Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

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IMMIGRANT VOICES

The Matsuzawas: Nisei Marye Kimoto Remembers Her Family and Its Angel Island Experiences

by Nancy F. Fong

At 87 and living in Culver City, CA, Marye Kimoto fondly looked back on the lives of her family, which included her issei parents who were first generation Japanese immigrants, as well as her younger sister Bessie and herself, nisei who were the American born children of issei.

Born in Akita-ken, Japan circa 1884, Marye’s father Atsushi Matsuzawa learned both English and the bible in Greek while attending a school run by Christian missionaries.  Arriving in California in 1911, he furthered his studies at Stanford University.  Atsushi worked at the YMCA for a time in Los Angeles.  Later, he moved to Livingston, in the San Joaquin Valley, to farm on the 3,200 acre spread of the Yamato Colony that was established by fellow Japanese immigrant Kyutaro Abiko, publisher of the revered bilingual newspaper, Nichi Bei Times.  Grapes for raisins were amongst the Colony’s cash crops.

Over the next 17 years, Atsushi traveled back to Japan several times.  On one of those trips, he met his future bride, Kazue, through go-between relatives, marrying her in 1922.  His new wife liked the idea of living in America, where she could eat bread every day if she wished.  After their wedding, he returned to the States, while Mrs. Matsuzawa followed later on her own.  Upon discharge by the immigration station in Seattle, WA, she traveled by train south to California to join her husband in rural Livingston.

Young Mrs. Matsuzawa found it an adjustment living away from her wealthy family.  Without the assistance of servants who were available in her home back in Japan, she had to develop housekeeping skills, such as cooking, which Atsushi taught her, because he was a bachelor for a long time and he was almost 20 years older than his wife.

Marye, Bessie, and their mother

Marye, Bessie, and their mother Kazue

Before long, the young couple was blessed with two daughters: Marye was born in Livingston in 1923, and Bessie arrived a year later, by which time the growing family had moved to nearby Cressey.  Marye recalled nostalgically that her very first baby picture found her laying in a crate used for drying grapes into raisins. Completely without previous farming experience (Atsushi came from a long line of Samurai background) he decided farming was not for him. Thus, he moved his family again to Oakland where he worked for a wholesale shoe repairing supply company owned by a Japanese family in San Francisco.

In the late 1920s, Atsushi decided to return to Japan for a better life.  He first sent his wife who was pregnant with their third child. His son Deen was born in the same house his mother was on September 1927, located in a rural community outside of Kofu, Yamanshiken.  When he finally rejoined the family, the long months of separation resulted in his young girls barely recognizing the stranger in a western-style suit, who appeared a tad disheveled from having assisted his taxi driver in repairing a flat tire during his trip from Kofu. After the reunion, the family lived in Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe.

However, resettling into Japanese life, Atsushi grew uncomfortable due to his many years abroad in America.  Other troubling factors increased his concerns about remaining in his homeland, including Japan’s deteriorating economy, the rise of its military, as well as its increasingly tense relations with America.  Uprooting the family again he decided to relocate back to America, for which Marye and her siblings are forever grateful.

Marye, Bessie, and their father

Marye, Bessie, and their father

The Immigration Act of 1924’s Section 4’s Subdivision(b) provided that an immigrant who was previously lawfully admitted into the United States the right to return to the country after a temporary visit abroad.  Therefore, the American Consular Service issued Atsushi a non-quota immigration visa in January of 1930.  Later that spring, leaving his wife temporarily in a Yokohama hospital because of a sudden illness of his young son, the 45-year old bespectacled father with the thinning hair set sail from Yokohama to return to California with his two daughters.  The passengers manifest of their ship the SS Taiyo Maru indicated that Marye and Bessie (6 and 5 years old, respectively) were returning to their country of birth with American passports.

On board the ship, Bessie came down with a case of chicken pox/measles and was quarantined from other passengers.  Although Bessie had already recovered from her illness, upon her arrival at Angel Island on June 4, 1930, immigration officials decided to quarantine her a while longer.  Had she not been sick previously, the Matsuzawas would likely have been released by the authorities without delay, as Atsushi’s previous trips were without incident.

Marye’s memories of her short stay on Angel Island were relatively carefree – with the exception of witnessing Chinese women crying, likely distressed about their pending interrogations, immigration cases, or potential deportations.  She and Bessie ran around and played with a ball.  They dressed dolls given to them with the clothes sewn by some kind-hearted female detainees.  She remembered lining up in the Mess Hall for meals.  Indulging Marye’s love of dinner time desserts like apple pie, Atsushi saved his for her nightly.  A week later, the family left Angel Island after Atsushi’s status was verified and a Medical Certificate of Release was issued for him, and Bessie’s condition was no longer deemed contagious.

The Matsuzawas resettled across the bay in Oakland.  The girls attended school and learned English.  Atsushi again worked as a wholesaler of shoe repair supplies, yet found time on the weekends to teach Japanese in Danville.  Changing jobs occasionally, Atsushi and his family moved around in the following years, including to northern Utah, and in Brawley, Imperial Valley, where he became secretary for a Japanese association.

By the time of the Pearl Harbor invasion, the Matsuzawas were living in Gardena, where the parents taught in Japanese language school.  Marye had graduated from Gardena High School, Class of 1941. She continued her education at Compton Junior College until evacuation.

Following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on 12/7/41, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order #9066 on February 2, 1942, which resulted in the relocation of approximately 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry (immigrant and native born alike) who lived along the western coast of the United States to one of 10 inland “War Relocation Camps” that spread over seven states.  Most of the Matsuzawa family’s belongings, including Atsushi’s beloved books, were sold for pennies on the dollar to enterprising secondhand dealers who preyed on affected families faced with rushed preparations for their pending evacuations.

Until the inland relocation centers were constructed, individuals of Japanese descent were initially corralled into temporary Civilian Assembly Centers that were mainly set up in existing racetracks/stables, fairgrounds, etc. because the Federal government opined that it was too dangerous to have them living within the western restricted zone and going about their daily routine.  So during WWII, the Matsuzawas were first detained at the Santa Anita Racetrack stables in nearby Arcadia before they were eventually evacuated to an internment camp in rural southeastern Arkansas.

While still in Rohwer, Arkansas, the Navy came to recruit instructors to teach the Japanese language to young naval officers. The war was close to ending and the military was preparing for the occupation of Japan. Atsushi volunteered and was accepted to teach at Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State University. He really enjoyed teaching these bright young officers. Some of them were able to use their Japanese language skills after the war ended in their business dealings with the Japanese.

Several years ago, the Department of Navy formally acknowledged with appreciation to this group of volunteer teachers who taught Japanese language to naval officers. This was not the Army Military Intelligence Service group who decoded intelligence and communicated with prisoners of war.

After the war, the family relocated to the Midwest, settling in Cincinnati, where Atsushi later died of stomach cancer.  With Bessie and Deen, Mrs. Matsuzawa then moved back to Los Angeles and found employment as a seamstress. Both mother and son eventually became US citizens.

Marye relocated by herself to Philadelphia, Pa from Rohwer Relocation Center in 1945, where she worked as a floating secretary at the American Friends Service Committee for about two years. After the war ended, she traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii on the S.S. Lurline to marry Herbert Kimoto, whom she had met back in Rohwer, Arkansas on one of his visits from Camp Shelby, Mississippi. Herb served with the famous 442nd Regimental Combat team in Italy and France. They eventually had three children. In the late 50’s, the Kimotos moved to Los Angeles to be closer to Marye’s family.

Marye worked for 33 years at St. Anne’s (originally a hospital and residence for unwed pregnant teenagers) as administrative secretary. When she retired in 1990, she became an honorary member of the board of trustees of St. Anne’s Foundation.

Marye and daughter Elinor Yoshida in 2010.

Marye and daughter Elinor Yoshida in 2010.

Their son, Jon, graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Architecture and worked for 25 years for the City of Tempe, Arizona Community Development Department. Now retired, he lives in nearby Laveen and is an active member of the Arizona Outdoor Hiking and Travel Club and also an active member of Laveen City Planning Committee.

Daughter Elinor is married to Yuzo Yoshida who owns a dental lab in Culver City. They have two sons; the older is married with three young daughters.

Younger daughter Tianne, who graduated from Long Beach State University, is a graphic artist.

Nancy F. Fong is an AIISF volunteer. The narrative was culled from a 2/22/10 interview conducted with Marye Kimoto by Eddie Wong, former executive director of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation.

Place of Origin
Akita-ken, Japan

Place of Settlement
Livingston, CA

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