Excerpts of Oral History Interviews
Roosevelt High School
up (in Boyle Heights) and being in the UAW
Bonding in "the Heights"
Roosevelt High School
Brooklyn Ave/Cesar Chavez name change
at the Beach
Street life on Brooklyn Avenue
|Mollie Wilson Murphy||Japanese
American friends leaving for camp
Why she saved the letters
|Sandie Okada||Restrictive housing covenants|
|Fumi Satow||Brooklyn Ave/Cesar Chavez name change|
church [Nichiren Temple]
"Proving" his loyalty to the U.S.
|James A. Tolmasov||Not differentiating between whites|
|Buddy Webber||Boyle Heights' uniqueness|
Mass incarceration and civil rights
Selected excerpts from Boyle Heights interviews
Eisenberg, on Hollenbeck Park
It was a very tight community, especially if you didn't have a car. You couldn't travel. So we would walk from City View over to Hollenbeck Park. In those days Hollenbeck Park took up about two to three times the amount of area that it does now. The freeway cut it all off. It was a beautiful park. They used it in the movies. I know it was in Pajama Game, and it was in a lot of the movies. They had a very graceful Japanese bridge over the water, and they had canoes and little motorboats you could rent, and sloping hills. I used to roll down the hill all the time. We used to go fishing in Hollenbeck Park, and we'd take a little straight pin and bend it, and a piece of bread, and some thread. We'd put it in there and catch these little minnows. That's what we used to do. We'd go there mostly on Sundays.
Eisenberg, on Canter's Delicatessen
The Canter's corned beef sandwich sold for a dime, and I never had a corned beef sandwich. I never had a dime. A dime was a lot of money when you were a kid. Mrs. Canter handled the money. When you came out, you had to go by Mrs. Canter. She also had a grill in the window, and she would make little salamis about this big and about this round. It was called schtickle, like a piece, and they would sell it a nickel a schtickle. They would sell it in a Russian rye roll with this piece of (chuckles) salami. It was just tremendous. If you were a kid, and you had a nickel, that was your real treat. Canter's did a very big business.
Canter's Deli was the most famous spot in Boyle Heights. People came from all over to go to Canter's Deli.
Eisenberg, on Roosevelt High School
Roosevelt High was the most amazing experience anyone could have gone through. It was really a melting pot. No one had any bad feelings about the other person's color, their religion, or their beliefs. We worked together. Very seldom did we have any problems.
Frumkin, on growing up and being in the UAW
I grew up in the streets of L.A. I was not a pampered little kid. I spent all my time on the streets, like many of us did. We'd come home from school; we had one pair of shoes, we'd take them off and go play ball in the streets because you didn't want to ruin your pair of shoes. So I was basically a street kid, and I don't mean it in a bad sense but in the sense that that's how you grew up. You never learned to back off from everybody, so you went to work in a union and the foreman told you to go faster, you'd tell him in no uncertain terms, this is as fast as you could go. And you would encourage other people to do the same thing. When they saw you doing it, other people would do the same thing. We had the highest-the second year I was in office there, we had the highest rate of pay of any UAW local in the Los Angeles area. We would walk out-at the drop of a hat, we'd walk out. And they needed us. It was tough to get labor, and I understood that and explained to people that they need us more than we need them. People weren't afraid of losing their jobs. You could always go out and get another job.
Frumkin, on bonding in "the Heights"
To this day, I'll run across people I haven't seen in thirty or forty years. It's just a certain bond . . . It's hard to explain. I don't know about other places, but certainly in Los Angeles, that bond just never existed, doesn't exist among anybody except the kids from the Heights. It was a large family. It was really a very large family. You slept in each other's homes. You'd eat at each other's homes. Kids in my block, their parents would give me tortillas and my mother would give them matzos two or three times a year, whenever we were supposed to have matzo. Again, I didn't come from a religious family, but it was just this interchange. It was a fellowship. I don't know what term you would use, except that you became internationalists. At least [that's] what I became. And that sort of guided me through my whole life. I think it was the most wonderful experience anybody could have had in that period of time, and I relish it.
Frumkin, on Roosevelt High School
Roosevelt was the key. That was the lynchpin, the anchor. Not so much where you lived but where you went to school. If you went to school at Roosevelt, you were okay, no matter where you lived. You could live in Sacramento, and it's okay. If you went to Roosevelt, you're all right. (chuckles)
Frumkin, on the Brooklyn Avenue/Cesar Chavez name change
I wish they would have taken First Street and made it Cesar Chavez. I think they should have. I mean, I think it's a wonderful thing that they did that; I just wish it weren't Brooklyn Avenue. Take First Street, take Fourth Street, take any street like that, but Brooklyn Avenue was it was just different. Why didn't they take First Street? Maybe it's because Brooklyn Avenue doesn't run that far. I wish they would have made First Street Cesar Chavez, and that would have been wonderful for me. But it misses-in Jewish they say the "taste." It misses the taste of it, of what you grew up with.
Maddow, on summer at the beach
We'd go to this beach that was between Santa Monica and Ocean Park, where there was a lawn. It's still there. It's the end of Pico Boulevard where the ocean is. We'd stay there, and this beach had a rope down into the ocean. On one side of the rope were all the black people, and on the other side were all these Jewish people. We rented a place every summer down there, and I loved to stay until everybody left, then I could play with the black kids. It's like when the rope was there, you didn't cross over. That was one of the nice things that I remember, going to the beach every summer.
Maddow, on street life and Brooklyn Avenue
I went back with some man who was taking people around and showing me how all these synagogues were now churches. I was looking where our restaurant was, and everything looked small. And of course, all the signs are in Spanish. (laughs) It looks nice, but it just doesn't look familiar like it did. So there's not that kind of street life that feels like it's my street life. It's a different street life. (chuckles) And that was important, the street life. We never thought of staying in our backyard or on our porch. We were always on the street on Brooklyn Avenue.
Wilson Murphy, on her Japanese American friends leaving for camp
I had a lot of emotions, but one was the unfairness and stuff. That really got to me. But since I can't do anything about that, I have to deal with whatever I can. They were still my friends. So yeah, I felt, [sighs] . . . . You know, you're asking me how I felt forty-some-odd-years ago. (chuckles) I can't honestly tell you, because I can't remember. But there was pain, and there was a feeling of . . . . See, I have to always think, if they can do it to them, they can do it to me too. So that's always in the back of your mind. And from then on, they seemed to be doing okay from their letters, so you make the best of it.
Wilson Murphy, on why she saved the letters
It's not for you so much as it is for people who come after you. Because, see, like ours, I have no language. I have no I do have a history, but it's being pulled out now. And that means that a part of you is robbed. It's hard for you to understand, because you have it, but it's not hard for me to understand, because I don't have it. I don't know if you understand what I'm talking about. Because when you don't have a language, you're missing something. I'll interact with, say, some Africans. They have everything, and they can tell you. I can't even tell you from which part or which tribe I come from. There's nothing, so I thought it was important.
Okada, on restrictive housing covenants
You know, our parents couldn't live where they wanted to live. Every place was restricted. Asians, African Americans, and Latinos could only live in a certain area, and that's why we all ended up in the same place, in Boyle Heights, because that was the only place that would accept us.
Satow, on the Brooklyn/Cesar Chavez name change
It was really nice. Even Boyle Heights was real nice. Sometimes we used to go to Brooklyn Avenue, and I'm so sorry they changed the name to what is it? Cesar Chavez, because if they kept the name Brooklyn, it would sort of be a memorial. Yeah, Brooklyn Avenue was real nice. We would go to some of the delicatessens and buy things and eat, which was nice. I liked that Brooklyn Avenue.
Shimo, on the Buddhist church
The most unusual thing about that Buddhist church [Nichiren Temple] was every Christmas the priest would dress up as Santa Claus, pass out presents, and at that time, we thought it was normal. Now I look back, hey, that's a Christian tradition and here was a Buddhist minister dressed as Santa Claus. (laughs) They were very liberal and open-minded.
Shimo, on "proving" his loyalty to the U.S.
Prove my loyalty? I had nothing to prove. I always figured I was an American. In fact, when I was in the 1800th, the FBI, or intelligence officer, interviewed me and said, "If Japan invaded this country, which side would you fight for?" And I said, "Whoever's defending the camps. That's all I have. There's nothing else worth fighting for. And if I want to die, I want to die defending the camps." I said, "It more likely would be the guards that would be initiating gunning the people." At that time, things were pretty bad. Like we just picture, if Japan were invading, the local population would do anything to kill the Japanese. If they're all in one camp, I could just see them machine-gunning them. So I said, "If the U.S. is defending them, I'll fight on the U.S. side. If Japan is defending them, I'll fight on the Japanese side." He didn't like my answer. (chuckles) So I got busted again. But it made common sense to me. I said, "Gee, what are we fighting for?" All I got left is in Manzanar and Santa Fe. I had a chip on my shoulder.
A. Tolmasov, on nationality
When you see a white person, what nationality are they? Are they Irish or just Germans, or Armenians, or what? We never paid much attention to that. You went to school with the kids that were walking on the sidewalk with you. You made friends with them. They were living next door to you, so that's how you met your friends. And then you played ball with them or they were in your classroom. We weren't picky. We didn't say, "I want to be with your friend and not their friend." You just grew up with them, and we respected each other.
Weber, on Boyle Heights' uniqueness
[Sharing ethnic foods, etc.] were traditional things that made that neighborhood so unusual. These were parts of our lives that occurred all the time until we left. It wasn't just an occasional thing. It was there all the time. You always felt at home and very comfortable like you belonged. That's the secret of Boyle Heights. We belonged. If I were to say anything about the whole life of which I was proudly a part, it was belonging.
Yoshida, on intergenerational conflict
We didn't have much to do with our parents at all. They just were people who (chuckles) came from Japan, kind of thing. We were Americans. We ate hotdogs, and played baseball and all that. Of course, a few Isseis they must have been Isseis originally organized baseball teams. So that was the beginning of the whole athletic world in the Japanese community. But the leaders amongst the Niseis our young group were older Niseis who became leaders in Boy Scouts and social groups. So the interactions with Isseis were very much limited. I think much of it had to do with the language problem too. We didn't want to speak Japanese. We didn't want to be Japanese anymore. And what do they offer? Well, maybe jobs (chuckles) of course, but other than that, we wanted to be Americanized, I guess. Our interests were American.
Yoshida, on the mass incarceration and civil rights
There's a lot of talk after the fact nowadays. I remember, it was just several years ago, some of my Sansei friends said, "How come you guys didn't say 'No, we won't go' and defend yourself?" and so forth and so on. But we were just really just a minority of people where you have just about the whole nation against you. Who do we turn to for support? Well, American Friends Society said, "No, that's not right. They shouldn't put Japanese into the camps." That was not enough. You know, the black Civil Rights Movement came many years later, and resistance to violation of civil rights. There was no such thing as civil rights for many in those days, and it included us too, Japanese Americans, and Asians in general.
Yoshida, on "the enemy"
One of the things was that we didn't want to be Japanese or the "enemy," so we destroyed Japanese figures, Japanese records, photographs of connections with Japan, dishes, artifacts, and other kinds of things that had anything to do with Japan. We didn't want to be looked upon as Japanese, as the enemy, but we were.