Historian

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Daniel Martinez

 

As Chief Historian at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Daniel Martinez has heard the stories from the survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and shares those stories with Park visitors.  In this conversation with Leslie Wilcox, you’ll hear how his connection with that infamous event goes deeper than his role as an historian.

 

Daniel Martinez Audio

 

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Transcript

 

When we were on these trips back East, with my dad being in the space industry, we stopped at Gettysburg. And this park ranger came out with his Smokey the Bear hat. This park ranger gave a talk, and then he went in and he got in a Civil War uniform and came out with a musket, and fired it. And I said, That’s for me.

 

So, you truly intended to do that when you grew up?

 

I just said, That’s for me, but I didn’t know how I was gonna get there. But that whole idea of working in a national park like Gettysburg, it was just like, How do I do this?

 

Daniel Marinez has been captivated by military history since childhood, and he followed his passion. Today, he’s Chief Historian at the World War II Valor In the Pacific National Monument, which preserves and interprets the stories of the Pacific war, including the events at Pearl Harbor. Daniel Martinez, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Daniel Martinez has been the Chief Historian at Pearl Harbor since 1989, where he keeps history alive for the many visitors from around the world who come to see where World War II began for America. History has always been an important part of Daniel’s life, starting from his youth growing up in California. His German and Mexican grandparents shared stories of their lives, which started him on the path that would later lead him to become an historian.

 

Oh; without a doubt, my grandfather. My grandfather taught me how to fish, and I found out he was at Pearl Harbor, and he had this interest in the American West, and he was a miner. On my grandfather and grandmother’s side, in particular on my grandmother’s side, they grew up in Boise, Idaho, they were first immigrants to come in the late 1870s, became gold miners. And then later, one was a sheriff. And so, we had all of that. So, on both sides of the family. My father’s was more humble. My grandfather came from Mexico, from the area of Guadalajara, and emigrated here legally through the Southern Pacific Railroad. He was one of the workers. And that’s how my dad ended up being born in Lone Pine, California, one of nine children. And my love for railroad and that history, especially I’m a big Southern Pacific fan, came from that. And then, my dad was in the Navy, and my dad served in the Korean War. My Aunt Jo was the first one on my mother’s side to take me to a library when I was five years old, and picked up my first book, which was Custer’s Last Stand. There were always these influences on reading and going to places where events happened.

 

When you say, you know, history really imbued your family, you had a sense of that, did you say that to yourself? You know, history is important to me. Or was that not a known specialization or concept?

 

If my mom was alive, she’d probably have more of a description of it. Because when I was little, I had toy soldiers, and I would recreate battles. I would read books, I would be actively involved in watching films on history. I think it was just something that was instinctively there, and thank God my family endorsed it, and not only that, took me to a number of historic places that were like these deviations off the road. And so, I don’t know; I think my rudder was fixed, and I was headed that way.

 

You know, you’re cross-cultural; Mexican, German.

 

Yeah; and know, the difficult part was that I didn’t realize this, because even I grew up in a world that was not as judgmental. And here in Hawaii, even less. But it was called interracial marriage. And that’s what my parents’ marriage was, and they ran off and got married.

 

Because their family wouldn’t support the match?

 

Oh, no; on both sides. You know, my grandfather on the Mexican side was hoping that my dad was gonna marry a Mexican girl, and I know for a fact on my mother’s side, they wished the same. But love overcomes a lot, and they ran off and got married. And then, when I came along, all was forgiven, and the families were joined. And so, my grandfather, who was so opposed to this on my mom’s side, became so close to my dad that he was like a second father.

 

Did you ever have the sensation of having to pick one, you know, racial background over the other?

 

You know, I didn’t have a choice; the last name was Martinez. And I went to a Catholic high school and I went through a little bit of hazing of that. And I had a cousin named Paul Gomez, who was a scholar and a great guy, and he just said, Hey, just roll with it. Just roll with it; don’t be upset over it, just be proud of it. And I always have been. And when I came to Hawaii, one of the things that touched me a great deal was the acceptance of peoples here.

 

People always want to know what you are, even if they’re not prejudiced against you.

 

Right.

 

They want to know.

 

I tell them I’m sort of—

 

You’re hapa.

 

Hapa; you know, and then they get that. And so, I’m very proud of our German-English background, especially what my uh, grandparents on that side did.

 

When your grandfather moved to Hawaii, why? He was a miner.

 

Yeah; the thing was that there was a company, a big company, and everybody knew it at the time, called Morrison-Knudsen. And it was located in Boise, Idaho. And they were rounding up all of these miners and construction workers. They had been given contracts to build military bases throughout the Pacific; Wake Island, Midway, all over. My grandfather was in his thirties at the time, so he was relatively mature. And he had just remarried, and he saw this opportunity, so they wanted this work. They needed tunnelers, they needed people that knew how to work with dynamite; my grandfather.

What they were going to build was twenty of these that are basically twenty stories deep as well. And I forget the circumference, but it’s close to seventy-five yards in circumference. And these tanks were gonna be literally blasted out of the lava rock on Red Hill, and then they would use like an iron basket around it, and then gunnite that, and then use cement and build it. Now, they built these things, you know, kind of bottom up, and many men fell. And when you fall in there, even despite there’s water, it doesn’t come out well when you’re falling eight or nine stories. you know, over two hundred feet. And so, my grandfather worked on that, and then my mother came over in ’41, early ’41, went to school, living the dream as I say. That’s what I often say, living the dream here in Hawaii. And then, you know, went to school.

 

Wait a minute. Going back to those storage tanks. So, your father is working with people who are dying.

 

Yes; this whole thing that they were doing was secret. They tried to keep it as secret as possible. I don’t know how they did that, but they just didn’t want people talking about it.

 

But there was dynamite going off in Red Hill.

 

Yeah; but it was like a rumble, ‘cause it’s underneath the ground. And they were taking all the tailings, and they were not pulling them out of there; they were spilling them into the valley there. And you can still see some of those tailings where cement factory is now today.

 

So, he would go back, and he couldn’t even tell your grandmother.

 

He’d just say they were doing tunneling.

 

Was he there throughout the entire twenty tanks?

 

Yes, he was. Yeah.

 

How long did that take?

 

It took almost ‘til 1944. And you see, my family, my mom and her sisters, a baby and my Aunt Janelle [PHONETIC], who went to Roosevelt High School, they were sent back on, I think, the Mariposa, and went back to San Francisco. From there, they went back to Boise and waited, and then my grandfather returned and he needed to find work, and he knew that the war effort needed talc, and he knew where talc was. And so, he went there, and he established his family there, and opened a talc mine in the White Mountains. And my mom went to Lone Pine High School, and met one Rudy Martinez.

 

For the next six years after he graduated from college, Daniel Martinez taught high school in the winter, and during the summer he worked for the National Parks Service as a seasonal ranger at the Little Big Horn Battlefield. The Parks Service offered him a fulltime position at the USS Arizona Memorial, which he readily accepted. Although his grandparents had told him stories about living in Hawaii during the war, he was unprepared for what awaited him.

 

Although I lived in California, my friends used to go to Hawaii in the summers, I never did. And I came here for the first time, you know, in 1985 with fourteen boxes and my girlfriend. And we were there at the airport, and we didn’t know what we were in for. But it was quite an experience adjusting to Hawaii. Because there wasn’t a lot of stores that we have now, and it was expensive, and I was very low grade. So, we worked some little second jobs, and things like that, to make it, make my way through.

 

Where did you live when you first arrived?

 

I lived in Aiea. And I lived right above the high school, and I didn’t have a car then, so I walked to work, and then later got established, and life changed and evolved. And I was adopted, ‘cause my girlfriend couldn’t hack it; she went home. I came home, and I had like a Dear John letter. And the family that I stayed with, I lived on the lower end of of a home. So, it was like a little ohana. And they were just really, you know, shocked that I had a Dear John, and they were so consoling. But I couldn’t afford it anymore, so Clinton Kane, who was a park ranger at the memorial, said, Come with me. And he took care of me, and I ended up living in Waimanalo with another Japanese American fellow who worked for Hawaiian Tel. And I learned to be Hawaiian. I ate food that I thought I could never eat, did things that I never thought I could do. I learned how to body board at Makapuu. And that was … thrilling. [CHUCKLE]

 

And the food teaches you a lot about history of the islands, too.

 

It does. I never quite caught onto opihi, but I gave it a good attempt. But I started to fall in love with some of the Hawaiian foods. And if I can digress, a simple story of this kind of generosity and culture here that was unknown to me was that, where we lived, we lived close to the mountain in Waimanalo. So, when it rained, the roof was metal, and it was just a racket. But you get used to it. And then, when we would go fishing or anything, the fish that we got, we would drop off to some of the neighbors who had their farms there. And the next day, there would be vegetables or fruits left there. And it just the kind of warmth and generosity that … didn’t see that in Los Angeles.

 

When you said your girlfriend couldn’t hack it, did you consider saying, Okay, this is really complex for me and I don’t think I’m gonna do it?

 

No; ‘cause I had fallen in love with the story of the USS Arizona Memorial, and the fact that both sides of my family were at Pearl Harbor. And I had fallen in love with the ethics of the National Parks Service. There was just no turning back for me. And I was told that if I wanted to be a permanent ranger, because I had come here for that reason, that I needed to go to the law enforcement academy. And I did so; I left here, I went to Santa Rosa, California and went to the sheriff’s academy there and became a law enforcement ranger for the National Parks Service. And on the day of graduation, I got a call from the chief ranger, and he hired me. And that was the beginning of that career, and it was one of those magical moments that I had arrived.

 

You know, most times, when people do go into history, it’s with the idea of teaching it. Getting advanced degrees so they can teach it at the college or higher ed level.

 

Right.

 

But that was not your course, and you remained employed in it continuously.

 

Yeah. You know, the bottom line is that we that engage in this, whether we work in a museum or work for the National Parks or State Parks, we’re public historians that have a history field, and we deal with the public. And that in itself defines that we are educators almost at every moment. Because when people come to the national parks, or like to our site, they’re there to experience it, and we’re there to inform and illustrate why the site is important, and how it fit into the national past.

 

And at a place like Pearl Harbor, you get more material that you can vet from listening to people.

 

Right. And we have a story beyond the tragic events of December 7th. Now, we’re a World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. It includes all of the Pacific war.

 

You know, one of the things I used to love about going to Pearl Harbor, even when I was a young adult, was getting to talk to people, volunteers, who had actually been at Pearl Harbor when the bombing occurred.

 

Yeah.

 

Men who had experienced it. Are there any volunteers now who do that? They must be in their nineties.

 

Yeah, there are. There’s one who was a young man. I believe his name is Robert Lee. He lived right in in at Halawa Landing. His home was on the edge of Pearl Harbor, right there in that kind of Aiea Bay right there, and he watched the attack from his second story, on Battleship Row.

 

Wow.

 

But we’re talking about individuals in their nineties, and that is our fading resource.

 

Because before, the survivors would walk you around briskly.

 

I know; don’t you miss those days?

 

And tell you this, and tell you that. But they must have more limited circumference these days.

 

Well, I was a volunteer and the parks coordinator in 1987, 88. And I had over twenty-five Pearl Harbor survivors that volunteered through the week. And it’s just amazing that we have seen since that time, you know, the passing of a generation. There’s also the other group that’s right here, the civilian eyewitnesses, and those that worked at Pearl Harbor or the airfields, or at home. The biggest connection we made with the civilian community here, and I’m very proud of it because it was a movement to make sure all of the casualties recorded, were the civilian casualties. And at the time, to get those records was very difficult, because they were held by the Health Department here. Mayor Fasi, God bless him, he paved the way for us to get their records. They didn’t want to release them to us. We got all the civilian records, death records.

 

Of the civilians who were killed, I think it came out later that much of that was from friendly fire.

 

Right.

 

Honolulu was defending itself.

 

We found out two things, that it was actually forty-eight civilians. Later, we’d find one more, forty-nine civilians were killed in the attack. Most of them, almost eighty-five, eighty-six percent killed by friendly fire, and the definition of friendly fire, which is a strange term for it, was that as we were firing up at the planes, the shells were either not being fused properly, or faulty, and they were landing all over Honolulu, Waikiki area. And when that happened, many of the people believed they were being bombed. Remember, the planes were still flying over. That’s what my mother remembers; the houses being bombed and it was friendly fire coming down.

 

You know, there are so many myths about Pearl Harbor, including some I grew up with. Some of them were dispelled after I attended school in Hawaii. And I know of them was, you know, the Japanese planes didn’t come through Kolekole Pass to get to Pearl Harbor.

 

I know.

 

I thought that for years, and I’d drive by those mountains and think, Oh, that’s right where the planes came in.

 

Yeah.

 

No.

 

That myth had some truth to it. And that’s one of the things I found out in doing some of the research about, was eyewitnesses watching the attack, in particular on Wheeler and Schofield, in that area, saw the planes. But the planes were turning at the base of the mountains, not flying through it. And the Japanese were always kind of, when I interviewed them, Why do they think we would do that? Because the main strike force flew down from Kaena Point, all the way, and turned over Makakilo, and then broke up in their attacks at Hickam and Pearl Harbor, and Ewa. One group came down the center of the island over Haleiwa, and moved up and attacked Wheeler Field, but they circled around. And so, film kind of endorsed that; the book and film From Here to Eternity somewhat endorsed that myth. Then tour guides caught onto it, and then it became part of the story, and they took people out there to Kolekole Pass. Now, the pass itself is historic, but the film Tora! Tora! Tora!, you see them flying right through the pass. So, Hollywood in many, many ways instills and certifies, and embosses some of our myths.

 

So, something that happened all those decades ago is still a moving target in terms of learning about it and memorializing it.

 

I’ll tell you, Leslie; the more you know, the less you know. And that’s been my case. You know, everybody says, Oh, you’re one of the experts on Pearl Harbor. And you know, I think what I could say safely is, I know where to find it, but it’s just an evolution still occurring. So, long after I leave my position, there’ll be someone that will find more history and more angles of that. And that’s been my case. Every time I go to work, there’s going to be something that’s new.

 

Teaching visitors about history is an important part of Daniel Martinez’s job. But there are other aspects of his work that go beyond uncovering new facts and correcting misconceptions. There is the ongoing story of the consequences and the lessons of that even today continue to inform us and affect our lives.

 

One of the things that I’ve been blessed with is, I’m the interment officer for what takes place on the Arizona. To see how the Navy, or in the case if it’s a Marine, how they honor and work with us on that ceremony, and when the families come there, and I take the urn down, and the family members are with me, and then I turn that urn over to the family member that’s appointed by the rest to do that, and then that person gives it to the diver … that is a moment.

 

You’ve gotten to meet so many of the survivors of Pearl Harbor attack. And you know, many have come over the years, some have volunteered here, some have moved here. And you’ve conducted oral history interviews with a lot of them. So, I just wonder; for those who went through those horrific times, I mean, they saw their fellow soldiers and other professionals, they saw such terrible carnage. What were their lives like after surviving this?

 

After the war, no matter what horrific circumstance they went through, whether they witnessed people being killed, or wounded themselves, or nearly killed themselves, they wanted to move on with their lives. Think about it; many of them were young. I did my first oral history with my grandfather, and he agreed to do it, but he wasn’t wild about it. And I couldn’t understand it. So, I started the interview and I had a little recording machine, you know, and microphone. And I get into the whole Pearl Harbor stuff, and he gets up in the interview and walks away. And he said, That’s it, that’s it; that’s all. And my grandmother, you can hear in the background saying, No, no, go back. You know. He got up, I think, three times and walked away. It wasn’t ‘til I started doing oral history interviews on my own in the late 80s that I understood what I was dealing with. He had never told anybody about it. And he had seen a young Hawaiian boy that worked on his crew wounded. He had to dive for cover, because he was in the area of Merry Point Landing. That was ground zero for the torpedo attack; they flew right up that channel. And so, he was seeing things and remembering things that he had not talked about. And as a result, he was reliving it.

 

I see.

 

And I didn’t know that. And so, I couldn’t understand at that time, and it took several years for me to get from the university here that I was going into an area of his remembrance that was extremely difficult, and he was reliving it. And he remembered the Arizona exploding, but he didn’t know it was the Arizona; he just saw a ship explode and the concussion rocked them there. And he remembered that he stayed there as a Navy federal worker, pulling bodies out of Aiea Bay and placing them on the landing in Aiea for identification, and never got over how young the faces were. And he remembered going through a darkened and panicked Downtown Honolulu, and seeing people and behavior that he never had seen before. People were frightened, and they were scared, and they were running lights, and they were driving up to the sidewalks. And he just said it was crazy. And nobody remembers or really talks about that, but it indeed happened. And so, when he got home late at night, we were now under martial law and it was blackout. And they huddled in their home in Kaimuki, like so many others did, not knowing what the next day would bring, sensing there would be Japanese soldiers in their front yard. And that was just the beginning of the martial law experience in Hawaii that, fortunately for my family, they were lucky enough to leave, although sadly, and be in a place where there was a lot more freedom. So, for the people of Hawaii, I mean, they’re often not really congratulated for their own sustainability and courage and effort in the war effort, just sustaining themselves under martial law. And so, the one thing that my grandfather witnessed that he couldn’t believe also was, and I tell the story now to a lot of visitors, is that after the attack, suddenly the workers that were of Japanese ancestry were being attacked and called names by local people that worked on the project. Which just seems crazy. But it was crazy. And so, it got to such a point there were fights, and the inability for crews to work together, and ethnic groups from Hawaii now even that had been their friends were no longer their friends. So, the crews were segregated; there was a Japanese American crew. This went on for several months, and then as feeling subsided—

 

Yeah; fear is a terrible thing. It drives bad behavior.

 

We see it. Yeah; and it drove some bad behavior. But it was one of those untold stories that he mentions on his interview, and in doing so, gave me glimpse of the kind of fear, as you say, sustained itself in the weeks and months after Pearl Harbor.

 

We learn the human experience of history and war through the testimonies of witnesses and survivors. Daniel Maritnez’s passion for gathering and perpetuating these stories keeps them alive, so we can heal from the emotional wounds of the past and understand history. Mahalo to Daniel Martinez of Kapolei for teaching us through stories. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I remember we were making a film about Pearl Harbor on September 11, 2001. We were in Washington, D.C., not more than fifteen miles away from the Pentagon. And these suits come in, and he leans over and said, We just got Pearl Harbored in New York. And that’s going on while we’re having …

 

While you are remembering Pearl Harbor.

 

While we’re remembering Pearl Harbor. We were ushered out; we could see the smoke coming up from the Pentagon.

 

Did you stay in the building?

 

They kept us there, and they moved us into the cafeteria lobby area, and we watched the second plane go in. It was profound, because we were scheduled to fly that day on Flight 77, the plane that went into the Pentagon. But the reservation was changed. It’s never been lost on me that I had a second chance in life, and … so, September 11th is, I guess, my touch with a Pearl Harbor-like event.

 

[END]

 

 

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Warren Nishimoto

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Warren Nishimoto

 

Original air date: Tues., Jun. 26, 2012

 

Director of the UH Manoa Center for Oral History

 

Leslie Wilcox talks with Warren Nishimoto, director of the UH Manoa Center for Oral History. As an oral historian, Warren has recorded other peoples’ stories for over three decades. Now he shares his own stories about the indirect path to becoming an oral historian, including working at his family’s store, the historic Iida’s. He also explains how he documents the lives of everyday people to preserve Hawaii’s history.

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

This is the first time I’m actually saying a lot of this stuff. And when you asked me to come on this show, my first reaction was, Why do you want to talk to me for?

 

And that’s what the people you asked for their oral histories say to you; right?

 

Exactly; that’s right. Now I know how they feel. Sometimes in the middle of a taping, they’d say, Do you really want to know all this stuff? [CHUCKLE]

 

And do you find it interesting?

 

Of course; definitely. Everyone has a story to tell.

 

On this edition of Long Story Short, Warren Nishimoto has been recording other people’s stories for more than thirty years, but he never told his own story until now.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, I turn the tables on one of Hawaii’s most prolific interviewers. He’s the director of Hawaii’s Center for Oral History, established by the State Legislature in 1976, and based at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Warren Nishimoto may not be a household name, but you’re likely to recognize parts of his own family story, from World War II Hawaii to a beloved island retail institution, to the tensions between generations and cultures. Nishimoto has spent his professional life preserving the stories of ordinary people, but it’s taken most of his career to recognize that his own history may be just as interesting as that of the folks he interviews.

 

My father was Tsuyoshi Nishimoto, who was from a small plantation town called Honohina. His father was a Buddhist minister.

 

Where was Honohina?

 

Honohina is near Ninole, Hakalau, on the Hamakua Coast. So eventually, they moved to Hilo, and my father went to Hilo High School, graduated in 1928. And he wanted to go to University of Hawaii. Just when he was about to go, his father passed away suddenly in 1928, so he couldn’t go, ‘cause the family didn’t have the money to send him. He came to Honolulu anyway, and he always said he wanted to find his fame and fortune and come to Honolulu. So he came here, and he worked various jobs here.

 

And now, your mother was related to who?

 

The Iida family. So my mother’s maiden name is Iida. Her grandfather, Matsukichi, started the Iida Store. Those of you who remember Iida Store. It started out in 1900 in Chinatown, just off Maunakea Street, I think, and then, it was destroyed in the Great Chinatown Fire of 1900. So, eventually in the 20s, they moved to the corner of Beretania and Nuuanu Avenue, and they started the store called S.M. Iida.

 

And so, the store sold lacquer ware, and incense, and …

 

Anything from Japan, they sold. We had a heavy Japanese population here coming to work on the plantations, so it wasn’t too far from the train station in Iwilei area. So people would come from the plantations, get on the train, come over, get off at this train station, walk over to the Iida’s and buy lacquer ware, rice bowls, chopsticks, Buddhist altars, incense, scrolls.

 

So your father ended up working there as well.

 

Right. Well, my father became the manager. After marrying my mother in 1938, the war started in 1941. My grandfather, who was a leader in the Japanese community, was interned, incarcerated on the mainland. Places like Missoula, Montana, Santa Fe, New Mexico. So he was there for the duration of the war. My mother’s mother, Koichi Iida’s wife, was ill with cancer. And so, my grandfather tried to get back here. So we have some records of all the letters that he wrote. People wrote letters on his behalf so that he could be allowed to come back here. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make it back. She died. So my mother, being the oldest daughter of seven children, became the matriarch of the family.

 

That’s a game changer for the family, isn’t it? Did your father marry your mother, knowing she was committed to raising all these kids?

 

I think so. I think it was more like, in the old days, sort of an arranged kind of marriage. Because I think my grandfather sort of knew that something was going to happen during the war. Because he was, again, one of the pillars of the Japanese community. He knew, I think, if hostilities broke out between America and Japan.

 

And he wanted to see her married.

 

Right. That, plus, he didn’t want to lose the business. Because an alien, if you were an alien and you had a business, it would have been taken over by the federal government. So he passed on the business to my father.

 

So she ended up raising her siblings, younger siblings, and her children as well.

 

Right.

 

Were you in the house at the same time, or was it all different times?

 

Well, we were pretty much in the house at the same time. Yeah.

 

How many siblings do you have?

 

I have one older brother, one older sister.

 

So what was life like in Pauoa?

 

It was more life in that house, ‘cause I had a lot of aunties and uncles in the house. It was right on the corner of Pauoa Road and Nuuanu Avenue, right across the street from Kawananakoa Middle School today. So we had fairly large property, so there was a lot of space to run around. And then, Nuuanu Stream was right in the back, so we spent a lot of time down in the stream, catching crayfish, little mosquito fish with nets.

 

I think your family was a privileged family. You owned a large property, you had this successful business. So, where do you go to school?

 

I went to University Lab School.

 

Which is a public school, but it’s like a private school.

 

Right. It’s a laboratory school. It was part of the College of Education at the University of Hawaii. It was to train student teachers, so all of our teachers were young and energetic. And the other function was to test out curriculum. So it was important that that school sort of replicated the public school population.

 

Your dad didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, and he assumed tremendous family responsibilities. Did that play a role in your wanting so much to go to college and have advanced education?

 

I guess so, but, again, we’re from that era where it was pretty much a given that you’re gonna go to school beyond high school. And University Lab was a college prep kind of a curriculum, so even more so.

 

So it was just what you were gonna do, that’s what you do. But of course, it wasn’t an expectation that you get a PhD, which you did.

 

No; right, right. But it was more like a continuation. Okay; to me, college was the thirteenth grade. [CHUCKLE] That’s all it was. I had no aspirations to get a PhD or anything like that. It was just something that I needed to do, after twelfth grade.

 

What about the family business? You weren’t geared to go into the family business?

 

I was encouraged to go, and I was working there part-time throughout, ever since I was old enough to go in there. I don’t know if you remember it.

 

I remember. I remember the buckets, I mean, just fun stuff.

 

It was a three-story building. It was the old section of Honolulu. Lot of tenement homes around there, Beretania Follies was down the street. So it was just this old building, cement floor. You had to wear slippers, ‘cause if you went barefoot, your feet would be black. And just exploring all of these things, and all the excelsior from the goods. The goods that came from Japan was all over the store. Great place to explore.

 

What about outside the store; did you go exploring Downtown?

 

Of course. Yeah; that was my playground, actually. When you asked me earlier what was it like in Pauoa, I can’t really tell you much about Pauoa except going to Kawananakoa School to play baseball with the neighborhood kids once in a while. But really, my playground was that store, which was about a mile away from where we lived.

 

But you didn’t come out of high school saying, Oh, I’m gonna go get business training and then come back and take Iida to new levels?

 

No.

 

No interest?

 

I had no interest.

 

And was it a source of frustration on the part of your family that, Oh, Warren doesn’t want to do that?

 

Well, number one, I wasn’t the oldest son. So that gave me a break.

 

Was the oldest son interested?

 

No.

 

Uh-oh.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Your poor father. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah. My father tried, and he was pretty traditional, and he liked to do it the old way.

 

Why do you think none of the kids in your family was interested?

 

I think as far as I’m concerned I think it was around it so much, and I could see how hard my father worked. And it was so tradition-bound, and I was trying to be not Japanese, I was trying to be American. And so, it was like I was living two lives. I had the life at home, where people were speaking Japanese and talking about this aspect of culture, or something that’s happening at the store and, so forth. And then, I would go to school and be perfectly happy, be American, play sports. And so, I saw the difference. And so, I guess there came a time when I had to choose one or the other. And if I chose doing the store, I would have had to go in that direction. And if I chose not doing the store, and doing something else, like pursuing a career that I earn, by going to school, that would be the other path. So eventually, I chose that path.

 

Did you try to say, Oh, I could really get into this part of it? No?

 

Yeah, so I guess when I went to UH, after I graduated from high school in 1967 … I think I did say I was gonna major in business. And then, I looked at the courses that I had to take, and I see pre-calculus. I said, Forget it.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I’m not the math guy. [CHUCKLE]

 

After two years at UH, Warren Nishimoto wanted to sample life outside Hawaii, so he went to the University of Illinois and wound up majoring in history. The course of study was mostly what he called book history, memorizing names and dates, and learning about famous people.

 

At that time, I selected history because that’s the one field that I had the most credits in. And now, remember, this is the late 60s, now, this is Vietnam. And so, we needed to stay in school if we wanted to not get drafted.

 

What about that whole time of rebellion and revolt, and dissatisfaction with the way things were?

 

That was right at that time.

 

And did that affect you? How did that affect you?

 

Definitely.

 

Were you wearing your headband and your beads?

 

Yeah, yeah; my hair was about this long. I was part of that, I was part of the Asian American Student Alliance. Demonstrations, protests, we sat in at the [INDISTINCT] Union which was a union all because they were bringing in ROTC recruiters. So we sort of sat there, and then the cops would come with the bullhorn and say, If you don’t get up, if you don’t leave in five minutes, you’re going to get arrested.

 

Did you think the war in Vietnam was inherently wrong?

 

Yes. I did.

 

Warren Nishimoto graduated from the University of Illinois in 1972. Then he returned home to Honolulu, and worked at various jobs that did not require a college degree, like driving a truck for Duty Free Shoppers and unloading Matson containers for the Honolulu Sake Brewery.

 

Were you trying to earn tuition money for your—

 

Yeah.

 

—next venture?

 

To eventually go to University of Washington. But not in history, though. I wanted to go to Washington to get a degree in communications, so that I could be a sports announcer. How do you like that? So I went to University of Washington and enrolled in the School of Communications, master’s program. Well, I didn’t get a master’s to be a sports broadcaster.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I don’t know. See, I just didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t like it. It was much too theoretical for me, and I didn’t need all of this theory. I just wanted to learn how to talk good.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

So I dropped out of that, and I ended up going back into history. So I ended up in Asian history.

 

You were a good student, I bet.

 

No. I wasn’t a good student. I was a average student.

 

But you liked going to school.

 

Yeah. I guess I was competent. I wasn’t a good test taker, I was an okay writer. But I think it was the idealism of the 60s that sort of fueled me into continuing in the humanities, rather than going into business or something else.

 

So, then you get your master’s degree, and then what?

 

So I came back to Hawaii in 1977. And guess where I worked? Iida’s. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I started working at Iida’s, and I was doing a lot more than just doing what I was doing when I was a kid. I wasn’t in the back anymore. I was out there, and you know, I liked dealing with customers, I liked to tell them about the background of a certain item, vase. I started to learn a lot about that. That was interesting. So from ’77 throughout the 80s, even when I started at the Center for Oral History, I was working at the store at night. That was something to do, but yet, at the same time, I knew it wasn’t something I was gonna do for the rest of my life.

 

But now, you say you did get a job at the Center for Oral History. How did that happen?

 

That happened in 1979. There was an ad for a researcher/interviewer for the Center for Oral History. It was called the Ethnic Studies Oral History Project back then. It’s part of the Ethnic Studies Program at UH Manoa. When you’re a history major, and you see a job with the word history in it, you jump at it. Okay; it just leaped out at me, and it says, Ethnic Studies Oral History Project. I ignored the oral part.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I’ll go apply. And so, when they explained to me what it was, it was conducting life history interviews with ordinary people about their life experiences. And you put those histories together—that’s what they were doing, putting it together, and that would be another source for future researchers to go to, to understand Hawaii’s history. So in other words, instead of reading a book by a historian about pineapple cannery work, you talk to the pineapple cannery worker. Right? What a revelation to me. I mean like, wow, that’s history. And so, this divide that I had between classroom history and my own history, started to come closer and closer together. Because now, I’m talking to people like my parents, like my father, about pineapple cannery work, pineapple field work, sugar plantation work, fishing, farming, longshoring, homemaking … all that kinda stuff. And so, that’s what the Ethnic Studies Program was. Their slogan was, Our History, Our Way. And when you think about that slogan, it’s very true. It’s not history written by an outside historian who comes to Hawaii and writes the history of Hawaii. It’s talking story with the people who actually lived history. And I thought that was the greatest thing.

 

And you’d only been into book history before this.

 

That’s right.

 

Right?

 

That’s right. When I came to apply for the job, it was a fulltime researcher job. And I’m sitting there waiting to be interviewed, and then a woman walks in and sits down next to me, and I introduce myself, she introduces herself. And she says, Oh, I’m applying for this job. And I said, Oh, yeah? So am I. Okay; so, well, nice to meet you, and so forth, good luck. So we both interviewed, and it turned out that the director, Chad Taniguchi, liked both of us. Well, she’s my wife now. [CHUCKLE] He couldn’t decide, so he split the job in half, and he gave me half the job, and gave her the other half.

 

And it became a part-time gig now, right?

 

Right; part-time gig, and so we both constituted one fulltime person. So that’s how we got together.

 

So that became your life’s work. You’re still there after all these years, and obviously, she’s been your wife of all these years.

 

Right.

 

And you finally got a fulltime position, and so did she; right?

 

Yes. Right. Right; right, right, right. Yeah.

 

But you’re both still there.

 

We’re both still there.

 

So, who becomes the boss?

 

Well, depends on how you define boss. But as far as the hierarchy is concerned in terms of the UH and so forth and so on, I’m the director, and she is the research associate.

 

How did that get settled?

 

It hasn’t. [CHUCKLE] No, it’s okay. Sometimes some people say, How can you work with your spouse? Yeah? A I just say, Well, you just go with it, and hopefully you agree on things without having it being said, and you move in the same direction. That’s essentially what it is.

 

And that’s what happened?

 

Yeah.

 

What’s the most amazing oral history you’ve ever taken?

 

I can’t really name one. I can talk about my very first. This was back in the 70s when I first got hired, and my assignment was to go to Wahiawa and find a fieldworker, pineapple fieldworker. So, I contacted a woman, her name was Motoe Nihei. I still remember her name. And I went to her home in Whitmore Village. And I was nervous. She’s sitting there, and she’s never been interviewed before. In fact, she told me, Why do you want to interview me for? I just worked out in the fields for fifty years. Why don’t you go interview Spark Matsunaga or Dan Inouye? That’s the real history, right? I said, No, no, we want to talk to people like you, who worked out in the fields. So, okay. So she’s sitting there, and I could see she was sort of kinda nervous. But here I am, kinda shaking as I’m pressing the button. And she says, Let me help you.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And she’s, I think it’s this red button over here. So she goes, tchk. Okay; you can start.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I’m the one that’s supposed to be the cool composed person. But she taught me a lot that day.

 

That would be just the first of countless interviews Warren Nishimoto has conducted over the course of his career. His colleague and wife, Michi Kodama Nishimoto, also goes out and gathers these precious accounts.

 

Tell us how your family developed. You got married a couple years after you worked together at the Center?

 

Yeah; we started in 1979, and we got married in 1984.

 

Oh, what was the delay?

 

Well, we needed to know each other. [CHUCKLE]

 

But you were seeing each other all the time. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s true. When we say that we celebrated our twenty-something anniversary not too long ago. And we would tell people, Well, it’s actually our fiftieth, because we spend, twenty-four hours a day with each other, as opposed to most couples that spend maybe half that. Right?

 

Do you have any advice for people who, twenty-four hours with your spouse, and a solid marriage. How do you do that?

 

Hm. [CHUCKLE] Maybe we gotta bring her along.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I guess, talk. Find common interests, and keep those common interests. Keep making them relevant to your life. And when our two boys came, we kept that going. We coached them in sports.

 

Both of you?

 

Well, yes and no. I was more the coach, she was more like the team mom kind of person, but we were—

 

But you did it together.

 

—always active. Yeah. We’ve tried to be a part of our sons’ lives as much as possible. We didn’t want to let work get in the way. We did our work, but we spent a lot of time as a family.

 

Did you talk together about what you wanted your family life to be like? Did you have a certain vision of it? Which was perhaps very different from your own family.
That’s right. Yeah. And that sort of drove me too, because my father was always pretty busy, my mother as well. So I didn’t consciously think it, but, it was on my mind that I wanted to make sure that I enjoyed raising children, and I’d be a part of their lives, their upbringing.

 

Hands-on dad?

 

Hands-on dad. Not a helicopter dad, but a hands-on dad. Yeah.

 

Neither of your sons went into business either.

 

No.

 

Did you have a hand in that?

 

No; I never told them what to do.

 

But they’re attracted to humanities as well.

 

Yeah. Ben was a politics major at Occidental College, and Scott was an English major at UH Manoa. Both totally useless majors, just like their dad’s.

 

[CHUCKLE] And they’re both interested in nonprofit work.

 

I guess so. I guess so. They’re both socially conscious, socially aware. They have concerns about … maybe sometimes the direction that Hawaii is going. They have one eye toward the underdog as much as possible. So their world views and their ways of thinking reflects that concern.

 

You went through Lab School, K through 12. I believe your sons did too.

 

Right; both of them.

 

And of course, your career and your wife’s career have been at the UH Manoa. I’m surprised you don’t live near the campus.

 

[CHUCKLE] Isn’t that weird?

 

You’ve stuck to this area of Manoa for a long time.

 

Yeah. We can’t afford it. Yeah, it’s funny, because all these years, we were getting in the car and commuting, fighting traffic, dropping them off at the Lab School, and then we’d go to work. And then at the end of the day, same thing. The opposite. To someone who doesn’t do that, it must sound pretty weird, huh? [CHUCKLE]

 

You’ve lived in Aiea for a long time. What’s your favorite thing about your neighborhood?

 

I like the fact that it’s people like us. It’s people in the same socioeconomic situation, people that we could relate to. Because when we go out into the community, it’s because we’re walking our dogs, and most of the people we see out there are people walking their dogs. So it’s that security that you have something in common with someone else, with your neighbor or someone who lives down the street, and you can talk about it. And you can say, Well, how’s your dog doing? Well, my dog just came back from the vet’s, bla-bla-bla. It’s a comforting feeling, and I think everyone has that.

 

So you’ve actually stayed with what you pick early. Aiea long time, your career long time.

 

Yeah. I’m a pretty stable guy, I guess. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] And then you laugh. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah. Well, yeah, I guess I’m, mm, stable guy, and I sought that for my family. You know, I think stability is a good thing.

 

What do you see in your future?

 

I’m gonna be retiring sooner, rather than later. I think it’s a young person’s job. In other words, when I started, I was in my thirties, and interviewing someone in their eighties about daily life, for example, was just a total education for me. Once my interviewees start to get to be my age, it’s time to turn it over to the next generation.

 

Even after he retires from the Center for Oral History, Warren Nishimoto would like to continue teaching, and grooming the next generation of oral historians. The many hundreds of interviews he’s conducted paint a rich and vivid picture of life in these islands from an era that’s already virtually unrecognizable to new generations. Together, these recorded interviews create a legacy that will inform Hawaii far into our future. The stories are shared with the public in the form of books, articles, exhibits, lectures, and even plays. And Warren Nishimoto has come to see his own ordinary family story as part of the island’s extraordinary history. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

I love reading your transcripts, because as the transcripts unfold, I find you asking exactly what I would want to know. And it’s just a gentle nudge. It’s not leading in any way. It’s just to kind of open it up a little bit, or remind that you know, we want to find out more about this. But it’s very unobtrusive. Is that what you’re aiming for?

 

Exactly. You’re actually a facilitator and a listener. That’s what makes a good interviewer. I’m not saying I’m the best interviewer, but I’ve learned over the years that the best interviewers are the best listeners.

 

 

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