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East First Street the hub of Japanese American community

East First Street was very…the center, the hub of Japanese American community. Everybody came there. After the war, you know, it wasn’t that way. People didn’t go there. There was this kind of fear of, you know, you just want to melt into the walls there. And then it became…by then, I think it became…it was either African American or Mexican.

Because I wrote an article about Little Tokyo and so I had to do some research on that. But the most ironic thing that happened for me was that when I was a majorette, when I was quite young – 14, 15 – and I used to be a drum majorette for a drum and bugle corps in Long Beach. The Koyasan Boy Scout drum and bugle corps was forming again in East LA or East First Street and I think it was one of the first Nisei Weeks that they were going to have again. So it must’ve been ’48 or ’49, right? So they asked me to come and be…march with them. So I did and I remember marching down First Street, going by the Far East Café and so forth, you know, twirling my baton and all this with these 2 other Japanese girls.

I don’t know who they were but someone took a picture of it, of that particular picture and somebody called me up. Who was it? And said they were trying to identify who the majorettes were. They knew the 2 ones on the side. Could that be Jeanne Wakatsuki? And this guy named Ted Kumori, who was a Boy Scout at the time, recognized me and so somebody called me up. Was it Edward Takahashi? Because they’re doing some kind of celebration for the Koyasan and they wanted to check and see if that’s me. And I remember. I said, “Yeah, that’s me marching.”

So when I was the…what do you call that for Nisei Week? A couple of years ago, I was the Grand Marshal, whatever it is. You know, they asked me to come down and so we sit in the car there. And the Koyasan boys – Boy Scout – were the band that leads that. I’m telling you, I cried throughout that whole parade. It was so…I’d never been back. And here they were. And we passed the Far East Café, which they were tearing down, and I said, “Oh my god, I’m having déjà vu, but I’m riding in this convertible.” But 50 years ago, I was marching in front of that Boy Scout band.

biographies California festivals First Street Japanese Americans Little Tokyo Los Angeles matsuri Nisei Week (event) parades United States

Date: December 27, 2005

Location: California, US

Interviewer: John Esaki

Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

Interviewee Bio

Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, co-author of the acclaimed Farewell to Manzanar, was born in 1934 in Inglewood, California. The youngest of ten children, she spent her early childhood in Southern California until 1942 when she and her family were incarcerated at the World War II concentration camp at Manzanar, California.

In 1945, the family returned to Southern California where they lived until 1952 when they moved to San Jose, California. Houston was the first in her family to earn a college degree. She met James D. Houston while attending San Jose State University. They married in 1957 and have three children.

In 1971, a nephew who had been born at Manzanar asked Houston to tell him about what the camp had been like because his parents refused to talk about it. She broke down as she began to tell him, so she decided instead to write about the experience for him and their family. Together with her husband, Houston wrote Farewell to Manzanar. Published in 1972, the book is based on what her family went through before, during, and after the war. It has become a part of many school curricula to teach students about the Japanese American experience during WWII. It was made into a made-for-television movie in 1976 that won a Humanitas Prize and was nominated for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Writing in a Drama.

Since Farewell to Manzanar, Houston has continued to write both with her husband and on her own. In 2003, her first novel, The Legend of Fire Horse Woman was published. She also provides lectures in both university and community settings. In 2006, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston received the Award of Excellence for her contributions to society from the Japanese American National Museum. (November 25, 2006)


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