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Tessaku

Tadashi Tsufura - Part 2

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Why do you think the parents and most Niseis never spoke about camp?

Photo: Ruth Morgan

When the war was going on we were the enemy. After the war, we were still the enemy, so dead silence continued until 1976 when Michi Weglyn published her book “Years of Infamy.” Until then, no one wanted to bring the camp subject up. Also, when we left camp for Seabrook Farms in September of 1944, the war was still going on and we went to a town 5 miles away to shop for clothes and other necessities. There were signs in some store windows that said “NO JAPS ALLOWED.”

I became Principal in a public school in 1976, same year as Michi’s book was published. No one wanted Japanese as a Principal but the Greenwich Village Parent Body refused to accept anyone else despite the objections of the Unions. Another reason the topic of incarceration was off limits.

How did you first become a teacher? Was it through your parents that you wanted to become an educator?

No, what happened was I was in the Korean War and when I came back we all wanted to make some money. So I went to school to become a Chemical Engineer. By then my father had moved from Seabrook to Cleveland and so I went to a small Engineering School there. I became a Chemical Engineer but had no delight, I just couldn’t stand looking at chemicals everyday and so my brother had moved to New York and he was a photographer doing quite well then. I quit my job and went to New York and I was looking for a job. We were still enemies remember and no one wanted to really hire a Japanese Chemical Engineer. I thought maybe in New York I could get a better job. Then I went to interview but when you get there they say well sorry, we don’t have an opening right now.

Really?

Well, of course they will hire somebody else. I mean this is how they deal with housing too. You go some place that was advertised, you look it up and you get there and they say oh, it’s just been rented. Those were the answers that they gave to Japanese at that time. But in the newspaper I saw that there was an opening for teachers. There was a shortage of teachers anyway because at that time the teachers’ pay was probably the lowest then. In fact I took one course at Brooklyn College and I became an instant teacher. One course in education, that’s all I did. That’s how short they were of teachers because it was probably the lowest paying profession at that time. But I said what the heck, I always liked New York. So I became a teacher and I learned it was my calling.

How did you find that out? Did something specific happen?

Because you know it was exciting for me to try and teach kids. And then it was in junior high where most teachers didn’t want to teach. But I wasn’t the best student in camp and I wasn’t the best student when I went to Seabrook, to Bridgeton High school. I was quite a truant. I knew how to get by a teacher. In camp I hardly went to school except the teachers they didn’t care anyway so why go to school?

But once I started teaching kids, they test you. They did make fun of me in the beginning. They’d talk Chinese when they see me. But then they learned that I also demanded that they study and I was skilled in letting them know that they’re not leaving the room until I tell them that they are permitted to leave. They eventually decided that I really cared for them and I did. I didn’t want to be a teacher like the teacher that I had in camp. I guess my father and mother were teachers so it’s something in me. I stuck to being a teacher, I enjoyed it. I remember the first month pay I got $240.00 for one month.

I’m still in contact with many of my students. They email me. They phone me when they come to town.

That’s quite an honor that they remember you in such a great light.

Remember when I became principal in 1976, I was probably the only principal they ever had who was an Asian. And I was willing to bet that I was the only Asian principal on the continental U.S. at that time.

I want to ask you about the redress. Do you think that the amount given to the community was fair?

The Isseis and Niseis should have the right to accept or not accept the money without guilt, for some of them were never able to get back the good life that some of us have been able to. It is because of their strength (the Isseis) that I would tell them straight out that we were able to surmount the problems in this society.

Going back to that day [the redress committee hearing], they made a monument in Washington. And they put the names of all the camps on there. But it’s not the monument I wanted. I wanted a monument not only for the Japanese but for the next immigrant group. They built a monument to the Japanese there with the name of the camps but that doesn’t do anything. What I wanted was that we’d be the first to have a little garden. Then, each year they have another immigrant group, and then the whole area is dedicated to the people who come to America. But in Washington they would never do that. [laughs]

When you started hearing about Muslim/Americans and the connections people made to the camps, does it make you worried?

No, I’m not afraid. I don’t know where this will go.

The Muslims have to evolve themselves. No matter what anyone says. And they will. I was in one of the things where a Muslim speaker came up and spoke at a group to the Japanese community here in New York City, and she was telling of her problem and of Donald Trump wanting to put them into concentration camps. And I told her, if I were you, or if I were the leaders of the Muslims, I would say, Donald Trump, I accept what you do and what you’re saying. And I hope that you will send us all to concentration camps. But you also said that you will do anything for this country. So if you are willing to do that, why not take all your hotels, and properties, and put all the Muslims in those hotels? I said, and feed them, and clothe them, just as you did the Japanese? Since you are willing to sacrifice all for this country, you should also ask your friends to give up their property, and incarcerate all the Muslims in there. And you know, if you say it that way, I know Donald Trump will back down.

 

*This article was originally published on Tessaku on March 15, 2017.

 

© 2017 Emiko Tsuchida

gila river internment teaching WWII

About this series

Tessaku was the name of a short-lived magazine published at the Tule Lake concentration camp during World War II. It also means “barbed wire.” This series brings to light stories of the Japanese American internment, illuminating those that haven’t been told with intimate and honest conversation. Tessaku brings the consequences of racial hysteria to the foreground, as we enter into a cultural and political era where lessons of the past must be remembered.