Interview with Gen and Dolly Ogata
Interviewed by Dr. Deborah Wong, Mary Delgado, Christian Trajano on July 2, 1999 in the Ogata home. Transcribed by Eileen Bautista. This interview has been lightly edited for readability but is nearly a verbatim account of the interview.
Gen and Dolly Ogata in their backyard, 1999, with Christian Trajano and Mary Delgado.
Gen and Dolly Ogata were both been involved in the Riverside Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League for many years. Gen served as its first President. Dolly is also very active as a volunteer with the YWCA and was centrally involved in efforts to make Sendai , Japan the sister city to Riverside. The Ogatas were recognized with the Martin Luther King Award in 1998 and are well-known in Riverside. Gen Ogata died on November 3, 2003 at his home in Riverside .
Mary Delgado and Christian Trajano were undergraduate Ethnic Studies majors at UCR at the time of this interview. Both were research assistants for the "Rediscovering Asian American Riverside" project.
Gen's and Dolly's Family Histories
Deborah Wong: We can be pretty informal about this. Eileen, the third member of our team who's not here today, is going to transcribe the whole thing. She'll sit down with this special tape player that you can stop and start easily and she'll actually type the whole conversation into my computer. I expect we'll give you all a copy of the whole thing so you can revisit the conversation and at that point it might be nice-and I'm not sure when that will be or how long it will take Eileen to get through it-but at that point it might be nice to sit down again if you have the time or inclination. Often what I find is that when people read through what they said, it reminds them of other things you know, or you might have corrections, or you might have things you would like to add. We'll just play that by ear
Dolly Ogata: Okay, sounds good.
Deborah Wong: All right-well, let's start at the beginning. Where were each of you born and when?
Dolly Ogata: Well I was born in Seattle , Washington in 1922, and let's see . you [Gen] were born in.
Gen Ogata's parents, 1913.
Gen Ogata: Outlook, Washington-it's near Yakima, it's on the East side in what is very largely fruit country and my father came around the turn of the century-he came from an agricultural area, Kumamoto Ken, and like many of his peers, he had a vision of doing better than he would of had he stayed in Japan. He was the oldest in the family and so traditionally he would of inherited the family farm, but he had gone for a year at an agricultural college and I think this exposure to higher education gave him the idea at least in part that he could do better if he came to the United States, and so he came and he worked in farming. I was born on November 1 st , 1914 and about the age of five, my parents found that farming wasn't very profitable so my father contacted a employment agency in Seattle and this employment agency was interested in hiring people to go to work on the railroads. Now, this would be about 1922, and at that time I understand that there was a strike in the railroads and they were hiring people to work on the railroads. So at that time, he came out to Helena , Montana and he worked on the Northern Pacific Railroad as a supply man.
Deborah Wong: Did he go by himself?
Gen Ogata: He had married in, let's see, 1913 'cause I remember I was born in 1914 and he had only been married about a year, so I was about, let's see, I must of been [ calculating ] 1914, 1922, I must of been about eight or nine then and at that time, well, go back a little bit, my mother died in an epidemic of what they call flu-influenza and let's see, that would be it must of been about 1920 'cause I was about five years old-yeah, and [ clears throat ] I was the oldest and I had another brother two years younger than my sister who was even younger so at that time, he had a family of three. So when our mother died, he realized that he couldn't go on farming by himself, so he went back to Japan and he married and he came back and he took about a year-so that would be about 1922 to 1923 when he gave up farming and moved to Helena, Montana where he worked on the Northern Pacific Railroad.
Deborah Wong: Where were you and your brother during the year when your father was back in Japan?
Gen Ogata: That's a good question. He had found a Caucasian woman whose name was Mrs. Macabe, and Mrs. Macabe took care of us while he went back to Japan .
Deborah Wong: Oh, this was a hard childhood.
Gen Ogata: Mm-hm. Okay, let's see, what did you want to know now? [Laughter from interviewers.]
Deborah Wong: Let's see.
Christian Trajano: We were wondering if you would happen to have pictures to match these faces?
Gen Ogata: I'm sorry?
Dolly Ogata: Pictures. You know, of your parents?
Christian Trajano: Of your parents, or you as a child.
Dolly Ogata: Yes, we have pictures.
Christian Trajano: Do you have pictures you could perhaps share with us?
Dolly Ogata: Would you like to see 'em now?
Christian Trajano: Sure.
Dolly Ogata: Okay. [She goes off to find the photographs.]
Deborah Wong: Alright so you're in Montana .
Gen Ogata's father.
Gen Ogata's parents.
Gen Ogata's mother.
Gen Ogata's father and uncle.
Gen Ogata: Montana , yeah. Okay, so this would be about 1923 when we came to Montana with his second wife-he had two children, so when we came to Montana he had a family of, let's see, five. Family of five and as is the custom of most Issei parents, they worked very hard. And you see, this would be 1923-in those years, before the depression, he would work two consecutive shifts back to back in order to provide for us. Then in order to supplement the income, he started a little truck farm on the side and that gave us work to do and so we raised vegetables and marketed them, and this went on until, oh, 1941. 1941, and remember, on December 7 th was Pearl Harbor . But even prior to that, Congress had passed the Selective Service Act. And so those of us of age were called into the draft. And so I was drafted. As you know the cultural heritage of any Asians is to emphasize education, and so after I graduated from Helena High School in 1933, my father sent me to the state college which was in Bozeman . That's about a hundred miles away. And he continued to send me money so I went to Montana State College from 1933 to 1936 and just as a way of comparison, you might be interested to know that at that time I had bought a room for twenty-two dollars a month.
Gen Ogata with guitar, Helena, Montana, 1941.
Christian Trajano: Oh wow.
Deborah Wong: [ laughs ] Hard to imagine!
Gen Ogata: So going to school was relatively inexpensive but 'bout 1936 he couldn't afford to send me to school any more and so then I came back and helped out on the farm and then I also found employment on the Northern Pacific Railroad, where I took care of the steam locomotives, and when the engines came in, you have to change the fire, and take out the old fire and start a new fire and then they'd put the engine in the locomotives, and so I worked for the railroad and I remember I was paid 49¢ an hour, so for 49¢ an hour, we took care of the locomotives until August. In October of 1941 I was drafted 'cause I went into the military, and eventually I landed in the 442 nd . You know what the 442 nd Infantry Regiment was?
Christian Trajano: Yes. You're a hero.
Gen Ogata: After Pearl Harbor , because of the suspicion of government of those who were of Japanese ancestry, those of us who were already in the military, they didn't know what to do, because they couldn't decide about our loyalty. So, for about a year, we served in capacities such as driving a truck and mechanic work and things like that. Until in February of '43 they sent us to Camp Shelby , Mississippi that's where the 442 nd trained. They trained from '43 to '44 in June in May of '40, May of '44 they left the United States from, what's the place called, Camp Patrick Henry-it's in Virginia and it took about a month to go from the United States and we landed in Naples, Italy. See, remember at that time, the Germans had submarines and so, the ships took a zigzag course in order to avoid the submarines and so in June of '43 we landed in Italy and we were involved in the Italian campaign and then in fall '44 they had what they call was the Southern Invasion in France. Now, this is about the time this is a little bit after the Normandy Invasion. Now a commonly unknown fact is that one of the companies in the 442 nd made a landing in Southern France on gliders-gliders you remember were towed in and then the pilots landed and they continued fighting. So, after the Southern invasion of France, they trucked us-yeah, we went in by truck to an area near Dijon, France and then we went east into what is now Alsace Lorraine and it was about this time when what is known as a rescue of the lost battalion occurred, and maybe you've heard of that. It was the Winter of '44-there was this one company, the 141 st battalion, the 36 th infantry-it was a Texas unit and they were surrounded and the commanding general asked for the 442 nd to come in and rescue this one battalion. Now in the process they had about eight hundred casualties of the killed and wounded to rescue something like 200 Texans. So it's kind of ironic that there are these five foot three Japanese Americans would rescue these tall great big Texans [ laughs ] Now then what would you like to know?
Mary Delgado: When you were in the military, where were your parents and your siblings?
Gen Ogata: Oh, that's a good question. My parents, like many, were Japanese nationals. And as Asians at that time, they could not become citizens. After Pearl Harbor , there was so much hard feeling against the Japanese, bitterness with fellow Caucasian employees. On December the 10th, the railroad fired my father and he was unemployed, he had to find other means of making a livelihood, and so what had been a part-time business, he expanded to full-time farming, and at that time, you remember, there were so many young men going into service that there was a labor shortage. However, my father was able to find some Native American Indians from the reservation and with the help of these Native Americans, he farmed something like several hundred acres, and he grew potatoes and grain and that way helped out with supplying food for the war effort. Well, as a result of the firing-you remember that at the same time, there were many Japanese Americans who lived in Los Angeles and San Francisco and Seattle , and because of the government's suspicion of their loyalty, they put them in internment camps. Those who met the qualifications of having being interned through the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which Reagan signed, received $20,00 monetary compensation as well as an apology, and those who were adversely affected by the war effort, like my father, having been fired, those who qualified received $20,000 monetary compensation as well as an apology. But see my father was killed in an accident in 1946. And so the only ones of my family who received compensation was my brother-my stepbrother who suffered what you might call the hardships of-because he was Japanese. Now an example I can give you, my father had been selling produce to the local markets and because of the animosity against the Japanese, some of these would no longer buy. He had a credit for gasoline and his supplier for the gasoline denied him credit and so he was forced to operate on a cash basis. And so these are some of the hardships that Issei Japanese like my father suffered. Now what'd you like to know?
Christian Trajano: Going back to the 442 nd -so you were in that battle? The one with the Texans?
Gen Ogata: I was not in the battle. Those who were in the battle were what they called "the combat infantry men." They're the ones that carried the rifles and did the shooting and the fighting and the dying. It just so happened that because I had gone to college prior to the war, they wanted those who had some college experience to be in the administrative jobs. So I was originally in Company C of the 442 nd taking trading in the 60-millimeter mortar platoon when they transferred me from charlie company to service company. Now service company brings up the rations-they supply the transportation, they do these things to keep the regiment operating functional .
Christian Trajano: Thank God you weren't part of the fighting.
Gen Ogata: So I missed out on the fighting.
Christian Trajano: Oh that's fine [ laughter from everyone ]-you're still here!
Gen Ogata: [ laughs ] Yeah. But that's just one example where my education saved my skin.
Deborah Wong: When did you come back to the United States from Europe ?
Gen Ogata: See the war in the European theater-the Germans signed a truce in-I think it was in June of '45, and the determination of when you come back from the foreign theater to the United States was figured out by how many months you had been the Army in the United States and how many months you had been oversees, and they had a point system, so I came back in about July of '45, yeah.
Deborah Wong: Pretty soon afterwards.
Gen Ogata: Yeah, something like that-no, no, actually I was discharged in November of '45. So I spent four years and one month in the military. But, at that time, they had what they called a GI Bill. A GI Bill-what it did is the government provided you with one year's education for every year you were in the service. And so as a result of the GI Bill, when I came back, I was able to go to school at the University of Minnesota . I started in '45 and then in 1949 I got a B.S. in agriculture, and then by some fortunate circumstances, one of the faculty in the department took me on as a research assistant and then I got my Ph.D. in 1955.
Christian Trajano: You really used that GI Bill. [ laughter ]
Dolly Ogata: It was very, very helpful.
Deborah Wong: What was your Ph.D. in?
Gen Ogata: It was a major in soils and minor in bacteriology.
Deborah Wong: Agriculture is really in your family [ laughs ].
Gen Ogata: Yes, yes, yes.
Dolly Ogata: Did you already tell how you got the job out here? How you came out here?
Deborah Wong: No, he didn't.
Gen Ogata: Oh yeah, in 1954 there was this opening. See, on a farm is what they call irrigated agriculture. Now, under irrigation, because the irrigation water contains minerals, after a certain amount of production, the soil will accumulate minerals that are in the irrigation water, and this is what a cause of what they call salinity problems. Because my experience on a farm had been with salinity, there was an opening at the U.S. Salinity Lab right here in Riverside , and so I applied for that job and came out here in January of 1954. I hadn't yet finished my degree.
[We have to stop and turn the tape over, and the conversation shifts.]
Deborah Wong: I'd like to get your stories together here. I didn't realize both of you were from Washington .
Dolly Ogata: Yeah. And both our families are from Kumamoto .
Deborah Wong: Oh, really.
Dolly Ogata: Yeah. And in fact my mother's cousin was his step mother.
Mary Delgado: Wow.
Dolly Ogata: You know the evacuation time, when you know people had to go into the camps. Well, they gave us a few days when you could move inland, so my brother-at that time my father was deceased-my brother thought he'd want his mother and the youngest boy (who is four years younger than I am) and I to move inland so we wouldn't have to go to camp. And so he contacted Mr. Ogata and he says, Oh sure, you know they could stay here for the duration, because you know, we didn't know how long the people would have to stay in the camps, in the facilities, and so my brother was concerned mainly about my mother and then wanted me to tag along, you know, to kind of watch me and my younger brother. So that's how we moved out to Ogata's, because that wasn't considered. You know, the western coast was Zone One and inland-you could move inland without having to go to camp. So that's why, but all my other brothers did go to camp. So anyway, so then my half sister which would be, you know, really my second cousin, or third cousin, or whatever she said, she'd write to Gen, you know, because you'd talk about mail to a service man. So I started writing to Gen and so ours was mainly like a correspondence courtship [ laughs ]. Yeah, so anyway, I was there in Helena about a year and I worked. My cousin got me a job at the grade school there. I worked there about for one school year. And then from there I then moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota because my mother said, you know, you gotta meet some other Japanese boys [ laughs ], and they had the intelligence school there, you know, Camp Savage in Minneapolis. And there were Japanese boys there and so we moved to Minneapolis and then I worked there and stayed there and that's why he came to Minneapolis because I was there and I-
[All the interviewers]: Oh.
Gen Ogata: I didn't tell you that. [ laughs ]
Deborah Wong: No, you didn't. [ laughs ]
Dolly Ogata: And so that's why he went to school there. And so we got married in '46. We're one of-was it 2.3 million couples that got married in 1946?
Deborah Wong: Quite a year, huh? [ laughs ]
Dolly Ogata: [ laughs ] Yeah, it was quite a year. So of course all our children are considered the baby boomers.
Deborah Wong: When did you two first actually meet, then?
Dolly Ogata: Well see, when you were stationed at Fort Lewis and when you came out to visit us. So that's actually when I first met him. So I don't know when that was .
Gen Ogata: That'd be maybe, '40, '41 [ Dolly and Gen talk at the same time ]-
Dolly Ogata: Yeah, few months before the war broke out actually.
Deborah Wong: Oh, okay.
Dolly Ogata: But anyway, we never thought we'd end up getting married, though. You know, because he's sort of like a cousin, although he isn't [ laughs ]. He isn't. Really, so when people ask us how we met, it's just not very exciting [ laughs ]. So anyway, then we moved out here. Our first son was born in Minneapolis . Yeah, the rest of the children, four children, were born here in Riverside . So they're native Californians. Yeah, they all went to Mountain View School and Sierra Junior High and Ramona High School and they went to the RCC and I think Don, our oldest son, is the only one that graduated from UCR. And then let's see, did Lori and Irene graduated from San Bernardino State didn't they? [Gen: Yes.] And then Carol graduated from Pomona .
Gen Ogata: Cal Poly Pomona .
Dolly Ogata: Yeah. One son, Kenny, did not go on to school, but he's managed to support himself, you know, as a professional cook and now he works at Shell Oil in Louisiana. So he's doing okay.
Gen Ogata: He was kind of a playboy. [ laughs ]
Dolly Ogata: But anyways, so all the kids have grown up in Riverside and actually are still in this area. Our oldest son is in San Diego, we have two daughters-Lori lives in Riverside and Irene lives in Moreno Valley-and Lori teaches at Canyon Springs High School, she's a teacher. She's trying to get to teach university but she's just doing that what part time.
Deborah Wong: Oh, okay. I met Irene very briefly at the JACL meeting a few weeks ago.
Dolly Ogata: She's the only one not married among our five children. So four out of five is pretty good [ laughs].
Deborah Wong: What was your education?
Dolly Ogata: I went through high school and then I went to a private business school, where I took several business courses. And then I got a job working for a young Nisei attorney and he was just starting up, and so we were both kind of starting out together, but I only worked about nine months and then the war broke out. So that just threw everything [ claps ] topsy-turvy.
Deborah Wong: So what did you do during the war?
Dolly Ogata: During the war, I was in Helena for a while, and then I was in Minneapolis . And then I worked at the church federation for quite a few years until, you know, we got married and then we moved out here. Then we came out here, so I was really just taking care of the kids. Fortunately we were able to live on his salary.
Gen Ogata: Would you like to know something about the beginnings of JACL?
Deborah Wong: Yeah, sure! Yeah.
Dolly Ogata: Yeah, he was the first President [of the Riverside Chapter]. In fact, I have a article about it that I was going to give to you. You know about the beginning of the JACL?
Deborah Wong: This I didn't know. [ laughs ]
Dolly Ogata: We were the 91 st Chapter, you know, at the time. Oh, I found these, you want to look through here and see if there's anything . I did find these old pictures .
[The tape was put on pause while we all looked at the photos and discussed them.]
Dolly Ogata: . This is mom and dad here.
Deborah Wong: Oh my.
Dolly Ogata: And Gen's biological mom. [ To Gen ] I don't know where this is, dad-this farm here.
Gen Ogata: That's one of the farms used for growing potatoes.
Deborah Wong: In Montana ?
Gen Ogata: I think this would be in Washington -I think in an area near Seattle .
Dolly Ogata: I don't know whether you want a picture of this one. This is Gen.
Deborah Wong & Mary Delgado: [ at the same time ] Ohhhhh! [ laughs ]
Dolly Ogata: And you know that my daughter has the same profile as mother.
Deborah Wong: Is that so.
Dolly Ogata: Identical!
Deborah Wong: Oh that's really something.
Mary Delgado: Wow.
Deborah Wong: She's lovely.
Gen Ogata: Yeah, the reason I'm so disoriented is because my mother died when I was five and I had a stepmother so I kind of didn't get [ laughs ]-the usual motherly attention.
Dolly Ogata: This is my mom and dad around 1912. My mother was a picture bride. Yeah she's a picture bride.
Mary Delgado: [ To Gen ] Did people look at you differently since you had a stepmom?
Gen Ogata: Oh no, because mostly they wouldn't know.
Mary Delgado: Oh, because you guys moved to Montana .
Gen Ogata: No you see most people wouldn't know that my father had been married previously.
Mary Delgado: So people didn't know that your brother was your step brother?
Gen Ogata: Most people wouldn't know who were my real brothers and who were my step brothers.
Dolly Ogata: Gen's stepmother was a young very well educated lady who never did any hard work. And can you imagine her coming and taking care of two little kids and then having her own kids? Boy! And the youngest one, his sister was only a baby. Maybe only a year old? Martha? My mother used to feel so sorry for her cousin. Because she was raised to do flower arrangement and sewing and not hard labor. Right?
Gen Ogata: I think so.
Dolly Ogata: I think so, yeah.
Deborah Wong: How did she take to it?
Dolly Ogata: Oh, she survived. Yeah, she did well. She learned the English language. Oh, we were so impressed because what Mr. Ogata did was to supplement the income and also that his wife would learn the English language, had her go out and do house work. And then she worked for the YWCA too.
Gen Ogata: And she washed dishes somewhere.
Dolly Ogata: She would come, you know, and visit us in Washington , and she would speak English and you know I always told my mom, "Why can't you talk English like Mrs. Ogata?" [ laughs ] Oh, she just used to impress us. She did very well.
Christian Trajano: Going back a bit, you said that if Japanese could go inland that they didn't have to go to the camps?
Dolly Ogata: Yes, right.
Christian Trajano: Inland as in the Inland Empire ?
Dolly Ogata: No. Inland-what they divided into different zones. Washington , Oregon , and California were considered counted as .
Gen Ogata: Sensitive areas.
Dolly Ogata: Yeah. And then from there inland you could move without having to go to the camps.
Christian Trajano: Oh, okay.
Moving to Riverside
Dolly Ogata: Oh, I know I started to go look for what I thought I had on the JACL. You know I found this real old article, Deborah, about Japanese in Riverside and you just might want to read that.
Deborah Wong: This is probably from '71.
Dolly Ogata: That was in 1971.
Christian Trajano: The Press-Enterprise or .
Dolly Ogata: Uh huh, The Press-Enterprise. And let's see, this tells a little about the Riverside Chapter that you might be interested in. Actually, when we first moved to Riverside , they had a Japanese church here and they had a Japanese women's club.
Deborah Wong: Really?
Dolly Ogata: There were only about maybe eight of us [in the Japanese women's club], I guess. Yeah, I went to the first meeting and then they chose me as President. And we had just moved out here! [ laughs ]
Dolly Ogata: So anyway, to make a long story short, from the Japanese women's group they decided they wanted to get the husbands involved too. So they said, well, why don't we have a JACL chapter here? There was a group from Orange County that already had a chapter. They were sort of like our sponsor. So that's how they got us started. And Gen was the first President and then I was President a couple of years later.
Dolly Ogata: How long has it been? Thirty .
Gen Ogata: Thirty years . It started in '68, so it'll be .
Dolly Ogata: '68, so it's about thirty [at the same time as Gen] -one years.
Dolly Ogata: And we used to have this big Sendai Festival. That was our big money-raising thing. But it just got to be too much. You know for, it's just too much work. But we used to have it at the Riverside Plaza . And we had different demonstrations. You know, we had the flower arrangements and we had the martial arts and we even had pottery one year-demonstrations of pottery-making-and we always had the folk dances. And of course the food was what we sold. Teriyaki and chicken and beef teriyaki and tempura and wontons. We used the Riverside Plaza when it was an open shopping center. [A bell rings in the kitchen.] Oh, excuse me. Gen, you could tell them a little bit more about the move to Main .
Gen Ogata: This all started, let's see . now I'm talking about the Riverside-Sendai sister city relationship. The Harris company over here wanted to have some kind of promotion-the manager of Harris company, his name was Bill Ingle. Bill Ingle and Monica Harris and Jessie Helverson came up with the idea . They wanted to one have a name for it and since they had a sister city relationship with Sendai , they called it the Sendai Festival. And so the Sendai Festival was how we raised money for the JACL chapter. The chapter also made awards to those who graduated from high school. They gave out so many scholarships. So the JACL has been like the NAACP, it's kind of the Japanese counterpart, in that it has functions as a social agency and a political agency. As far as the JACL being involved in the political scene, they raised money to do the ground work that led to the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. But mostly the JACL has functioned as a social agency. That is, every year they have an Easter egg hunt for the kids and they have a annual picnic every year. Then they used to have a Thanksgiving dinner and .
Dolly Ogata: They used to try to invite the students too-the foreign students that were visiting UCR and the RCC. But then the Thanksgiving Dinner, I don't know, it kind of conflicted closely to the dinners. You know, Thanksgiving is a family dinner, so the attendance got so low that we just decided to discontinue that. We used to even have Christmas parties too but that kind of petered out, too.
Gen Ogata: So among Asians, the JACL was about the only organization that was involved in community things. I don't think the Chinese has a similar agency, or the Koreans? So it's the blacks and the Japanese.
Dolly Ogata: But I think the JACL, on a whole, at least in California , I think they're reaching out to the other Asians. You know, like if they have any problems or something, they try to help them out-the Vietnamese or Koreans or so forth. In fact, I think a Korean is on the staff of the JACL newspaper, and so they're expanding-it's not only Japanese but it's kind of becoming what they call Asian Pacific, I guess. So that's what they're doing.
Dolly Ogata: But I want to go back-before the Sendai Festival, we had this Japanese scholarship program which Jessie Helverson started many years ago. In fact, wasn't it started about the year we came out here, I think? (Gen: Mm-hm.) That started because her son was in a hospital in Japan , you know with the U.S. army and he .
Gen Ogata: He was in the military.
Dolly Ogata: . military, yeah, stationed in Japan in Sendai and the university women of Japan , they brought him flowers or visited him-made a special point to visit him-when he was in the hospital. He was so impressed he wrote to his mother and told his mother, "Geez, is something that you might be able to do to reciprocate?" Well, she thought maybe we could send scholarships, you know, to the Japanese girls over there, and raise money here some way. And so she contacted the President of the AAUW over there and they got together and they started this scholarship program. And so Jessie would go and talk to all these different women's groups and ask them to donate towards this scholarship. Of course, then, you know, fifty dollars went quite a ways in Japan . You're talking about forty years ago, I guess. Yeah, anyways, Jessie thought about having this annual tea and we could sell little Japanese toys and candies and stuff and put on a show, and she got help from the Japanese consulate office in Los Angeles , and they would send out dancers, you know, and stuff, and so she had that usually I think it was in March. And she'd raise money and she did this for gosh, how many years? About twenty years? Anyway then the interest kind of lagged and then it just kind of petered out. But [ laughs ] she wanted someone to take over her position as sort of leader of this scholarship program but no one had just had that much of an interest and the time in the effort. But what came out of all of this is very good because the group, the ladies in Japan , are now raising money to send to people in Thailand and China , so girls can go to college.
Deborah Wong: Wow, that's great.
Dolly Ogata: So they're continuing Jessie's project over there in that respect. But anyway, it's before the sister city came into effect. Jessie had this big program going on with Sendai . The scholarship program. But if you read the paper, the mayor is trying to make it more-well, we're a sister city-to become more acquainted with the people and their customs. But now the mayor is more interested in money, finances, you know-get a company over there to come over here. [At first, it was more focused on] cultural exchange. Yeah, and so I think he's really extending the idea because we now have a sister city with Mexico . Whenever a group from here goes over there [to Sendai ], they're just treated royally.
Deborah Wong: Really?
Dolly Ogata: Yes. And when they come over here, there just aren't that many people that can help out to treat them royally. That's kind of too bad. So now what Sendai has done is they've gone to Dallas , Texas and they've established a sister city . No, you could only have one sister city on American soil, so they're what they call friendship city. And of course in Dallas , population-wise, there's a big difference. There's one million in Sendai , whereas-what is our population here in Riverside ? (Gen: Quarter of a million.)
Deborah Wong: I didn't realize that the relationship went that far back.
Dolly Ogata: Yeah, it goes way back, and the mayors that we had before Loveridge of course used to-I think was it every other year-they'd have a mayors' meeting and they'd go to Japan via Tokyo or Sendai-different big cities-but they would always spend a few days in Sendai. One year they had it in Sendai and Gen didn't go but I was able to go with the group and oh boy, they just treat you royally. You're on television! You know, if you get that much in The Press-Enterprise, it's good when a group comes over here. But when you go over there and you're on television, and [ laughs ] when you go to city hall, the people just . hundreds of people just lined up on the side walk and clap, you just feel like celebrities. [ Everyone laughs. ] Really, it was an experience. My daughter was able to go that one time and she was really impressed. That was before she had kids [ laughs ]. I was glad she was able to go.
Deborah Wong: Oh gosh, it's kind of embarrassing that we can't reciprocate in kind, isn't it .
Dolly Ogata: Yeah, in fact the YMCA-you know, where I work-they had an exchange program-campers, where they would come over here and come over to the resident camp. And that's pretty nice. And they spend a few days in home stays, but that has kind of gone down the drain. Well, especially since the YMCA had to sell their camp. It was really way out there . where is it? Towards Idyllwild. But there's no paved roads into this camp. It's called Camp Lacky -it was donated to the Riverside YMCA and they had a camp there but they got to a point where a bus would not go up there for us. Because they'd have to go around this curb and back up, and so the Y had to sell the camp, and I think it's the forestry department who has it now. But that was nice. I think we had that exchange for about ten years.
Deborah Wong: I have a strong sense that that both of you have long made a point of being involved with community activities of one sort or another. I mean, you seem to have a strong sense of-I don't know what to call it . civic duty? Where does this come from? And how would you explain it?
Dolly Ogata: I don't know. How would you explain it, Gen? We just feel that Riverside has been good to us. And we've just-you know, with kids in school, you know you want to be involved in Boy Scouts and PTA and things like that. I don't know.
Gen Ogata: Well, our involvement in JACL and then with international relations. When visitors come from Japan , Dolly will volunteer to have them as home stays . I don't volunteer because [ laughs ] because it's she has to prepare the meals.
Dolly Ogata: Well, he helps. [ Everyone laughs. ] And also you had foreign visitors at your lab, too. You used to have them over. Yeah, they're from India and Egypt and you know, we learn a lot too. I mean, you know we can't travel over there so they come here, they tell about their background and I really like that. Not only Japanese visitors but those that came from India and those countries that had salinity problems used to visit the lab. Quite a bit.
Deborah Wong: You've been here for forty-five years, I think, am I right? I mean, how has the atmosphere in Riverside changed or remained the same for Japanese Americans, or for Asian Americans generally? Can you generalize about that?
Dolly Ogata: I know Gen was quite concerned about the attitude before we moved here. And so he asked his future boss, Dr. Richards, and he made it a point to go out and visit with a few Japanese that were here. There was a dentist here, Dr. Nava, and there was Dr. Fukuto at the UCR. Was that-I think that was about all that he knew. And then there were others that had chicken ranches-a few like the Fujimotos. But, anyway the Fukotos and the Inabas said that they didn't think we'd have a problem. And I don't think we had any big problems did we?
Gen Ogata: No.
Dolly Ogata: Just, oh, I remember, my son, when he went to kindergarten. They called him a "Jap" and the way they said it, you know, Donald said, "It doesn't sound very nice." So I went and talked to the teacher, and she didn't know what had happened. So then she explained, you know, that he's not a "Jap"-he was born in this country and we're all Americans, you know, and this and that . I think that's the only incident that I recall among our kids. I don't know if they had any themselves when they were in High School that they didn't tell us about. But I think we've been very lucky in that respect. Of course we go to the First Congregational Church and everyone there is just so open and welcoming, you know, and it's been wonderful. Yeah. I was originally Episcopalian and he's a Presbyterian. So we compromised and became Congregationalists [ laughs ].
Deborah Wong: I mean, Gen, it's interesting to me that you wanted to get a sense of Riverside before you committed to coming out here.
Gen Ogata: Yeah.
Deborah Wong: What would you have done if folks had said, "Hmmm"? [ laughs ]
Gen Ogata: Well, we had been subjected to even worse discrimination in Montana . So discrimination has been a factor throughout our life, and so you kind of develop a tolerance or whatever-it's something you live with.
Dolly Ogata: Oh, you had that one instance when you took the boy scout troop.
Gen Ogata: Yeah.
Dolly Ogata: That's another instance.
Gen Ogata: Yeah, we had gone to summer camp up on the east side of the Sierras, and we were on our way back. We went to a little town to get something to eat and, see, Don was the only Asian and the rest were Caucasians. We noticed that they never came around to ask what we wanted. So that was the only incident .
Dolly Ogata: You were there with the adults, right?
Gen Ogata: Yeah.
Dolly Ogata: You and Don, and the rest were all Caucasian boys, but they still wouldn't come and wait on you. I think when you go into some of these small towns you might come across some prejudice, I'm not sure.
Gen Ogata: That was in the 70s, something like that.
The Fujimoto Diaries and the Harada Family
Gen Ogata: Deborah, I wanted to check with you-you have the diaries that George's father wrote?
Deborah Wong: Well, UCR does.
Gen Ogata: And as I understand it he started this in 1912 and every year he wrote into that.
Dolly Ogata: Every single day.
Gen Ogata: Until he died in 1983, something like that. Now George says that it's written in a style that's called sôsho, are you familiar with that?
Deborah Wong: He explained that it sort of runs together. That's all I know.
Gen Ogata: I don't know the extent that you are interested in having those translated into English.
Deborah Wong: Very interested. I think that Sidney Berger, the director of Special Collections, would be thrilled if someone were interested and willing and had the expertise to do it. It's a tall order. It's a lot of volumes and a lot of years-a lot of fountain pen handwriting, you know. But I believe it's unique as a document. To have an Issei diary that goes that far back and is continuous. Yeah, it's incredible.
Dolly Ogata: Yeah, he was a leader of the community, of course you know that.
Deborah Wong: Well, so I hear. They have some photographs of him in Special Collections. What was Mr. Fujimoto senior like? I found his gravestone in Olivewood.
Dolly Ogata: He was very involved in the church.
Gen Ogata: Uh-huh.
Dolly Ogata: And I still remember when our kids were little, on Easter Sunday he would have these Easter baskets made up and he'd deliver those to our kids. You know, I'm sure he did that through out the whole community. I don't know-he was just involved in community affairs and mainly the church. He had quite a God-fearing church.
Deborah Wong: Some of the photos are of him in church.
Gen Ogata: Now, as far as the JACL in the last few years has been involved in civil rights-if your interest is in that area then you should talk to Dr. [Junji] Kumamoto , if you haven't already done so.
Deborah Wong: I've met him. But we don't know each other well at all, because he's not on campus very much at this point. But I'd like to get to know him better.
Gen Ogata: Yeah. He is the Civil Rights chair [in the JACL] and he is very knowledgeable and very articulate and very much interested in the public knowing about the internment and issues with similar issues.
Dolly Ogata: He's working on a book himself.
Gen Ogata: Well, he's thinking about writing a book, but I don't know whether he is going to or not.
Dolly Ogata: Oh, I think that he's started it.
Deborah Wong: I need to seek him out, clearly. So there are lots of possibilities here-I think that's what it comes down to.
Deborah Wong: Did you just say that you all got the Martin Luther King award at some point?
Dolly Ogata: Yeah, the last one. I could barely read it [ laughs ]. They don't usually give it to couples, but they said that we're both involved in civic affairs so they gave it to us as a couple. So that was nice. We were out of town so we weren't here for the actual unveiling of the [Martin Luther King, Jr.] statue.
Christian Trajano: Would you happen to know the famous Harada family?
Dolly Ogata: The Harada family? Oh yes. We've known Sumi for many years.
Dolly Ogata: Yeah. Have you ever seen that book about their.
Christian Trajano: No Other Place?
Gen Ogata: It was [Mark] Rawitsch's master's thesis. Rawitsch was in the History department.
Dolly Ogata: How did you hear about the Harada family?
Christian Trajano: I'm an Ethnic Studies major, and it's part of the history of Ethnic Studies-international news. It's a great case that's very much a part of Ethnic Studies. It's amazing that it's here in Riverside .
Gen Ogata: Is that right? You know about her family's house?
Christian Trajano: Yes, sir. The first testing of the Alien Land Law.
Gen Ogata: Yeah, right.
Christian Trajano: It's something. And here in Riverside .
Dolly Ogata: Yeah, isn't that amazing?
Christian Trajano: Yeah, it is.
Dolly Ogata: Sumi is in a convalescent home, yeah. And has she's chair-bound so she can't really get up very much, but they say her mind is just as sharp as ever.
Christian Trajano: We have to interview her.
Deborah Wong: I would like to.