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California State University, Fullerton
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Cal State University, Fullerton

P.O.Box 6846
Fullerton, CA 92834 - 6846
Office: Pollak Library South (PLS) 363

657 278-3580

Office hours:
Mon. through Fri. 9 am - 5 pm

(12:30 - 1:30 lunch)

Reading Room/Archives and Thesis Binding: Mon. through Fri. 9am-4:30pm

The Japanese American Oral

History Project Collection

Also see:
 Japanese-American Collection,

      CONSISTENT WITH THE student-based philosophy and practice of the Oral History Program (OHP) at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF), its extensive Japanese American Oral History Project (JAOHP) was launched in 1972 at the urging of a then CSUF undergraduate history major, Betty E. Mitson.  Mitson was enrolled concurrently in an introductory oral history class taught by Professor Gary L. Shum­way, the founding director of the CSUF program and a pioneer in the national oral history movement, and in a historical methodology class under my tutelage. Coincidentally, she had chosen to sharpen her technical processing skills in oral history by transcribing, editing, and indexing a series of tape-recorded interviews in the OHP collection pertinent to the World War II Japanese American Evacuation, the very topic I had selected for investigation by the students in my Historical Methods class.

   At this point, I knew virtually nothing about either the method of oral history or the subject of the Evacuation. My motivation for assigning each student in my class to write a research paper on some aspect of the wartime removal and incarceration of West Coast Japanese Americans was that the thirty-year anniversary of this event afforded a convenient way of imparting historical perspective to the contemporary concern with civil liberties, human rights, and ethnic consciousness. Mitson soon convinced me that she could spend her time for my class more profitably by doubling her processing efforts relative to the Evacuation tapes and by collecting and collating research materials for exploitation by her classmates.

   One immediate result of this arrangement was that, in reviewing Mitson’s processing work, I was plunged into every facet of the oral history process via the topic of the Japanese American Evacuation. Before long I found myself becoming less Mitson’s teacher than her student, as she instructed me both in the art of oral history interviewing and transcript editing. Moreover, the dynamic, dialogical character of the oral history data that I was working with had the effect of deepening my understanding of and stimulating my curiosity about the entire subject of the Evacuation.  Mitson then encouraged me to suggest Professor Shumway that the OHP formally constitute a project pivoting upon the history and culture of Japanese Americans, with particular attention being paid to the events surrounding World War II.  Upon receiving Shumway’s enthusiastic endorsement for this idea, the JAOHP, with Mitson as associate director and myself as director, became a reality.

   During its twenty-year history, the project has evolved through three stages of development.  This first stage extended through 1975, at which time Mitson accepted an appointment as an oral historian for the Forest History Society, and I succeeded Shumway as the CSUF—OHP’s second director.  The high tide of this stage was reached in 1974 with the publication of Voices Long Silent: Oral History and the Japanese American Evacuation (co-edited by Mitson and myself), an anthology of project interviews, interpretive essays grounded in these interviews, and taped lectures delivered by selected interviewees in a University of California, Irvine, Extended Education series that I coordinated.  The annotated bibliography of project holdings that we prepared for that  volume is instructive. It shows that the project had inherited thirteen interviews conducted for the OHP between 1966 and 1972, all with individuals residing in Orange County, California, who, for the most part, were of Japanese ancestry and had been interned during the war in the PostonWar Relocation Center in southwestern Arizona.  More importantly, it indicates that within the next two years project members generated seventy-three new interviews, and that these taped recollections encompassed the Evacuation experiences of Japanese Americans and non-Japanese Americans from all over California, though particularly from the Los Angeles area—the prewar residential, commercial, and cultural center of the mainland Japanese American community. 

   In addition to addressing the situations prevalent for evacuees at the nine other War Relocation Authority (WRA) centers apart from Poston, especially the Manzanar center in eastern California that housed primarily evacuees from Los Angeles County, these interviews embraced the reminiscences of 1) Japanese Americans who had been detained temporarily in many of the fifteen assembly centers managed by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA); ) resident Japanese aliens deemed “potentially dangerous” who were interned in one or more of the several centers administered by the United States Department of Justice; 3)children and grandchildren of the evacuees capitalizing upon the symbolic meaning of the Evacuation as activists in contemporary movements of ethnic consciousness-cum-cultural politics; 4) Caucasians who had been employed by the WRA as camp administrators; and 5) non-Japanese residents of the small communities in the regions close to the sites of the former California camps of Manzanar and Tule Lake. The latter was located near the Oregon border and was converted during the war from a regular relocation center to a segregation center for Japanese Americans deemed “disloyal.”

  What is less clear from perusing the annotated bibliography in Voices Long Silent is how this profusion of interviews came into existence. Although Mitson and I were directly responsible for the production of a substantial number of them, the bulk of the interviews derived from students enrolled in successive seminars on the Evacuation taught by the two of us. During this interval, individual and group forays into the field by project members netted an array of oral memoirs falling into categories noted above. The two most prominent student interviewers during this phase of the project, David Bertagnoli and Sherry Turner, undertook prolonged fieldwork with the aforementioned townspeople living adjacent, respectively, to the Manzanar and Tule Lake campsites. Then, too, other undergraduate student inter­viewers, notably David Hacker and Ronald Larson, substantially enlarged and enhanced the project’s holdings by conducting key inter­views with controversial personalities involved in intracamp policies at the Manzanar center. Finally, two other undergraduate interviewers, Janis Gennawey and Pat Tashima, played important roles during this period through the multiple interviews each added to the project’s mushrooming archival collection.

       The next stage of the project’s development extended through 1980. This stage saw the addition of some thirty-five interviews, falling largely within four topical foci: 1) internees and administrators of alien internment centers; 2) celebrated dissidents at WRA centers; 3) Japa­nese American community leaders in Orange County, California; and 4) residents of the southwestern Arizona communities proximate to the former Poston War Relocation Center. The interviews comprising the last two categories were collected, respectively, under the aegis of seminars that I taught in conjunction with Ronald Larson and Jesse Suzuki Garrett in 1976, and with David Hacker in 1978. Each of these individuals, along with Susan McNamara, Eleanor Amigo, Paul Clark, and Betty Mitson, at one or another time during this phase of the project saw service as the project’s director.

   More central and, perhaps, more consequential than interviewing in this period, however~ was the technical processing and interpretation of the amassed oral data. Owing to a contractual arrangement between the OHP and Microfilming Corporation of America (MCA), a New York Times subsidiary, project personnel were obliged to transcribe, edit, and index our holdings so that they could be disseminated internationally by MCA in a microform edition. In addition to the project directors named above, three other project members—Paula Hacker, Elizabeth Stein, and Mary Reando—were instrumental in converting raw tapings into polished archival documents.

  With respect to the interpretive work accomplished in this stage, project members produced not only two more published anthologies of its interviews, but also two unpublished CSUF Department of History master’s theses and one lengthy scholarly monograph based upon project material.The first of the anthologies, Japanese Americans in Orange County: Oral Perspectives, was edited with an introduction by Eleanor Amigo in 1976. More ambitious in scope, as well as more controversial in nature, was the 1977 anthology, co-edited and introduced by Jesse Garrett and Ronald Larson and showcasing the interviews transacted by David Bertagnoli and myself entitled Camp and Community: The two theses, authored by Paul Clark and David Hacker, were completed in 1980 under my supervision. Clark’s study, “Those Other Camps: An Oral History Analysis of Japanese Alien Enemy Internment during World War II,” revolved around interviews he recorded (some with the translation assistance of Mariko Yamashita, a Japanese exchange student at CSUF affiliated with the project) with former internees and administrators of Department of Justice camps for enemy aliens. The thesis by Hacker, “A Culture Revived: The Loyalty Crisis of 1943 at the Manzanar War Relocation Center,” was informed by the many interviews in the project impinging upon developments at Manzanar, particularly an intensive three-day interview conducted jointly by Hacker and myself in the spring of 1978 in Norman, Oklahoma, with Dr. Morris Opler. A professor emeritus of anthropology at both Cornell University and the University of Oklahoma, Opler, during World War II, had headed Manzanar’s Community Analysis Section.  As for the unpublished monograph, “Doho: The Japanese American ‘Communist’ Press, 1937—1942,” it was authored by Ronald Larson and anchored by interviews done by himself and others.

   The project’s third stage, persisting into [1992] and encompass­ing some thirty-five new interviews, has been characterized by cooper­ative ventures undertaken with outside agencies and individuals. The first of these had its origins in a 1976 project interview with the central figure in the so-called Manzanar Riot of December 1942, Harry Y. Ueno. This endeavor was capped by a widely circulated and critically acclaimed 1986 project publication, Manzanar Martyr: An Interview with Harry Y. Ueno, co-edited and introduced by Sue Kunitomi Embrey, the wartime editor of the camp newspaper at Manzanar and the founding chair of the Manzanar Committee (a Los Angeles—based activist group known principally for leading an annual pilgrimage to the Manzanar campsite in the Owens Valley), Betty Mitson, and myself.

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