Barbara Kawakami re: growing up in Hawaii
Interview by Robynn Takayama
1 Disc – 79:58 – 3 Tracks
TRACK 1 – 77:21
ROBYNN: So can you tell me your name and when you were born and where you were born?
BARBARA: Oh. I’m Barbara Kawakami. My Japanese name was Fusako until I became an American citizen. That’s when my husband gave me the name “Barbara.” Until then I was Fusako Ayama. Born in Kuyomoto Japan. On August 24, 1921 and it just happened that I’m one among nine siblings to be born in Japan because after that big, you know, plantation sugar strike that struck, you know, all the plantations on Oahu, a year after the 1920 strike my father decided that he wanted to pull up his roots from Hawaii and go back to Japan because his older brother passed away and there’s a lot of rich rice land in Kuyomoto. And so my father returned with my four, I think two brothers and two sisters above me and at that time my mother happened to be pregnant with me and that’s the reason why I’m the only one who was born in Japan and so after I was born, three months later my father decided that after all this, no place like Hawaii to bring up children, to raise and educate his children and so also I think the reason he decided to come home was he went back quite wealthy. He went home with a lot of gold and all that I understand and the relatives and neighbors kept on borrowing the money and he felt that he’d run out of money if he stays there too long and I think that was another reason that I find out he decided to come home. And so three months after I was born in Kuyomoto in August, on December 29th, they arrived in Hawaii and from what my mother told me during my grown-up years, that’s a rough time and the ocean is very rough during the winter weather, so I cried so much during the night and I kept all the passengers awake that my father almost threw me overboard.
ROBYNN: Oh, that’s not so…
BARBARA: It’s so funny because whenever I didn’t listen or do my chores, my mother threatened me – say you’re lucky. That because of her that she had saved my father from throwing me overboard. But anyway that’s a funny story. So since then, after they returned to Hawaii. Until then, I understood then my father, when I did the research, he did come here in 1890 with his first family. His first wife was Une and they had three children and after finishing his contract in Okekaha plantation he did return to Japan and then his first wife passed away and he came back here. And then later he met my mother and they got married. So…
ROBYNN: Can you hold on a second. When you say he finished up his contract, this is before the 1900 organic act and so it was contract labor when he was bound to work for the plantation for…
BARBARA: …three years, yes…
ROBYNN: …a set number of years. So can you explain why he decided to take on the contract and go to Hawaii and what was involved with the contract, why was he?
BARBARA: Oh, you mean the second time?
ROBYNN: No, the first time.
BARBARA: The first time I don’t know, because that was long before I was born, before anything.
ROBYNN: You don’t know the history?
BARBARA: No. All I know is my relatives in Japan told me the story. And until then my father was educated in the temple school so in the village he was supposed to be one of the most educated people in 1890 so he worked in the village office as a clerk. So when he came to Hawaii I noticed that he even served as a camp police in Eva plantation, which is very unusual for a Japanese man. So a lot of things I have found out these things when I started my research and I started going through the plantation towns and talking to people who were retired. That’s how I found out about my own parents too. Until then everything was so vague because my father died when I was seven. And my mother never told us anything. All she said was oh, your father was a drunkard, no good, only drink sake all the time, but it wasn’t so. When I went to Japan for the first time in 1972, I think, that’s when I met your Aunt Elma, but really that’s the first time it was the real awakening for me in finding out the rich family history that existed on my father’s side. So all I know about my father is he was here in 1890. I thought it was 1902 when I first started studying and then Gala Kabota, you know Alexander Balding(?) Museum, I knew him from the very beginning when I started my research. And one day he was at the archives looking through that microfilm. He found out my father’s information, that he arrived in 1890, so from then on that gave me a lot of lead to doing the research. And then I found out that when he returned was 1902 and he brought his children with him. He brought my half-brother…
ROBYNN: He returned where, to Japan or to Hawaii.
BARBARA: To Hawaii.
ROBYNN: Can you say that? Well, hold on a second. My understanding is that it was very hard to save money working on the plantation. So how was it that he was able to afford to return to Japan?
BARBARA: I think. In Kacao I was trying to find out. When I went to Kaui for a lecture with the picture bride, I did go to Kahao but they had no records of the period. Everything was about the Kanea and so and then now I found out it’s over at Hamilton and I did try to chase it but so far they couldn’t find the information: what my father was doing in Kekaha. So I don’t know whether he was a laborer or doing clerical work like he did in Waipahu so that I have no idea. So I think after the three-year contract, I think he took his family back and then I think when his wife passed away he decided to return to Hawaii again. So he brought his children. So one daughter died here and one older brother lived here and we were very close with the older brother and family and that’s all I know because I was so young at the time. But after he returned a second time in 1902 he worked at, he settled in Waipahu Camp One which in those days the camps were segregated and we lived in Japanese Camp. They called Camp One Japanese Camp, next to the Filipino Camp and they had Okinawan Camp. Korean Camp which had only about three Korean families living up on the hill and so very segregated. So when we, my father worked in the huge warehouse which used to be right above the plantation village. Right about the hill there was a huge warehouse and that’s where my father worked as the clerk and he took charge of entire inventory and I heard this from an office worker, Mr. Kayumoto, who moved to Milani right above here right after he retired from Washigo company. He was the one who worked in the office, he knew about my father. Until then I didn’t know. So through him I found out that he told me, oh your father was a very intelligent man. Imagines that he worked for Mr. Smith. He was the manager of the huge warehouse and they kept all the inventory for the hospital supplies, the plumbing supplies, the carpenter shop. Everything was kept in the huge warehouse and my father was such an able assistant so according to Mr. Kayumoto Mr. Smith had complete trust in my father. I don’t know where he picked up his English. He could read, you know. And he spoke a little English I think. Maybe in Japan he worked as a clerk so it’s near Nagasaki. Kuyomoto is near Nagasaki so he might have picked up some English before he came. And so it was interesting. He worked there until… Prior to that I think I found out through another, Mrs. Kumasaka told me that when I interviewed her, she was a picture bride, she told me that from what she remembered, my father early on had worked as a camp police at Eva plantation. So things that I didn’t know I really found out through my clothing, research on clothing, I met so many people. And so when my father worked for the warehouse I was already old enough to remember. And we lived right in the hub of plantation life. The sugar mill was right across the railroad and the railroad ran right below our home. So every morning I would get up early with my father. He worked at the warehouse so he didn’t have to work early like the field workers. But he got up early anyway and I used to get up with him and so, we used to have an outhouse in those days. Remember plantation, the outhouse was quite a distance from the home. And so every morning I would get up with my father about four o’clock and I would sit on the back porch and I would wait for him, you know. So one morning when he took so long when I waited and waited, that’s when I got interested in the stars: I knew what the dipper was, and my father said oh, in Kuyomata they saw the same kind of dipper, and I remember writing stories about it and I thought that morning I thought he was unusually taking a long time. So I went to check and there he was sprawled on the outhouse. He had collapsed there and I was barely not even seven yet and I rushed to wake my mother. My mother was pregnant with my youngest brother, the ninth child, and so she was still sleeping and so she ran to the outhouse. She tried to move him, but too heavy, so she ran out to the back road and all the workmen you know already about five they’re walking briskly down the back road to catch the early morning train. So she got hold of a couple of my father’s friends, and Mr. Takahashi I remember was a good friend and he was the first one who came to help my father because in those days no one has cars. This is 1928. July. Only the plantation manager and the assistant manager and the camp police. They were only the three people who own cars in Waipahu. And the taxi driver, maybe one or two taxi drivers and that was all. And so they had to rush and get the camp police to help and get my father to the plantation hospital. And so I still remember vividly. I was very young but funny, the vision always stayed with me, and my father had a brain hemorrhage, I understand. Until then every day we enjoyed watching my father, especially I used to go and wait for him by the doorway of his office where he worked. He had a desk and I still remember. I would always poke my head in and wait to finish work and we’d come back in together. And so…
ROBYNN: so he came back with your mother and your entire family in 1902…
BARBARA: He met my mother here. The first wife he was married in Japan to his first wife and they had three children.
ROBYNN: and they came over in 1890.
BARBARA: To Kaupa plantation, yeah.
ROBYNN: And then they went back in…what?
BARBARA: They went back, yeah. Second re-entry in…
ROBYNN: Back in 1893?
BARBARA: I think so. I don’t have a record…
ROBYNN: And then she passed away?
BARBARA: Yes. And in 1902 he reentered with his children. I think that is still not clear. We were talking about it yesterday too. Of the twin girls one died so I think he came back with one son and he may have left the twin girl, that was long before I was born and my mother never talked about it.
ROBYNN: But then so he met your mother here and then they returned in 1921 to Japan.
BARBARA: Yeah. When he met my mother here they got married in about 1914 I think. The record is somewhere around 1913, 14. And then 1920 there was the major plantation strike and then after that, a year after that, 1921, they went to Japan. And so for my mother, she’s from Fukashima, Northern Prefecture. Which is very unusual in those days because people from the same prefecture got married. And people would say oh how come your mother’s from Fukashima kay and my father’s Kuyomoto kay. Because it was love marriage. It was funny how people talk about that period. The restrictive immigration period. They had that only certain people unless you had somebody sponsoring you. You know the Asian Exclusion Act? Until 1924 I think it was effective. They started working on it, I think it was supposed to conclude at 1920 but it kind of dragged on and in Hawaii the picture brides and those who had the sponsors, they call it Yobiyose. If the parents were here they could send for their kids. From Japan. So during the 1908 to 1924 period, which is called the restrictive immigration period, that’s when my mother…see my father was here, they must have met before then somewhere. I found out. You know in Eva or something. They met each other and my mother wanted to come back I think to marry my father. And so this I found out doing all the research. so to enter Hawaii she needed someone to sponsor her, but her relatives had all returned to Japan. My mother’s grandparents were here also. But they had returned to Japan by 1915. So she also needed a sponsor but she came here as a temporary spouse of her younger sister’s fiancé. So it’s weird. You know how in the olden days, I found out that a lot of people did that when I started my research. in order to enter Hawaii you either came as a temporary spouse, they call it Kadefufu, it means temporary spouse, during the voyage they have to share the same room and everything, and then when they came here, they apply for divorce and each went their own way, so she, in my mother’s case she came as a temporary spouse with her younger sister’s fiancé and then she applied for divorce and then she had to wait a year to marry my father. And that became very clear when I started talking to other people too.
ROBYNN: I’m confused. So they would allow a couple to come if they were married.
ROBYNN: But they wouldn’t allow a single person to come.
BARBARA: Unless they were doctors, missionaries.
ROBYNN: And then also in your mother’s case, you say she was already in Hawaii and then went back to Japan and then wanted to come back.
BARBARA: Right. Looks like she was married before. Then she returned to Japan. It looks like she too got divorced and returned to Japan.
ROBYNN: Well, I’m just so surprised because I thought it was very difficult to raise money to go back to Japan.
BARBARA: I don’t know how she did it. All this is new. In fact, my brother wouldn’t want me to talk about this really. Because nobody in my family knows this. Only I’m the historian in the family. I did extensive research.
ROBYNN: Okay. So let’s talk about your father again. Did he, do you know anything about his experience in the 1920 strike. Was he involved, or not involved because he wasn’t really a field laborer? And then why did he decide to go back? Did he go back because of the strike?
BARBARA: I think it was a very unhappy situation for him because he was doing clerical work, actually he didn’t have to go on strike. He was on salary. So we were well-off during that period when my father was living. And so because he didn’t strike I think some people hated that. They used to call him names and all that and I found out that towards the end he had to side with the strikers which he didn’t have to because he was already getting a good salary but someone told me that he had an unhappy experience because he didn’t really participate in the strike like the ordinary laborer did. I don’t know, maybe that’s the reason he returned to Japan, but he died in 1928 so I wouldn’t know and my mother never said. Only through my research, when I started interviewing people, only a couple people said oh, your father had a rough time because he didn’t have to strike because the ordinary people were suffering. They didn’t have enough to get by and it was very rough so I think he must have been involved, cut in a very unsatisfactory situation, I think that’s the reason why he returned to Japan. I wish I could find out for myself. And my cousins in Japan, they know, but they think he came back wealthy, he brought back a lot of gold pieces. Of course they were four above me and when my cousin took me for a walk around the village we passed through some beautiful mansions, and my cousin said oh those people borrowed a lot of money from your father but your father loaned money to four people, five people but he still had the IOU on rice paper. I have a example here. That one is for 250. but somewhere I have one for 5000 and I don’t know, couldn’t be American money but somewhere American money value worth 300 dollars to 250 according to American money at the time and so my cousin told me that the reason my father decided to return was he was running out of money and he felt that the children missed Hawaii. Because they were much older than I was and missed Hawaii and that’s what made him decide to come back.
ROBYNN: And so even though he was a clerical worker in Waipahu he lived amongst all the Japanese field laborers?
BARBARA: That camp we had, that house was pretty nice. Next door there was a luna.
ROBYNN: Can you describe how the housing was situated in the Waipahu…?
BARBARA: Yeah, in that area in Camp One, there were a mixed group, carpenter workers, who worked in the carpenter’s shop, and railroad men, and there was a corner in Camp One, there were a whole bunch of Filipino bachelors. And it was strange now that I think about it, they were the only Filipinos right there in the midst of Japanese people, because they had a special Filipino camp, Spanish camp and all that. But the reason they were put there was because my next door neighbor was a supervisor for the railroad gang. Very nice people, well-to-do, and the son was able to go to Makene high school those days and he worked in the office, the only son. And so we lived among, and the next door Mr. Sigumoto he was also luna for the railroad gang. So people in that area, I think like my father, was a clerk for the warehouse, so it wasn’t too bad. We had fairly nice, I wouldn’t say a real mansion but it was a comfortable house. So I think Camp One consisted of I think the lower people. It was more for maybe convenience. My father worked at the warehouse, so you know the house right near the warehouse, and then right behind us were the bachelors, the long house for the Filipino bachelors. And they used the outhouse right behind our bath house. So that was strange. That’s how, when my mother became a widow, when my father died suddenly in 1928, when he collapsed at the outhouse and until then our life was pretty comfortable and my mother didn’t have to work. But in the pregnant condition, she couldn’t work in the fields like other women did in those days . So she thought of working as domestic help for the Caucasian families in those days. That was the norm. Many Japanese women and widows and even Japanese girls, as soon as they graduated eighth grade, they were sent to work at haole homes as a domestic. But for my mother in her pregnant condition the only thing she could think of while taking care of her own children, she took in laundry from the Filipino bachelors who lived right on the corner. So of course the money was so cheap. For one person the laundry charging about 2.50 per month to do all the dirty laundry and she had to get up at 4:30 in the morning, start scrubbing and pounding all the red dirt, and then carrying the wet clothing outside and putting it into a large can and boiling it over an open fire and she would even chop the cabin wood herself in her condition and my brother sometimes helped. And one thing I’m glad my brother told me about, my second brother who was in 442, he found out that one worst thing my mother did as a plantation widow. They had 15 dollars a month when the husband, spouse died, and so with my mother expecting her 9th child, a man who was a, he was a waterluna we call it, irrigation, he was a supervisor. And he felt sorry for my mother and he had prestige because he had a high position being a supervisor. He went to see the manager and said how can Mrs Kayama, expecting a 9th child, get along on only 15 dollars a month. There was no life insurance and it was so sad. With only laundry it will be too difficult. And so the manager gave my mother a choice of either give her $1000 to take care of all the immediate expenses for the funeral and all the urgent things, or he increased from $15 to $25 a month. So he told my mother that until your son, the baby that she’s carrying, until he gets to social security age, they’ll give her the $25 a month or she can take the $1000. And I think my mother was very intelligent. With only a sixth grade education in the village in Fukoshima, she was very smart for her age because even in Tanomoshi, when she ran Tanomoshi, she could divide, multiplication in her head. Addition was nothing to her. She could just, somehow I wish I took her brains but she was so smart. So she chose to have that every month $25. And she did the wisest thing. Because with the laundry and we grew our own vegetables, my brothers belonged to the Future Farmers of America. Oh we grew beautiful vegetables, we had avocado tree, guava tree, papaya tree, everything that we wanted we never starved even if we could never afford candy. Everything we ever wanted was in the yard so somehow we survived on the vegetables that were grown at home. And my mother, she lived to be 92 and the last few years I think, in ’78 she had a massive stroke and after that she recovered, but the fourth time when she had another massive stroke she became completely paralyzed and bedridden. She lost her speech and she was in the hospital. We took turns taking care of her but it got too hard after she became completely paralyzed. So the plantation put her in an intensive care unit at the Wahiwa hospital. They still have the green building, it’s annexed to the Wahiwa hospital. And she was lucky, she was one of the last ones that before the plantation or the sugar company were dissolved, until then they took care of the spouses and whoever were widowed. And they have to pay for whatever. And the money that came to my mother, that $25 a month and some other income, I don’t know how she had some other income, but the plantation, until she died at 92 they never stopped the pension money.
ROBYNN: Hold on. I thought they were going to pay the $25 a month until her unborn son reached social security age
BARBARA: …social security age so that was I think 18. I’m not sure what that meant but that son, that’s the only one living today. But that was really remarkable because if my second brother who was an accountant, lucky he found all these things out later too.
ROBYNN: and then another question is even though your father had passed away she still got to stay in the plantation camp? Can you explain that? Can you start out because none of my questions are going to be on the tape, so can you explain the plantation home and how…
BARBARA: Yes. After my father died in 1928, July 12, 1928, my mother was only 39. My father was 63 years old. There’s quite a age difference and so having her ninth child it was very difficult and my oldest brother who was only 12 years old, 11 or 12 when my father died, and so he became the oldest son. He had to support, help support the family. And so my mother probably survived on the $25 a month plus that she supplemented her income by taking in laundry for the plantation bachelors who lived in the neighborhood. But then I think my oldest brother really sacrificed because the day after he graduated from eighth grade, which is 12 years old, my cousin who was a supervisor for the Kumpun camp, do you know what the Kumpun camp is? A group of men, there’s a leader, and he gets men to work under him. Maybe about 14 or 15 depending on the amount. To irrigate, to grow sugar cane on acres of land. And so until the sugar cane is harvested they have a contract for so many years and they make a lump sum for $500 or so and so my oldest brother worked for my cousin and I think he earned $500 within the three years time but as the youngest boy he was soaked in irrigation, he was soaked in water up to his what do you call it abdomen? So later on he had a lot of stomach trouble, he died at 55. but at that time every weekend, the day he left for was about a year later after my father died so it was hard when my cousin, he had a model T Ford. Few people had cars but since he lived in an isolated camp there was camp 19 where he lived about five miles away so he needed a car. When he came to pick up my older brother, I still remember my mother had wrapped his work clothing, just two changes of work clothing, hena pants and a work jacket and only one Sunday best which is a kahki pants and shirt made of Indian fabric. That’s all he had wrapped in the rice bag, you know fudishki a bleached rice bag. And that’s all he left home with. No thing as luggage or anything. And so I still remember the time when he got into my cousin’s model T and he had crank the car to start it and we all cried, we bawled, we all cried over the picket fence because it was so sad with my father gone and my older sister was whisked away and now my brother at 12 was taken way so even my brother cried when he sat in the car. And every weekend my mother, no matter how busy she was with laundry, every Saturday all of us we would walk up, the pipeline is still there, the waterway that fed all the irrigation, if you go up the Royal Kenea you can see the black pipeline that leads up to that hill, that’s where you could see all us young kids. That’s where my mother would prepare lunch, bento for my brother, and give him his change for the week and we all hiked from Camp One where you could see the sugar mill, the old sugar mill part of it. With the smokestack still there. From there, barefooted, we didn’t even own shoes, we walked up the pipeline, we followed the pipeline five miles up to Camp 19 all surrounded by sugarcane. And the red dirt. And every Saturday we did that. And we went there. It was an isolated camp, you know, it must have been lonely for my brother who was so young. And he worked among all those older people. So it was hard. And they had a lot of ditches because they irrigated all the sugarcane fields in that area. So we learned to swim in the ditch. And they had a lot of the pigeon peas, the peas that you see the plantation village you see those all over. You know the green peas? Similar to that. They call them pigeon peas. Also I have a name for it.
ROBYNN: I’m sorry. Can you explain why your mother got to stay in the home?
BARBARA: Because my brother worked on the plantation. See my older brother, this plantation, Kupum camp, is a plantation. Belonged to Wao sugar company. And my brother is the leader of the camp. He leases the land or something and…
ROBYNN: So it was like sharecropping?
BARBARA: Sharecropping, yes. There’s a group of people who get together and they have a designated person to supervise them and my cousin was the one who was the leader of the group. Kumpum means partnership. You form a partnership. And then someone has to supervise the workers. So it’s part of Wao sugar company. And also my second brother was working for a plantation. Someone has to work on the plantation otherwise they’ll be evicted. For my mother to earn the pension money, if she left the plantation probably she wouldn’t have the plantation money. Because my brother worked for my cousin who worked for Wao sugar under the lease lend contract. And then my second brother worked for the plantation soon after graduating from eighth grade. He worked for the Wao sugar company as a painter.
ROBYNN: So it sounds like from the financial loss from your father’s passing all the children had to work as soon as they graduated.
BARBARA: Yes, you have to. Someone, like my husband’s family too. His father died when my husband was 13 and so my husband had to quit school and work for the plantation otherwise all of them would have to move out.
ROBYNN: So let’s stay focused on your family. I want to stay focused on your sister. Can you talk about what happened after your sister graduated?
BARBARA: After she graduated, the day after she graduated from the eighth grade..
ROBYNN: Can you say, after my sister…
BARBARA: Oh. After my older sister, Yayoeh, she was twelve years old when she graduated from eighth grade, and all of a sudden she disappeared. And I was so young, I was not even seven or eight and so I wonder what happened to her but I was too young to really think seriously. But she just disappeared. A man came to pick her up in a car and we didn’t see her for quite some time and later on when I started my research I asked her what happened then and that’s when she told me, several years ago, that a man came and took her to a pineapple camp, where the pineapple field workers stayed at the boardinghouse. Where she worked as a maid, sort of helping with household chores, and so she had to get up at 3:30 and make the breakfast for all the bachelors and also make their bento and double decker team cans you know and doing laundry the rest of the day and babysitting their children. So for my sister it was very rough but we didn’t even know, we weren’t even aware, we were so young.
ROBYNN: But you were saying your mom would take your whole family to visit your older brother so how come you never visited your sister.
BARBARA: ..my sister. We never did. Nobody had cars. No busses, this is a really primitive period. Nobody had cars. If you wanted to go anywhere you had to walk. So my sister couldn’t come home except once a month when she got paid, I don’t know what she got paid, it was very cheap though, 15 or $20 a month for all that work, and just to give the money to my mother the boss brought her home and she gave all the money that 15 or $20 to my mother. And it’s sad when you think about it. The story came out in her funeral service during the eulogy. The children somehow got together and got that information.
ROBYNN: It also sounds like your brother made the decision to go and work for the cousin.
BARBARA: No he didn’t, my mother decided on that. My mother, I think without even telling my older brother, she was the one who made the decision to send the oldest son and talked over because that’s her nephew, my cousin is her older sister’s son. And so she had decided all that. So my brother was even unaware that he was going to an isolated camp. That’s the way things were when we were growing up. We had no choice, you know. And on weekends I remember that my brother, my sister was already away but my older brother, until he was sent away we would get up at crack of dawn, you know, Saturdays, weekends, when we didn’t have English school, we would get the burlap bags from the plantation warehouse and we would hike about three miles to where the Pearl Harbor…there was a place called Scow, S-C-O-W, it’s right in the backyard of Pearl Harbor. We used to walk barefooted from the mill camp, where the smokestack is, you know, from there to that Scow right in the backyard of Pearl Harbor. Imagine. Barefooted. And we filled up the burlap bag with all the mesquite beans you know, we called them Kiavee beans. At the time there were a lot Kiavee trees. There were still a lot of Hawaiian people living in the area at that time. And so we’ll fill up the bag, the burlap bag with Kaivee beans, and here we’re so small, my older brother, the oldest one, was twelve and the next one we’re like a stepladder, you know, 12 and then 11 and some were two years apart. And up to me and my younger brother, five of us younger ones, dragged a heavy bag full of mesquite beans, keavee beans, across the road, the dirt road, barefooted, and across the railroad track and bring it to Camp One. And the five bags, there was an Okinawan man who came to buy, Mr. Mirashiro, he kept horses and he used that as horse feed. So he would pay 10 cents per bag for the Kiavee beans that we worked so hard and there’d be big many because there were five bags he paid us fifty cents, all that we gave my mother. And that was big money for us because we never had spending money, and my mother would praise us, oh you’re good children. We don’t have a father, but she said we’re such good children. So with that ten cents per bag now we used to go to buy bread at the Marinasa store down the hill, right near where the plantation village is now, there used to be Marinasa store and another store. We would go early in the morning to buy bread. Bread was only five cents per loaf at the time. Imagine, today you have to pay a dollar something. But, so it went a long ways, the fifty cents. And then during crabbing season we would hike so many miles to Hawaii, in the outskirts of Waikalu, Waipele. Today they named the city Kelohia, but in those days Waikala was in the outskirts of Waipau, Hawaii, where all the camp kids used to go crabbing, oyster digging and really large clams. And that was a lot of fun and we had Hala crabs and Kaneka crabs they’d call it. For Samoan crabs we used to go to the Pearl Harbor where the Scow is. There’s a bridge that we could take those huge Samoan crabs, but most we went to Hawaii, Waikala area. We walked through the rice paddies where the Chinese people had rice paddies right below where the plantation village is now, that was all rice paddies growing up place and so that was a playground. We would track through the rice paddy and the Chinese people, we used to call them Pakesan, honor them by calling them ‘san, we put the S-A-N on the end of everything, but our mother let us call them, not ‘pake,’ like big kind of derogatory so we called them oh, Pakesan, they will shoot at us with shotguns and then they would scare us because we get them so angry because we tracked through the rice fields. All the way to Hawaii and that’s how I think a lot of our food, we had lots of crab during the season and lots of oysters for the picking. Imagine. We used to take half a bag full, so heavy. So during the season I think my mother saved a lot. The neighbor woman I think probably saved a lot of money and so those were the kind of fun that we had. For us we had no toys. They couldn’t afford to buy toys – everything was handmade. We went crabbing, we would pick up those woods, unusual woods, and my brother would, they would make all kinds of toys from you know the dried twigs and whatever.
ROBYNN: What kind of toys?
BARBARA: All kinds of animal toys and kites and some beautiful driftwood that they used to make all kinds of toys with the wood and we would also, the rainy season it rained so much and where the plantation mill is now and the irrigation ditch that ran alongside the railroad track where every morning they pick up the workmen. Over there it used to get so flood that it formed a lake and my brothers would make rafts and in English school where we read about Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, they covered their raft for rainy days and out of all the driftwood and everything they picked up. And we would just float on the raft in a rainy day. I think because we couldn’t afford material things we learned to be very creative. We learned to make our own wooden slippers instead of buying from the store, and I think my brothers were pretty creative. And I learned to do a lot. Like cupie dolls, five cents per, you don’t see. I have one …
ROBYNN: What is a cupie doll?
BARBARA: They’re made out of plastic. That’s the only thing we used to buy, they were five cents per. And all the neighbor kids, because I loved to sew from an early age without learning, all the kids used to gather on my front porch, on the veranda, and I would make dolls for them. They would wait in line. Each one would wait with the little scarves their mothers gave them. I would fashion dresses for all the cupie doll and Japanese, all the wedding dolls on a stick, it used to be on a chopstick. You know the Japanese bridal jobs? You used to buy them for five cents apiece at the plantation store or at the mom and pop store. Beautiful Japanese dolls. It’s only on sticks, though. You have to put the kimono on. And I don’t know. It just naturally came to me because I loved sewing. So I made all the kimonos, just tie it so all the kids used to gather in the front veranda and that was the only fun time we had.
ROBYNN: You were describing earlier how you would hang out on the veranda and sing and make music. Can you describe that again?
BARBARA: Okay. For us, because there were no TVs or radios during our growing up period. This was between 1929, I’ll be talking about 1929, 30s and every evening after we finish our chores and after dinner we would gather on the front veranda, plantations always had this spacious front veranda. And we would all sit around and the neighborhood kids would all gather at the front veranda and even in the dust we would talk stories. That was the fun time. We’d talk about the day’s happening. My brother got up and worked in the fields too so there were a lot of stories to talk about. So we didn’t realize, dust was settling, everything was so quiet after the plantation mill closed down, and my brother, my oldest brother who was so good with the harmonica – it was a cheap harmonica he bought from the plantation store for only 15 cents but I am telling you, he played such beautiful music: Old Black Joe, Old Kentucky Home. We had tears in our eyes when he played that. You know the melancholy sound that comes out of a harmonica, listening to it in the dark. It was just so beautiful. And he even played some romantic songs like Moonlight on the River Colorado. And Red Silk in the Sunset. He didn’t know the meaning because he was so young. We didn’t know how romantic it was. But somehow we enjoyed the music and when he played Five Foot Two, Eyes So Blue, at that time, Charleston was the craze and it was funny, my oldest sister was still at home at the time, she was working as a housemaid, as a domestic for the Kearns family, he was a supervisor for the plantation and my older sister, by then she had gotten away from working at the boarding house. She was working at the Kearns family. And so she probably observed them, when they had parties and danced the Charleston. My sister was very tall, she was taller than any of us, about 5’5”. And she had long skinny legs. She used to hate it when people called her Moriashi. Because Moriashi, ‘beansprout’ is long and skinny. So she was so hurt when people called her moriashi legs, but I used to envy her skinny legs and whenever my brother played Five Foot Two, Eyes So Blue, she was so quiet, and yet she would just get up, start doing the Charleston and we enjoyed it so yesterday at the memorial service, my daughter read it for me because I wrote out everything the way it was and everybody enjoyed that part and her children, even her grandchildren were there. They didn’t know, their grandmother was so quiet…
ROBYNN: …that she would dance
BARBARA: That she would dance the Charleston. And of course everybody wonders, writing it I thought too, how come, she was a Japanese girl of fourteen at the time working as a maid, and how come a Japanese girl from a poor family learned the Charleston. And because she worked for a haole family, and also the next door people were kind of wealthy because they were supervisors, the father and the young couple, the husband worked at the plantation office, he was a graduate of McKinley High School. Very rare for a nissei, second generation, to be able to afford a high school education. During that period all us, after eighth grade, we were just sent off to work immediately. So they had parties all the time. Social parties. They danced the Charleston. That was the flapper era. They wore the fancy dresses with the bias cut skirts and all that. And so my sister was asked to help them and so I think that’s how she learned to dance the Charleston.
ROBYNN: You talked about how you learned to sew when you were very young. Can you talk about, were there ways you made clothes to save money, or did you buy clothes at the store, did you make clothes, can you talk about that?
BARBARA: At the time there weren’t any ready-made shops unless in town, Caucasian people, maybe wealthy people in town may have gone, but in those days we never did have ready-made. Even plantation store they never had ready-made dresses, I doubt it. So I guess from just observing. It’s strange, even my mother and the neighborhood women were curious that here, maybe I saw my older sister, she took sewing lessons. I don’t know whether I learned by observing, I knew, I would rip up some of my old dresses and make copies from that, or somehow I think I just caught on. Obon dancing too. Once a year, doing obon even my mother never tied the fancy obie, we called them butterfly obie, and somehow I learned to tie that. So all the neighborhood kids during obon dancing period, early in the morning we would go to Waiava to pick up ginger to make ? to make that night for the dancing. Silly isn’t it? To walk five miles to Waiava early in the morning to make a ? we were so tired. But then at obon time that night I would dress the neighborhood girls because their mothers didn’t know how to tie the butterfly obie, so they used to come and line up on the front porch and I used to tie the butterfly obie for them and they said oh how come I learned to, I was very young at that time, maybe 12 or 13, but somehow I learned it just, I don’t know how I did. Even my mother never tied it.
ROBYNN: Was it just the Japanese folks who went to Obon dance because you were saying there were some Filipino bachelors who lived behind you. Did the whole community come or was it only Japanese?
BARBARA: No. at that time it was strictly Japanese. To them it meant a lot to see all the maltaka?, all the ethnic groups dancing, participating in shorts and all that, happy coat? But at that time it was only people, strictly the members in the temple. So the mission temple was only about three blocks from where I lived, so it was very close. And they would make a yagudai and all that. The little miniature house that they played the drum and everything. But strictly Japanese and mostly members, there’s Soto mission, temple people would only dance and the Hongashee, we called it Hingashee temple on the other side. They didn’t dance, participate in our church. Today, it’s different, people from all over come. Especially Hilanee, it’s different, middle of a mix, multiethnic community. So things have really changed. But at that time it was strictly Japanese and I’d also like to talk about my eighth grade grammar school. After we graduated we all had to, like my older brother, older sister, immediately had to work from the very next day. No vacation. We had to work immediately. My mother decided all that. We had to know what was going on but everything was just planned. And for me, when I graduated eighth grade, we had a wonderful teacher, Miss Schize Kowamoto, she was an English teacher. We had eight classes in those days, eighth grade, from A to F I think. So she wanted some children to continue to McKinley High School. We didn’t have high school in Waipau then. And so she was so kind, very conscientious about the poor immigrant children who did well but couldn’t go to school. And so she even found a couple, they were both teachers, and they were willing to help me to go to McKinley High School. To pay for my not tuition, because it’s a public school, pay for expenses for the books, and whatever expenses incurred for the education, and as long as in exchange I would do light household chores for them. So I was so happy when Miss Kayumoto called me one day and told me. So I ran home and told my mother and my mother said oh you stupid, how can you think that? You have four siblings below you that you have to help support, so you can’t even think about yourself. So funny. Just, I completely took that out of my mind, I never thought I could go beyond eighth grade, so that was fine. All of us during these days, we had no choice, everything was just planned for us. So we just accepted this as part of our life because growing up without a father we just listened to our mother. We never talked back to our parents or to teachers. Even in Japanese school we never talked back. So after that I went to sewing school in the village in the middle of our plantation camp. Sewing school which was reasonable enough for my mother to pay. So the very next day I started sewing at age 13. I started learning formal sewing. After ten months I got my certificate and then I went to Honolulu to Keisters Tutoring College? And after six months I got my instructor’s certificate so I could teach sewing. So for me, sewing became a lifelong profession. Since age 13 for 38 years I did dressmaking, aside from one year my mother decided I should work as a domestic to train for marriage. You know Japanese mothers always talk about training their daughters. Now that I was trained in sewing she found that I should work as a domestic to learn American cooking and learn how to keep house. So I worked for this family. He was a supervisor on the plantation. Imagine, being depression years, I think 1938, he went to Harvard, came back, there was no job so he worked on the plantation. I don’t want to mention the name, it was very sad when I think about it now. Harvard graduate working on the plantation as a luna, you know. So his wife came from a very well-to-do family, father was one of the big five for one of the big companies there, so I was so young, 1938, two years after graduating so 14, 15, years old. 20 dollars a month. So I reported to work at seven in the morning, prepared the breakfast, lunch, dinner. Eight o’clock I was finished, after I cleaned up the dinner. Then I went home between I think there was about an hour to go home for a little rest, but it was long hours of work and on weekends, often, because meantime the bosses’ wife had a baby, so I took care of the baby, cleaning the four bedroom house, doing the entire laundry and babysitting on weekends. She belonged to a very socialite family so they were invited to town often, so I babysat no extra money, $20 straight for the work. And sometimes the parents, they would have cocktail parties for 500 people. I saw the Dillinghams, the Cooks, all there in the beautiful home in Manoa. That’s the first time I ever saw a haole home, and so beautiful and going from a plantation house it was like magic. Going through all the rooms for the mirrors in the window, and in the upper story for all those 500 people who came to the cocktail party. There were a couple orchestras on both ends of the lanai. And here the chauffeur came to pick me up early in the morning. I think it was about eight or what time, early in the morning, with the limousine to pick me up and there all day, as soon as I went, they had the head maid who worked there for $30 a month, full time, seven days a week, only Sunday she had the afternoon off, $30 a month live-in. They had a laundry woman full time and a second maid. So four of us and a chauffeur. So we prepared all the hors d’oeuvres, canapés, all day long for the 500 people who were coming for the cocktail party. And I still remember how terrible it was, the discrimination. That’s when I realized that I was Asian working, a plantation person. I wasn’t aware yet because with only an eighth grade education you don’t realize how miserable your status is until you’re put into a situation like that that really makes you aware for the first time. I realized at that time how different life really was for the immigrant families and for the Caucasian people who really lived in high status. Because when we were preparing okay, in the morning the delivery man from Diamond bakery they delivered breads fresh to the home, they didn’t have to go to the market because they were wealthy. The man delivered so many loaves for the party. And he was there for only a few minutes, I don’t think ten minutes and the live-in maid, she was sad because she herself sacrificed for her family, her father died so she started working from the fifth grade she quit school and started working to support her family excuse me.
ROBYNN: Can you say that again?
BARBARA: Yeah. She quit from the fifth grade level to support her family because her father died and so she worked as a live-in maid for only, she started at 25 and at the time she worked seven days a week with only one day off for 30 dollars a month and when the delivery man came in through the back door, screen door, that’s the only time she sees another human being, probably. Because she’s shut in seven days a week except for the chauffeur and the laundry woman, that’s the only social life she had. So when the bakery man delivered, was a Japanese man, I knew him, he was a Waipau boy, and I recognized him. But anyway she was talking just friendly like not long conversation, but I think was barely ten minutes when the boss’s wife came down. She was having a fitting with all the pins in her dress, she came down from upstairs and she said, “Look, I time you, you’ve been here for ten minutes now and I’m paying my maid to do her work and I don’t want you to bother her. I’m going to call your boss and have you fired.” With that he just flew out the screen door. We were so shocked. That was my first introduction to what it was to be an Oriental. I still wasn’t aware until I went to college and started studying in sociology and all that but that was my first introduction to the world outside. What it’s like, the discrimination and all that. So we were shocked and the poor fellow he just flew out because he didn’t want to be fired. You know, depression years. So I felt so sorry for the maid, Hotsume. For her that’s the only social contact outside. So it’s hard. Even when I worked for the donner on the plantation, washing the front concrete walk, one day my girlfriend happened to pass by. We were just talking casually for a short while and then the owner had the same approach. Because she came from a wealthy family or what but she came out and said “I’m paying for Sako to do my work. I don’t you ever to come and talk to her while she’s working here. You visit her while she has time off during the afternoon, an hour at home and you go and visit her at that time.” So I guess mother and daughter, they have the same feeling about maybe status and discrimination, I don’t know. But anyway going back to that mother’s place, the cocktail party. That was the incident early morning. We were gloomy, we were busy preparing all those fancy sandwiches and canapés and all that. It came lunch hour now. Hatsume the maid knew we weren’t getting paid from the mother, she’s using her daughter’s maid to do all the work, and the housekeeper and all that. So the lunch hour she prepared creamed tuna for us. I’d never tasted creamed tuna before. In my family I’d never tasted creamed tuna. So we were having lunch and then that lady came down again and she asked Hatsume how many cans of tuna did you open? And I forgot the exact number. Either three, there was a chauffeur, the washing woman, the second maid, and altogether five of us, so she must have opened three cans of tuna. So we’re all in the midst of eating we got choked, we couldn’t eat lunch. It was our first taste of creamed tuna but we couldn’t eat any more of it. She also made angel cake, a chiffon cake. She was a wonderful baker and she had the cake on top of the shelf and when the boss’s wife saw that she said Hatsume, who is that cake for? And she said oh, they’re working so hard so I baked it for them and she said ‘humn!” just like that, and after that she went upstairs. But after that we couldn’t eat. And then even Hatsume cut the cake for us for dessert and it was so delicious but it was different. Somehow the stigma stayed with us that we shouldn’t eat. It was like we’re robbing or something but it was like the boss’s wife was angry that she baked the cake for us but we didn’t get one penny beyond that. Okay that was fine. Came dinner time. Cocktails started at five, five-thirty I forgot. Okay. I brought my silk kimono and obie and the boss said oh, I should change into my silk kimono and start serving. Without dinner or anything, nothing, we didn’t have anything, all of us. I had to dress in my silk kimono, tie my obie. And then all the fancy stuff, all the canapés and everything we couldn’t even taste it. We were afraid after that incident, we couldn’t even grab one. Olives and all that. And we had to carry the silver trays that were so heavy, all the silver trays were so heavy, the huge ones. Two silver trays. So we had to carry all that up and down, up and down all night upstairs in my kimono to serve all the 500 people on the lanai. How many times I wanted to take one. I was starving. Since morning we worked so hard and we couldn’t eat anything. But then my mother taught me honesty so I thought gee, if I took one and put it to my mouth the boss probably wouldn’t even know. But because we learn Confucian ethics in Japanese school and my parents taught all of us to be honest, especially growing up, because of father. My mother was so strict. Once I even picked a nickel on the roadside coming back from Japanese school, and my mother let me return it to school the next day. She said oh you know there are people much more poorer than us who need the money badly, so you had better return it. So I had to return it. So growing up in that environment my mother had emphasized Confucian ethics so much and I could have sneaked one, my stomach was growling and yet I didn’t even pick one sandwich. We worked until one o’clock. I worked until one o’clock. The other maids were dismissed because they were cleaning women and washerwoman but I had to serve until one o’clock until the last of the people, the guests left. And that’s when I got introduced to the beautiful cocktail gowns that they wore. It was a really, I enjoyed the part with all the gorgeous gowns, the earrings, the jewelry that we never saw. That’s when I think I had that passion for fashion design too. But anyway after one o’clock when the last of the guests left I thought they were going to serve us, let us have at least some kind of snack but they didn’t. so my boss and her husband, both of them, they had a Chinese maid. Their Chinese maid helped too that night. So we went to the boss’s mother’s house on Uanu. She wasn’t as affluent as the other one. So when we were in there the Chinese maid, Ah-Ling, prepared scrambled eggs and sausage links for them, and some coffee. And they all ate, they didn’t even invite me or give me even a little portion and poor me, I was starving, working hard all day and lunch, we couldn’t even finish the creamed tuna. Until I came back at I think they brought me back about two thirty AM. Imagine. And that’s the way it was. And the mother, wealthy as they were, never gave me…Today, you talk about tips, right? Not one penny or anything. That was sad. After I started going to University at age 53 so many things. I became so aware of what life was like on the plantation. Things that we weren’t aware because we weren’t exposed to the outside world. You can imagine when in sociology, anthropology and other courses that I started taking and they said write about your child experience, your childhood experience, I couldn’t wait to go to Hamilton to write. I thought gosh, I’ve got so many wonderful stories to write, I couldn’t wait. So when I went to Hamilton, sat in the carrel, sat with the pen in my hand, the tears just started flowing. I couldn’t write. I started sobbing quietly in the carrel. Here the young students are studying next to me and they would be oblivious to what I’m thinking, right? I’m an old student. But all my past, I never thought about my past until then, until I went to college and started writing all those papers. And I couldn’t write. During an hour period I could write a wonderful essay but I couldn’t write. Just tears flowed so I tried not to cry loud because of the students. So it took me three days to really start writing and of course I got good grades because the teacher thought my stories were so unusual. Because I had already lived life. What the young students could never experience I had gone through all the experience. So I did write wonderful papers and but when I think about how growing up I segregated places and of course in lectures too they talk about the pyramid, how the plantation manager lives on the top of the hill in a beautiful mansion with maintainers people and a couple of maids to take care of them, someone to cook, someone for housecleaning, and it was like a ladder. A true pyramid. The higher-ranked people, the haole people who worked in the office, the supervisors, they lived right behind the manager’s home. And then by rank the homes of all they had not as elaborate as the manager’s home. And then the Japanese people who had a better position, status on the plantation, they lived right below the haole families. So we weren’t too bad off. We lived in a semi, kind of mixed, there were a few supervisors and I think because my father worked as a clerk for the huge warehouse our house wasn’t as elegant as the others. But that’s the way it was. You knew your position on the plantation.
ROBYNN: Where did the laborers fit in the pyramid?
BARBARA: Oh yeah, it’s really like a ladder, you know. Even the outhouses my friends and I were talking one day at the reunion…
ROBYNN: When you wipe your nose you need to stop talking so that I can get what you’re saying clearly, okay?
BARBARA: Yeah. So when friends get together, even the outhouses, we were laughing about it, we never thought about it. For some, when you’re upper class Japanese you know supervisor, maybe you had running water in the outhouse. But those who had low status, the ordinary laborers, I didn’t know they had no running water. So it was that bad. It really showed your social status on the plantation. You knew your place. You know Japanese saying baya you know your position in life. You really knew your position in life. So for me, I’m glad in a way that I experienced all that. Going through the hardships first. I had a good life and Miss Kayamoto wanted me to go to McKinley and if I had gone on to be McKinley in those days was like going to the University because it was very hard to go to high school in those days. So I would have probably found a better position, I would have knew a different kind of people, and I would have probably forgotten about my plantation roots. So in a way for me my life is kind of backwards, turned backwards. I had to earn a living from a very young age, but I wouldn’t have all this rich experience to talk about and the clothing, it’s funny that I’m the only person that did research on plantation clothing. And no one had ever done that before or after.
ROBYNN: I’m going to run out of tape, so do you want to take a break and I’ll switch?
TRACK 2 – 0:54
TRACK 3 – 1:42