Of course, black lives matter. With the rest of our country we are appalled at the killing of George Floyd for all to witness over national television. How encouraging it is to see so many whites, Latinos and Asians joining the black people in the crowd expressing their angry protest.
Surely, without the protests resulting in the changing of laws arising from the civil rights movement in the ’60s we would not have gained redress for our wartime incarceration. President Obama, I am afraid, was correct when he said that too often, racial justice comes about only after such tragedies as the Floyd killing.
Witnessing the turmoil of the past several days caused me to think back about the black people I have known and our relationships with the black community. The polite term in my youth was “colored people.” It was not until many years later after coming to terms with their identity, “Black Is Beautiful” became their slogan, making acceptable the term “black” in defining themselves
Before the war, we lived in L.A. on 36th Street next door to a black family. My divorced mother, my sister Evelyn, and I lived with our grandmother, our mother Lillian’s mother. Grandma, Dorothy, was married to Dr. Miyamoto, a physician, who grew up in San Fernando.
We used to see a lot of Ocie Jones, a friendly black teenager who lived next door. He was at our home quite a lot. I remember the wonderful smell of cornbread cooking in their oven when walking by their house.
Grandma was very strict with Evelyn and me. One day, I pushed Evelyn off the front porch, breaking her arm. Grandma got so mad she tied me up and put me into a closet. Thinking back on the incident, it occurs to me this could have been traumatic. What saved the day for me was having Ocie opening the closet, looking in, and laughing, uncontrollably. Anything that funny could not be scary! I credit Ocie for keeping me from having trauma related to this incident.
We stayed in touch with Ocie after returning to L.A. after the war. Which brings me to another recollection: The war had just ended, and a lot of anti-“Jap” expressions were very common. Returning to South Central L.A., or Seinan, as we called it, I do not remember being harassed by any of the black boys in the neighborhood, and I don’t remember any of my friends having any trouble as well.
Evelyn and I attended Foshay Junior High, located at Exposition Boulevard and Western Avenue. Because restrictive housing covenants prevented the selling of any home to a non-white south of Exposition, the Asians and blacks lived north of Exposition. Foshay had a majority of white students, and we all seemed to get along.
Men of my age who settled in the San Fernando Valley after the war told me of having to band together to keep from being attacked by white boys.
When I was hired at a San Fernando Valley High School in 1959, aside from a couple of Latino gym teachers, I was the only non-white staff on the faculty. In the 35 years I worked at that school as a counselor, an attempt was made to integrate the valley schools by busing in black students from the “inner city.” It was hoped that doing this would bring about mutual understanding between the races. It was a noble idea, and the results were mixed. .
The Rafu recently recounted the story of Meg Shimatsu, a woman who for the past eight years been in need of a kidney transplant. Rafu reporter J.K. Yamamoto wrote of how she was living out of her car, and has sought funds from GoFundMe. About a year ago, a black woman, Michelle White, appeared to provide low-cost housing for Meg and four other women at an apartment in Pasadena. Meg tells me Michelle is a retired ACLU attorney, and lives in the same apartment building as the women she is helping.
Our WWII incarceration has shown us the worst of racial discrimination. It is good to stand with black people to look back at how our paths have crossed as we unite to work together for racial justice.
Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.