was happening less violently in the community of disabilities. Those two had the same common ingredient of civil rights.
  • [00:43:20.65] SPEAKER 1: So the next, final set of questions cover another relatively long period of time in your life. So it's the same general time period, but more focused on your appointment. What was your primary field of employment? How did you first get started with this particular job? And what got you interested?
  • [00:43:40.81] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I got into the field of education. I wanted to get into the field of education. I told you the story off the camera of where the girl that I really was liking at that time wanted to become a teacher. And so I thought, that's a good profession and I could do that.
  • [00:44:03.08] And so that's how I got into education. She ended up to go into a different field, actually. And I just continued. And it was interesting because there weren't very many Japanese male people going into education at that time. So I was one of the rare ones.
  • [00:44:26.77] SPEAKER 1: What do you think-- how do you think the process of teaching and the career you chose has changed today versus when you first entered it?
  • [00:44:34.95] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I think the process of teaching, if you're a good teacher, remains the same. And that is having passion about your subject matter, wanting to convey that passion to your students, trying to make sure that they grew from the experience of taking your class. Those kinds of things don't change.
  • [00:45:03.34] Technology, obviously, has changed the method of teaching a lot. And just looking around here at Skyline, I'm just amazed at the labs and the different technologies that I see that are just so commonplace now.
  • [00:45:21.43] SPEAKER 1: So how-- then a follow-up question-- what technology changes have occurred over your working years?
  • [00:45:27.67] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, we had typewriters, as opposed to computers. I can remember my first computer, which was the size of a suitcase and just--
  • [00:45:41.35] SPEAKER 1: Sorry. Continue.
  • [00:45:43.36] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Where was I?
  • [00:45:44.38] SPEAKER 1: You were talking about how you had typewriters and how that's evolved.
  • [00:45:48.22] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yeah. The computer has changed everything. And so that would be probably the major technological piece of equipment now that didn't exist then.
  • [00:46:04.54] SPEAKER 1: How do you judge excellence within your field? And what makes someone respected in that field?
  • [00:46:09.46] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Wow, that is a wonderful question. Wow. How do I describe excellence?
  • [00:46:19.55] I think it would be the same as I would define success. And that is you identify goals that are attainable and realistic but also stretches you. And then when you meet those goals, I would consider that excellent and successful.
  • [00:46:45.00] SPEAKER 1: What did you value most about your job?
  • [00:46:48.71] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Being able to help others.
  • [00:46:52.36] SPEAKER 1: Tell me about any moves you made during your working years and retirement prior to your decision to move to your current residence.
  • [00:47:04.32] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I started teaching in San Jose, California, or outside of San Jose, and then took my first job in Livermore, California. And then I was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship. And those were 10 awards each year to minority individuals who wanted to become urban superintendents.
  • [00:47:28.74] And so that took me to New Orleans and to Portland, Oregon, to work with the urban superintendents of those two school districts. And so I was aiming to become an urban superintendent at that time. And while in Portland, I got to be exposed to many national educational leaders who were very inspiring.
  • [00:48:00.92] And for about five years, that's the goal I had. But and then I started seeing many of the superintendents whom I knew have health issues-- heart attacks, stress. And I thought, this is not the way I want to go. And so I changed and went back to my roots in special education.
  • [00:48:26.59] SPEAKER 1: How did you come to live in your current residence?
  • [00:48:34.14] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: My wife and I wanted to move from the bay area in California. And we wanted to move to an area that had more changes of seasons, very distinct seasons. We wanted to live in a community that had a sense of community.
  • [00:48:51.93] When we lived in California in the bay area, you could lose yourself. You became just an anonymous person with just an immense population out there. Here, you can meet people in stores and going out. Some people may not like that, but we did. And that added to the sense of ownership of being part of Ann Arbor.
  • [00:49:18.78] SPEAKER 1: How do you feel about your current living situation?
  • [00:49:21.48] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I feel great about it. I'm retired. And it's certainly meeting most of the expectations that I had.
  • [00:49:30.45] SPEAKER 1: Did your family life change for you when your spouse retired and your children left home?
  • [00:49:37.14] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Not really, no.
  • [00:49:38.67] SPEAKER 1: How has your life changed? Oh, I'm sorry. There was another card here. What is a typical day in your current life?
  • [00:49:46.26] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I do a lot of reading. I love going to performances. I love playing golf. I take classes. And I continue to try to become a lifelong learner. And I'm always looking for opportunities where I can be helpful to others.
  • [00:50:12.61] SPEAKER 1: What does your family enjoy doing together now?
  • [00:50:15.09] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Travel. Getting together for dinners.
  • [00:50:20.07] SPEAKER 1: What are your personal favorite things to do for fun?
  • [00:50:23.16] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: For fun would be golf and music, reading.
  • [00:50:28.50] SPEAKER 1: Are there any special days, events, or family traditions you especially enjoy at this time of your life?
  • [00:50:34.83] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: The one that I enjoy the most, I guess, would be the traditional family holidays, where we all get together. Those would be my favorites.
  • [00:50:44.64] SPEAKER 1: When you're thinking of your life after retirement or after your kids left home, up until the present, what important social or historical events have taken place, and how did they personally affect you?
  • [00:50:58.80] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Stop. I think the biggest social movement that I can think of since I retired, again, is in the field of civil rights. And that is the coming into the mainstream of gay and lesbian rights. I think that's the biggest social movement I've seen.
  • [00:51:19.23] SPEAKER 1: When you think back on your entire life, what important social-historical event had the greatest impact?
  • [00:51:27.42] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: When we were in the camps, that had a profound impact. That will always be defining me in terms of what happened in my life.
  • [00:51:38.74] SPEAKER 1: What family heirlooms or keepsakes do you possess?
  • [00:51:43.96] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Family photos. There are some artifacts, some items that my parents had that I've kept.
  • [00:51:55.21] SPEAKER 1: Thinking back over your life, what are you most proud of?
  • [00:51:59.29] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: That I overcame my childhood. I didn't mention that in the earlier years. But I was a very angry child. I wouldn't characterize my childhood as happy at all.
  • [00:52:13.64] In fact, it was pretty painful, to the point of where, as a teenager, I was constantly in trouble with the law. And I remember the judge once telling me that if he ever saw me in here again, he'd throw away the key. And I caused a lot of heartaches to my parents because of the way I was. And to overcome all that and not end up to be a criminal, and to actually be a positive force in society, is a significant achievement for me.
  • [00:52:52.41] SPEAKER 1: What would you say has changed most from the time you were my age to now?
  • [00:52:59.43] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Again, it goes back to individual expression. I think women today, from the time that I was a teenager to now, are much more self-actualized, are much more free and less strapped by traditions than when I was a teenager.
  • [00:53:22.11] SPEAKER 1: Absolutely. I think that's where we have to stop today. Yeah?
  • [00:53:27.39] SPEAKER 2: I need to reposition this because it's picking up sound from the [INAUDIBLE].
  • [00:53:32.46] SPEAKER 1: All right. Thank you.
  • [00:53:34.77] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: How's this?
  • [00:53:35.92] SPEAKER 2: Yeah, that's better.
  • [00:53:37.26] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: OK.
  • [00:53:37.96] SPEAKER 1: Continue.
  • [00:53:38.70] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: We ended up in horse stalls. And we stayed there for six months. Santa Anita is a famous racetrack even today. And so living among the horses and horse stalls after they were cleaned out, the place still stunk. And it was a record heat wave, it just happened, that year.
  • [00:54:02.47] And so here you had 10,000 people crammed into Santa Anita. And it was hot. And people were scared. They had no idea what was going to happen to them. The anxiety was very high.
  • [00:54:19.89] And so it was-- later that year, we went in August. We got on a train, and they pulled all the shades down. And for three days, they were on this train not knowing where they were going.
  • [00:54:38.49] And they ended up-- the train took the people and dropped them off at various camps along the way. And our family ended up in Heart Mountain, Wyoming, which is about 90 miles east of Yellowstone. And it just so happened that within a week of their arrival, there was a big snowstorm.
  • [00:55:02.80] And so here you've got people from California, dressed like Californians and encountering a fierce snowstorm as soon as they arrived. They didn't have the proper clothing. Housing, they threw up these barracks with tar paper. And the wind and snow just went through the barracks.
  • [00:55:26.58] So the people were totally ill-equipped for the new environment that they were in. I don't know how far you want me to go with this.
  • [00:55:35.15] SPEAKER 1: That's all right for right now. I was going to go back and ask you, so you guys lived in the horse stalls?
  • [00:55:40.15] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yes. So there were either horse stalls, or they lived under the grandstands. And yeah, it was just a real bad situation. And people still talk about the suffering that went on during that time.
  • [00:56:01.48] SPEAKER 1: Were the horses in the horse stalls while you were living there?
  • [00:56:03.76] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: No. They had two weeks to clean it out. And so all they really did is hose it down. So yeah, coupled with the anxiety, it was just a very tough spot to be in.
  • [00:56:20.38] SPEAKER 1: Do you remember the moment when you first realized that there would be some kind of trouble before all of this happened?
  • [00:56:26.32] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Can I remember it? No, I was too young. I was only four when the evacuation notice happened. I certainly was aware of it when I was in camp when I was older.
  • [00:56:40.51] And certainly when I came back to California after the camps, used to get into a lot of fights, a lot of verbal taunting. So in camp, probably when I was around six, five, is when I first encountered it. And then definitely when I came back, when I was about seven or eight, definitely knew it.
  • [00:57:08.62] SPEAKER 1: So do you remember when you were released from camp and how you were released and how you felt?
  • [00:57:15.67] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yeah, it's kind of interesting. I do remember that. And basically, the camp administrator made the announcement that everybody was going to be leaving. And this was late 1944.
  • [00:57:32.44] War was still going on at that time. But there were several Supreme Court cases, one the Mitsuye Endo case. She filed a lawsuit, saying, what are the charges? Why am I being uprooted? You haven't given us any reason for this.
  • [00:57:56.95] So with that, the government realized that the Supreme Court was going to come down in her favor. And so evacuations started in December of 1944. And it was through the announcement of that case that people started returning.
  • [00:58:19.33] SPEAKER 1: How did you feel when you were leaving in that moment?
  • [00:58:23.08] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Lots of anxiety. People got into a routine which was safe. And they felt safe. They didn't know what kind of environment they would return to, which turned out to be mixed.
  • [00:58:42.10] There were some people who welcomed them back, and there were a lot of people that had a lot of resentment and hostility toward the Japanese returning. Many people who returned came back with discovering that they lost their property. The people who said they would take care of their property while they were gone did not or, in some cases, actually stole the property.
  • [00:59:12.16] There were also some very kind people, who did take care of the property like they had promised. And so there was a mixed scene. But overall, resettlement was very difficult.
  • [00:59:36.59] SPEAKER 1: How did your time in camps impact the rest of your life?
  • [00:59:43.13] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: It probably was the single most-- outside of the family dynamics--
  • [00:59:50.63] SPEAKER 1: Hold on a second. --impact the rest of your life?
  • [00:59:54.47] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: It was a single event that impacted my life. I can't tell you how one event could just change everything, which it did. And it affected my life in the obvious ways of our family trying to resettle. Those kinds of economic daily living challenges were there.
  • [01:00:26.33] But overall, what it really did for me was make me a very angry person. And I grew up hating the government, hating white people. I grew up just with lots of anger, to the point of where I was-- I have a juvenile record. I got in trouble with the law.
  • [01:00:58.26] It just was a very difficult time. And it's taken me years to overcome all that hostility and try to gain peace with that.
  • [01:01:10.64] SPEAKER 1: Do you feel like it continues to impact your life today and your daily life now?
  • [01:01:15.95] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I'm sorry?
  • [01:01:16.64] SPEAKER 1: So does this thing that happened in your childhood, does it continue to impact you now, today, in your life?
  • [01:01:25.28] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: How it impacts me today is that it's given me the motivation to stay involved with civil rights issues. With the difficulty that people of Middle Eastern background are having right now, it gives me an opportunity to give back and try to help with the anti-Middle Eastern fears that sometimes are occurring. And so it has allowed me to be more of an activist in that area.
  • [01:02:09.98] SPEAKER 1: Is there any way that you remember it or try not to remember it? Or do you think about it often today?
  • [01:02:19.43] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I don't think about it as much as I used to. There were opportunities for me to speak to groups, which I welcomed. I never wanted to see that happen to another group of people.
  • [01:02:35.84] And so I was able to speak from a personal standpoint and share our story with people. And so I believe that those of us who were in the camps and who are still alive have that unique opportunity and unique perspective. And we're taking advantage of speaking out whenever we can.
  • [01:03:03.86] SPEAKER 1: Do you-- this is a personal question, so again, feel free to not answer it. Do you talk about this with your children?
  • [01:03:10.07] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I'm sorry?
  • [01:03:10.66] SPEAKER 1: Do you talk about this with your children?
  • [01:03:12.74] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yes. They know the story. They have attended my speaking in presentations. So yeah, they've been back with me to the camp site, I think once.
  • [01:03:32.23] SPEAKER 1: So you've been back since?
  • [01:03:33.92] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I've been back three times.
  • [01:03:35.36] SPEAKER 1: How do you feel going back?
  • [01:03:38.03] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: A profound sense of sadness. Being a little kid at the time, there's a curiosity also of what the land looked like. And so it's always a meaningful time for me to go back. I probably-- they have a pilgrimage every year. And I probably am going to go this year. It'll probably be my last time.
  • [01:04:02.71] SPEAKER 1: How--
  • [01:04:04.16] SPEAKER 2: Every time you do a transition, could you wait a second so I can readjust the mike, because if this get pointed right at you, it sounds the best.
  • [01:04:12.38] SPEAKER 1: OK. Cool. Sorry. So again, another personal question. How did your experiences make you feel about your humanity and as a person?
  • [01:04:24.16] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Say that again.
  • [01:04:25.07] SPEAKER 1: How did-- how shall i phrase this? How did this thing that happened to you make you feel about your humanity? Did you feel like people respected you as a person? Did you feel like this had any impact on your value as a human?
  • [01:04:42.83] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: I don't think I've ever been asked that question. That's a good one. I think that once I got past all of that angst and all of that anger, it has made me a deeper, more insightful person.
  • [01:05:05.41] It has allowed me to be in a position to provide some information and perspective to other people. And in that sense, it's an opportunity for me to also grow. And so, obviously, it was a rough way to be here. But I think I'm a stronger, better person as a result.
  • [01:05:35.20] SPEAKER 1: Do you feel like, in that time, the US government had regard for you? Did they have respect for you as a person?
  • [01:05:42.67] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: No. They saw us as the enemy. They saw us as people to be fearful of. The country has a history of racial prejudice toward Asians.
  • [01:06:03.12] And that was the legacy that I think we still have conflicts between Eastern and Western cultures. I think we're seeing that today. And so, I don't know. I forgot where I really am going with all that.
  • [01:06:25.73] SPEAKER 1: So you've talked a little bit about the parallels between this situation and the situation with Muslims. And do you want to speak on that a little bit more? How do you see similarities or connections with what's happening now in the modern age and what happened to you?
  • [01:06:40.60] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: The similarities that I see is the fear of a group of people, just grouping everybody in the same bucket and wanting to-- there were talks of imprisonment. There were talks of evacuations. There were talks of deportations.
  • [01:07:04.08] All of that stuff happened to the Japanese. All of that is happening now. We have a lot of immigration talk that happened back then also. So there are a lot of themes.
  • [01:07:22.18] The difference would be that so far, the government has not reacted to the hysteria that the government did in 1941, '42. So I'm hoping that that government learned some lessons.
  • [01:07:48.76] SPEAKER 1: Do you personally see a path that we could go down that would result in something like this happening again?
  • [01:07:55.79] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yeah. The more we see sectarian violence, the more people are going to start looking for scapegoats. And I'm very concerned about the violence that we're experiencing and the impact that it's having on a lot of innocent people. And the hysteria that occurs sometimes is very damaging. And so I think we just have to be very vigilant about that.
  • [01:08:41.42] SPEAKER 1: So there have been some politicians-- and I'm not going to ask you your political opinions-- but that have made statements as if they would like to impose a executive order like this, where we would have Muslims be placed in camps. What do you feel about that?
  • [01:09:00.86] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, it's a nightmare that I wouldn't want to see relived. It would affect another group of people. And as the first time around showed, it was a huge governmental mistake. There was no evidence that the people of Japanese background engaged in sabotage or fifth column kinds of activities.
  • [01:09:30.56] I think that anybody who tried to impose an executive order now would face legal challenges that didn't exist back then. People are much more sophisticated about civil rights and around the Constitution. And I think that it would be very, very difficult for a president to issue an executive order like that again.
  • [01:10:02.71] SPEAKER 1: Do you think it's important that, as a country and as a people, we are accepting of those who we may initially fear or have hysteria of in this way?
  • [01:10:12.91] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: This country is unique, in the sense that it has so many different cultures and celebrates so many different backgrounds and ethnic cultures. At times, under stress, it appears as though we could split as a country. And I guess I have a little bit more faith in that.
  • [01:10:38.02] It's a concern. It's something we have to be vigilant about. But in the end, I do believe that the strength of this country lies in its diversity. And ultimately, I trust that that's going to prove to be the value, the core value, that continues to make this country strong.
  • [01:11:01.91] SPEAKER 1: Speaking to both people our age and those in their 40s and 30s, are there warnings or anything you'd like to say to younger generations who may not have as much pre-knowledge about these things as you do, as far as warning us against going down a similar path or anything of that nature?
  • [01:11:21.42] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: There's a saying, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. And I think that it's really important for our generation to pass on the stories to your generation. And that your generation has to pick up that mantle and realize that there is a serious game going on here, where people are going to have to show a lot of maturity and realize that there are forces that we have to be aware of and to be able to combat. So to this generation, it would be that they have the obligation, to me, and responsibility to continue the work that those of us in the past have done.
  • [01:12:14.15] SPEAKER 1: When you were younger, during World War II, were you happy to be an American and to live in America?
  • [01:12:21.41] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Well, that's a tough question. Yes and no. I mean, I wasn't happy that we were thrown into camps. I wasn't happy that we lost everything. And I wasn't happy that we got all the racial taunts and all that kind of stuff.
  • [01:12:39.42] And so as a kid-- not as an adult, but as a kid-- all you saw was a lot of pain all over the place. And you just go why? And the reason I came up with was because we were discriminated against, because we got treatment because we were who we were as a people.
  • [01:13:03.77] So from that perspective, I was very angry with the country. Was I happy to be in the United States and in America at that time? There were-- that's a mixed bag.
  • [01:13:23.91] There were people who said, this is our opportunity to prove that we're good citizens, to prove that we are Americans. We tried to cooperate with the government to prove that loyalty. And so the overriding approach, even though we were thrown into camps like that, was that we still love this country. And we still wanted to prove that we were good citizens.
  • [01:13:57.20] SPEAKER 1: Are you happy to be an American now?
  • [01:13:58.91] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yes. For all the things that this country has done negatively-- slavery, treatment toward Native Americans, the Japanese-- for all that, this still is a country that is-- what's the word-- growing and maturing. And even though there's a lot of reasons to be concerned, I still have the basic fundamental belief that this country is unique in the world and can serve as a guide. So yes.
  • [01:14:41.33] SPEAKER 1: Is there anything else you want to say about the topic or anything else you'd like to say to anyone who might see this video?
  • [01:14:46.31] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: No, I think that what you guys are doing is great. I think the Legacy Project is an important link from what one generation has done to expose another generation to the challenges and opportunities that exist before you. So it's great.
  • [01:15:04.10] SPEAKER 1: All right. I'm good if you guys are. Do you have anything else you want to ask?
  • [01:15:08.33] SPEAKER 2: No, not really. Oh, wait, I do have one. And this is about in the camps. Did your parents ever try to play it off with you, at least in the beginning, like it was all a game?
  • [01:15:24.34] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: No. No, they never did. Actually, my parents were so-- what's the word I want-- they were so overwhelmed by the forces of evacuation, being thrown in prison, all that stuff. They were just overwhelmed with that.
  • [01:15:46.81] And I think that what constitutes a normal family life was almost impossible to do under those situations. And they tried. A lot of people tried.
  • [01:16:02.29] One of the results of the camps was that it weakened and-- maybe weaken is the best word I could think of. But it weakened the bonds of the Japanese culture in this country. Some say that's good, that it allowed for assimilation. Other people say, well, they lost their cultural identity through that process.
  • [01:16:27.61] SPEAKER 1: So continue off that. We will talk about more stuff, specifically in the camps and during that time period when we see you again. You felt like you lost your culture identity?
  • [01:16:37.75] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Yeah. When I was growing up, I didn't know any English. I knew nothing but Japanese language. I was raised on a farm. We went to camp. The total environment was Japanese. I knew music. I knew writings. I knew literature.
  • [01:16:58.78] When we came back from the camps, my parents-- what's the word I want? My parents insisted that we speak English, that we listen to American music, that we read American literature, that we not disavow being Japanese, but pretty close. They were just really concerned that we assimilate into the greater culture.
  • [01:17:31.48] And so yeah, we lost a lot. And I'm really sorry. I understand why they did that. But I'm really sorry that I lost all that.
  • [01:17:40.61] SPEAKER 1: So going back a little bit to more you were talking about just, again, the parallels between today's modern culture with Muslims and what happened, are there specific instances you can think of? Like last time, a few sessions ago, we talked about the signs in the windows after 9/11. Are there things like that that stick out to you, specific stories or specific moments?
  • [01:18:01.12] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Oh, yeah. Right after 9/11, [? Buslers, ?] the grocery store on Packard and Platt, had this sign that said, I am an American. And if you look at photos of right after Pearl Harbor in San Francisco, many of the Japanese merchants put up those signs that said, I am an American. And when I saw at [? Buslers, ?] I just shook my head and thought, I hope we're not going through this again.
  • [01:18:36.09] SPEAKER 1: You all right? All right. We're OK.
  • [01:18:39.51] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: OK.
  • [01:18:39.71] SPEAKER 1: Thank you so much.
  • [01:18:41.12] DAVID HIROSHI YAMAMOTO: Thank you.
  • [01:18:42.05] SPEAKER 1: All right. You guys OK?
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2020

Length: 01:18:45

Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)

Rights Held by: Ann Arbor District Library

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Subjects
Japanese Americans
Japanese Internment Camps
Heart Mountain Relocation Center
racism
Immigrants & Immigration
Oral Histories
Race & Ethnicity
Social Issues
Legacies Project
David Yamamoto
Mitsuye Endo
San Jose CA
Heart Mountain WY