Stanley Serikaku

Transcription of Stanley Serikaku
Interviewee: Stanley Serikaku
Interviewer: Sarah Altinbasak
Date: February 20, 2014
Place: Chicago, IL.
Transcriber: Sarah Altinbasak
Total Time: 18:17

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

SA: So, can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up?

SS: I grew up in Hawaii, in a little town about twenty miles outside of Honolulu. It was a farming town, and we raised in the beginning, pineapples. But later on when the pineapple industry moved to another island, we started raising truck farming; vegetables, peas, carrots, and later on…rice. And when rice … after in California, rice started coming in, that no longer was a viable product, so it was with ****, from which **** is made, and that is an Hawaiian staple. And then, nobody wanted to do that kind of work. So we gave that up also, and only my brother stayed with the farm, but he started raising flowers.

SA: Ok, uh, what was your childhood like there? How long were you there before you were here?

SS: From the time I was born until I went to college. Then I stayed at a dormitory till, I would say, eighteen years.

SA: What was it like growing up there?

SS: Well it was really a country town so we knew everybody. And it was more of a mixed community, in that we had Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Pilipino, native Hawaiians and very few Caucasians, because we were outside of the commuting distance through Honolulu. Honolulu was the capital, as well as the business, political, and economic hub of Hawaii, and that’s where most of the businesses and the rich people, educated people lived. The other parts of ours was on one side of the island, where it rained quite a bit, and it was rather hilly and mountainous. So it was not good for the plantation products like sugar, and pineapples which requires pretty flat areas. So it was on the other side of the island.

SA: Ok, so you were there until you were eighteen?

SS: Yeah.


SA: Did you come straight here to Chicago from there?

SS: No. On December 7th the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I was a junior at the University of Hawaii at that time, and we were not permitted to join the military. The Japanese Americans were not permitted because we were reclassified from 1A to 4C. But later on the military relaxed and they permitted us to volunteer for a unit that was scheduled to go over to Europe. So, at the age of twenty two I joined the army and came to Mississippi for training.

SA: Ok, how long were you in the army for? … How long were you in the army for?

SS: Uh, three and a half years, no, two and a half years, yeah.

SA: Ok, so you said you were in Mississippi? Missouri?

SS: Yup.

SA: Um…..

SS: It was a hot humid place.

SA: Where did you go after that? Did you stay there after the army?

SS: No, uh, we went to first North Africa, and then from North Africa we went to Italy, where we finally went into action.

SA: Um hum…

SS: And, I got wounded there, and I wanted to go back to Hawaii for my recoup, recuperation, but they said it’s only for the Pacific wounded. So we could stay whenever, wherever in the Continental United States, and I had a rather good time in Chicago during my furlough, so I chose Chicago.


SA: Ok, so after you were injured, you came back, and you came to Chicago.

SS: To Chicago.

SA: Did you come right to Edgewater or were you somewhere else?

SS: Oh, no, no, I stayed in the army hospital, today which is called the Hine’s VA Center, at that time it was an army hospital.

SA: And where is that?

SS: I stayed there for about six or seven months in recuperation. Then I went home to Hawaii then, and I stayed for a year. Then I came out to Drake University in DeMoines, Iowa to finish my education.

SA: Ok, interesting. And what did you go to school for? What did you go to school for in Iowa?

SS: I took up commerce, economics.

SA: Ok, and then after that? Where did you go?

SS: After that you know, I still wasn’t ready to go to work. So I took some courses at the University of Washington, in Seattle, over the summer. Then in the fall I went to the American Institute of Foreign Trade, to learn Portuguese. And then I was on my way to Brazil, which you know uses Portuguese as their language.

SA: Uh, huh.

SS: But on the way to Brazil, I stopped off in Chicago, to visit some of my old army buddies. But then I met her and I stayed.

SA: Her?

SS: My wife.

SA: Ok, so you never made it to Brazil?

SS: No, I never made it to Brazil, until about ten years later.

SA: Ok so you stayed in Chicago?

SS: But then my job took me there. By then my Portuguese was all out the window, I never used it, I never heard it. So….

SA: So you did eventually go to Brazil?

SS: Yes.

SA: How long did you stay in Brazil?

SS: No, it was just on a business trip.

SA: Ok.

SS: I went there once a year…yeah.

SA: And then you’d come back to Chicago?

SS: Right.


SA: So where were you living in Chicago throughout those years?

SS: At first I used to live on the south side.

SA: Uh huh.

SS: But then the south side changed, so I moved to Edgewater, yeah…

SA: So you’ve been in Edgewater for how many years now?

SS: Well I stayed in Uptown for about ten years, and the rest of it went thirty years in Edgewater.

SA: How do you like Edgewater?

SS: It’s good. The transportation is very good. It’s close to uh, Lincoln Park, Lake Michigan, the transportation is excellent. Here especially at The Breakers, we have two bus lines that go downtown, one local, one express, and the “El” is only three blocks away. And then you open the back door and you’re in Lincoln Park.

SA: Uh huh.

SS: Take another block and you’re in Lake Michigan. So, this is an excellent place, and I used to live only about six or seven minutes by car. My son and daughter-in-law live there so, whenever I have some problems, it’s not a difficult thing to call them up and say help.

SA: It’s true.

SS: Yeah.

SA: So would you say that Edgewater feels like home?

SS: Yes. Chicago outside of the weather is a good place. I think even for minorities, it’s a good place. There’s enough immigrant, you know, descendent families, they know what it’s like. So…

SA: So what would you consider your cultural identity to be?

SS: I’m definitely American.

SA: American.

SS: Yeah. You see because those who were able to read and write Japanese, they were sent to the military intelligence. I never qualified for that. So I wound up in the infantry in Europe, but it was really good in Japanese, given to the Pacific.

SA: So do you speak Japanese?

SS: No. No.


SA: Do you speak any other languages besides a little bit of Portuguese?

SS: Portuguese I can read some but to speak…

SA: Not so good…

SS: No. There’s nobody speaks Portuguese in Chicago. Spanish…

SA: Yes.

SS: Quite a bit. So I had to go to night school to pick up Spanish. That is so much more simpler than Portuguese.

SA: I heard that. Yes. It’s a little bit like….

SS: Portuguese is something like English. Exceptions to the general rule, is quite common. Spanish is pretty, you know…

SA: Uh huh. Basic… the sentence structure is similar to English.

SS: Right. And it’s easier to pronounce Spanish words..

SA: Easier than Portuguese you mean?

SS: Oh yes definitely, definitely, yeah. Also, they’re both Latin languages. Still….

SA: Some of the sounds are harder to make in Portuguese I heard.

SS: Well like, Spanish is “muchas gracias”

SA: Uh huh.

SS: Portuguese is “munto obrigato,” I think…


SA: That’s a lot of extra syllables.

SS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

SA: Is there anything else that you would want to let people know about you or anything about your life that I haven’t brought up?

SS: Well I started working in the stock yards, when the stock yards still had livestock coming in. I had gone to the stock yards on a visit from my hospital. I said, “How the hell do people stand the smell all day?” But after that, I went up there, fortunately after about five or six, years, the office transferred to Michigan and Randolph. You see from the outhouse to the penthouse.

SA: Ok.

SS: Yeah, but the stock yards are a very interesting place. You know, all the livestock; hogs, cattle, sheep, came on the hoof from the west center.

SA: Uh huh.

SS: Central Illinois and they’re slaughtered here. Later on, they figured out economically it was better to have the plant out there where they don’t have to transfer the livestock.

SA: Uh huh.

SS: Cut up the meat and then ship them elsewhere… yeah. That’s why we are fortunately in Chicago now. For those who are old enough to smell that stock yard, it wasn’t very pleasant at times.

SA: Ok. Ok. Is there anything from your Japanese heritage that you identify with?

SS: I think there’s a lot of things that my mother and dad you know, passed onto us. And I don’t know whether it’s strictly Japanese or every other culture has the same thing.


SA: Uh huh.

SS: But uh…

SA: Like what for example?

SS: Respect the elders…

SA: Uh huh.

SS: Perseverance, loyalty, those things were really pounded into us. I think we were a segregated unit in the army. We were all Japanese Americans, and that, because we all had the common heritage, we could think alike, feel alike, so, became a very good, cohesive unit. And we were one of the few that received the Congressional gold medal. That, that’s something I’m very proud of.

SA: Ok, good. Um, did you find that you were discriminated against or did you witness discrimination around that time?

SS: Yes there was some, but Chicago is very good in that respect. The west coast was very bad. But you know, the people from California, Oregon, Washington, every one of them lock, stock, and barrow, American citizens were taken out of the place and put in concentration camps during the war. There were no trial, no charges. Roosevelt issued executive order. And about 110 - 120,000 were put into ten different camps. We in Hawaii, we were much closer to Japan. We represented one third of the population of Hawaii. We represent more of a threat, but we never got, except for the Buddhist priests, the pre-school teachers, and the business people, who had dealings with Japan. These were rounded up. I think only about two or three thousand. So my folks were you know, left alone, so… Hawaii wasn’t bad at all, because we were part of the population. People knew us. Like in California, Oregon, and Washington, there was such a small minority of … nobody knew them. Well, there were a few.

SA: Uh huh.

SS: And we had nobody to speak up for us. Well because nobody knew us.


SA: Ok.

SS: And you know at that time, fear was really real. We did not know whether Japan and Germany were going to win. When people are scared they do things that are not legal or uh…

SA: Yeah.

SS: to protect themselves… So that’s what happened.

SA: Ok. Is there anything else that you would want to share with people about you? That I haven’t talked about yet?

SS: Just that America with all of its warts, is still the best place that I know.

SA: Ok.

SS: And I think that it’s proven that all these people from overseas want to come into America. From Latin America they try to come in illegally. People squawk. People bitch, but it’s still the greatest place.

SA: Um hum. Ok, well, thank you for sharing with us today.

SS: It’s not very interesting like many of the people here, come from Europe during the war, they go from Germany, to France, to England, to Mexico, then here.

SA: Well I still think you have a pretty interesting story.

SS: Well it’s a little bit different but uh…

SA: Sure


SS: And I used to go to Hawaii about every year, once a year, because I still have family there…

SA: Ok.

SS: But the last three or four years I got too old, and it’s a nine hour flight…

SA: It’s a long flight.

SS: And I couldn’t handle it so… I haven’t been back in three years. So the winters have been very long.

SA: Oh yeah, especially this winter.

SS: Yeah, yeah.

SA: Ok.