CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: A Treasure Trove for UCLA & Me

2

By W.T. WIMPY HIROTO
(First published in 
The Rafu Shimpo on Feb. 22, 2012.)

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The call came from Sharon Yamato, a Rafu compatriot. She wanted to know if I would be interested in being interviewed by Densho, a Seattle-based oral history project that has been conducting interviews of Nisei for several years. I believe she has been commissioned to expand on Southern California sources, thanks to Densho’s good fortune in receiving additional funding after its successful launch.

Second-tier conversations needed, I surmised, to balance luminaries such as Hershey Miyamura, Daniel Inouye, Dr. Frank T. Hori, Edwin Hiroto, et al, already recorded. There has to be a penultimate Mohican, a last hurrah; after 999 bottles of beer on the wall, there has to be the one thousandth and final bottle.

After arrangements were made for a recording session, I remembered a similar meeting I had several years ago with Susan Uyemura for JA Living Legacy, an ambitious effort that initially began as a project to tape reflections of 100th/442nd combat veterans. Hard to forget since my initial appointment extended over two days for a total of almost seven hours! [I think she turned on the recorder and took a nap while I rambled on about every subject imaginable and then some.] With such a record available, I suggested she contact Susan and if willing to share her laborious Legacy trove, I would have no objection. She did, she did and I did too.

Silence is golden and all that jazz. Naw, when you get an unexpected case of verbal diarrhea and an opportunity to revive a somewhat un-Japonic past, you run with it. [I elicited an agreement with both parties that no one accesses the tapes without the approval of sons Jeff and Russ after R.I.P. I think I mentioned some controversies with names and opinions of events past. Of interest only to people living today but not sure of statute of limitations even when it comes to belated honesty.]

So the Densho interview was cancelled but the revealing original remains intact.

Next came a call from Heather Harada, a graduate student at USC. In the process of writing a thesis for an advanced gerontology degree, she has been compiling interviews with senior Nisei over 60, covering a variety of subjects. I qualified.

What followed was the usual chronology from Riverside, Calif., to current residency at Keiro Retirement Home. It was over in an hour. I hadn’t even taken a deep breath while recounting my years as a primary caregiver. I’m wondering when Harada would want to hear my views on Iran’s nuclear subterfuge, the Kardashians, evaluating Rick Santorum’s campaign strategy. None of the above evolved. But she did want to know about any experience I might have had with depression.

Wherein CR2S is concerned, we’ve experienced many lows and highs: Losing a Pick 4 by a nose; making a game-losing error in a championship game are vivid memories. Disappointing but not cause for long-lasting woe or melancholia. Both downers are nondescript in comparison to losing a wife and then a son. But even that anguish failed to bring about depression. Probably because there was time, ample or not, to “prepare” for the heartache. So, no, I guess this gabby one didn’t qualify as an expert or commentator. End of interview. [But hello, I got a box of peanut brittle as a reward!]

Then came an email last week from Marjorie Lee, library coordinator/information specialist/center archivist, UCLA Asian American Studies Center, Library & Reading Room. I’m always impressed when it comes to titles: Emeritus, Honorable, Sir, PhD, SOB. But aside from the lengthy and impressive introduction of Ms. Lee, what caught my immediate attention was a sentence that mentioned, “your small but vital community newspaper,” apparently referring to my stint as editor/publisher of The Crossroads, an all-English Li’l Tokio Japanese American weekly newspaper.

Although previous inquiries from historians and researchers seeking to uncover old issues of the publication that was closed down in 1971 have gone for naught, this one came at a most fortuitous moment: The old Hiroto abode was set to be rented out and a last-minute check of the storage garage had to be made.

Voila and I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! Hidden in an overlooked plastic container were most of the 1971 editions, including Aug. 21, 1971, Volume XXIV, No. 8, the last Crossroads ever printed. Which meant 23 years worth of history has been lost forever but at least 20-something copies have been miraculously salvaged. There will be a remnant of my journalistic past archived after all, and at UCLA of all places![Sis, Boom, Bah!/Mar-ji Lee/Related to Je-re-my?/Rah Rah Rah!]

In the scheme of all things important, the find is not monumental. But personally, a highlight of course. And yet I still haven’t checked out the collection. It’s been sitting next to my bed for a week. What am I waiting for? I don’t know. Brown and brittle from age, there sits a 40-year-old compilation of yore. What was going on in Li’l Tokio then? What were the issues of the day? I do know one thing: I was entering a new phase in my checkered life after 18 years of newspapering; CR2 was going to become a restaurateur, a vice president with Yamato Restaurants, San Francisco/Century City/Newport Beach. [It was a time when I could skip and jump without concern; when one could survive without Celebrex and Cialis.]

Ms. Lee wants to immediately protect the collection from further deterioration but I’ve asked for additional time; I mean, jiminy crickets, what’s another week or so going to matter? I’m certainly going to take great care of the collection. And UCLA has also graciously agreed to share it with Dr. Akemi Kikumura Yano of JANM, if she’s still interested.

How to describe this palpable moment? I can’t and won’t try anymore. For the first time since birth to 4 years old, I’m speechless. And now my computer Pandora music station is adding to the angst. Now playing is Les Brown’s “Sentimental Journey.”

I think I’ll hold off and wait a little longer.

{to be continued}

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W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached by email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: The Shline Comes Off the Linspiration – Rafu Shimpo

  2. I would never nap during an interview with “Wimpy Hiroto!” it was truly a unique experience and I am thankful he shared his life experiences with Japanese American Living Legacy. I, in turn, was happy to share his life with Densho (with his permission.) Thank you Mr. Hiroto. Your contributions to the Asian American community is immense!

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