Fay Jensen, interviewed by Carolyn Nakagawa, 30 April 2018

Fay Jensen, interviewed by Carolyn Nakagawa, 30 April 2018

Abstract
Note: This is Fay’s second interview with Carolyn. She was a part of her mother’s interview, Terumi Yamamoto, on 18 March, 2018.
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Carolyn Nakagawa (CN)
This is Carolyn Nakagawa. It's April 30, 2018, and I'm here with Fay Jensen in her home in Richmond. We're recording her oral history for the Landscapes of Injustice project. So Fay, I just wanted to ask you more about your family, the stories that you've heard from your mother, your grandparents, about their experiences coming to Canada. And what happened from there.
Fay Jensen (FJ)
Okay. Well, my father's father, Jinkichi Yamamoto (?) came from a wealthy family and they lived on the mountainside in Mio. He was a very spoiled young man. He a brother as well, a younger brother. But they both were very much-they loved to dress up, okay? And they loved to be in their silk pajamas or silk kimono's. And they would go out for geisha's (?). They were like movers and shakers, Laughs. these two fellas. And his mother, my grandfather's mother, was a single woman because her husband had passed away at an early age. But she managed to raise these two young boys into fine young men, but they loved the ladies. Yeah, so. It was time for my grandfather to get married. It was a marrying age, and he was supposed to marry my grandmother, her name was Yonei (?) , Yonei Shindei (?) . And he said, “No, no way, no.” He's into geisha's, he's not going to that woman anytime, anywhere. And eventually he did, but it was quite funny because even the people in that Mio (?) village-it was a little fishing village then-that they would say, “Oh yeah, there goes Jinkichi (?) with his slippers, going to get geisha” Laughs. So he was quite the character. He really was, he was a very colourful guy and whenever he told stories he was very theatrical, and acted out everything. He was a really interesting act-plus he was a very handsome guy. I don't know, I don't think he was fully Japanese. He had something. He looked like he was, you know, a half? You know half-yeah he did. He was very good looking and he was tall for being a Japanese guy. And so yeah, he ended up marrying Yonei (?), and she was a perfect bride, and they lived happily ever after bringing, coming to Canada, and making a new life with their family. And he was very smart, too. He was a very, an entrepreneur. Felt there was no Japanese items products, you know, in Steveston. That's where they resided. And he was going to import them. And he started a store. In the last conversation with-when you interviewed my mother as well-we talked about that. But he was such a good soul, even though he was a very smart businessperson. You know he had a big heart. IF they didn't have money “It's okay. Take it on credit, it's okay. You can pay me later” Then later his wife said, “No we can't exist like this. You can't do it” So they ended up getting rid of the store and buying a farm. And that was a farm on on One Road, in Richmond. (?) It was eleven acres. He felt, okay that's a great place to, you know, hire the kids to help them work, keep them all busy, and you know just be busy. They used to sell to everybody. Loblaws, all the produce that they used to make. Cabbage and whatever else they grew. And yeah, they sold it everywhere. He was quite, quite the business person. And that time too, anybody that had a lot of acreage, they had a lot of money. Because no one had acreage. So then the war came. And they took everything except for what they could take on their backs, and that was it. So it was pretty sad because you know they had animals, they had horses, and they had a vehicle because they had to transport their produce too, you know, to different stores, to the wholesalers. They had quite a substantial amount of money in property. So when they came back, I guess after the war, they again started with nothing. Like all the other Japanese that went to the camps and all that, they had hardships. Yeah, so. So what else can I say, right?
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CN
Absolutely. Yeah, I have a few questions about what you said so far.
FJ
Okay.
CN
Do you know like around what year it was when your grandfather and grandmother came to Canada?
FJ
That I don't know. And I wish I knew because it's too late to ask my mother at this point. I know they were still very young. I don't know, my dad was born 1914, so he was born here as well. So they were here long before that. No, I've got no idea about that.
CN
And do you know why they decided to come to Canada?
FJ
Yeah, to have a better life, you know, for the children and thinking that Canada was the way to go. And you know just have a better life for their children.
CN
Was it something that happened shortly after they were married, or?
FJ
Yeah it was because my grandfather was quite, you know, he was venturesome as well. And I guess they both thought when they got together, “Let's go to Canada with all the other Mio people that went,” right?
CN
Well yeah, I know. Laughs.
FJ
Yeah, because there's a huge community that came from Mio to here.
CN
Yeah including my family.
FJ
Exactly, and that part of Wakayama as well, right?
CN
Yes. Yeah.
FJ
Yeah.
CN
Yeah. Well I'm curious also because your family is from Mio, if your grandparents were involved in fishing at all?
FJ
Not-My mother's father was, he was a fisherman. And so was her, my mother's grandfather was also a fisherman. We told you that they had a silk farm, as well, in Mio. That's what the mother did, she ran the silk farm. And the father was a fisherman. But in my father's family, they were landowners. So they were not fisherman. So what they did was-because they had quite a bit of land-they used to rent the land to other people-because they didn't have land or crops to grow rice or anything like that-so they leased the land to them. So they were quite business savvy, especially his mother, my grandfather's mother which would be my great=grandmother. She was very business savvy. Because she was a single woman, and her husband died very young, so she had to survive. And luckily she was very bright. And that's what she did. She leased the land to whoever didn't have money so they could grow the crops. In return, they would give her crops or money in exchange for leasing the land. So yeah, they were very, very bright. And that's where my grandfather got his business way of thinking, you know. He was always importing things or-you know he was a very smart guy. I guess that's where I get it because I have a store, right.
CN
Yeah, you do.
FJ
Yeah. That's what my mother said, “You get it from your grandfather” Both laugh.
CN
Entrepreneurial, across generations.
FJ
Exactly. Yeah. So interesting.
CN
Mhmm. Definitely. Can you tell me a bit about your dad and his experience born in Canada and growing up here in Richmond?
FJ
Sure. My dad was the oldest son of Junkichi (?) and Yonei (?). And they expected a lot from him. But he wasn't the most healthiest of guys. Yeah, he always had issues with his health. In fact, he went to Japan many times thinking that they could cure him in Japan. My mother said that you know when they got here, he did try fishing for an occupation and he wasn't strong enough to pull the nets or something like that. And he really had health issues from a really young man. I remember even when I was born, like he was in and out of the hospital, constantly. Whether it was his lungs or-like they thought he had TB at one point, which he didn't, he had some kind of lung infection. But they put him in the TB ward! If you can imagine. Yeah! They didn't even test him, they thought, “Oh well he could possibly have TB” So they put him in there for a month.
CN
Oh my gosh.
FJ
I was blown away. I thought, “What? They put him in there? They don't even know he's got it”
CN
This is in Canada?
FJ
Yes.
CN
Do you know around when that was?
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FJ
That was probably, died about, he died 23 years ago, so. Oh must have been at least 40 years ago that that happened. You know because he had a hard time breathing and they thought, “Okay it's got to do with his lungs” And then they thought, “Okay he's got TB” And it's because he worked as a labourer for Elcam Aluminum (?), and he was a polisher. And what happened was the dust, the aluminum dust, got into his lungs. And the couldn't even detect that. In those days, they had very little things to prevent-like safety, you know safety in the workplace? Like now, there's you know, you have to have masks and you have to have proper shoes, and it's all about safety in the workplace. Then they did nothing. So he had a lot of aluminum dust and that's what it was. But when he did fish when he was a young man, it was a problem for my mother when they were married due to the fact that fishermen were out for a long time, out fishing you know, and you know my mother was quite a beautiful woman when she was younger, and there was always guys after her. So she said to him, “Look. You have to quit fishing because if you don't, I'll be in big trouble here with yin-yah (?)” So he ended up quitting. And that's what he ended up doing, working for Elcam Aluminum (?). So yeah he didn't want to lose his wife. You know he was after her from day one because it was an arranged marriage, but it kind of wasn't. He was really interested in her and he had asked his mother to ask my mother's mother if he could have her hand in marriage and she went, “No way. Don't marry that guy” Laughs. “No way” And then my mother, my grandmother said, “Oh no, you know. He'll be someone that would really take care of you. And his family's, a good family, they've got quite a bit of money. You won't have to want for anything. So I think you should do that, you know you should marry him” She said, “Oh he's so quiet, he's so boring! I don't want to be with somebody like that” Laughs. But she says, “I think it's a good idea” So they arranged the two to get married. And at first she was like, “Oh god, no” But you know what? He was the love of her life. Ended up really a good thing, and a good marriage, so it worked out great. Yeah.
CN
I want to go back a bit more to the farm that your father's family had,
FJ
Uh-huh.
CN
And how you heard about that growing up. What was your-when did you learn about this farm that your family had?
FJ
Oh when I was just a little girl. Because they often told me that you know, whenever we would drive by that area, they would go, “You know what? Your grandfather owned a lot of property on this land here” And then when we drove by it was like a Chinese market at that point. And I went, “Oh, wish we still had that property” Laughs. They always used to tell me as we drove by because we used to live in Steveston and then we moved in the Seafair area in Richmond, and that's why we went to Steveston a lot. And then we'd drive and she would always tell me, “Yeah you know, your grandparents had a lot of money and you know he was a rich kid,” and how he used to love geisha's and that whole story, right. And that yeah it's a shame that they took all that property all away from us. So yeah I knew as a little girl that that was ours and we lost it, you know. So what can you do about that, right? Nothing much than just, “Wish we still had it” Laughs.
CN
So this story came to you from your mother?
FJ
Yes, she told me a lot of the stories. How they, when they had to leave, how sad it was. They brought everything that they could with them and how my grandfather kissed his horse and patted him and you know just said, “We'll be back to get you” Never came back for him. Somebody else took the property so, yeah.
CN
And what was your relationship with your grandfather like?
FJ
I had a great relationship with him because my dad was the oldest son, and when he got older my grandmother passed away, he lived with us. So we had a great relationship. I loved him. And he was a chain smoker, he'd sit on the sofa, you know that one little armchair sofa, and he would tell me great stories and act them out. You know, he was an actor. That's what he should have been, you know. He's hilarious. And then he would sit down and smoke, like one after another. One's finished, butt it out, and then light up another one, right. And he'd continue on with another story. No he was a great guy, and a real character. I really enjoyed him. I think it's nice when you live with, or at least you get to know your grandparents, you know what I mean? You learn a lot from them. And the love that you get from them. No there were special moments. I'm glad he was there with us. You know, that time I'm really glad my mother was with us because my children got to really know my mother. They hardly knew her. It was funny because they spent twenty some odd years or more with her, but they hardly knew her, which is really sad. Until she came here. And then they got a really close bond together, which was really nice to see. And I should have brought her in before that but you know, she was reluctant to come because she didn't want to be a burden. She still wanted her independence. So when she did come, it was a really good three months. Both of them said, “We're so glad she came” You know they got really close with her, it's great. So when my mother passes, my young son Cody's (?) going to the eulogy. Which I thought was really cool because he loved her the most-well maybe my other son loved her as well-but he really showed it. Because he was very caring and always looked after her. So when I asked him, “When mom does pass would you do it” He goes, “Of course I'll do it” You know, because he's a ham too he must get it from my grandfather. He's not scared of talking to anybody or being on stage. Yeah he spent a lot of special moments with her so it was all good.
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CN
Do you remember any of the stories that your grandfather used to share with you?
FJ
He used to tell me a lot of stories and act them out, so I can't remember one specifically but I do remember him acting out every one. And always promising me, you know he's funny he always had a little sack of coins, okay, and he'd always say to me, “Fay this is going to be yours” Laughs. I mean I was just a little kid right. “Oh, great,” right? Might have been like five dollars at the most in there, right. Carolyn laughs. I'm going, “Oh thank you,” you know. But he just strung me along for years on this little satchel of coins. Which yeah I thought was really funny but I don't know. “Oh thank you grandpa” I never got it but that's okay, he just strung me along you know. But no, I don't remember anything specifically but he was a great story teller. Yeah.
CN
Were they usually happy stories?
FJ
Yeah they were usually happy stories. He hardly complained about anybody. You know he had a big heart. But he had a bad temper. He had a bad temper. Like he was a very generous guy and he used to give like even when his mother had property, and he was the same when he had you know, say the goods of the store. And he'd say, “I'm going to give this to this customer” And my grandmother goes, “You can't do that, we're not making any money,” right? And he goes, “I'm giving it, that's it. Don't even talk about it” And he'd start throwing things if she nagging at him right, like “You can't do that,” “I'm going to what I'm going to do, and that's it” So he's very strong willed and he had a bad temper but he didn't really-he ju8st acted out like “I'm doing what I'm doing and that's it” Like don't bother me. Both laugh. But he was a good guy. Yeah.
CN
And did he talk to you about the wartime years or losing the farm? Or was that only from your mother?
FJ
It was only from my mother that I found out. You know because when I was younger, I really didn't understand it when I was just a little girl. As I got in my teen years my mother would explain all this to me and it wasn't easy because even her, when she came from Japan, she didn't want to come here. Why would she? She had a great life in Japan. She was like doing tea ceremonies and ikebana, having, you know she said it was lonely because at three she was left there but when I look at her pictures, I don't think she was that lonely. Laughs. You know what I mean? She had friends and things like that. And she would go to Osaka and visit her auntie and things like that. And she really didn't want to come here. And I'd think, “Why didn't you tell her that, that you were that lonely” You know when she was talking. “This doesn't sound like what you told me,” you know. But maybe she was because she always resented the fact that she was left at three.
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FJ
She always used to say, “I can't understand why a mother would leave a child at three and go all the way to another country, and let her mother-in-law look after me” She said, “I could never do that to my own child” When I think about it, I couldn't do that to my own child either. That would tear me apart. But I guess that's what was done in those days so the new immigrants could make a living without a burden of having a child to look after. Because two people had to work, they had no money. I mean I understand it in that way but I don't understand it another way in how could you leave a little girl that young? You know. Basically fending for herself. She had no mother or father and when she did come back, at nineteen, they were strangers. How could you relate to your mother and father? You don't even know them. They are like strangers. And then she thought to herself, “Why did I come here” You know. It's like, “I don't even know these people, and there's dirt all-there's no roads here, it's all dirt” She said, “It's so uncivilized,” right? And she really was yearning to go back to Japan, she really was. But she thought, “Well you know I have to stay here with my parents as an obligation” They are her parents, and the war was going to start, and this and that. So she had no choice. But I know she didn't like it. If she had her choice, in fact she begged her grandma to stay. Like, “Can I stay here” “No your parents are wanting you to come back to Canada, you have to go” But she begged her and cried that she didn't want to go. So she did really like it there, you know what I mean? I mean it's lucky that she came because she met my dad and I would never have been here right if she didn't. But no they had it tough. They didn't have it easy. And now, well before she was fine, they were good and everything was good, life was good. But that was a tough journey for them.
CN
Can you tell me a bit more about your mother's family and that-you said her father was a fisherman?
FJ
Yes, her father was a fisherman.
CN
And her mother worked, took care of, ran a silk farm.
FJ
That was her grandparents.
CN
Her grandparents, right.
FJ
Right. That she was raised by. And her father was a fisherman as well, and her mother was a cook. And she cooked for all the guys that were fishing up north, and that's what her profession was. She just cooked, cooked, cooked wherever she did. And I don't know how because she was a terrible cook. Laughs. I think, “How did they eat that, whoa” She made great manju but that was about it. Laughs. So I thought, “Okay” But yeah, that's what she did. I think during the war too, they worked on the sugar beets and things like that, but once the war was over that's what her job was, to cook for all the guys that were fishing. Yeah.
CN
And do you know why they came to Canada?
FJ
Same thing. To have a better life. Yeah. And they had a tough life, you know. It's too bad, they were born at the wrong time, you know. They were immigrants that had nothing and then the war happened and then that was brutal and then they had to start all over again. So, they didn't have much money. They were very poor, it's really sad. Plus they had to raise my uncle's children, my cousins, because of the fact that my uncle's wife, my aunt, she was caucasian. She left the kids when my cousin was nine months and then her brother was nine months older than her. And she just left them. Yeah, so then my mother's mother and mother's father, who never looked after my mother, they looked after their son that was born after my mother and they spoiled him rotten. And that was the son's wife that left for another man. Yeah. Yeah. So then my grandmother had to look after those two kids, my uncle's children, because she left. In order for him to get remarried to somebody else. So she raised her grandchildren instead of raising my mother.
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CN
Wow.
FJ
Yeah. And it was very tough on my cousins, especially my cousin Sharron (?). Because she was a girl. And they didn't want anything happening to her and blah blah blah, you know about getting pregnant and this and that, and they were older so they were really super strict. So she had a really ugly childhood, yeah, because they had to raise her, they were forced to raise her. Her father hardly saw them, which was another sad thing. And because he was remarried to another women, and she had children, they had children from both of them as well, and he hardly came. And it was really sad for them as well. I thought, “How ironic. Here's my mother, who is their real child, they never looked after her. And here they are looking after their grandchildren” I thought, “Whoa, is that karma or what” Laughs.
CN
Wow.
FJ
Yeah, so that was tough on both sides. My grandparents and my cousins. And yeah there's side effects from all that for sure. I'm really thankful that my cousin-she had a really horrible childhood and because she was half, and at that time, halfers weren't really a good thing.
CN
No this would have been in the 60s, or?
FJ
Yeah, more than that. She's like, she was born in the, oh I think, yeah she was born 1949 I think.
CN
Oh my gosh.
FJ
Yeah. And at that time, for a Japanese person to marry a, you know, caucasian, it was unheard of. And if it was, it was kind of taboo. And the children-there was a lot of racial tension there, you know what I mean? And she wasn't really accepted by the Japanese kids or the Caucasian kids, because she was half. Like not like now, everybody's half. You know what I mean? And there's no big deal. There's so many mixes now. But then? Mmm. That was not a good thing. So both generations, you know, suffered through that. My grandparents raising my cousins. Yeah it took a lot, there was a lot of side effects form that. My cousins good now, she married a great guy and she's got a great family and very happy and everything's good, but in her early days it wasn't so good. Yeah.
CN
And did they grow up in Steveston as well?
FJ
Yes they did. Yeah. Yeah they grew up just off of Moncton Street. And very humble beginnings. Yeah.
CN
Well that was something I wanted to ask you about as well. You mentioned when we were taking with your mom the house that you lived in when you were first born.
FJ
Right, it's a heritage building. It's the red brick building. And there was many families living up top. The downstairs was all retail, okay. There was a drug store and Marine Grocery where we, whenever we had X, my mom would give us a nickel or a dime at the end of the week and we would run down to the Marine Groceries and they'd have all these penny candies that you know were all on the bottom. Oh we spent hours there picking out which ones we wanted in a little bag. I mean it was great. That part of growing up was a lot of fun. But that building housed maybe seven families. And there was a communal washroom. Which was just a toilet, like two toilets at the very end of the hall. There was no bathtub, no shower. So if you wanted a bath, it would be in a steel tub, like those old steel tubs. And my mother would like heat up the hot water and then make it the perfect temperature and the kids would go in first, you know. Like I would go in first because I was the baby, and then I'd get the clean water. Both laugh. I know. Because we couldn't waste water, right? And so my brother went in next and if it was still you know relatively clean, then one of the adults would go in there. And then the next, the next day would be something else. It would be my mother or whoever and then somebody else would go in after that. But there was no sink in the toilet either, just a toilet and that's it.
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FJ
So talk about humble beginnings. Like really humble. We had a three room apartment. So, the first room was like the sitting area and the kitchen. With the stove, the sink, the fridge and everything. The next room was my bedroom with my parents, and then the other room was my brother's room. But no modern luxuries, none of that. But one thing I did have is in all the rooms we were facing south in that building. We had water view. We'd watch all the boats come in, the tug boats, and the big boats and the little-and we had a beautiful water view then. And I didn't realize how luxurious that was, when I grew up. Because I always thought, “Oh my god we were so poor,” you know, because we had nothing after the war. But it was like, “Whoa” But hey, that view was something else. We had the first t.v. set, of the whole apartment, you know. There was seven other families. And all the kids would come running into our apartment and we'd be watching the cartoons. It would be like a little theatre at our house because we always had the kids at our place, and they'd always watch the cartoons there. That part of growing up was always a lot of fun. But I remember when it was evening and I'd go and play with my cousins who lived just off of Moncton. We'd have a race. We'd go to the very middle of where we both lived and we'd race home, you know, at night. Maybe it was only 7 o'clock but we thought it was late, right? Because we were still like little kids. We'd run home and I used to be really scared of-because the apartment had steps, okay? And then a platform and not so many steps, maybe about six steps after that, but it was always dark and dingy on the steps, especially at night. It was like, “Eeee,” right? And I used to be really kind of-not kind of, I was scared of that. And they had like the light was just from the string, you know how you see in those old movies, those old type of houses that you know, they just hung from a string, and I'd just tear up those stairs like there's no tomorrow and run to the, like run to the apartment. And yeah, I was always scared in there. I was very thankful when we left. We left when I was ten. And I was very paranoid. Plus I was a latch-key kid, and my brother as well, because my parents both had to work. Because there was no money. So I always had a necklace, with like a string, with a key on it. And my mother always had a wooden orange box, you know those wooden orange boxes that they used to make mandarin oranges and they came in a wooden box? She'd always keep that on the side of the door because I was so small, I'd have to move the box over and stand on the box and put my key in the door. You know? So I always used to remember that because I was so short. And my brother used to drive me to school in his car-not his car, his bike. And I used to sit on the handlebars. And my mum used to say to my brother, “Now you take her to school” The kindergarten, I used to go to Catholic kindergarten. “And you make sure that she gets there,” right. Well he always wanted to go early because we always wanted to play marbles, right. Laughs. And do alleys with the other boys, right. So he'd put me on his handlebars, we'd go to the kindergarten and he'd drop me off-well I wouldn't let him go. Carolyn laughs. Because I was the only one there.
CN
Oh.
FJ
Yeah, and I was only like four or five-because I was born in December so I was always younger than the other kids-and I'd go, “Don't go” And then we'd both be crying. Because I didn't want him to go and then he wanted to go play alleys and we both couldn't do it. We'd be both crying on the steps until one of the Sisters came, one of the nuns, and said, “Okay we're going to let you in early but we have to talk to your mother then. You can't be dropped off like this everyday, crying” So yeah, it was quite something growing up. But we all grew up the same, nobody had money, you know what I mean? So we didn't feel like we were poor or anything, we just felt like everybody else.
CN
And were you growing up mainly among other Japanese Canadian families?
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00:34:53.000
FJ
Yes. Yeah, yeah. That's who we hung out with. I think a lot of immigrants, that's what they do. They ghetto-ize. And they stick to their own kind for comfort and strength and support. And yeah I grew up with a lot of Japanese Canadian kids, and yeah I had fun growing up in Steveston. In fact I'm reconnecting with a family now that grew up in Steveston because his mother is in hospice as well. And we're talking about old times and you know how we had fun as little kids there, and that was good. And when I was ten, we moved out of there. Which I was really happy about because I was terrified of that place. Laughs. And then I hung out with caucasian kids. And it's a shame because I think if I'd have stayed in Steveston, I would have learned Japanese. And at ten, before ten, I really didn't want to but I could have, you know, someone could have twisted my arm and say, “Come on let's go” and I would have done it. But when I moved and all my friends were caucasian, I wanted to fit in and be like them, you know. So I wanted to be a caucasian kids. So consequently I didn't learn Japanese. Which is a pity because I would have loved it right now. And even my children, I wish they would have known Japanese because they would have had a much better relationship with my mother and father. Because there was a lot of language problems there because they didn't know the language that well, because they ghettoized, right? So that's why I said my mother is hilarious, she's a fun person, got a great sense of humour, and she always entertained everybody, she always made them laugh. And she always had a lot of men that interested in her, not in that way but they loved to be with her because she was so-she was almost like a tomboy, you know what I mean? And she would make them laugh and they could say anything to her and she would be laughing and carrying on and instigating things. I always used to say, “You know you really like coming here because you're not like a regular Japanese woman” Carolyn laughs. And she wasn't, you know. And people would tell her secrets and she would never say anything, like, “Oh you tell me a secret, that's it, I won't tell anybody” So a lot of people shared stories with her. And today I got a phone call from this other lady that's my father's cousin and she said, “You know I miss your mother so much. We used to share a lot of secrets. And you mother is one funny woman and it's such a shame that she's declining like she is” And a lot of times I felt like I wasn't like my mother, but now I see her and I'm so much like my mother, it's crazy! You know. Because I'm the same type of person. A lot of men like glue onto me because I'm the same time of person. Like they can say anything to me, it's okay. I'm not going to judge them. You know what I mean? And we can all have fun and laugh and enjoy life. Yeah. So I'm happy I'm my mother's daughter. You know before you grow up you're like, “I don't want to be like my mother” You know? You think that, “Oh god no, I don't want to be like my mother” But as you get older, you'd be surprised. You're like your mother. Whether you like it or not. Yeah, and as the older you get, you think, “Whoa, that's my mother? I just did like my mother did” Yeah, it's crazy.
CN
Yeah no that's already happening to me. Both laugh. Yeah you actually touched on something else I wanted to ask you about which was language. Your parents, did they speak Japanese mainly at home?
FJ
Yes they did. And if I would have kept it up, I would have been more fluent, because my first language was Japanese. But it's funny, they speak to me in Japanese. And I speak back to them in English. But they understand me, which is crazy. You know you kind of do it like, it's kind of like Chinglish, but Japanese, you know, slang. And yeah it's funny, but yeah that's how it works. They speak Japanese and I speak English back. My brother as well.
CN
So it's always been that way?
FJ
Yes.
CN
In your family?
FJ
Yes, yeah.
CN
Hmm. And then where did you move when you were ten?
FJ
We moved to an area called Seafair, and it's just like the one in Frances. And it was one of the newest, new subdivisions out in that time, in the 60s. And oh yeah, we were happy to move there. There were very few Japanese people that lived in that area because they still were living in Steveston. But no we loved it. In fact my mother's house is still there. Yeah, she lived there until just recently.
CN
Yeah that's not very far from here is it?
FJ
No, it's like five minutes away.
CN
Yeah.
FJ
Yeah.
CN
So, was the decision to move based on being able to get your own house, or?
00:40:07.000
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FJ
Yeah, she wanted her own place. She said to my dad, “I think it's about time that we get our own place. I know it's going to be a financial burden for us” Because my mother at that time was working the cannery, and I think my dad was still fishing. I'm not positive about that point, I think he still was. But she said, “I think we should go. We can do it” And they did it. And it was happy ever after, right?
CN
Do you remember feeling conscious of that change when you moved, of leaving the community in Steveston?
FJ
Not really, because I was really accepted by the caucasian kids there. Because it was all caucasian I went to school with. I was the only Japanese girl there. Which I kind of liked, it was a novelty, you know. And after that I didn't see the Japanese kids until I guess I went to junior high, and then we reconnected again. And you always reconnect, it's like if you have good friends you always reconnect no matter how long the period you don't see each other. If you're good friends, you do.
CN
So have you been able to reconnect fairly regularly with your Japanese Canadian friends?
FJ
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CN
And your mom and dad, did they mainly have Japanese Canadian friends? Or did they have friends of other backgrounds as well?
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FJ
Ah no, they were mainly Japanese Canadians. And I think their closest were their relatives. But they had-my mother had a lot of friends. But yeah, she was a going concern, but there's very few caucasian friends. Not that they didn't want them, but it was a language deal. But that's okay, they're still happy.
CN
I'm interested in that because one thing that is more common to hear about families after the war is that they start to integrate more, have friends of other backgrounds, and not so much Japanese Canadian friends.
FJ
Right.
CN
But it sounds like in your family, well you had mainly caucasian friends afterwards.
FJ
Yes.
CN
But they've still been-but you've still had some presence of Japanese Canadians. And for your parents it was very much that they always kept their Japanese Canadian friends.
FJ
Yes, they did. And they didn't, you know I can't think of one caucasian friend other than their neighbours. But they didn't socialize with Caucasians.
CN
Oh yeah yeah yeah, there was no problem at all. They liked everybody. They weren't prejudice in any way of anybody. Even what happened after the war. They're forgiving.
CN
Probably going to have to jump around in time for a bit, but I was thinking about when you were living in the building in Moncton.
FJ
Uh-huh.
CN
I was thinking about when you were living in the building on Moncton? Fay Uh-huh?
CN
And you know with other Japanese-Canadian families-Was there a consciousness there? Like were you aware that this was different from what had been happening before you were born? Before?
FJ
No. We didn't think anything was different.
CN
Was always-That was how it always-
FJ
Yeah that's the way it was and we just accepted it, you know. And they didn't tell us any differently what had happened. That that was the way of life. And we lived that way. No one questioned anything, it's just that's the way it was. So, yeah. That was it.
CN
And your grandparents and your cousins lived fairly close to you.
FJ
My grandparents did, yeah, and my my-
CN
With the cousins?
FJ
The cousins that were raised by my grandparents, yes. They were just like two seconds away, not far. And my father's mom and dad, my grandparents from his side, they lived just down the hall in the apartment.
CN
I see.
FJ
Yeah.
CN
So you saw a lot of both sides of relatives?
FJ
Yes, yeah. Yeah they made sure that we always saw our grandparents. Yeah which is a good thing, yeah.
CN
And were they still in Steveston after you moved to the other part of Richmond?
FJ
Yes they were. Yeah. But we took my grandfather with us, on my dad's side. Yeah.
CN
Right.
FJ
Yeah.
CN
Would you still return to visit Steveston then? To visit family afterwards?
FJ
Would I?
CN
Or your family.
FJ
Oh yeah yeah yeah, totally. Yeah. Because my grandfather on my mother's side was still living in Steveston, and my grandmother before she passed away. So yeah we were there a lot. And plus my dad, some of my dad's side, was also living in Steveston. Yeah. So yeah, no it was all good. But my mother wanted to move out of Steveston because of the fact, you know when it's a small group, there's a lot of gossiping, yeah. She wasn't into gossiping. So she said, “I think we should move out of Steveston” Laughs. “I think it would be a lot more peaceful” And that's what she did. She moved out and-nothing against Japanese people, but they are very gossipy. Like any other race, right. It doesn't matter. You get close to people and they're all gossiping about you or this or that or blah blah blah, right? So she said, “Yeah it's kind of nice, it's nice and quiet here” Laughs. Because you could see like, there were seven families in that apartment, right? It's like, “Okay let's get out of here” Everybody knows our business-not that we're doing anything wrong-but they all gossip. So she says, “Yeah it's kind of nice to get away from all that” Carolyn laughs. Yeah, so she was a funny person.
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CN
Just checking my questions. I think I want to jump back in time now.
FJ
Sure.
CN
So your grandfather, Jimkichi (?), was he the oldest son in his family?
FJ
Yes he was.
CN
Okay.
FJ
He had a younger son and he died quite young, I think he was in his 40s when he passed away. I'm not too sure why he passed away. I think it was some kind of liver problem that he passed away at. And then he was the only child, and yeah he was a good guy. Yeah.
CN
I'm curious about if you know what happened to the family's property in Japan?
FJ
Yeah, I know. Because even when I was small, my mother used to say, “You know it's okay that we lost our property here, okay. But we still have property in Japan” But I think that because they didn't go back, the other relatives got the property. I've got a feeling because her parents had property and it went to a relative in Japan because they didn't go back, and they had to pay taxes and all that. So whoever lived there, who paid the taxes, my parents gave them that land. So I've got a feeling that's what happened to my grandfather's property, as well. Same thing. I don't know exactly, but I've got a feeling that that's what happened. So all the properties lost. That's okay, you know what I mean. What can you do? You know, I'm not going to sweat over things that coulda, shoulda, woulda. You know? I'm not going to sweat about that.
CN
I had a question, oops, that left my head. Oh yeah-do you know if there was any discussion or intention on either side of your family about going back to that property in Japan? Like was that a plan at any point?
FJ
It was while my mother was still normal, that we would go back to Mio. But I mean it didn't happen. But you know what? I'm going to look into that. And I'm going to check it out. And if it did go to them? Great. You know all those years of paying property taxes, they should have it. You know what I mean? I mean sure it belongs to us but you've paid all the taxes, so it's okay. So yeah I'd like to go back. In fact that's what we're going to do but I was thinking, “She can't walk that well anymore,” and Japan is like, there's a lot of wobbly sidewalks and roads and-
CN
Mio's on a hill.
FJ
Exactly. So I thought, “You know what? I think we're dreaming of going back there” You know what I mean? I think my mother was dreaming. That it wasn't a reality that she wanted to go. But once everything is said and done, hopefully I can go and check it out. And take maybe one of my sons with me or whatever-cause I don't know if anyone would know and I can't speak Japanese that well, so. But hey, I'm resourceful. You know. Yes, I'd like to check it out.
CN
Yeah, I think you should.
FJ
Yeah.
CN
I was actually wondering if many years before, if it had been a plan to go back to Japan to live?
FJ
For her, or?
CN
For her or either of your grandparents?
FJ
No, they just, that was their life here and that was it. They didn't want to go back other than to visit. Yeah, because my parents have been back many times visiting, but no, they didn't want to go back.
CN
I don't think we've talked very much about the war years.
FJ
No.
CN
If you remember stories about-So your parents were married in Greenwood, right?
FJ
Mhmm.
CN
So before the war, they were both in Steveston?
FJ
Mhmm.
CN
And your father's family had a farm?
FJ
Mhmm.
CN
And your mother's parents were involved in the fishing?
FJ
Mhmm.
CN
And then, do you remember hearing much about the time when they had to leave?
FJ
Yeah the only part that she told me was they could only take whatever they could, and about my grandfather kissing his horse, and how you know-was it night that they left? I'm pretty sure she said they left at night and they went on a train. And when they got there, they had to work the sugar beets. Sugar beets, I think it was? They had to do farming there.
CN
In Greenwood?
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FJ
Yeah.
CN
Oh, I see.
FJ
Yeah. And also in Lethbridge, because they went to Lethbridge as well. So they did, I'm pretty sure it's all like vegetable farming. And that's what they did. But it wasn't-you know like I said, were there gates around there? Were you almost like a prison camp? “No, no. But we weren't allowed out. So all we did was work there and the accommodations were very”-yeah they're pretty bleak-“and a lot of families, they had to live together” And like she said they had to share the cooking because there was maybe four families that lived in a tiny little place. They had to share-share everything. Yeah it was pretty sad. I can't remember anything else that they said other than that they worked like crazy, on the farms, the conditions, living conditions were ugly. She was so happy just to live in a little even tiny place on her own with her husband because everyone had to live together. And that's not easy to do, you know, with your sister and your brother and their wives and husbands, you know what I mean? Oh my god. It's tough enough living with your own husband. Laughs. So yeah no she didn't talk too much about. I don't know what happened to them, a lot of people would be very resentful because it wasn't right what they did, but you know they took it with a grain of salt. Like it was done with them and they had to deal with it and they dealt with it and they didn't resent anybody. Which I'm really, really surprised, because if it was me I would be very resentful. I'd think, “What? I worked that hard and they just took it away just like that. When you come back, somebody else is living on your property? That doesn't make any sense” You know what I mean? I said to her, “Well who's your deed, your land title deed? Where was that? I mean can you not find it” You know at this point I mean there's no records anywhere, okay like, but that's not right, I would be very resentful. If I came back from the war and some hakujin guy was living in my property? I'd have it burned, you know. But they couldn't do anything about it. And I said, how could you be so pauses I don't know. You know what I'm saying? I would be very upset about it. And they weren't that upset about it. I'm really shocked about that. You know if it happened to my kids, or me, we would be like crazy. We would be like warriors to get that property back. Laughs You know? I don't know. They didn't talk much about it. Yeah, other than it was a hardship on them. And coming back, that was difficult because they had no money and they had to live in like, really, really humble beginnings, like really humble. It's like, “Whoa, wouldn't you resent that, too” You know what I mean? When you're doing fine and you're a business person and you've got property and you can take care of all your children and they would have property, because you had so much property? No. Yeah, so it might have been really hard on my grandfather more than anybody else, because he was the one that started it. But you know, I was so young and I didn't know to ask these questions before. And now it's too late because all these people have passed away. And it's hard to get that information now. Yeah.
CN
It's interesting because it sounds like, well I'm thinking about when I meet people who are Japanese Canadian, often people will ask each other you know like, “Where was your family during the war” Like, did they live in Greenwood, did they live in Tashme? But it sounds like in your family the strongest part of that memory was about the farm that was dispossessed.
FJ
Yes. Yeah it was. You know even all my cousins are saying the same thing, “Wow, what a raw deal that was” It is a raw deal. But what's done is done, right? There's no recourse now. I don't know. Long pause.
CN
Yeah, that's interesting because it is part of Landscapes of Injustice research. Because there has been more focus in research on the forced removal, like the actual moving.
FJ
Right.
CN
And Landscapes is looking specifically into property.
01:00:15.000
01:00:15.000
FJ
Right.
CN
So it's really great to have your story.
FJ
Right.
CN
So that's such a central part of the memory for you?
FJ
Oh yeah, for sure. Even when I drive by today I go, “That could have been mine” Both laugh. But I would share it with my relatives. If I got that money, I would share it with all of them. It's like, oh my god. Long pause.
CN
Just checking my questions. Laughs. Shuffling of papers. I'll pause this. Tape is momentarily paused.
CN
So did you hear much about daily life in Greenwood? Or in Lethbridge as well?
FJ
Very little. Other than they worked very hard on the fields. And they really didn't have a life. And I think when my brother, when he was small, yeah they did like, she used to say, “Oh we used to do, like dad and I”-even the men had to work in the fields, right? That there's just rows and rows of these sugar beets that they did. They were like, they were not like regular rows, like they were like a mile long at least, okay? So they'd look at it and go, “Oh my god” They've got to do this? And then they had my brother, okay? Which he was in a carriage, okay? Still a baby. And they put him under the tree, so he could nap while they worked. So they'd be going down the rows, doing their thing, then my father would say, “You'd better check on him. What if something happens” You know? “You better go check” Meanwhile she's like laughs at least a mile down, right? She's got to trek all the way up to see what he's up to. Okay that's what she said, life she said was difficult. Because they had a baby. And so she'd run all the way up, and there's the carriage, tipped over. But he'd be sound asleep. You know, right next to the carriage. And she's like, she said, “Oh tears just came down my cheeks thinking, 'Oh my god I have to do this, I can't even look after my baby because this is what my life is like.'” So she put the baby back in the carriage and then made sure he was okay and then walked all the way back. And that's what she said life was when he was little. They worked in the fields and they had no choice, right? She said it was ugly. It wasn't a happy time then.
CN
Then it was just the three of them in Lethbridge?
FJ
Yes. Yeah, just the three of them. I didn't come into the picture until they came back here.
CN
But your grandparents and other family members were still-
FJ
They were, yeah, they were there too.
CN
-were also in Lethbridge?
FJ
Yes, yeah.
CN
On both sides? They all came?
FJ
Yes, yeah.
CN
So did they live in a house-do you know if they lived in house together, or?
FJ
I don't think my mother's parents lived with them, I think it was my father's parents and there was two other families. His brother and his wife, and I think his sister and her husband.
CN
All together, wow.
FJ
Yeah. In a tiny house. It was like, my mother just hated it. She hated it. And like she's pretty, you know, can stand up for her own rights but her sister-in-law was brutal. Yeah, so, you know, she ran the roost. So she said, “Oh my god, just to be with them was torture” Laughs. You know, because she had to share the kitchen and they all slept pretty close together. There was no privacy. Yeah, it was pretty grim.
CN
But then when they moved to Steveson, they had their own apartment at least.
FJ
Yes they did, they had their own accommodations. They didn't have to all live in one little house by themselves. Which is, was a good thing. Yeah. But I think initially when they came back, they had to live with some other, at least one other family, or two other families. Until they could get their own place. Yeah.
01:05:09.000
01:05:09.000
CN
What about your father? Did he ever share any of these stories with you?
FJ
Very few stories. He was a very quiet guy, you know, and my mother was always the one that shared the stories. Because we have a good, close relationship. I always asked her, “Well what happened about this” you know, and blah blah blah. And then we'd go on talking about different stories. Yeah.
CN
Did you feel like there was any reluctance to talk about any of these things with your family?
FJ
No, not at all. No.
CN
Just a matter of who was quiet and who liked to talk.
FJ
Exactly. Yeah my father never said anything, was very quiet. Yeah. That's why she didn't want to marry him. Laughs. But he ended up to be a good guy, so it was worth it. Yeah.
CN
Well I think those are all my questions.
FJ
Oh good, okay.
CN
I wanted to ask if there was anything else you'd like to share about your family's experience with this history?
FJ
I'm just thinking. Pretty much covered everything. No that's probably about it, I can't think of anything else. Off the top of my head. Yeah.
CN
I actually did just think of one more question.
FJ
Okay.
CN
So you say you drive past that area where the farm was and still think about it. Is that something that you've shared with your children as well?
FJ
Oh, definitely.
CN
Yeah?
FJ
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FJ
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FJ
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CN
I see.
FJ
They were supposed to be tunneling under Cambie, you see?
CN
The construction contractors.
FJ
Yeah, tunneling. Not cutting and covering it as they're going. Because on Cambie, when they did do that, you can basically play basketball on Cambie. There was no cars going down there, no business. So anybody who did a business there, they basically did zero. You couldn't get there. It was inconvenient. You couldn't even travel down Cambie. So it's like, okay. So you know what I'm saying? How could you get reimbursed for eleven acres when it's so long ago and they would just go, “Eeeh” You know what I mean?
CN
Like try to brush you off.
FJ
Yeah, for sure. You know unless of course you had a whole bunch of other people who had a bunch of land. And you went as a group. Which is more powerful than just one person. You know what I mean? Then you've got somewhat of a chance, maybe. A little bit of a chance. You know what I'm saying? But then it would start a precedent, too. Like okay if we won, okay then are other groups going to come up and say, “Well we were treated wrongly and you took this away from us and we want to be compensated” That's what they did to that girl Susan (?) when she won? And everyone was happy the girl that won-
CN
Right, right.
FJ
She won like-
CN
The business owner.
FJ
Yeah the business owner. I can't remember how much money. And then later, they thought, “Well you know, we're going to appeal it and get our money back. Show them an example of what could happen to somebody who does fight against us. Okay you won, but too bad. We're appealing it. We're getting our money back” It's like, whoa. Yeah. You know you see all this stuff on TV, right? I mean the state and all these movies and do this to you and do that to you and plant things on-it's true! Well it is. Because it happened to us. You know what I mean? All of these things that, “How could that happen” And it did. I mean how could we, you know, how could they say we have a grow-op here? That's insane. But they did. Just to make our, try to make our lives miserable. You know what I mean? It was like, whoa. But they're capable of doing anything. If they want to stop you, they will. It's scary, really. Yeah.
CN
When you were going through this, were you thinking of what had happened to your parents and their families?
FJ
Not when I was going through this, no. Because I felt it was a different, different fight. You know what I mean? But when I do drive by Juan (?) Road, I think, hmm. I do think about it and think, “Wow that's just so unjust” You know? Yeah.
CN
Well should we leave it at that or is there anything else you want to add?
FJ
Sure. I can't think of anything else.
CN
Great, well thank you so much for sitting today and sharing your stories.
FJ
My pleasure.
01:19:03.000

Metadata

Title

Fay Jensen, interviewed by Carolyn Nakagawa, 30 April 2018

Abstract

Note: This is Fay’s second interview with Carolyn. She was a part of her mother’s interview, Terumi Yamamoto, on 18 March, 2018.

Credits

Interviewee: Fay Jensen
Interviewer: Carolyn Nakagawa
Transcriber: Jennifer Landrey
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Richmond, BC
Keywords:

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.