Sunday, December 22, 2013

Bob Santos, Leader & Activist, Former Director Inter-Im CDA

Bob Santos sparkled with energy, charisma and depth - that very energy allowed him to accomplish real change in Seattle. Growing up in the Central Area of the 1940s with its multi-ethnic communities laid the foundation for him to become an enormously effective community leader.

Photo by Madeline Crowley©

Bob on the Central Area:

 I was born in 1934 in Seattle’s International District (the ID). My Dad was professional prizefighter and my parents lived in the ID in the early 1930s. Then, my mother passed away in 1935. My Dad couldn’t take care of my older brother and I. He was a widower and his fighting career caused him to slowly lose his eyesight due to boxing injuries...

When my father completely lost his eyesight in 1945, I became his Seeing Eye dog, so I would come down from the Central Area to the NP Hotel in the ID to take care of him. I lived in the Central Area and went to school there. I was running back and forth between the two neighborhoods so I could take care of Dad.

This interview is now available in the book, We Lived Here, published by Chin Music Press:

Courtesy of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers Maryknoll US

Bumps Blackwell OrchestraCollins Playfield photos showing the diversity of the area :

Bernie Whitebear
Read Bob's new fascinating book for more! It's on the Gang of 4, Bob Santos' activism across ethnic and racial lines for important social change

(Bob Santos was referred to this project by Yosh Nakagawa)

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2013   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

This project was supported in part by
4Culture's Heritage Projects program

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Claudia Stelle. Executive Director, Coyote Central

Claudia Stelle has been a director at Coyote Central since 2001.  We spoke 
about the creative programming Coyote offers kids in Seattle and especially 
the Central Area.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

Tell me about the choice to locate in this neighborhood.

We had a real history here, having been working with kids from the schools in this neighborhood for over 20 years. Coyote Central had also partnered with community groups here to do projects in the Central Area at Garfield Community Center, Miller Community Center, Flo Ware Park, Powell Barnett Park. I’d be hard pressed to think of a better neighborhood in the city for us to locate. I've lived just blocks from here for the past decade.

Can you share a bit about what Coyote Central does with kids?

Coyote was founded with the idea of serving all kids so we have always gone into the public schools to offer our program to every child. Marybeth Satterlee, our co-founder, was a teacher in the public schools, so she had relationships with school counselors and teachers. They welcome Coyote into their schools every term to do presentations to their students. We have display boards and we go in and introduce ideas about trying welding or cooking. It just excites kids with the possibilities of what they could try at Coyote. I think we recruit in over thirty schools, yet we get kids from over eighty schools a year.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

The idea has always been to serve all kids. We were not founded to serve any one demographic or address a specific need like serving at-risk kids. Coyote is based on the important idea that all kids come and work together, so kids from every ethnic and economic background are all working in the same class because they want to learn how to weld, or they want to learn how to do animation, or they want to learn how to design a dress and sew it. Whatever the task, they’re there because of their interest in it. In that process, they are meeting and working in teams with kids from all over the city.

We believe that experiencing creative problem solving is so important to every child. Coyote has never really been about art, per se, it’s just that art is a great way to explore creativity and problem solving.  Anybody who’s ever tried to draw a portrait realizes, it’s all about solving problems like, why doesn’t this look like it should? What do you do to make it better? In essence, that thought process is in every one of our courses, and that’s really what Coyote is all about.

So, if I understand correctly Coyote is here to serve the creative mind? It doesn’t matter whether the child is interested in clothing design, or painting, or animation, they’re learning skills and counting on their own creativity to solve problems.

Photo: Madeline Crowley
Yes, that sounds pretty good. Also, there’s no question that working with professional creative people is really key to give them that sense of their own possibilities and their own future and getting together with peers who happen to also think it’s really cool. So, they work with a professional fashion designer who has her own line of Shibori scarves. They work with a professional chef who’s in a restaurant six days a week. So they meet a role model in their field of interest. Also, they are grouped with other kids who also think it might be cool to be a chef, or to be a fashion designer. This must be terribly reassuring to a middle school kid who has these interests and has no idea if anybody else shares them. They come here and discover a whole class full of kids who share that interest here.

To come to a class full of people that you share an interest with who don’t all go to your school makes your social world expand exponentially. That also is amazing.

We did little interviews recently with kids who were both current students and former students. When they were asked by the interviewer about, ‘What mattered most to you about Coyote or what do you remember?’ many of them said it was the people. It wasn’t just the instructors, but the other kids, meeting a whole new group of people. Middle school can be so insular and kind of, well, deadly (laughs). I think Coyote is the ideal alternative to that.    On the weekends, no matter what your week is like at school, you come to Coyote and it’s a safe place.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

It’s this welcoming, colorful, beautiful place where you get to explore a genuine interest. It’s like Glenda the good witch, it doesn’t get better than that.

As importantly, it’s a safe place to take risks. You learn how to make this wild hat that you would never be caught dead in anywhere else. You can just do whatever moves you and try it out while not worrying that people are going to make fun of you or think you’re weird.  The opportunity to take creative risks is big; it is one of our main learning goals.

There’s something really wonderful about meeting other kids that share an interest, you know you are literally no longer that weird kid who likes animation, you’re one of twenty kids who you know, who you like, that share an interest. The space has such an incredibly warm, inviting feeling and…  I can imagine, in the worst case scenario, an at-risk kid who’s not safe at school, they’re not safe at home and they come here and there are bright colors, it’s clean and it feels safe and open. And for them, it’s like, this could be how my life could be… But, let’s return to how this place began.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

So Marybeth Satterlee cofounded Coyote with Greg Ewert, who was a fellow teacher, in 1986. Their concept was to make creative problem-solving available outside class. Greg fairly shortly thereafter moved to Lopez Island. He has since lost a battle with cancer so he is no longer with us, but he was a wonderful, wonderful person. Marybeth then soldiered on. Coyote grew very gradually from, I think, nine kids the first term.

We have a chart of the growth of Coyote, in a brochure that shows this incredibly steady growth. We worked out of Marybeth’s kitchen for years. When I came on in 2001, it had been small but growing for fifteen years. Then we started growing faster. By 2005, we rented office space in Madison Valley. The growth was so organic and so gradual. We never thought, ‘Ok, now we’re going to try to have 40% more kids.’ We just offered programs. And as the demand went up, we offered up more.

It was just driven by the demand. More and more kids and their families were finding out about Coyote and wanting to do cool stuff. So we added more and more courses and then took little leaps like having our own office.  Which led to the big leap of having our own space here. Having our own space has expedited our growth exponentially and now that we have these facilities we can indeed leap to ever more new programs.

Now we’re serving about 1,300 kids a year. So the growth and the quantity of kids served is pretty mind-blowing.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

Studio Coyote
 The bulk of our programming is ‘Studio Coyote’ which are 20-hour courses over a really wide range of subjects. It puzzles some people because they wonder, ‘Well, why don’t you specialize in wood-working, or bikes, or fashion design?’  We believe that Middle School is an age of discovery. It’s when you’re seeking to find, ‘Who am I? What do I love to do? How am I going to find work that I love?’

One of our wonderful board members (who’s been at the YMCA for years) says Middle School is the age where it’s developmentally appropriate to dabble. Dabble is her word. It’s really true. So a child comes here and takes four different courses in a summer: Cooking; Welding; Design and Sew, and Breakdancing. It’s not that they don’t love any one of them, it’s that they want to try lots of things.

We support that.

We also have developed some advanced courses for kids who say, ‘Oh, I want to learn animation.’ They would come back and take the same course three, four times because they just loved it. So now, hopefully, we give them a chance to develop an individual skill when they find one that they really love. But our biggest mission is to give them the chance to try different things, to find out what they love.  During that process they build confidence and skills, it makes them feel competent in the real world, something rare in the digital age.

What are the other programs you do?

Photo: Madeline Crowley

Hit the Streets
Since 1992, we have been doing ‘Hit the Streets’ Projects, which are summer public art projects with 24 at-risk kidsIt’s a work program, they get a stipend to learn job skills like reliability and showing initiative, and working in teams. Most of the kids attend Washington Middle School, Madrona K8 and surrounding schools, and live in the CD or South Seattle. Our kids come from here, we’re doing public art here, so when a building here came available, it just seemed like a great place for us to be. We’d been thinking for many years, ‘Gee, we could do so much more if we had our own facility.’

Coyote Works
Last year we started a program called ‘Coyote Works’ which is similar to ‘Hit the Streets’ in that it is very much focused on at-risk kids. We started with a community matching grant from the Department of Neighborhoods that specifically funds programs for youth in the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, SYVPI.  We had our second year of that program this fall, with different cohorts of cooking, welding, and spoken word.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

It’s a great program for us for a number of reasons: it brings in slightly older kids, they’re 13-15; it engages them in not only learning skills, but also in community service. The cooking cohort made meals for Straley House or the families at Nickelsville. The welding group made a bench for the bus stop right out here. We’re looking to expand Coyote Works, so that it’s not just in the fall. We’re trying to get funding to do it other times of the year.

At the end of the last Coyote Works session, staff and instructors got together and collaborated on what we could do to make it even stronger. We were really focused on, ‘How do we tweak this to make it as good as it can be?’ Then we got back the little surveys we passed out to the kids, and they all rated it: 8; 9; 10 out of 10. It was all positive. We thought, ‘Wow, I guess we must have done something right.’ The kids really seemed to like being here and what they were doing.

Bringing in the community 
Now, we’re always thinking, ‘Gee, how can we use this space?’ We invite in community members.  Lots of people use the kitchen.  Madrona K8 uses it for their 7th-grade poetry slam.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

We’re trying to get the building integrated into the community and available for youth and other community events and uses, hopefully all with a creativity orientation. We’ve partnered with Sawhorse Revolution, which is a group that works with high school kids doing woodworking projects for non-profits. They used our shop to build a structure for Green Plate Special, which is run by Laura Dewell, as you know.

Yes, who I so admire. 

It’s just great to have the facilities so we can open our doors and share them. We’d love to get Coyote families, neighbors, whatever, in for cooking events as well. That is a goal always, to bring in community. Still, everything takes time and we have a tiny staff and a lot of organizing going on all the time. We work very hard; we have great volunteer support. It seems to work.

How did you happen to get the building?

This particular building on 23rd & Cherry was ideal in so many ways for Coyote. It was the site of our first permanent public art project back in 1995, the art tiles around the façade, for Dilettante Chocolates when they had this building. We did that project for them, and lo and behold, fifteen years later we moved in. So, it’s felt sort of like karma.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

Then, we happened to hit the real estate timing quite well in that the market was way, way down. We acquired the building in 2010, for less than half what it had sold for 2 years earlier.

Oh, that’s great. 

We never could have afforded it any other time. We spent a year completely renovating it. It was gutted and had been vacant for, I believe, five years.

We moved in the office in April of ’11 and then our first courses here opened in the summer of 2011.
In our first two years here we brought in 40% more kids. The building has had a huge impact on what we do and the number of kids we serve. We give scholarships every year. Last year we provided about $96,000 dollars in scholarships, so we have had an increase in scholarships that is more than commensurate with the increase in attendance, which means that we are in fact reaching a lot more kids from families that don’t have the means to pay tuition.

There’s no question that we are reaching more kids from the CD by being here. Just having the presence on this corner has been huge. I have to say, from the first year we were here ‘til now there’s less drug activity, less street life with a negative vibe. There’s no question that having the sidewalks full of kids in the summer is a good thing. It’s really great to have a lot of kids in a neighborhood.

Photo: Madeline Crowley

The lots to the east and behind us were not available when we first got the building. They were owned by another fellow who had permits for building ten live/work units. He wasn’t interested in selling because he was deep in the process, but we kept in touch. By December, when new housing was lying fallow all over town, he decided to sell it.

So we got a pretty good deal on those properties as well. It was a really big leap for little old Coyote to buy property. We had a stalwart board that just believed so strongly that we could make it great that they supported it. We got individuals, banded together and each loaned us some money so we could make an offer. It was a real group effort. We’ve just completed our capital campaign, so that’s really great.

There will be capital expenses over the years for maintenance and we are establishing a maintenance fund and all of that, but the amount we save on rent is just incredible (laughs). I mean, all of our occupancy expenses and every roll of paper towel and everything else, put that all together it’s a fraction of what our rental costs used to be, which is wonderful.

The fact that you own your building and have a strong board, you know this will last as long as there’s interest and people coming. You know that, for an arts organization, that’s huge. Very few artists have created what you and Marybeth have created, this place for experimenting, creative decision-making and taking risks. It’s like a dream come true. 

In a lot of ways, it is. Especially for kids who get fired up by what they get to do here, and find out just how much they’re capable of.  We’re going to do all we can to make sure every middle-schooler gets that opportunity.

Special thanks to Julia Eckels for her excellent transcription of the recording.

©  Madeline Crowley People of the Central Area 2014   All material is covered by copyright. Express written permission must be given for any copyrighted material on this page. Email to request permission to copy or paste materials. 

This project was supported in part by 4Culture HeritageProjects Program

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Yosh Nakagawa, Retired President of Osborn & Ulland

Yosh Nakagawa retired from a successful career in business to focus on sharing his story of internment/incarceration as a child during World War II. Through that he works as a civil rights activist.

Photo by Madeline Crowley
What’s important is not only that the story is not lost but that with that knowledge that it happens to no one else. That’s the significance. That’s finding common ground. I have no problem talking to blacks, to the Jewish or the Hispanic communities when we call for the human rights and freedom that belongs to all Americans. 
About Yosh:  

Yosh’s love of sports not only introduced him to towering figures like: Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe and Billy Jean King and a career but cemented a sense of fair play that drives him to pursue social justice and understanding even today.

Yosh on his life:

I was born in 1932. My name is Yosh Nakagawa. The story I will share with you is the story of the Japanese-American, the Nikkei community and their incarceration in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II (WWII). We were born and raised in America where we have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights. Yet, it is only as good when it is abided by, that paper is worthless when citizens lose their freedoms. In wartime, I lost my freedom because I looked like the enemy.

Yosh as a toddler. Collection Yosh Nakagawa
 That’s the central question in my story. When I look at this in context of today, in the very church building that was boarded up and closed in 1942, because all its congregants were removed physically, against their will, to be interned without due process of law by Executive Order 9066 signed by President Roosevelt.

It is ironic that 120,000 Japanese-Americans living west of the Mountain ranges from Alaska to San Diego were physically removed from their homes. When in the (then) territory of Hawai’i 160,000 similar people were never removed [from their homes] despite the fact that they lived where the bombs fell in Pearl Harbor. If I had lived over on the other side of the mountains, I would have been free. How do I know this? When I was in Camp Minidoka, the American Concentration camp, I had a friend who looked like me, who lived in that area (Idaho) could come into the camp to visit me but I could not leave to visit him.
Yosh boxing. Collection Yosh Nakagawa
 If we had lived in Washington D.C. or New York City or anywhere else, our jobs would have been considered key (to the war effort) and never would have been threatened. This isn’t in the history books, so the educated American knows little, by intentionality, of this story. My story of my community is not just a Japanese-American story; it is an American story. It does not simply belong to my people; it belongs to American History. The Eurocentric model must come to include that Columbus did not discover America, nor did this city begin when settlers founded Seattle, in both cases the indigenous people were already there.

My story is part of what I call the awesomeness of America.

Today I have found that if I do not speak about what happened to people, our freedoms as citizens will soon be challenged. 9/11, the bombing at the Boston Marathon are instances where people are subject to looking like the enemy. We must be very careful for it might not be me [this time] who will be incarcerated or interned but it may be my neighbor.

Yosh on a pony. Collection Yosh Nakagawa
Growing up in Seattle I’ve come to realize that education, government, religion must bear the burden of their silence [during internment], we have along ways to go until we break that wall of silence that allows human freedom to be taken.

Seattle gives me great hope that the American future is bright, for we are again at the cutting-edge of human rights and working for freedom for all. I have had the opportunity through religious groups to talk to all faiths, to interfaith groups, to students and faculties of great educational institutions. Through that experience I’ve seen the new political mandate of America.  In the 1940s and 50s, I grew up in a community of people of color, this is a symbolic model for today’s America. 70 years later, all the ethnic groups I grew up with are now willing to share their stories: The First Nations, the Trail of Tears, the Holocaust, slavery, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Hispanic Migration and new immigration. These are all issues that were there when I grew up. Losing my freedom [when interned] is not a story that ends; it is a new beginning. This is because I am sharing that story.

What would you like to share of your memories in your childhood in the Central Area?

I was born in Seattle, Washington. Like many new immigrant families, my family opened a grocery store in the Central Area.  Today where that store was located is now the campus of Seattle University. During WWII some 30-50 Japanese families were removed from their homes and businesses [to be interned, and that land was taken to become part of the campus]. We had no homes to come back to after being sent from the camps.

Yosh in the Central Area. Collection Yosh Nakagawa
So, the University took those homes and those businesses?

So, I’ll tell you how that happened. My parents were not and could not become citizens legally. If they had come instead from Europe they could become naturalized citizens. So we were called ‘aliens’ just as today we call undocumented workers, ‘illegal immigrants,’ all of which are negative to being an American. It was not until 1952 through the passing of the Walter McCarren Act that my parents could become citizens. Then by these historical means the greatest number who became naturalized citizens were of Japanese descent. 

And at that point how long had your parents been in the country?

Since the early 1900’s.

And they became citizens…

They were finally allowed by law to become citizens in 1952. Whereas any European immigrant could simply have applied for naturalization.

Did you live above the grocery store that your parents owned?

The store was our home. It’s the same today, you see it in New York City or Seattle, new immigrants own the corner grocery stores.

Did your parents own that property?

No. They could not own property. Again, (at that time) if you weren’t a citizen, you could not own property. Their American-born children were not of age [to be able to own property].

When your family was forcibly relocated what happened to the store and everything in it?

It was abandoned. No one knew what to do. We were only given two weeks to get  all our things in order.

Was your family able to secure any of the investment they’d made in that store?

We did not have much, but all we had was all lost.

Was the store looted?

I don’t know.

Then Seattle University was able to take that land and make it their campus.

They were able to have it because we were no longer there.

I understand they just built a Japanese garden and made a formal apology this year.

That was because I went and told Seattle University the story of what had happened to us. That’s the awesomeness of America. I also spoke with the government about what happened to us, and with American government funds we’re building a camp in Minidoka with so that [episode in our history] is not forgotten. And to help ensure that it does not happen again.  

If I understand what you’re saying, you’re saying the awesomeness of America is the willingness to hear, to acknowledge, to apologize, to then take action and to make sure these stories are not lost.

What’s important is not only that the story is not lost but that with that knowledge that it happens to no one else. That’s the significance. That’s finding common ground. I have no problem talking to blacks, to the Jewish or the Hispanic communities when we call for the human rights and freedom that belongs to all Americans.

How old were you when you were sent to Minidoka?

I was in fourth grade and was there until middle school.

Yosh & family at Minidoka. Collection Yosh Nakagawa
First, we were removed physically against our will. We didn’t know where we would end up. We were moved to the Puyallup Fairgrounds to live in horse stall and barracks. Then, later when government closed the concentration camps, we were told we could not stay [in the camp housing]. They knew full well that we had nowhere to return to. A good portion of the camp then became homeless.

Did you know people when you got to Minidoka?

Basically no, my parents knew some people but we as children we were separated from our friends.

Then, you had to start fresh, new friends, new teachers?

And you didn’t have a home. You lived in one great common community, you dined in the central, you bathed in the central, your unit had no restroom, kitchen, bathing facilities. It was only where you came to sleep.

Yosh & friends at Minidoka. Collection Yosh Nakagawa

For the children, it was like summer time all the time because we were outside to play. There was no other place to go but it was difficult for my parents and the older community because they had no privacy and they had lost everything.

I wonder did they ever speak to you about that?

The culture of the Meiji Issei is a story that soon will be forgotten if people like myself don’t uplift it. And if I can’t uplift my parents America will be far less grateful for my presence.

Who were the Issei? 

The awesomeness of our parents, the Issei, was their loyalty to making America a better place. They gave up their children to die for America.

It’s much easier to hear the story of those born in America. Yet, America was built by the efforts of those new immigrants. They are the greatness of America, not just those born here, but those who came here and contributed.

It is still true today, those who came to labor, our new immigrants. This issue of how we treat immigrants is ongoing. If we do not learn through our history [with this issue] it is our education that has failed, not the people [the immigrants].

You came back to Washington Middle School and then Garfield High School after the camp.

We never knew in those days that Garfield High was called the United Nations School, those words were not meaningful at all to us. I believed that the incredible diversity was normal, only to find much later that at that time it was very unusual in this country.

It’s a unique thing about this community

That’s what I’m saying.

I found a picture of a Japanese couple before Internment and their home had been spray-painted with anti-Japanese slogans. Were you young enough that you weren’t aware of that kind of that…

I was too naïve to understand that at that age.

In a way, that’s a blessing.

It is. Absolutely.

You can’t become bitter over things you don’t perceive. You didn’t feel you were being treated differently at school afterwards?

I only knew that I was not white. Let’s be very clear, in Seattle, prejudice was more difficult because it was so subtle. If you lived in the deep south, you were either Colored or white. When I travel to the southern part of the country, I didn’t know that I had to become white. Because of segregation, you either entered places through the door that said, Colored or white. When I went to the service in Georgia, I was considered white.

This is jumping way ahead in time but it does seem that the definition of ‘white’ has to do with class. In the early part of the 20th century, the Irish and Italians weren’t considered white. They were provisionally European but they weren’t white. This was true of the Jewish people as well. And now it seems the Japanese-Americans third generation are now considered white, because it’s about class not race.

There you go. You see what I’m saying.

Our group, incarcerated concentrated in the camps, our group is probably the largest in outer mobility in marriage, good or bad.

Do you think this desire to gauge people according to class divisions is as insidious as racism?

I’ll tell you something, as far as food, I was as racist as anyone. I can eat hot dogs and apple pie with the majority community but I would never force them to eat my raw fish, sushi. I knew they wouldn’t like it and they’d puke on me. Then one day, I noticed there were more whites at the sushi bar than Asians. It’s not just the Eurocentric model that’s a problem, I have the same hang-ups too.

In the Eurocentric model, I’m not empowered. So I listen to people from the dominant culture. I talk to them but they never come across the bridge to talk to me, their bridge is one way. As long as I go over your bridge and I do what you deem necessary to be successful then you’ll honor me. I’ll be successful. I might even be able to marry into your family.

I worked for a famous Scandinavian company (Yosh was President of Osborn & Ulland) I could even have been President of Nordstrom’s because I grew up with their family. The awesomeness of America is to get over these negatives. In my culture, a woman has far more power but in white America they think Japanese-American women have no power. I tell you, the white woman has it worse than my mother ever did.

Because in Japanese culture the wife controls all the money.

Absolutely. I feel sorry for white women who are over-qualified, they’re the worst treated ethnic group. They can’t be leaders in the church. When I was growing up they couldn’t play sports or they were called tomboys.  And if they wanted to play they had to use men’s equipment and shoes. I said, ‘That’s wrong.” Not just because they were women but because it was bad for business. I can’t take credit [for working that change]. Though in 1972 I was with Gary Gayton and Trish Bostrom to allow her to play with the University of Washington Men’s Tennis team since there was no men’s team. The University honored for us for this, which preceded Title IX. 


I helped with that because that was just logical [that women should be allowed to compete in sports]. That’s what I’m saying.

But if you were primarily using logic then how can you imprison these Japanese-American people in the west, when you’ve got 160,000 living right where the bomb fell?

That’s just a startling realization. Why do you think that was?

In the strategic defense of Hawai’i, they were the most educated and they controlled the security. The General there said if you do that [intern or incarcerate the local Japanese] you will let the Japanese Forces take over the country. The Japanese-Americans in Hawai’i controlled the security.

Because they were the majority of the population in Hawai’i?

If you’re the majority internment can’t happen. Even today, Hawai’I is the only state that the population is not majority white. It was a territory at that time (WWII) not a state.

When I travel to speak to groups and tell them my story, I’ve been amazed back east  [on the east coast] at a lot of the Ivy Leaguers: the Princeton’s, the Yale’s, the Browns, the highest level. Yet, I’d put Stanford above them all. I thought all the nation’s leaders, the Presidents and all came from the Ivies. Yet, what a mess we have had in human rights.

I tell my German-American community [from the Central Area], isn’t it funny, you didn’t speak up for me. Yet, you were the threat in America because you had economic power. We had nothing. I was identifiable, while you were employed in Government and none of you ‘Americans’ were interned. And said to my Italian friends, you were shunned worse than the Germans. You were called WOP and other things you didn’t like. I grew up with you in Garlic Gulch; the Italian-Americans were my friends. It never dawned on me why I had to go, that was my whole drive to understand, I never knew why. 

I just had questions. Why could my friend go out of the camp and I can’t? How come my German friends and my Italian friends, their parents spoke the language of their countries [also our enemies during world war II). My parents spoke Japanese. Yet the German and Italians, they were free. Even my own community will not raise those issues, they say, ‘Yosh, you’re rocking the boat.’ That’s why I have to be careful when I talk to people today because my people are too gracious.

Well, in your ancestral culture rocking the boat is a very dangerous thing.

The nail that sticks out will be pounded down.

Silence in my community means disagreement, in the white world silence means approval. Horrible. They work by the Robert Rules of Order. We work by consensus.

How is it for you now, when you’re not operating in consensus?

It’s horrible. It’s divisive. But, some day we Americans all get amalgamated not by skin color and we are seen as fully American, then maybe the democratic Robert Rules of Order will work. Still, it certainly doesn’t work among the whites. Today, they’re finally realizing that they’re not the majority. Maybe that’s going to be the day when the Robert Rules work.

I want to stay focused on what is good for America. What I’m sharing with you today is good for America.

It sounds like what you’re sharing today is controversial in your own community. If you go into a Japanese community center are there people who will admonish you for what you’re saying?

They would, but there is one beautiful thing in my culture, my hair is grey, I’m old, and the young the children do not talk, they do not talk, they just listen. If you’re old, you’re seen as wise and given respect. When I went to Hiroshima with Brooks [Andrews] and man, I want to live over there. They would bring me a chair, bring me food, I was a sage. I had the wisdom.

In America, young people think the old are stupid. They don’t give me any respect, yet there’s everything I have to share with them about America in my story. We have to enlighten America on what is good. We have to dwell on the goodness. We have to get all the people working together, the best of each cultures combined. What we’ve tried is only the dominant culture, white culture. So, everything the dominant culture believed from God, to government, to human relationships, however they interpreted it was deemed the only right way.

I thought what you said about the one-way bridge. If you’re from the dominant culture, it’s hard to see that that bridge exists.  It’s expected that people have to come to terms with crossing that bridge but there’s not necessarily reciprocity in that.

I always went to their offices. Then, one day people came to my office and they wouldn’t leave. You know why? I have a tatami room. They took their shoes off they took their ties off, they wouldn’t leave. They couldn’t believe how comfortable it was.

It’s good for everybody. Not that it has to be the one way, if you don’t like sashimi or sushi, tell me, I can find a common ground. You don’t sacrifice friendship over types of food but maybe you’ll learn something. I never thought my white friends would say, let’s go to the sushi bar. One day my friend Arthur Ashe, who lived in New York, came to Seattle to visit. I said, Let’s go get some soul food around Garfield High but he wanted sushi. He had high cholesterol so he had a sushi chef in New York and he would eat fatty tuna. I was as racist as I could be in that idea that he’d want soul food. You see, what I’m saying we use to much of our intellectual mind. If it feels right by your guts and your soul, it’s going to be ok for your mind. We say, ‘thank you,’ but we don’t mean it. You see what I’m saying, so much of what is said is empty… like, ‘how are you?’ But we don’t want to really know. 

I found out they really didn’t care how I felt. I wish they had told me that because I wanted to be like them, I wanted to do what they expected so I learned all the strangeness [of white culture], I learned to hug.

How was that?

It was awful.

Today, though, I love hugging. I went to Japan and I hugged the wife of a colleague, I knew I did a wrong thing, but they were gracious. They understand I was American. I couldn’t speak the language. We make errors but we make the errors from our heads. It’s better not to make decisions with the head. Sometimes when you’re trying to do the right thing it is actually the wrong thing. The heart may make a mistake but it says, ‘I love you. Thank you.’ It goes a lot better from the heart then when it comes from the head.

I did interviews all my life for the sports world because I wasn’t white I would say funny things from that perspective. I knew Jackie Robinson, because he would come into the sporting equipment shows. I was awed at how he’d been treated and how he’d succeeded. Also, I was in the golden era when we broke the barriers in sports. Sports conquered more barriers in 40 years than did our government.  I worked with Billy Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Bjorn Borg - only in America.

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson was my hero but I know he didn’t do this so that Ichiro could play in the States. He just did the right thing. It wasn’t a white issue but the whites took the credit for the blacks playing in the League. No, it was that players who had the empowerment.  The abuse Jackie Robinson took, it’s horrible. But today, his story is on every young kids mind, “ I know who 42 was! That’s Jackie Robinson. And they’re just young kids but they’re learning good history and to be positive. You don’t dwell on the spit and the fact that couldn’t eat with your teammates or stay in the same hotel. From all that, though, he died an early death. It’s our tendency to dwell on the negative. He didn’t do all that to call attention to  the negatives. What I’m doing today, I’m not doing it focus on being upset, I’m doing it to sketch out the story of being an American. I’m more Norwegian than I am Japanese, why? I worked for them for 45 years. I know their sagas and I know their stories and they love me. That’s my bottom line of what I’m doing. Being American means having all these different stories, these different ways of sharing, that makes us find our common ground so we can work together.

Getting to equality means acknowledging the stories and the wrongs.

Admitting when we’re wrong cures everyone not just the whites, because all people have the same hang-ups. Sometimes I’d ask people from my past, did you know I didn’t like you? Did you know that when I saw two white kids on the sidewalk I’d go to the opposite side of the street because I didn’t want to get beat-up. Not that they were really going to beat me up, but I had that fear. You [white friends] didn’t want to go Chinatown because you don’t want to get killed or end up in an opium den or whatever. My friends from the suburbs were scared to come to Chinatown. They would go only during the day, as soon as the day was over, they’d head back to Bellevue.

Was this in the 1960s?

Much later, when what we called Suburban Flight happened.

If you look at the Central Area, the amazing part of it, is that in 1940 the largest percentage of the neighborhood was Japanese. There were 7,000 of us here. We were all removed physically from the neighborhood. Think about that! The black and Jewish communities didn’t come until after the war. After the Holocaust about 20,000 came from Europe. So I am speaking from a very strong position.  Still, I have to go further back because there were a greater number of First Nations people here before us but no one wants to talk about that.

That’s got to be part of the story of this area because the city is named after their Chief Seattle.

My heart is with them, the 550 First Nations that are splintered. I’m going to Oklahoma to speak with them. They honored me but I didn’t understand the robe they were putting on me. I didn’t know what it meant. That’s why I have to use my heart more than my head. I said, ‘Don’t honor me,’ which was a mistake. I should have been using my heart. My point is I can relate to them, that’s not in the history books either.

The Japanese were here from just 1880 – 1952. While the First Nations were here from the beginning probably for 10,000 years.

Isn’t that scary, we have educated Americans who have no appreciation of that fact. Instead, the common dialogue is about how they goof up our salmon. Yet, all we did is take everything away from them. They’ve never been reciprocated

You spoke about how the Central Area is a special place…

Growing up in Seattle, you learn the culture of Seattle with all its ethnic, religious and monetary differences. When I went to the east coast, I also learned to appreciate the differences, things weren’t as mixed. It brought home that we were ahead in many ways in what is today called a multicultural society.

Can you explain how that differs from how you grew up?

When I grew up we were tribal because our parents spoke their home language so therefore I knew who was Chinese or Filipino or whatever, because our parents spoke different languages. All us who were born in America, the Nisei, our children, no longer knew the ethnicities of their friends. Because we all spoke English, no matter what our ancestry was, so the tribalness was not only a part of culture, it’s a part of America.

If I understand you correctly, in Central Area schools there were Japanese, Filipino, Black, Jewish, Danish, Swedish and Chinese all together, so among the children the tribal loyalties dissolved.


You had a multicultural society then in the 1940s when the rest of the nation…

Stayed in their boroughs or stayed in their communities. We broke down the walls; our Chinatown became the International District. We, not by our intelligence, by our very nature broke down barriers - not really knowing that we had broken barriers. It was never intentional; every tribal group wanted their children to stay in that tribal group. My point is that coming together of the children is the awesomeness of America.

There was a very vibrant jazz community at that time. Did that bear any resemblance to your experience?

In those days it was very interesting musical performers were black, our community never thought that was unique. We heard jazz music where we lived in our neighborhood; it was a part of our make-up. We didn’t drive in from the suburbs to hear it at night, we lived surrounded by it: jazz, gospel music from the storefront churches, from the taverns. You could hear it on the sidewalk, the tambourines and all. It was what we grew up with, and we also grew up with the Bon Odori Dance. We all participated as a community, whites, blacks and everybody dancing which we thought was normal.

Seattle Bon Odori

It was coming from the heart not the head; I loved Chinese food more than Japanese food, ok? I never realized I was breaking culture. We cannot take for granted what America is all about.

You have to remember here we lived, it was called the ghetto, but I never thought it was the ghetto. The wealth was over there at Broadmoor, I didn’t think they were rich, they had money but there wasn’t that tension.

When you choose what you can eat, do you choose Chinese?

To be bluntly honest, I’m going to eat Chinese food tonight. These people who own a good Chinese restaurant called me today to say they have razor clams. They do clams really well. They’re like my family, they call me up, because they know when clams are not on the menu I’m disappointed. That friendship, it’s something instantaneous, it’s you’ve got to walk the talk.

If I’m going to help you and have one time with you, if you don’t see my friends or people who relate to the community then you don’t have a story. The story is only as good as the people affirm their differences and finding common ground.

If you share your story… if it’s shared from the heart, it gets heard.

I’ll end with the last statement, I lived in the white world, they used a word that frightened me, and they’re out to bring conversion, to convert you to their understanding.

Was the word used ‘assimilation?’

And education. And religion. They had all the right answers and they graded me on their understanding.

I think that’s still kind of true.

I don’t blame them, it’s because I never led. It’s my fault. First, I was a token, then I was symbolic, next I could contribute. I let them get away with one thing; they never thought I could lead them. I could only lead them if I did it the way they understood. That’s not a negative, that’s my problem; I didn’t have the ego strength to know I could lead you. Only in sharing a story, not to convert you, to share a story.

They wanted me to make sure I understood I was to do it their way never the way I thought would be right for the people. That’s a very subtle line…

The Eurocentric model uses the word ‘initiative.’ At school, as a young person, I was told by my parents never to raise my hand, I was to wait for the teacher to call on me. I failed; I got a poor grade because I didn’t have initiative to participate. Most of my friends (who didn’t look like me) didn’t have the right answer. I had the right answer. I learned really quickly to speak up. I’m an oddball.

(Yosh came to this project through

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About Me

Seattle, WA, United States
I am not a professional photographer nor a trained journalist. At community meetings, it became clear that many of us don’t know each other. We haven’t heard each other’s stories and don't know each other’s circumstances. This is my attempt to give a few people the chance to tell their story, to talk about our community, to say their piece in peace. As such, comments have been disabled. The views and opinions expressed here are those of each narrator and do not necessarily reflect the position of views of the CentralAreaComm.blogspot blog site itself. The is not responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by narrators of this project. All interviews have been edited and in places condensed.

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