Because this session was videotaped,
material from other sessions may be repeated here.
NOTE: This session was also videotaped, but in the first ten minutes there were technical problems with both the videotape and the audio tape recorder. This transcript reflects two false starts and includes a portion of the interview not recorded on videotape.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Moorhus: Okay, we'd like to start this morning with the University of Washington. You arrived in Seattle in 1967.
Tanabe: Yes, and you're dating me, but that's all right. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: Well, I was already through school in 1967, so—
Tanabe: You don't look the part. We were both ten [years old] when we started college!
Moorhus: That's right. Well, why don't you discuss the University of Washington. You start and I'll ask questions to move us from topic to topic.
Tanabe: Okay. Well, the University of Washington in 1967 was just a wonderful, stimulating place, with wonderful teachers, students who were extremely curious and also involved. Remember that we're talking about the sixties, and this was the age of the—I guess there were many student radicals, anti-war protests, and there was a great deal of discussion on campus about whether U.S. foreign policy was the right thing, and a lot of questioning about the establishment. Keep in mind that I have just come from a very military background, from a military base in which we were constantly supporting the military effort; it was just a way of life. We never questioned. It was duty, it was responsibility, it was for country.
Okay, what happened? [Tape interruption.]
Moorhus: Okay, we're going to re-start [the video]. Tell me about the University of Washington beginning in 1967.
Tanabe: Okay. The University of Washington was a great stimulating place. It had excellent teachers. The students were very, very involved in the community, involved in the issues of the day, and just to set the framework—because many people don't remember what the sixties were like—it was a time of strong feelings against the Vietnam War. The war was at its height. There were many, many protests, rallies, statements against government involvement. This was a real shock to me as a freshman coming into the university system, because I had just come from a very strict military base on Okinawa. It was the staging area for all of the bombing runs to Vietnam. And I came from an atmosphere where, as military dependents, we never questioned. It was all duty, honor, dedication to country, and, therefore, to the war effort.
And so it was kind of different for me to be in an environment where questioning was okay. As a matter of fact, it was not just questioning but actually opposing, and so it was a shock for me. Not necessarily one that turned me off, but caused me to think, "Well, gee. I never thought of it this way. Perhaps there's merit in thinking more along those lines."
And so, I guess, in many ways I was able to start widening my perspective, which I think is always what you mean to do when you leave high school. At the end of high school—you know, I graduated near the top of my class, and I felt like I knew everything. [Laughter.] Teenagers are very arrogant in a way. I felt like I could do anything. I could conquer anything. I just—"I have it."
And then to come and be in such a competitive atmosphere where there were so many bright kids. And they were thinking far ahead in terms of understanding the issues of the day. I thought, "Wow, I'm going to have to play catch-up here." But it was extremely stimulating for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed my four years there.
However, I must say that I didn't have the opportunity to participate in a lot of the campus activities, as many of my peers did. I didn't get to go to local rallies or join in a lot of the programs or community efforts. And part of that is because I had to work my way through school. I arranged my school schedule so that in the morning from seven o'clock to noon I took my classes, and then I ran downtown and I worked from one o'clock to six o'clock at a reinsurance firm as a secretary. In high school I had learned shorthand and typing, and so that's what I did for the four years. I'd get home at about six or seven o'clock, fix dinner, and take care of my grandfather, whom I was living with. I had a very strict schedule. Then from eight o'clock to midnight or 1 a.m., I would study.
Back in those days, the University of Washington was extremely competitive. We had classes, where I remember, as a freshman, there were 1,000 kids in my Social Science 101 or something like that, in this huge auditorium, and we'd see the professor kind of this big [gestures] way down at the bottom. It was strange. By the end of the quarter, there would be maybe two or three hundred of us left. It was that kind of a weeding-out.
I took a Japanese language class. I was in a more advanced class as a freshman because I grew up speaking the language and I still had maintained some fundamentals, although I didn't know the reading and writing as well as I should. And there were only sixteen of us in this advanced class, and every single one of them studied it two or three hours a night, memorizing characters. And I had to keep up with them. I couldn't be at the bottom of this class. I mean, it was really a matter of honor. It was very competitive, and I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed it.
So I say it was a very stimulating experience. And, of course, this was also the time when I was reading more newspapers. To this point I'd been reading Stars and Stripes, which is very controlled. Coming over to the United States and reading a variety of newspapers with a variety of editorial opinions was really very good for me, most stimulating. And then to be able to watch television news more frequently was also good.
I remember when I went to the university, and, of course, you always have to declare a major, I noticed that what I wanted to do, which was journalism—it was actually called the School of Communications, and there were various sequences. I had always assumed that I would go into the print journalism sequence. There was the broadcast journalism sequence, public affairs, advertising—all in the School of Communications, from which Chet Huntley had graduated.
He was our star. All this time I'd been thinking about print, but why not broadcasting? This was really the wave of the future.
[End of Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Tanabe: So that's when I made the decision, okay, instead of going strictly into print, I'll go into broadcast, because that's the wave of the future. That's the way things are going to be happening. So that's why I got into television news or broadcasting. It wasn't something that I had deliberately said I would do at the age of ten. At the age of ten, I picked journalism as the career, because I felt that this was the business, I suppose, that best fit what I felt needed to get done to make this a better place to live. As a kid, you want to make things happier, make things better or easier as a child, and so in my own little way I just felt that this is what I wanted to be involved in. But still, I wanted to also be involved in a way that was most progressive, and that's why I picked broadcasting. It has nothing to do with being an anchor or anything like that. I never thought of myself as being an anchor or a talent. I was going to be a reporter, and a reporter is a reporter is a reporter is the way I felt.
Toward the third and fourth year is when we started to get into the nitty-gritty of journalism, where we studied ethics and actually the mechanics of journalism and some of the questions about social responsibility and things like that. I was quite fortunate to have very good professors who encouraged me and saw right away that I was very quick at it, in the sense that we would go through drills and it was just pretty simple for me to do because I had been doing it all along. I think they were a little bit more critical as far as providing feedback and saying, "Why did you do it this way? Why not this way?" and so I just really learned a lot of the basic skills as a journalist that people should have in journalism school. It was good old-fashioned, traditional journalism school, and I really enjoyed that.
Moorhus: What about your fellow students? How did you get along with them? Did you have much of a relationship with them?
Tanabe: To be quite honest, I don't remember everyone. And there weren't that many in broadcast journalism, because, after all, this was in the late sixties and broadcast journalism wasn't seen as a real big thing. More people were in print. There were maybe sixteen of us that finally graduated in the broadcast journalism sequence, and they were young students, like I. Some were Vietnam veterans who had come back, so they were in their mid-twenties. Out of the sixteen of us who graduated [together], I was the only one that eventually found work in the field, in television news, because there just weren't that many openings. There weren't that many opportunities. And so many of the others went into things like public relations and advertising. One other eventually broke into the field, and I learned later that he became an NBC correspondent and was sent to the Middle East, and so he did quite well. And I stayed in Seattle.
Moorhus: What about the ratio of men and women?
Tanabe: There were very few women. Out of the sixteen, perhaps there were two of us, two or three. Very, very few.
Moorhus: Did that concern you at all that you were so much alone in the field, that you were obviously different again?
Tanabe: No, and I think part of it is because the professors were quite supportive and it was just competitive according to your ability. I think at the university there wasn't that barrier between
sexes that you see so prominently in business or in public. After all, we were all students, and a lot of us were there to really have a good time, and it didn't matter if you were male or female. In fact, it was better to have a mixed group. And so it wasn't as pronounced, not in the area that I was in. Now, perhaps it was different in things like School of Engineering or School of Architecture, but certainly in the School of Communications I didn't see it as a problem at all.
Moorhus: What are some of the courses that you remember taking?
Tanabe: There were a number of great courses. I thoroughly enjoyed it. One was by Professor George Taylor called foreign policy. I had to turn in a term paper and it was "The Impact of Public Opinion on Foreign Policy." The class was on foreign policy issues, and George Taylor was an advisor to the administration at the time. And then there was Giovani Costagen, who was an historian, a wonderful historian with shocking white hair, he told lovely stories, and I remember taking some courses with him. There was Donald Treadgold, modern Russian history. That was really a tough course. I'm okay on history, but it was tough because there were a lot of concepts that I hadn't thought about that he taught.
I took things like Japanese literature, in which we read a novelist's story (he commits suicide at the end). So it really is stimulating. You're looking at various cultures and behavior patterns and things that I had never even really thought about. I took English literature and for the first time read a lot of American classics. Somehow I had kind of skipped over that era in high school, so I didn't have a chance to delve into it. And then I took things like Japanese geography. Again that sounds pretty staid, but it was just fascinating because of the ways that you look at cultural development in a geographic pattern. So there were just a number of courses that I found quite stimulating. There wasn't any one that really changed my mind about anything, because I just looked at it as an opportunity to expand and learn in other areas.
Interesting to note, however, when I first went in, I guess I was selected as one of a group of students to take aptitude tests, and so at the very beginning I had to do all these funny tests. I had no idea what I was doing. And then at the end they came back to you and said, "According to test results, here is what you would do best in and here's what you would do poorest in," and what I would do best in was Russian language. I had never taken Russian, and I had no interest in Russian. But according to the test, if I did, I would do well in it. And the worst was music. Well, I know I'm terrible in music. I'm tone deaf and don't play any musical instrument. But it was quite interesting. I remember that, thinking, well, you can't believe surveys. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: That's interesting. Were you able, with your very tight schedule, to establish friendships with any of your fellow students, or was that limited?
Tanabe: That was quite limited. I have a handful of people that I still keep in touch with. One was a gal that was not into journalism at all, but was quite different. In fact, she was into physical therapy. But she was Chinese-American. I'd never met a Chinese-American on this military base in which I grew up as a high-school student. Most of my classmates were Caucasians from the mainland, very few Asians. And so it was interesting for me to meet Bev. She had a different background. Her sense of family was just as strong as mine. She was also very close to her grandparents. And so we developed a very tight friendship, and we continue to correspond regularly to this day and we've kept in touch. Unfortunately, she left after the first year at the University of Washington. You know, it rains up there. It's very dreary. So she ended up transferring to California and going into physical therapy, but we've always kept in touch.
As far as other individuals who were in journalism, for some reason I really didn't [establish friendships], and it could be because I just didn't have time to stick around and talk to them as much as most people do. And so I really didn't meet that many with whom I kept up a friendship.
Moorhus: Was there ever a point during your college years that you thought about an alternative to journalism, or were you unwavering in your interest in pursuing it?
Tanabe: I was pretty set, but I was also quite interested in international relations because of my background. I felt very much like I had a strength, perhaps, that others may not have in that I also knew and understood very well a different culture, an Asian culture, and I felt I needed to use that to help bridge the differences and hardships that are imposed on individuals and families and groups of people because of misunderstandings. And so I knew I would eventually get involved in something like that.
I remember in my last year at the university there was opportunity to take the Foreign Service exam, and I was encouraged by several of my professors to take that and also to take the LSAT test that gets you into law school.
Moorhus: The LSAT.
Tanabe: The LSAT, because they felt that I would do very well in law school, especially in international law. But I said, "Since I've been ten, I wanted to be a foreign correspondent, and I want to give it a chance." Plus, at the end of four years I'd run out of my tuition money, and I just really wanted to make enough money so that I would be able to just kind of enjoy myself. You'd been working hard all these years and studying, and now it's time to go out there and really test yourself, is what I felt. So I passed on the Foreign Service test and I also passed on LSAT.
There were other opportunities that came up. I remember there was an expo [exposition] at Osaka, an international expo, and the United States was going to have a pavilion there. I threw in an application to see if I could just work there during the summer as experience, and because of that it led to a number of offers from within the administration, because they were looking for individuals with my background, language ability to do other things. It was a fairly good position, very good position.
Moorhus: This is the federal administration in Washington?
Tanabe: Yes. It was the [Richard M.] Nixon administration. I thought about it, and my father really wanted me to go into that, because he felt that it was close to the center of power and [there would be] all kinds of opportunities for movement up, but I wasn't too keen on that. I just wanted to be a journalist, simple as that. Other things I could do later on, I felt. And so I made some critical decisions in those years when I decided, "I'm at the fork. What am I going to do?" I want to be a journalist, and that was that.
I was quite fortunate in my last year [of school] to be able to get a job at KOMO as a newswriter. So even before I was graduated, I was already working in the field, and it was because of a high recommendation from my professor. When he found out there was an opening in the KOMO-TV newsroom, he recommended me and I went in for an interview. I do remember one of the key things in that interview was, "Would it bother you that you were hired because you're a woman and you're a minority?" Because remember at that time there was a great emphasis on affirmative action, and especially for those holding FCC [Federal Communications
Commission] licenses. There had to be a real effort to hire minorities and hire women, and I happened to hit both qualifications.
I remember friends of mine saying, "That's insulting. You shouldn't take the job if that's why you're going to be hired."
I said, "What's wrong with that? It's a foot in the door. And besides, I know I can do it. I can do it, and so therefore it doesn't matter what the reason is. As long as I can get the job and I'm not going to fail at it, I can do the job."
So I took it. But obviously, you feel not just responsibility for yourself, but for those who will follow behind you, to do a good job so you're not seen as a token. I thought even though I am a woman and I am Asian and there were no Asian women in the field anywhere on the West Coast that I knew of, I knew I could do it. So that's how it started out.
Moorhus: Who was the professor that recommended you?
Tanabe: It was Jack Kinkle. I kept in touch with him until just a few years ago. But he highly recommended me, and he had also worked at "ABC News" and was highly respected by the broadcast professionals in the Seattle area. So I was quite fortunate that, even before I left school, I was able to start working in that field.
Moorhus: Was that early in 1971?
Tanabe: No, it was in 1970. It was in late 1970. So again, there weren't that many people at all. In fact, the only other woman in the newsroom was a Caucasian woman who had started out as the secretary and then was doing feature reporting, so I became the second woman in that news department.
Moorhus: And you were very young.
Tanabe: I was very young. But, you know, it's kind of good to be young, because you don't know any better. [Laughter.] You don't know that certain things can't get done. You just think, "I can do anything," And you have a lot of energy and boundless optimism. So it was just good for me to do it.
I was graduated in March. I had accelerated my program because I was starting to run out of my scholarship money, and I said, "I'd better get out of school and get my job." So I doubled up on my course work. And so I was graduated in March, and that's when I became a full-fledged reporter. I joined the union, got my union card, and then started doing things on the air. Although I had started in late 1970, it wasn't until early 1971 that people noticed that I was on the air. And, of course, it did make quite a stir, because, first of all, there were absolutely no Asian-American women in broadcasting. There had never been in that market and probably not on the West Coast. I don't recall. And so it was quite unusual.
The station management—the management was the Fisher family. The station was owned by the Fisher family. But the managers were quite supportive of my effort, and I never in any way felt that I was being used as a token, as so many women during that period felt, or that I was being denied certain opportunities to do meaningful work. And at that time, Susie, who was the only other female, left, and I can't remember what the reason was, but it was something like getting married—or something like that. It was not under duress or anything.
So I was the only one left, and I remember the other men being very supportive. Now, it could be for a number of reasons. It could be that they didn't feel that I was a threat to them because I was so different, or it could be that they genuinely wanted to support me. I think it was a combination of many things. But I never felt at all any negative pressure to keep me down or negative remarks or any sexual harassment types of remarks. Sure, they may have called me "girl" occasionally, but in those days it just didn't bother me. I was kind of small, and I still am, and I was very young, and they may have looked at me as a teenager struggling to do better. But they always came and said, "Barbara, do you need any help?" or "Barbara, do you want us to review your script? We'll be more than happy to help you out." So it was okay.
I did feel, however, that I didn't want to be always cubbyholed in doing what we called "turkeys," which are the fluff pieces. I mean, I did that for a while. It was good because it got you out [into the field], you sharpened your interviewing skills and things like that, so I didn't mind doing it. But when hard news stories came up and I was passed over, I marched right up to the news director and I said, "Jack [Eddy], you need to know that I would like to do these types of stories and I'm fully capable." And he liked that, and you needed to do that. So very slowly I was able to do other things, such as some political things, major interviews. I got to interview Spiro Agnew.* Well— [Laughter.] So I was slowly getting up there. I remember they sent me to the airport to cover this hijacking, and I was stuck on the airport roof for twelve hours waiting for action to happen. But that's the life of a reporter, so it was okay.
The one thing that I did think about more deeply was, however, how minority events were covered—blacks, Asian community events. I felt that it was totally ignored, for a reason, perhaps, and that's because the newsroom was completely Caucasian and they really had no interest in events that were occurring in minority communities. I felt that I could bring sensitivity and good objective reporting to those types of issues, and I really pushed to cover more of those, whether it was an Asian festival, such as the annual Obon* dance or major personalities or major events that were happening in the minority community.
My feeling was, and this was something that I had also been taught at the University of Washington, is that news is not necessarily what people are talking about or big events of the day, but what people should be talking about. It's our responsibility to bring this up in a forum to increase dialogue. And so I've always thought about things in a community that people might not be talking about a lot, but they should be because these are important issues.
I remember always telling my news director, as I scanned things that were happening in the newspaper and within the minority communications vehicles, whether they were newsletters or newspapers or whatever, bulletins, that I would say, "Here's an idea that I have, Jack. What do you think?" And I was always supported. It was just a great feeling.
Moorhus: While I think about it, what is Jack's last name?
Tanabe: Jack Eddy, E-D-D-Y. He was the news director at the time that I was there.
* Spiro T. Agnew (b. 1918), governor of Maryland, 1967-68; vice president of the United States, 1969-1973; resigned on October 10, 1973, pleading no contest to charges of evading income taxes while governor.
*Obon - traditional seasonal festival.
Moorhus: Did you report directly to him?
Tanabe: Yes. In fact, he was the one that said, "Barbara, maybe it's time for you to start doing some anchor work or talent work." We had a morning news show, and there were four of us who were the hosts of "This Morning Show." There was another newsperson, and I was sort of his support. Then there was a general talk show host, and then there was a woman who was an institution in Seattle—Katherine Wise. She did the cooking, just a wonderful, wonderful woman, a former newswoman who loved cooking and then did that on television and in radio. The four of us did it, and that's how then I got even more visibility as an anchor.
Moorhus: How soon after you started did that—
Tanabe: A matter of months. It was just a matter of months. I conducted a lot of interviews with people who came through. I remember doing Gloria Steinem,* for instance, and I can't remember what it was. Maybe it was the beginning of Ms. magazine or a book that she had just written. She thought it was great that I was in a position such as this at my young age. It was just a wonderful interview. She was so supportive. And then at the end after we started walking out, she said, "Barbara, I want you to remember one thing. I think that women sometimes take themselves too seriously and take the job too seriously. You should remember to see the fun side and see the humor of things." So I've always tried to keep that perspective, too, that everything isn't down and serious, that it's okay to have fun.
I remember doing an interview with Betty Friedan*, author of The Feminine Mystique (1963), and she was just neat. Things didn't upset her or faze her when she got thrown these very awkward questions about bra burning and what did that do, and she was very, very good. I interviewed a lot of actors and actresses that came through. I remember Rosie [Roosevelt] Grier, the football player, and he talked about needlepoint and how much he enjoyed that.
Moorhus: I remember hearing about his love of needlepoint.
Tanabe: Yes! And he was such an ordinary man in the sense that he didn't put on airs. He didn't make you feel awkward. So I met people that were considered celebrities who were really normal, and that was nice to see. And I also met people who went through a lot and were willing and able to share experiences. It was just a very good experience for me.
Moorhus: So you were getting a lot of variety in this period.
Tanabe: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. That first year as a reporter was a great learning experience. But then every year that I was a reporter—and I was one for seventeen years—I learned something new every day. I learned from people that I interviewed. I learned humbling experiences, as well as uplifting experiences. It was just wonderful. But I think in that first year, the first year was obviously difficult because you're still learning things and you're trying things out and people are watching you so you're doubly careful and working extra hard, all those kinds of things.
* Gloria Steinem (b. 1934). A founder of the Women's Political Caucus in 1971; a founder and editor of Ms.magazine, 1972-87.
*Betty Friedan (b. 1921). U.S. feminist, writer. As author of The Feminine Mystique (1963), helped revive the feminist movement in the U.S.; a founder and president of National Organization for Women, 1966-70.
But that first year, too, was when I remember going to Jack and I said—and this was still in the summer, and I was looking ahead at the kinds of things that I wanted to do. I'm always like that. I kind of like to project ahead. December seventh.* I said to Jack, "You know, I've watched how the news is covered on December seventh every year, and it's one of going to memorials and paying homage to all the sailors and soldiers who died during that attack. And it's always a period when I feel a little awkward because I look Japanese and I know that this is also a time when latent hostilities sometimes surface. I'd like to be able to address that, if I may, with maybe a series of stories on the impact that such an attack had on the Japanese-American community, those of Japanese ancestry who were American citizens and to whom a great injustice had been done."
He thought that was a great idea. I mean, that's the kind of newsperson that I worked for. He said, "Go to it, Barbara. In fact, why don't you do a half-hour documentary?"*
So I started my research. Remember, this was before the Freedom of Information [Act]. I went all over the place—libraries, school libraries, individual regulatory agencies—and I found very little on the internment of the Japanese-Americans during World War II, precious little, enough to fill maybe one folder, because I think many of those items were still classified.
So instead, I went to the Japanese-American community and I started to interview people, and they were very uncomfortable, because they said, "Well, you know, Barbara, it's been thirty years (this is 1971 now), and we've never talked about it before. You're asking us to look into a part of history that was very sad for many of us. We don't know if we want to talk about it."
But I'm very stubborn. So in my own way, I kept after them and after them and after them, and pretty soon I started to get people to open up. They would look back into their old trunks and come out with photographs or letters or memories, and I was able to piece together a history—not a history, but events of what happened shortly after the attack and during the war years to at least the families in Seattle, including my own, except that I didn't get that much from my father. He didn't want to talk about it at all.
Moorhus: But you said your grandfather had talked to you.
Tanabe: My grandfather had a yearbook, and he would tell me about things that happened during the period, but not very much, either. I think he also was not too anxious to say much more than that. But I managed to find an American minister, Floyd Schmoe, a Quaker, who had opposed the effort and who had continued to keep in touch with his internees, his congregation, the people who were interned and things like that. So little by little I started to get very good interviews.
I was working very closely with the news director, because I had never done a half-hour documentary before. Then he said, "Well, Barbara, you know, you really need to go to the site of the camp."
* On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes attacked United States installations in Hawaii, drawing the U.S. into World War II.
*TV listings including "The Fence at Minidoka" came out December 5, 1971; the documentary aired December 7, 1971. Later, Jeanne Houston wrote a book, Farewell to Manzanar, which was made into a TV special.
I said, "But that's all the way in Idaho."
He said, "It's okay. Go down."
I managed to find a family, a couple who had, instead of returning to Seattle, stayed near the vicinity of the campsite.
Just a little bit of background here. The people in Seattle, Washington, were first taken out of their homes and taken to an assembly center in Puyallup, which is a small town outside of Seattle, assembled there until the camps further inland were built, and then they were just transferred by rail to these camps. This particular one where the Seattle people were interned was in Idaho. It was in Hunt, Idaho. I always thought Hunt was a town, but it's actually just a post office, and it's near Twin Falls.
Moorhus: Who gave the camp the name Minidoka?
Tanabe: I'm not real sure. I think it's written in this yearbook. I just can't remember. But it's an Indian name, and I think it could have been the name of that site in Indian. I'm not real sure.
I remember finally getting this couple, and since no one really knew exactly where the camp was, but they knew, they took us there. A photographer and I went there and spent a couple of days, walked the site and took pictures of it. There was very little of the camp left, other than the guard gate, some barbed wire, some shacks, the irrigation canal, which my husband [Roy Kawaguchi] used to tell me about, because as a youngster he swam there, grave sites. It was very touching. And I came back, and we put the story together.
Moorhus: How many residents were there from Seattle? How many people had been taken out of Seattle?
Tanabe: I don't have the exact figure, but it was 10,000 to 20,000. It was everyone. Everyone was taken out.
Moorhus: During this time as you were preparing this, did you try to talk to your father?
Tanabe: No. He was still in Okinawa.
Moorhus: Did he know what you were doing?
Tanabe: I can't remember if I told him. I may have mentioned it briefly in a letter, but I never said anything more beyond that.
Moorhus: What about your grandfather?
Tanabe: I didn't really interview him. When I look back, I don't recall exactly why, other than I didn't want it to be too personal, so I didn't interview anyone within the immediate family. I interviewed others.
Before the documentary aired, and Jack said it's got to air on December seventh, on the thirtieth anniversary, there was a preview with the local newspapers. They did a write-up. Even before the documentary aired (as a result of the preview), we got a number of calls and letters, angry ones, to the station. You know, it was a renewal of some of the war hatred,
"Why are you honoring the Japanese enemy? Why are you doing this? The Japanese should be sent back to Japan." I mean, it was those types of things.
The whole point of doing this documentary was to show what happened to a group of American citizens who were denied the rights guaranteed under the Constitution, of which we are all so proud, because they kind of looked like the Japanese enemy. There was no difference other than their face, and because of that, they were punished with their homes being taken away, their businesses being taken away, they themselves relocated four years with no idea what was going to happen to them in the future. So that was what the whole thing was about, and, unfortunately, of course, many people felt still that we were the enemy.
I don't know if these people would ever change their mind. But I was doing this documentary to bring to light an event that occurred in the past that people ought to be talking about, because if people are not willing to speak up and address a problem that occurred, then lessons are not learned and mistakes are repeated. And so it was very important that, from my perspective, and I believe the station felt the same way, that we air something like this.
So it aired, and the day afterwards I remember the manager coming down. His name was David Crockett. He came down and said, "Barbara, that was a beautiful piece. I'm sorry that we even had commercials in it. It should have just been a piece by itself."
For days after that, we got all kinds of very angry letters, bitter letters, telephone calls. But I also got letters of support. I think the Japanese-American community galvanized, mobilized behind me, because they wrote many letters of support, and it was quite gratifying to get that kind of reaction.
But most gratifying was the reaction I got from the school board, who decided to put it (the film) in the public libraries and within the school system so that it could be part of the curriculum, because there was no school material covering this part of American history. I also got calls from universities throughout the nation—Princeton [University], numbers of schools calling to see if they could view it so that they could also use it as part of their curriculum. And I remember NBC came down, and we were an ABC affiliate. NBC heard about it and wanted to see it. And there were many people that kind of realized that this had occurred and it was worthy of attention and perhaps follow-up.
After that, of course, the United States Congress initiated a hearing. They put together a commission that went throughout the nation hearing testimony from internees, and that culminated ten years later with a call for reparations and apology to the Japanese-Americans, reparation in the form of $20,000 to each internee, which was signed, by the way, by President George Bush.
I didn't realize that this would start mushrooming into anything this big. I was just kind of doing what I thought was an important issue. I'm very happy that others then took up this issue and pointed out the great injustice and went forward to try to find some kind of a resolution, because I think we all learned from it. What I learned is that the United States is a great country to be able to recognize an error that it made and to try to respond in some positive manner.
Moorhus: Did your father receive a check?
Tanabe: He did, two years ago. But I remember I sent him a copy of the script after I did it, and I said, "What do you think, Dad?"
And he wrote back and said, "Good job, kid." He said, "A lot of good came out of it, and you should never forget that." [Tanabe crying.] Excuse me.
Moorhus: That's an amazing story.
Tanabe: Yes, for a first year.
Moorhus: It certainly is. Your professor must have been bursting with pride.
Tanabe: Yes, he's real proud. It was great I was able to do it, and it was a great way to start a career.
I'm ruining my eye makeup. This is terrible. This happened thirty years ago. You'd think by now as an adult I wouldn't be so moved.
Moorhus: I don't think you have anything to be sorry about.
Tanabe: When I look back at it, I think, "Oh, the script. Oh, some of it was so bad, and, oh, I looked awful in it." You make all those kind of judgments. But in the long run, if it did help create greater dialogue, it was worth it.
Moorhus: I think there are people who could work their whole lives and never have the kind of long-term impact that your very first significant story had. Really.
Tanabe: Yes. I didn't expect it, but that's the nice thing about life. There are these unexpected surprises when you do something with great commitment. It could never have been done unless the Japanese-American community had opened up, if I hadn't had the support of station management, and really the direction and guidance from others around me.
Moorhus: You must have had help in the writing and the editing and, as you said, the camera person and then the final production to get it all put together. What a team effort.
Tanabe: It really was a team effort, and not one of them really knew about the experience. I remember the photographer. His name was Kurt Horn, a German-American. He really didn't want to do this. He said, "Barbara, this is almost un-American, what you're trying to do."
I said, "No, no, no. Let's just keep doing it."
It wasn't until we actually went to the site and he saw all this, and he said, "We need to do this."
So it was a commitment by so many people. I'm very happy that I was able to get it started, and my name was kind of the signature on it, but it really was a team effort. It just taught me a lot, that you need support beyond just yourself, you need a commitment, you need a certain tenacity to see it through, and you need a hard shell to withstand the kinds of reaction that you are going to get.
As a child of ten, I didn't think that this was what it was going to be like, that I would become sort of a symbol, a target. But you do become that, because you're on the air, you're a very visible individual, and many people see you in different roles. Some people saw me as a journalist and a very good one, others saw me as an Asian-American, and others saw me as
"That damn Jap. What's she doing on the air?" That's the nature of our society, and you have to learn to deal with all of them, but, you know, move forward.
Moorhus: From the material you sent me, in addition to all of this work activity, there were things going on in your personal life in 1971, as well.
Tanabe: Yes. That's the year I got married.
Moorhus: That's right. Tell me about how you met your husband and then about your wedding and your marriage.
Tanabe: The whole time that I was going to school, I was also working. I started out as a secretary, and then I got a call from a fellow who owned a travel agency, asking me to join his travel agency. I said, "George, I don't know anything about travel."
He said, "That's okay. You're smart. I know you'll be able to handle it."
Moorhus: How did he find you?
Tanabe: I can't remember. I don't know. It could have been a friend of the family or something like that. He knew that I spoke Japanese, and he was looking for someone who could talk to his Japanese customers. And so I started working for him as a travel agent. His brother, Roy, was my future husband, and we met while I was working at the travel agency. He was an engineer with Boeing.
When we decided to get married, my parents really didn't like the idea of my getting married to him because he was divorced and had three children. But I said, "This is my decision, and I'm going to make it."
They said, "We don't want you to."
I said, "I'm sorry."
So we eloped. This is the only thing I ever did in my entire life against the wishes of my parents, and they were very upset about it. I recall the relationship was strained for a while, but we're fine now. But it took them a while to get used to the idea. But sometimes you know what you're doing is right, and I knew that what I was doing was right. We've been married now for how many years? It's from '71 to '94—twenty-three years. We still haven't done a wedding reception, because I said, "Let's wait until we're sure," and then twenty-three years later, we still haven't done a wedding reception. We'll get around to it eventually.
Moorhus: When did you elope?
Tanabe: In June of '71, so this was still when I was trying to get things done. I was just too busy, and I didn't want a wedding. Weddings are really for family, and my family happened to still be in Okinawa. I just felt it was easier to just quietly get it out of the way. I remember people at the office were stunned, because one day I showed up and I said, "Oh, I'm married." That was it.
They said, "Shouldn't we do something for you, Barbara?"
I said, "You can buy me some cookies or something, but don't make a big fuss out of it."
I remember some of them took me out to dinner, because they also knew Roy. I just didn't want to make a big deal of it. It was more important for me to get my career going and get certain things done. And marriage, to me, is a personal, private matter, and I didn't want it to affect my profession. So I never changed my name. Tanabe is my maiden name. I remember that was very difficult. Everywhere I went, I had to bring my marriage certificate and my passport so that they understood that I was keeping my maiden name, and my married name, I didn't have one. It was just he had his name and I had mine.
Moorhus: And his name is Roy—
Moorhus: How long had you known him before you were married?
Tanabe: Oh, about six months. Not very long, which is quite unusual because I'm very deliberate and very careful. But sometimes you know these things. We're kind of opposites in that he's very mellow, but it was a good match, and I knew right away it would be a good match. He's quite a bit older than I am, eighteen years, but that didn't bother me. It probably worked out better that way, because if you have a younger partner, there is a sense of competition because then he would also be establishing himself. Roy already had an established career. He wouldn't be threatened by a woman who wanted her own career, and I made it real clear to him that I'm going to have my own career, I'm going to do my own thing, and he thought that was great. He was very supportive.
As a matter of fact, during the time that I was in Seattle—I was a reporter from '70 to '74 there—I received many, many offers from all over the country from larger markets asking if I would be interested, because I was kind of an unusual commodity. I hate to use that word, but I mean I was a non-white, non-male journalist, and there weren't that many of those around.
Moorhus: And the FCC had made it clear that more women and more minorities should be given opportunities, and the networks were certainly hiring.
Tanabe: Oh, they were looking. They were looking real hard. But I didn't want to leave at the time from Seattle because I felt that I was a part of the community and there was a lot that we could be doing. I was working very closely with other journalists, other Asians, and I had many students come and watch me work, because now they were looking at broadcast journalism, television news, as a possibility for a career, and they hadn't thought of it before. I did many speaking engagements. So I felt it was very important to keep this momentum going.
Moorhus: And Roy was supportive of all of this?
Tanabe: Yes, he was. He was very supportive. I remember finally I got this offer from Hawaii.
Moorhus: Let's not jump to Hawaii yet.
Tanabe: Okay, we won't jump to Hawaii yet.
Moorhus: Let's stick with some of the things around what was going on in Seattle. I'm really interested—
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Moorhus: You are marrying someone that you've known a very short time, that is much older, without your parents' permission, and they must not have met him, either.
Tanabe: No, they hadn't met him.
Moorhus: So he was a totally unknown quantity. That was a real risky thing for you to do, but you apparently didn't see it as a high risk, but as something that seemed quite appropriate, natural.
Tanabe: I did. I suppose it may be uncharacteristic. It's not what a daughter should be doing, right? But as a child, I was always quite independent. I kind of did what I thought my parents would want me to do, and I never disobeyed, but they never made huge demands on me, because they kind of figured I would handle everything. They've always told me how proud they were that I got through school by myself.
All through my childhood, I never was reprimanded that much. And so it was a streak of independence, but when I was living with them, the independence was in support of them, not necessarily opposed to them. But when I'm on my own, I'm on my own and I can make my own decisions. So as long as it was nothing illegal and I wasn't marrying a felon, you know, it's no big deal. So he's older and he had three children. I mean, that's my problem, not my parents' problem. So that's how I felt, and I think they got over it eventually.
Moorhus: Were there other stories that were as significant during the time you were in Seattle as the documentary, "The Fence at Minidoka"?
Tanabe: No. I think that was the most significant. I did a number of stories dealing with Asian-Americans, black Americans, and in my own way I think that I raised the sensitivity in that market to the variety and richness that existed in Seattle because of its people. That's what makes a community, and being able to acknowledge each other's differences is what is most important, because if you can acknowledge and understand differences, it's not a barrier, it's a source of pride.
Moorhus: Did your success at KOMO open the doors for other women, other minorities, in the time that you were there?
Tanabe: Oh, I hope so, because shortly after I left, others came in immediately. I think more Asian-Americans went into the School of Communications and went through the program. I hope so. And I wasn't the only one in the field at the time. There were other Asian-Americans in the print area, but because I was in television, it happened to be a more visible medium, so in a way, too much credit may have been coming my way when there were others who were doing the same thing. Plus, I always felt that I was doing it for more than just myself and more than just people who were going to be following me. I really was doing it for people like my parents and my grandparents, because it was they who really paved the way and laid the foundation for our success.
Moorhus: Were there ever any instances when the Japanese community became critical of stories that you did, that you were somehow being unfair to them?
Tanabe: That never came up.
Moorhus: Did you feel that you were an advocate for the community, per se, or for a discussion of their issues?
Tanabe: I think I was an advocate for a discussion of their issues. I was very careful not to be making editorial judgments and taking editorial positions, because I felt that that was not the role of the journalist. That is the role of an editorial writer, and I was not that. I've always felt that editorial decisions should be made after discussion, after issues were raised, and most of those who make editorial pronouncements, whether they are writers or broadcasters, are normally those who are a little bit older, more mature, and have more credibility within the market. And so I greatly respected those who made editorial analyses, but I felt I wasn't there yet.
My role was to bring out issues, and certainly I was an advocate for that. There should be many of them. I think within the news department there was always discussion about what I was doing and why, but I don't ever remember people saying, "You're wrong." It was people saying, "I never looked at it that way," or "I didn't think about those types of things," and that's because it was a homogeneous group. It was all white male, and they were talking about the same thing. It's important to bring in different perspectives, and in that era, the different perspective came from people who had different backgrounds, whether it was ethnic background or different social economic level or different living experiences. I lived abroad, so I really was very different from anyone else. Plus, I was a woman. That also added to it.
Moorhus: Would you happen to know what the percentage of the population the Japanese or larger Asian-American community was in Seattle at that time?
Tanabe: I think it was very small. It was about 10,000 to 20,000 at the time, and it was mostly Japanese-Americans, some Chinese-Americans, very few, in fact no Vietnamese, Cambodians, very few Filipinos. There was some. I remember Dee Sibonga worked in the station at the time. She later ran for city council. I was very proud of that.
As a matter of fact, in the newsroom—I forgot to mention this. At the same time that I was a reporter, the news director also hired a black reporter, and his name was Norman Rice. He's now the mayor of Seattle. But he and I took Jack Kinkle's class together, and we both went into journalism at the same time. Then I left, and I guess he went into a different area. But, yes, he's the mayor of Seattle now.
Moorhus: You said that you did a lot of speechmaking in Seattle. Can you tell me some of what you remember about that?
Tanabe: This is going a while back. It was to Japanese-American organizations, church groups, students. It was that type, more community-based, nothing that was business oriented. Not like Rotary [Club] or anything, but very community-based small groups.
Moorhus: Did you enjoy that?
Tanabe: I did. I felt I was able to discuss what we can be in the future. We can create a vision for ourselves instead of being a victim of the past, looking forward to what our children might be able to do, the opportunities that existed, the medium of television and how it widened the world for all of us.
I really firmly believed that television was a great force in society. People decry the violence and some of the poor values that they saw in television, but I also saw it as a strength,
as I said earlier, to break down barriers, to acknowledge differences, to show a variety of voices, to show human drama, emotional impact. Those kinds of things that you may not be able to see in a written article, you could feel it in television, and there is a certain impact that television produced that no other mass medium could.
Moorhus: Did you ever think about going back into the print journalism that you had originally thought you were going to go into?
Tanabe: No. I was having too much fun. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: Did you ever think about going into foreign correspondence work?
Tanabe: Oh, yes. That was always kind of still there, but I was kind of taking one step at a time and making sure that the step that I took was a firm one. Eventually I wanted to, because I felt that the world is not an isolated world just made of one community, which may have been Seattle at the time, but we all come from a different world, or our ancestors did or our grandparents did, and I felt that it helps one understand better what we are if we look back at where our values may have come from, where our grandparents' values may have come from. So in some way I would eventually have gone to Japan and done a series of stories and other places on how Japan itself was changing and looked at some of the connections and the bridges from Seattle to Japan. I think those are all very important things for a journalist to do. Again, these might not be things that people are talking about or consider to be important for them, but they should know about and should appreciate.
Moorhus: In 1974, you were nominated as one of the outstanding young women in Washington State. What group is that that does the nominations?
Tanabe: At that time, it was someone from the University of Washington. My memory is just awful right now, but it was someone from the University of Washington that put in the nomination for me. It was just, again, something that I wasn't quite expecting, but it was very nice.
Moorhus: You were clearly on, as they say, a fast track at KOMO, and you were getting offers from other places. Let's come back to the offer that came to you from KHON-TV in Honolulu. How did that come to do, and why was that offer different?
Tanabe: That offer came to me just via a telephone call. George Haggar was his name. He was the general manager of KHON, and he said, "Hi there, Barbara. You've never met me, but my name is, and I own a television station in Hawaii and I want you to come work for me," essentially all it was.
I said, "Thank you very much, and I'll follow up with you a little later." It was just kind of a conversation like that.
But I remember I was kind of intrigued by it, so I talked it over with someone. It was Ken Kashiwahara, who was with ABC.
Moorhus: And still is, I think.
Tanabe: He still is. I remember calling him and saying, "Hi Ken. I got this offer from Hawaii, and I know you're from Hawaii. What do you think?"
He said, "Man, that's going to be a real challenge. That station is way behind in the ratings. There are no local people on TV, and I'm sure the reason he called is because you look local (meaning I look like most of the population here in Hawaii), but it will be a real challenge."
I said, "How come there aren't more local people on TV?"
He said, "Because there's no one that's ever done it who's local."
I said, "Why not?"
He said, "I don't know."
So I thought a little bit more about it, and I said, "Well, this is kind of different. Here's a situation where the majority of this population is an Asian base, and yet there are no Asians on television? That doesn't sound right."
My husband was kind of intrigued by it, too. He said, "Well, let's just try it. It's only a three-year contract. We should go over there and take a look at the market." We didn't have any family here. It would have been quite a traumatic jump, but he said, "Let's try it."
So I said, "Well, okay."
Again, this is what you would consider uncharacteristic. It was totally different. My father didn't want me to do it. He said, "It's going backwards. It's a smaller market. You should be going to Washington or New York. That's where the big bucks are."
I said, "It's a small community and it's a different community and there are different sets of problems. I want to go see it."
It was a challenge, so that's why I came.
Moorhus: When did you actually make the move?
Tanabe: In June of '74. I mean, I do things in June. [Laughter.] Married in June. And so I came over here, and I remember it was really funny. I came to Hawaii several years before just on vacation—before I even thought about ever moving over here with my husband, we came on vacation. I remember the first thing I said when I came here was, "Wow, look at all these people with black hair." [Laughter.] Because I was used to being a minority, and it was quite unusual to see a majority of people with black hair. And then we'd go into Woolworth's and say, "Wow, they sell rice here." [Laughter.] It was just like, "Wow, wouldn't that be great to be a majority?" And so in a way I guess the seed had already been planted that, gosh, it was so nice to go somewhere where it was so different and maybe the comfort level would be a little bit higher for us. So I decided, perhaps back then subliminally, that someday I'd like to be able to come and work here, not permanently, but to try it.
I remember after we made the decision that we would be coming here, the Japanese-American community gave me all kinds of farewell parties, so every day we were going to various parties. At one of them, Father Nakayama, the priest from the church that I attended, said, "Barbara, that's great, because I've been there many times and we have a sister relationship with one of the churches here. How long are you going to be there?"
I said, "Oh, it's going to be three years, Father. I'll be right back."
He looked at me and said, "Barbara, you should never take that kind of an attitude. When you go somewhere, you should go with the feeling that you are going to stay there for the rest of your life."
I thought about that and I said, "You know, he's right. If you go and think of it only as a temporary sojourn, you don't give your whole commitment to that community, and it's not right."
So when I came, although it was a three-year contract, I was taking Father Nakayama's advice to heart and saying, "I'm going to be here for the rest of my life and I'm going to do my best here."
Moorhus: Very interesting advice.
Tanabe: Yes, it was. I never thought of it that way. And you know how network journalists are. We kind of bounce around all the time. As a child, I had bounced around a lot, and I really wanted roots. That's why I really enjoyed Seattle so much, because it was a community and I was a part of it. That's where I went to school. I had relatives there, good friends, very supportive community, a great career. So I came here and I said that's what I want to continue.
I remember coming here and looking around at the station, and it was maybe one-tenth the size of the KOMO operation. KOMO was a very strong affiliate. It was the strongest ABC affiliate, very successful, market leader, the kind of station everyone wanted to work at because it had a strong reputation and everything. I was quite fortunate to be a part of KOMO at that time, and I wanted to kind of help make KHON the KOMO of Hawaii. So I came with great hopes, high hopes.
Moorhus: What kind of discussions did you and your husband have about his career?
Tanabe: Well, he just had to leave. [Laughter.] He'd been at Boeing by this time for twenty-one years, and I guess in his own way he was ready for some kind of a change. I said, "We don't need a lot of material goods. We can live on one salary." We didn't need two salaries. And he was also willing to let me have a try, and we said, "Someday, perhaps I'll have to sacrifice for your career, but let's just do this just this once."
He said, "Okay." So we were willing to try it out, and he was very supportive. He said, "Well, if I don't find something right away, I can always go to school. I can do different kinds of things." And so he was fine.
Moorhus: What did he do when you came over here, then?
Tanabe: He helped his brother on the travel agency side. There were lots of groups that he worked with. He also went to school and took some marketing courses. Plus, it's amazing how busy he can be with keeping up the household. It really is a full-time job. So he kept himself quite busy. He was never bored. As it turned out, it was just a wonderful move for the both of us. We were almost adopted by a local family and became part of their holiday tradition. I very early on became very involved with various community organizations. Hawaii is a small community. It's about people who care about the environment and about our future, and people here are very committed. It was just wonderful to be able to be part of that kind of a community.
Moorhus: How did you get involved with the community?
Tanabe: Through various organizations that I joined and through our friends. For instance, I very early on became very active with Planned Parenthood, working on ways to help prevent teenage pregnancies, working with teenagers. I became involved with Hale Kipa, a shelter for runaway youths, and those types of things. I was also involved in the same type of things that I did before—speeches with youth groups, things like that.
Moorhus: What was your position when you first came to KHON?
Tanabe: I was anchor and assistant news director. That was the other thing that also helped. I felt that it was time for me to try this "anchor thing" full time and see if I liked it, and in a smaller community I felt that I would feel more comfortable. I was offered anchor positions in other areas, but I just wasn't ready to make the move. I had commitments to the family and to the community, and I wasn't willing to break them.
The time that the Hawaii offer came was when my father-in-law had passed away. My grandfather had moved in with my aunt and uncle. Certain obligations had been lifted, and so it was kind of a good time to make the move. So it was an issue of timing, also. If the timing had been wrong, perhaps I wouldn't have come. Perhaps I may have ended up somewhere else. But again, those are the kinds of hands that life deals you, and you kind of have to take it at the time, so that's what I did.
Moorhus: So you came as assistant news director and anchor.
Tanabe: Assistant director. So it was also more of a management role that I could take, which I was anxious to also do a little bit more about.
Moorhus: Did you go on the air right away?
Tanabe: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Again I was the first Asian-American anchor in this market on a regular basis. There had been anchors in the past that did it as sort of like a fill-in. And then you get a certain amount of notoriety because of that.
Moorhus: What kind of build-up did the station give you before you went on the air? Did they do advertising? Did they promote you?
Tanabe: Yes, they did.
Moorhus: Did it all work? Were people really eager to see you?
Tanabe: I think so. I wish the ratings had jumped a little higher, but it didn't. I think I got all kinds of comments, and people were thrilled to have a local face. But I also heard that as soon as I opened my mouth, they knew I wasn't from here, because my enunciation was too smooth. However, they were quite surprised because whenever I pronounced a Japanese name I said it the proper way, which really surprised them, and I really worked very hard on the Hawaiian names so that I said it properly rather than Anglicize those words. I worked on that right away.
Moorhus: How did you like anchoring?
Tanabe: It was okay. My first love was reporting, and I couldn't do as much of it. Anchoring is quite restrictive sometimes because you read words that are handed to you. Of course, I would rewrite and I would write lots of things. I also felt that I was stuck in a mold as far as what females—now, this is where the female part came in a little bit more strongly than I would have preferred. I felt like I was sort of a subpartner in that the male always took the more prominent, dominating role. And I absolutely refused to do the weather, because I felt that I didn't want to be typecast, and I really wanted to project the role of a professional woman. So I think early on people felt that I was a little too stiff and formal, but they always used the word "professional" to describe me, which is what I wanted. I was not into this cutesy, happy-talk format. I was there to do a job, and I was there to show that women could do a job just as credibly as men. This was very important to me and it was a message that I firmly believed in, and I pushed a little bit more strongly than I did in Seattle.
Moorhus: Did you share the anchor role, then?
Tanabe: Yes, we did.
Moorhus: Who was the co-anchor?
Tanabe: B.J. Sams. Billy Jack was his name, but he went by B.J. Sams, wonderful individual.
Moorhus: Were you the first woman that he'd had to share with?
Moorhus: So he had some adjustments to make.
Tanabe: He had some adjustments.
Moorhus: How did you negotiate your working relationship? [Tanabe pauses.] With difficulty?
Tanabe: With some difficulty. With some difficulty, but he was a very secure individual. He didn't feel that threatened, and he was quite willing to share certain things, and I knew better than to push on others. He led and closed every newscast, for instance. But I wasn't always relegated to the fluff things. Plus, I early on developed a reputation for doing on-air interviews which were very strong. So in my own way, I think I tried to project more of a news credibility thing.
When I look back at it now, I probably—you know, hindsight is always perfect, right? I was probably rather arrogant, perhaps, in the way I approached things. Perhaps I was a little inflexible or intolerant. When I saw women who were treated as cutesies, I didn't appreciate it and I said so myself. If I felt that some of those women were not as professional as they could be, I perhaps said it in a way I shouldn't have. Now that I look back, I think I was quite arrogant in that way. I should have probably been more supportive of other women who may not have had the training that I had and had the comfort level of doing hard news. I probably should have been a little bit more supportive of them, and I wasn't.
So when I look back, I think I could have been better. I could have been a better human being. But I don't dwell on it now. These are things that you learn as you grow older. When you're out to carve a certain role for yourself, you expect others to do the same, and you shouldn't, because all people are different and they all have their own strengths. That's something that I wasn't as tolerant about.
Moorhus: Were there any concerns or prejudices about your coming from the mainland?
Tanabe: Some. I remember when I first got here, someone came and said, "So you're Japanese-American, right?"
I said, "Yeah, my folks are from Japan."
They said, "So, you from here?"
I said, "No."
"Oh, well, then you're a kotonk."
I said, "What's that?" It's a local word to describe a Japanese-American from the mainland. Kotonk is a Japanese word which is sort of like the sound a barrel makes when it's rolling down the street. It goes kotonk, kotonk, kotonk, kotonk. It's kind of a derogatory term.
So I said, "Why are you describing me in that way?"
He said, "Well, you know, because [knocking her head] kotonk, kotonk, kotonk. Some Japanese-Americans from the mainland are pretty empty-headed."
Anyway, there's a long history to that term that dates back to World War II. When the Japanese-Americans from here went to the mainland to train to be in the army, that's when they met up with mainland Americans of Japanese ancestry. They had differences and fought it out, and that's where the term came out, that when you beat up a mainlander, you know. [Laughter.] It's very local humor.
But I remember I said, "You can't tag me with that, because I'm from Japan originally because I was born in Japan."
Then they said, "Oh, well, you're a bobora," which is the term for "country bumpkin."
I said, "Well, that's not right, either."
Early on you learn that the local community does put labels on people, but it's more to try to understand where you're from and how they should communicate with you. I said, "Well, okay, if that's the way you folks want to do it, that's fine, but I'm going to tell you that I'm a professional and this is what I do."
So there were things that you had to overcome. I think that's true with any community. I was fortunate in Seattle in that I went to school there and my family roots were in Seattle. I didn't have similar roots here, so I had to work on it. But it didn't impede me from anything. It didn't stop people from inviting me into their homes or anything, because once they figured out that I knew what I was doing and that I came not to exploit but to learn—I think one's attitude is always most important in being accepted, and for this community, that was important. As Father Nakayama said, "You're there for the rest of your life." And I was here with that kind of an attitude.
Of course, I missed Seattle a lot during the first year. I missed my family a lot. You miss getting phone calls from your friends. But, you know, that's what moving and developing a new community is all about.
Moorhus: Why don't we stop at this point and pick up next time.
Tanabe: Okay. Great.
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