thumbnail of The Great Depression; Interview with Togo Tanaka. Part 2
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CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Mark, take one.
INTERVIEWER:
—and I want you to stay always in 1934.
TOGO TANAKA:
1934, OK.
INTERVIEWER:
So I want you to first tell me, kind of how the Depression affected your family, what was it like to live in Los Angeles, in 1934?
TOGO TANAKA:
Well, in 1934, I was a student at UCLA finishing my sophomore year, and having to elect a major at that time. The Depression was something that we learned about, reading the newspapers, and you know, seeing people selling apples on the corner.
INTERVIEWER:
But what about you personally, I mean, was it hard times for your family?
TOGO TANAKA:
Well, it was always hard times for our family, so it didn't make too much difference. We owned a fruit and vegetable stand, so we had enough to eat, and when we sold that, then we grew vegetables in our back yard. But, I don't recall
it being any harder or easier.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, let's stop.
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh, I'll tell you what—
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Take two.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, can you tell me how you first heard about Upton Sinclair?
TOGO TANAKA:
Yes, I first was made conscious of him from those billboards in Barnsdall Park.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, I'd like you to start again if that's OK? Instead of saying \"him\"—
TOGO TANAKA:
Yes.
INTERVIEWER:
You say \"Upton Sinclair\"—
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh, all right, fine, all right.
INTERVIEWER:
Start again.
TOGO TANAKA:
All right, fine.
INTERVIEWER:
Just kind of put yourself, talk with, you know, enthusiasm.
TOGO TANAKA:
All right. [laughs]
INTERVIEWER:
It's all right to laugh. Try not to be so serious.
TOGO TANAKA:
Fine. Start?
INTERVIEWER:
Uh huh.
TOGO TANAKA:
I remember Upton Sinclair from having read about him, and having read his messages on those billboards that surrounded Barnsdall Park in Hollywood, across the street from the Los Feliz Elementary School, where I had attended school, during the green years. I also read about him in the political science classes that I took at UCLA, and became aware of the, of what he stood for in discussions with fellow students and reading that I did for classes.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, let's just go back to Barnsdall Park. If I was walking, if I was in 1934 and walking up to Barnsdall Park, what would I see? Tell me, were there a lot of signs? Tell me, describe to me a little—
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh, there were signs—
INTERVIEWER:
I'm sorry, just a—I was talking when you were talking.
TOGO TANAKA:
OK.
INTERVIEWER:
OK.
TOGO TANAKA:
I remember Barnsdall Park as a place that we call Olive Hill. It was across the street from a school that I first attended kindergarten through the sixth grade, and it was a favorite place for pupils who were allowed to cross the street—Frank Lloyd Wright had built some homes there, we were aware of that. There were places to play, playgrounds, on Olive Hill, and it was a place that we were quite aware of all through grade school. In the second year when I was at UCLA, since we lived in Hollywood not too far from Barnsdall Park—it wasn't called Barnsdall Park then, it was simply Olive Hill—and
these billboards sprouted all the way around, it was quite spectacular, and you couldn't help
—I remember
spending time reading each one and going from one to another
and was quite impressed by it because we were now studying about what Upton Sinclair stood for.
INTERVIEWER:
And tell me, what did the signs, what kind of things did the signs say?
TOGO TANAKA:
Well, EPIC stood for \"End Poverty In California,\" and, although in our family we didn't know we were poor, I guess we were by any measure, but we had enough to eat, and we had a roof over our heads, but we always, all of us worked in the store that my parents owned and ran, so that the idea that we could improve our economic lot, somehow or another, came to life as we read what Upton Sinclair was promising us. He stood for change, that as you went to school and learned what democracy was all about, he, was like a shining light.
INTERVIEWER:
Tell me a little more about Upton Sinclair, what you, what you thought about him and what he represented. Just the, you know, help me understand if I wasn't around then. Was it, was it something totally new, was he just one of a number of people who were outspoken at that time?
TOGO TANAKA:
I don't remember if he was that different. You know, we were, we were also bombarded with signs that said \"Free Tom Mooney,\" you know, in that, on those same billboards—I later learned that the lady who owned that hill was the heiress to the Anaconda Copper Company, and she apparently had the social concerns that I think were pretty much expressed by Upton Sinclair and the campaign that he was conducting in, in that particular year.
I thought it was very hopeful because it meant change, and there were lots of things about California and life as we knew it, that weren't totally satisfactory.
If you came from where I came from, at that time.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, so tell me a little bit about, what, you know, you started to say, what were some of the things that needed to be changed? You told me before, well, you came from the wrong side of the tracks, and-
TOGO TANAKA:
Well, in that sense, yes. [laughs]
You could not be a person born of Oriental extraction—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or whatever—and live in California during the '20s and the '30s and know that the laws governing us were not equal. My parents, for example, under the California Alien Land Law, could not own a home,
so we were forever condemned to be renters. They, if any one of us in the family desired to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or enter any of the professions, we could, but my parents could not, because they were what they at that time called Aliens Ineligible to American citizenship. And historically California had a record of anti-Chinese and anti-Japanese laws that had been successfully, I think, passed through the conflicts in organized labor. Beside the very elementary things of housing and work, I think that the idea that there were laws that prevented inter-marriage, not that any of us, you know, contemplated that, but there, it seemed to me, that there was an inequity there. The more that you studied the Constitution of the United States and American history, and you realized that the democratic principles upon which this republic was based, really were a goal and had not yet been achieved. And so, if you learned this in political science class at UCLA, then you accept the fact that, here comes someone who is not establishment but says, let's change some of these things, and Upton Sinclair, I think, appealed to me and all through the years I remembered him in that light.
INTERVIEWER:
OK very good. Can we stop for a second?
INTERVIEWER:
—again ask you to talk about some of the discrimination and the difficulties that you felt, and how you were looking for somebody that could represent change.
TOGO TANAKA:
I, I remember Upton Sinclair as a political candidate who, to me, held out hope for change and some of the things that I had become aware of in our society, were not equitable.
INTERVIEWER:
That's what you—
TOGO TANAKA:
So I welcomed his candidacy.
INTERVIEWER:
Again, let's try this one—you made, you did too much of a summary. You could expand it a little bit more.
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh, I see.
INTERVIEWER:
About how it affected you? You know—
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh yeah.
INTERVIEWER:
—what you couldn't have, or could or couldn't do and how- So I understand personally, you know, we remember how we sometimes forget what it was like—
TOGO TANAKA:
Well, for example, we always lived in a rented house. And my friends at school lived in homes that their parents owned. And when I raised that question of my own parents, they said, that the laws forbid them from owning a home, and so in school, especially when you got to college, or in high school when you attended civics classes, and you read the constitution, and you looked for anything in the basic laws of the land that said, why should my parents not be able to own land when, or a home, when my friends could, you found the answer in such legislation as the California Alien Land Law. And so, when you become aware of that, even as a teenager, and a student at college, then when someone like—
TOGO TANAKA:
—Upton Sinclair comes along and says, well, end poverty in California, but I also will bring about an improvement in a lot of citizens, that appealed to me.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, good. Thanks.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
We ran out about Upton Sinclair.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, so we'll change our—
INTERVIEWER:
Since we ran out of film right at the end of what we, you were saying—
TOGO TANAKA:
Yes.
INTERVIEWER:
I need you to say it again. [laughs]
TOGO TANAKA:
INTERVIEWER:
So, tell me again, what did Sinclair represent to you? When you started listening, you, you know, heard, you read some of the literature, you saw the signs, right?
TOGO TANAKA:
Yeah.
INTERVIEWER:
Was it- did you feel excitement? Did you feel like that there was a possibility of some real change?
TOGO TANAKA:
I don't think I felt excitement so much as a sense of relief, at last something is possible. I think that, in our family, my father had taught us not to expect too much in this country. I don't think he ever wanted to stay here, he felt that there was no future for anyone except a person of Caucasian background, because this was, as he said, a white man's country. And the belief that any real substantive change would take place in the laws that would give equal opportunity to someone of Japanese decent, was something that he had long since given up. And so, when Upton Sinclair's, you know, promises of change and improvement for the under-privileged came along, I accepted that as great hope, and something that I can use to argue my father about. But the, the enthusiasm that would come with the kind of dedication that people would believe in that, that wasn't yet a part of what I experienced at that time—that came later when war came about, and you had to make a choice—but I think Sinclair was a, what is the name, an introduction to a period of hope.
INTERVIEWER:
Great. You said that, how did you, you knew about him through, mostly through the signs at Barnsdall Park, or did you read?
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh, I did a lot of reading, and I used to read everything in sight. When I worked in the fruit stand for my parents, you know, our customers would give us discarded books, and a lot of these paperback, you know, _Popular Mechanics_, and Western stories, and, and newspapers because we wrapped vegetables in newspapers, but the magazines I always put aside, and I read all of them. And we went to a library, but, and I read newspapers, we had six or seven daily newspapers in the city, and you read about and began to clip things about Upton Sinclair, and I also, I, I think, discussed with friends, but the introduction to it came from those sign boards, I remember those very vividly.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, so you need to tell me once again about seeing the signs because there was a little problem—
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh, sure. [laughs]
INTERVIEWER:
So tell me again about, was it Olive Hill?
TOGO TANAKA:
Olive Hill right.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER #2:
Can we cut for a second? I need—
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Mark.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER #2:
Give me one second.
INTERVIEWER:
Wait, wait.
TOGO TANAKA:
All right. [coughs]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER #2:
OK. OK then.
INTERVIEWER:
Go again.
TOGO TANAKA:
Well, what today in Los Angeles it's known as Barnsdall Park—
INTERVIEWER:
No, no, you can't start. You have to, you have to stay in one year.
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh, I have to [laughs] In 1934 it was Olive Hill as far as I was concerned. And I had gone to grade school from kindergarten through the sixth grade at Los Feliz Elementary School on Hollywood Blvd. between New Hampshire and Vermont, and Olive Hill across the street extended, oh, many blocks, from Vermont all the way to Edgemont, and then south to Sunset Blvd., and then again East to Vermont. And it, it was a tremendously large plot of land, and I think I did sense a great deal of, what is it, not only surprise, but delight when I read the sign boards set around that entire, Olive Hill, advertising Upton Sinclair's candidacy to End Poverty in California. And I remember that very vividly as one of the things about Hollywood, where I grew up.
INTERVIEWER:
And so these, these signs were surrounding the whole area?
TOGO TANAKA:
Yes.
INTERVIEWER:
How many signs do you think there were? Twenty?
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh no, there must have been much than twenty. I don't know. All I remember is that they were there and you read them, and people couldn't help but see them. And I can't remember whether that \"Free Tom Mooney\" was before or after, but those lasted much longer.
INTERVIEWER:
So it was like one big block long billboard?
TOGO TANAKA:
Yes, there were.
INTERVIEWER:
Can, what did the, you had a good friend that was the son of one of the editors of the L.A. Times. What did the L.A. Times represent at that point to you, and did you ever have disagreements, did you-?
TOGO TANAKA:
Well the L.A. Times was a very stodgy, staid newspaper, that probably represented in a very dignified way, what the establishment stood for. This was a white man's country, it was the feeling toward people, you know, who were from the, from Asia, was not expressed as vocally or as, I think, obviously as in the William Randolph Hearst newspaper, The Herald and The Examiner. The expression \"yellow peril\" appeared less often in the Times than it did in The Examiner or The Herald, and the people who wrote in the cartoons that appeared too, were not as openly racist as we would call it today, but the Times was not the most influential newspaper, as I recall, in those years. The Hearst papers were more, and I believe they had a bigger circulation.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, did you read the book, ever read the book, The Jungle, Sinclair's book?
TOGO TANAKA:
The, which one?
INTERVIEWER:
The Jungle, did you ever read-?
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh yes, yes I did, I certainly did. Yes that, I—
INTERVIEWER:
Was that the first time you ever heard about Upton Sinclair, was reading that book?
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh no, no. That came in the course of some poli sci classes at UCLA.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, you had said, in school, that you used to write, have discussions, and write papers about the campaign, do you remember at all any of the kinds of discussions you had with other students? Or what those discussions may have been?
TOGO TANAKA:
Well, I don't remember too much in detail, except that, it seemed to me our, the people that I went to school with were evenly divided between, you know, feeling that California's future was in the hands of, was in good hands, that the Republican party was providing the kind of leadership that we needed. And, I rode to UCLA with two friends who were neighbors, we were classmates through grade school, junior high school, high school, and in college together, and it seemed to me that my views, generally, were left of center and theirs were in the middle or to the right of center, that they felt—one who's father was a political editor for the Los Angeles Times—felt that the stability and the growth of the California government rested firmly in the hands of the Republican party, and I regard myself as a prospective Democratic party member.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, did you ever receive any anti-Sinclair literature, did you see any of that?
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh, I'm sure I did. I have not saved any of it, and I don't remember much of it. I think at that time you had kind of a closed mind against the opposition so [laughs] I, I was a reader in political science for several professors at UCLA, and I know that, I tutored some football players at Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, and I used to delight in the fact since they weren't very bright or studious in the courses that I read for, I used to slip in Sinclair propaganda in [laughs] some of the lessons that I corrected for them.
INTERVIEWER:
When your parents moved to California, did they think of it as being a—by many people thought of California as kind of a \"land of opportunity.\" A place where more things were possible—was that ever a feeling in your family?
TOGO TANAKA:
If they did I never heard it. No, they just moved here because it was the thing to do I guess, and they had run out of work up in Oregon.
INTERVIEWER:
OK. Can we stop for a moment?
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
No slate was marked for this next take, it was just roll out.
INTERVIEWER:
OK. Can we stop for a moment.
TOGO TANAKA:
Oh, I see. [laughs]
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Alright, this is take six. Audio only, wild track.
INTERVIEWER:
OK so, OK, so tell me about the newsreels that you saw.
TOGO TANAKA:
I used to, go through all of the Cowboy Western movies, you know, like Covered Wagon, this was in the '20s as well as the '30s, and that was our cheap form of recreation. So newsreels, Fox Movietone News, anything like that was one. There were a number of them that they usually, they were like a preface to a book, you know. They showed them first and then you saw the main feature. And, I remember in 1934 when Upton Sinclair was pictured as a menace to stability, and law and order in our society, and the fact is that, if you voted for him or if you campaigned for him, he was going to bring in chaos and the unemployed would flood California. Everything short of a Bolshevik or a communist, that this is what Upton Sinclair and his so called campaign to End Poverty in California stood for. Then, when we did see them I was, it could very well have been because I had found myself suddenly a minority of, people around there were cheering, and applauding, and I thought that they had turned up the sound for that portion, and I'm, in view of what I think we do with television these days, commercials get turned up more, I think that's what they did, in those movies.
INTERVIEWER:
And what did you think about those?
TOGO TANAKA:
I didn't care for them [laughs] particularly. I was, wished that they would get over with them as quickly as possible, but you ran into them everywhere, and you knew that someone was able to pay for those.
INTERVIEWER:
OK. OK, very good.
TOGO TANAKA:
OK, all right.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER #2:
Can I run some film?
INTERVIEWER:
Yes. OK, now what we're doing is, well you've been, probably been through this as well,room tone. They have to get the sound of the room.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
All right, we're just going to call this room tone in Westwood. Everybody get comfortable for thirty seconds and-
CAMERA CREW MEMBER #2:
And we're rolling.
Series
The Great Depression
Raw Footage
Interview with Togo Tanaka. Part 2
Producing Organization
Blackside, Inc.
Contributing Organization
Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
AAPB ID
cpb-aacip/151-kd1qf8k66x
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Description
Two interviews with Togo Tanaka conducted for The Great Depression on March 8, 1992 and subsequently on December 22, 1992.
Asset type
Raw Footage
Genres
Interview
Rights
Copyright Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode).
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Moving Image
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Credits
Interviewee: Tanaka, Togo
Producing Organization: Blackside, Inc.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: cpbaacip1512b8v98008q__fma259991int20120214_.h264.mp4 (AAPB Filename)
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Citations
Chicago: “The Great Depression; Interview with Togo Tanaka. Part 2,” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 9, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-kd1qf8k66x.
MLA: “The Great Depression; Interview with Togo Tanaka. Part 2.” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 9, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-kd1qf8k66x>.
APA: The Great Depression; Interview with Togo Tanaka. Part 2. Boston, MA: Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-kd1qf8k66x