Tetsuo Tanemura Oral History Interview

Link to Interview


Interviewers: Derrick Chan, Joseph D, Ricki Ma, Zane Ramirez, Alvin Derek Tiletile, Karen Tran

Interviewee: Tetsuo Tanemura

Location: California State University, Hayward

Date: November 14, 2018


During our interview with Tetsuo Tanemura, we were able to gain insight about his life as a Japanese American, the invisibility of Japanese farmworkers, and the struggles Japanese Americans went through in the US. Mr. Tanemura first reminisces about his time spent in an internment camp where survival was the ultimate goal and felt that he made more friends being surrounded by other Japanese & Japanese American families. A key point he remembers from the internment camp is the division & tension amongst Japanese Americans & Japanese families due to differences in opinions & cultures. Furthermore, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Americans started doubting their fellow Japanese Americans and forced the Japanese into internment camps. Due to this,  Mr. Tanemura’s family was forced to sell all of their property at a significantly cheaper price and relocated into the camps.

Mr. Tanemura also discusses about his family before WWII and how his grandparents were invited to come to the US because of the lack of labor workers. Mr. Tanemura describes the trouble his father went through owning land because of the California Alien Land Law, a law that prohibited immigrants from owning land. This parallels to the time Mr. Tanemura’s father spent applying for housing during his time spent as a farmer, the only realistic job available for Japanese Americans. Mr. Tanemura says that racism was definitely present when applying to housing, with the applications explicitly asking if the applicant was Asian.

During the war, Mr. Tanemura wished to be a great lettuce farmer and loved the fact that his parents were doing so well that it opened up luxuries such as a nice car. He also talked about how different life would’ve been if WWII never happened and if the Japanese never interned in the US. Overall, Mr. Tanemura was proud at the fact that, at the end of the day, he did his best work despite the cards that he was dealt.

Lastly, Mr. Tanemura discussed about the US government’s Civil Liberties Act of 1988, an act meant to give reparations to the Japanese Americans affected by the actions of the US governments during WWII. This issue made Mr. Tanemura realize that the reason why the US government had this act in the first place was because exclusion laws existed in the first place due. This all led Mr. Tanemura to believe that the root of all this was greed that eventually propagated racist views towards the Japanese. Despite this, all of the discrimination that Mr. Tanemura and his family went through didn’t stop him from becoming a proud American.


1. Internment Camps – Specifically relating to the internment of the Japanese Americans during World War II was the incarceration and relocation of all Japanese Americans in the U.S into concentration camps. Most lived on the west side and along the Pacific coast. This took place between 1942-1946

2. Executive Order 9066 – During February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order to create military zones to incarcerate Japanese Americans, Italian Americans, and German Americans. This was in response to the Pearl Harbor attacks by the Japanese, as well as the Ni’ihau incident.

3. Japanese American challenges – Japanese Americans adapting to their new reputation and image in the ‘American’ eye after WWII.

4. Alien land laws – These laws were created to prevent aliens from gaining citizenship, owning farmland, and leasing land for long periods of time. The Alien land laws were in effect until 1952, when the Supreme Court deemed them unconstitutional.

5. Tenant farms and farmers (Japanese immigrants)- One who resides on land owned by a landlord. Tenant farming is an agricultural production system in which landowners contribute their land and often a measure of operating capital.

6. Colonization of culture and food/Cultural appropriation- the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture.

7. Immigrant and nationality act of 1965 – Also known as the Hart-Celler Act, abolished an earlier quota system based on national origin and established a new immigration policy based on reuniting families and attracting skilled labor to the United States.

8. Civil Liberties Act of 1988 – A United States federal law enacted to grant reparations to Japanese Americans who had been confined by the US government during World War II.

9. Ni’ihau Incident- An event that occurred shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack. A Japanese pilot crash landed in the Hawaiian island of Ni’ihau and conspired with a Japanese American. The incident resulted in a number of wounded Hawaiian natives and the death of the pilot and the Japanese American. 

10. Immigration Act of 1924 – Also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, was a United States federal law that set a quota on the number of immigrants coming in from certain countries aiming to slow down the flow of immigrants coming in from Southern & Eastern Europe and increase the flow of immigrants coming in from Britain, Ireland, and Northern Europe.

11. Issei – First generation Japanese immigrants in America. These individuals played a huge role in agriculture during World War 2, but never got to enjoy the full benefits that other immigrant communities did.


1. Morehouse, Lisa. “Farming Behind Barbed Wire: Japanese-Americans Remember WWII Incarceration” National Public Radio, https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/02/19/515822019/ farming-behind- barbed-wire-japanese-americans-remember-wwii-incarceration. Accessed 25 October 2018.

Riichi Fuwa and Jim Tanimoto are two Japanese Americans who recall their time being each one of the approximately 120,000 people of Japanese descent to be incarcerated.  Both men were children of immigrant parents who already had faced laws that made it challenging to own land and to hold long-term leases on land. However they overcame these challenges. By 1940, both families grew about 40 percent of the vegetables in California at the time and they continued to grow. Both of their families coming from a background of farm owners and workers, were forced to leave behind their farms and crops to be forcibly relocated in isolated camps after Roosevelt’s Executive order 9066 in 1942. They became field workers for the U.S government during their time in internment to only make about a quarter of what farm workers made at the time.

2. Guilford, Gwynn. “The Dangerous Economics of Racial Resentment During World War II”Quartz, https://qz.com/1201502/japanese-internment-camps-during-world-war-ii-are-a-lesson-in-the-scary-economics-of-racial-resentment. Accessed 25 October 2018.

The Japanese endured a great wave of racism, oppression and social injustice due to many factors during this time but mainly because of World War II. During this time, many believed that anyone of Japanese descent was the enemy and factors of U.S citizenship and nationality were all thrown out. In 1940, about more than 40 percent of Japanese Americans were successful farmers despite their struggles with agricultural land laws that made it difficult for them to own or lease land. This article argues that because of this factor, the incarceration of anyone of Japanese heritage was further encouraged and initiated by the government in order remove competition and take back land.

3. Loza, Mireya. “The Japanese Agricultural Workers’ Program.” Pacific Historical Review. Vol.86 No. 4 (2017): 661-690. Print.

During the 1950s, there was a huge reliance on Mexican farm workers in California. The California growers’ associations wanted to have a more diverse labor pool and pushed the government to implement “The Japanese Agricultural Workers’ Program” (JAWP). This paper uses different responses toward the JAWP, including responses from activists, journalists, politicians, and communities to show the impact of the JAWP. The Japanese farm workers were pushed to become a model minority, an “improvement” over the large population of Mexican workers. It was an attempt to racialize the Japanese farm worker population. On top of this, there was no way for the workers to voice their opinions. They had little to protect them as farm workers. This worker program showed the length that growers would go to benefit themselves. Eventually, the JAWP was ended in 1965 after a large amount of disapproval from Congress. This work is helpful in the fact that it shows the opinions from multiple viewpoints. We are able to get an idea of how the JAWP affected each group that was involved.

4. Wright, Steven, “The Civil Liberties Act of 1988” Department of Justice,https://www.dartmouth.edu/~hist32/History/S06%20-%20Civil%20Liberties%20Act%20of%201988.htm. Accessed 25 October 2018. Web.

President Ronald Reagan signs Civil Liberties Act of 1988 on 10 August 1988.  This act was meant to provide a presidential apology & symbolic payment of $20,000 to Japanese Americans for discriminatory actions during WWII such as forcing 120,000 Japanese Americans of all ages being forced out of their homes by Executive Order 9066, a 19 February 1942 issue by Franklin D. Roosevelt that didn’t allow anyone with Japanese ancestry to be allowed on the West coast. As a result, Japanese Americans had to liquidate all assets, usually at a fraction of a price of real value with most Japanese Americans at the end of WWII having no homes, property, jobs, and little savings. In 1948, Harry Truman signs in a law allowing Japanese Americans to make claims for any loss during WWII, with the average compensation being an inadequate $340. In 1990, a bill was proposed by Daniel Inouye to ensure that all Japanese Americans would be adequately paid within 3 years with 80,000 being eligible instead of the 60,000 expected.  Through the Civil Liberties Act Amendments of 1992, more funds were allocated for Japanese Americans citing a victory for Japanese Americans.

5. Editors, History.com, “Coolidge signs Immigration Act of 1924” A&E Television Networks, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/coolidge-signs-stringent-immigration-law. 2009. Accessed 26 October 2018. Web.

On 26 May 1924, Calvin Coolidge signs the Immigration Act of 1924 to isolate the United States from the world after participating in World War I due to widespread fear of communist ideas spreading. Many Americans also saw the large influx of unskilled, uneducated immigrants in the early 1900s as unfair competition for jobs & land. Under the Immigration Act of 1924, immigrant remained open to those who’ve achieve a college education and/or specialized skills, but entry from Mexicans, Eastern Europe, Southern Europe, and Japanese was denied while granting Northern Europe easier access. The act set a quota to limit immigration to 2% of any nation’s residents already in the US as of 1890 to preserve the US’s largely Northern Europe demographic. In 1927, the quota was scrapped in favor of 150,000 total immigrants annually. This act angered Japan, with Japan declaring May 26 the national day of humiliation due to president Theodore Roosevelt’s “Gentlemen’s Agreement” with Japan in 1907. The act consequently created a lot of anti-American sentiment in Japan.

6. Gjelten, Tom. “How the Immigration Act of 1965 Inadvertently Changed America.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 2 Oct. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/immigration-act-1965/408409/. Accessed 26 October 2018.

The Immigration and Nationality Act has accepted immigrants of different nationalities for the first time. There are a lot of immigrants coming from different parts of the world such as seven out of eight immigrants were from Europe in 1960 and in 2010 nine out of eight immigrants are from around the world. The critics advertised about population increasing in the world and anticipated that the United States find itself overwhelmed by how many migrants are coming from poverty countries. The Immigration and Nationality Act are opening doors for immigrants from different backgrounds such as Asian, African or Hispanic.

7. Myrow, Rachel. “Hard Row to Hoe: Japanese Farming in the Santa Clara Valley”. https://www.kqed.org/news/10459596/hard-row-to-hoe-japanese-farming-in-the-santa-clara-valley.April 23, 2015. Web.

The article starts off with sharing the celebration of a festival for Japanese American Farmers in San Jose who have thrived in the community, despite the hardships they have faced in the last 125 year with the Alien Land laws, internment camps and overall prejudice treatment. The Alien Land Laws were put in place to keep Japanese-American Farmers from owning land and kept being changed to fill the loopholes that were worked around by the farmers. Another struggle was the internment camps that imprisoned the Japanese Americans and forced them to liquidate their land. Despite these major struggles, the community rose to the challenges which is why the celebration took place. The article generalizes the life of the Asian-American farmers through the memories of Jimi Yamaichi and his experience on his father’s land. The source KQED is a major news network based in the local bay area. This is different from the other sources because it is centered specifically in the California Community and promotes celebration through the eyes of a community leader and gives specific examples of what an individual went through with his family his struggle.

8. Varner, Natasha. “Sold, Damaged, Stolen, Gone: Japanese- American Property Loss During WWII” https://densho.org/sold-damaged-stolen-gone-japanese-american-property-loss-wwii/. April 4, 2017. Web

This article describes the losses and poor compensation of the Japanese-Americans when they were sent to the Internment Camps. Many of them were only given 7-10 days to sell their land and goods otherwise it would be seized by the government. Many individuals ended up losing restaurants that were custom built, had their agriculture tools stolen from those who were “leasing” and had their stores and homes destroyed & lost. This article provides specific numbers and information regarding how much in total (approximately) was lost in damages and the little amount that was given back as compensation. The article is written as a blog from a source with many of the managing staff being Japanese- Americans and have their own sources from individuals with family members that have endured the struggles described. This information provides useful because it gives more description on how quick belongings and businesses were lost and how they were horribly compensated. 

9. Ferguson, Edwin E. “The California Alien Land Law and the Fourteenth Amendment” https://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi article=3652&context=californialawreview. Volume 35, Issue 1. March 1947

        This article gives more historical context describing how the Alien Land Laws came into effect in California. It started from laws made for Chinese Immigrants and were redone for Japanese Americans. It is stated in the article how prejudice and unnecessary the laws were, but Californians stayed persistent in making the laws official in hopes of less immigration from Japanese individuals. The article goes into great detail of dates that specific laws were brought into the political court and were turned down or readjusted and has a large list of its own citations to review from the 1940’s and earlier. This information is different from the other articles because it isn’t taking the point of view from an innocent Japanese-American, but from an American party already recognizing the injustices from the Alien Land Laws.

10. Hallstead, William. “The Niihau Incident.” HistoryNet, 7 Dec. 2016 http://www.historynet.com/the-niihau-incident.htm. Accessed 10/25/2018

This article goes in depth into the Ni’ihau Incident, a event that is often overshadowed by the Pearl Harbor attacks. After the Pearl Harbor attack, one of the fighter pilots, Shigenori Nishikaichi, crash landed in the Hawaiian Island of Ni’ihau. One of the natives, Howard Kaleohano found the wreckage site and helped the pilot, but also taking away his sidearm and papers. The natives welcomed Nishikaichi with opened arms and asked the Harada’s, who were Japanese Americans, to help translate. The pilot demanded Kaleohano to return the firearm and papers but was denied. Although the news of the Pearl Harbor attacks had not yet reached Hawaii, the tension between America and Japan was widely known. To get back his firearm and important military papers, Nishikaichi conspired with Harada. In the end, multiple Hawaiian natives were injured, Nishikaichi was killed by a native Hawaiian, and Harada took his own life. The Ni’ihau Incident was a major factor in the Internment of Japanese Americans. The general public’s opinion of the Japanese was already at an all time low after the Pearl Harbor attacks, and the Ni’ihau Incident made it even worse. Americans began to fear that more Japanese Americans were loyal to Japan and many supported the internment camps. This article gives us the background information of what actually led up to the decision to sign Executive Order 9066.