Leslie Uyeda, interviewed by Josh Labove, 01 August 2015

Leslie Uyeda, interviewed by Josh Labove, 01 August 2015

Abstract
Leslie begins by describing her relationship with her two aunts and what she knew about them before they passed away. She talks about her aunts’ feelings and opinions on the dispossession and internment of their family. Leslie’s family largely kept silent about this period in their history. Leslie goes on to tell the story of how she was invited to attend a UBC convocation ceremony meant to honour Japanese-Canadian students who could not complete their degrees as they were sent to internment camps. Leslie reflects on how she felt when she was on stage receiving an honorary degree on her deceased aunts’ behalf. She then explains what sparked her interest in learning more about her family’s experiences during the period of internment and dispossession. Near the end of the interview, Leslie concludes with an account of how her Japanese-Canadian background influences her music, life, and individuality.
00:00:00.000
Labove Joshua (LJ)
August 4th, 2015. I'm Josh Labove in Vancouver BC with Leslie Uyeda. Okay, so you were showing me ...
Leslie Uyeda (LU)
This is the booklet that we all got with pictures, archival photos, and articles about those we were representing, those graduates that we were representing. These are my two aunts Lily Yuriko Uyeda who died of cancer in 1987 and she had become a deaconess in the United Church of Canada. This is my other aunt Mariko who became a teacher in the Montreal school system. She died in 2006 in Oakville, Ontario.
LJ
How much did you know of your aunts and how close were you to your aunts before they passed away?
LU
I was very close to both of them, yes. They were huge role models for me. My aunt Lily was very warm and personable and a real people person. When I moved to Ontario, she lived in Hamilton and then when I was living in Winnipeg she had been transferred to Brandon so that's very close by so we got to know each other very well over the years and I was with her in the hospital, actually, when she died, the moment she actually left the world which was a very meaningful experience for me. Mariko or Auntie Mariko as we always Anglicized was in Montreal for most of her life until she married an old friend of the family and moved to Ontario. So I got to know both of them very well. Mariko was a musician as well as a high school business teacher. She used to sing in the Montreal Bach Choir, studied voice with Pauline Julien in Montreal and, being a musician, it was Mariko who really led the way in making sure that my studies got off to a good grounding. She took me to my first opera which was not surprisingly Madama Butterfly of Puccini but I'll always remember that. So they were both very very important to me and especially since Lily never did marry and Mariko got married, I think not until she was about fifty-five. So, for me, as a young girl growing up they were amazing role models of women in business and bright independent women.
LJ
Did they talk much about internment? Was that something that came up or ...
LU
No, they did not. Especially Mariko, what I remember Mariko saying was that she would never come back here.
LJ
To the west coast?
LU
Never. Right. Never come back to Vancouver and I believe the quote was “they threw me out once and they will never do it again” and, indeed, she did not come back here to visit. She spent a few hours here, occasionally, just on route to somewhere else catching a boat or a cruise or something or an international flight and so I saw her. Of course, I visited her in Oakville many many times but here in Vancouver, no, she never did. I don't really know whether Lily ever came but she didn't have the same degree, or at least she didn't show it, the same degree of rage as Mariko did. My father, their elder brother, never talked about it. Neither did my Japanese grandparents. You know, I wasn't old enough when my father died, I was only sixteen and he was only fourty-nine, which was terrible, and I just didn't know enough about the world to know how to ask him any questions. I think if he had lived longer and if I had still turned into, more or less, the person I am I would have inquired a lot about it. The same with my two aunts, they just didn't want to talk about it. I remember in 1988 when Roy Miki and Joy Kogawa were leading the redress movement I asked Mariko about it because Lily was already gone by that time and she said she just didn't want to talk about it.
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LU
She didn't want anything to do with that. She wasn't rude to me but it was, like, “Pointe Finale. I'm not going back there.” You know, not looking back is a good thing for many of us a lot of times but not all the time. But, who knows. Again, I just didn't get around to asking her or really beseeching her to talk.
LJ
Maybe we can just go back to the first phone call you got about this UBC convocation. Where were you in your life? If you can just maybe set that whole experience for us. So it's 2013, I guess or ...
LU
Uh.
LJ
2012.
LU
Twelve, yes. Three years ago, now.
LJ
May, 2012.
LU
Yeah. May 30, 2012.
LJ
When did you first hear about this?
LU
I got an email, actually, from the Kitagawas. They had tracked me down and, I forget how, but they had and asked me if I was related to Lily Uriko and Mariko and I said “yes, they were my aunts.” So one thing led to another and I was included in the ceremony. Where I was at that time was I had ten years previously taken a journey to New Denver and to Kaslo where my family went during World War Two. I had done my best to research their whereabouts. I had not been terribly successful. There was no record of where they lived in Kaslo on the map that I saw. There were some of their family friends like the Reverend Shimizu whose granddaughter, Kathy Shimizu, I'm friends with today. I looked and looked and looked in Kaslo and I finally saw a picture of my two aunts in the choir standing outside the Kaslo United Church. That is the only proof, quote unquote, I had. I could see that they were there and then I contacted Elizabeth Scarlett at the Kootenay Archives and she was wonderful. She sent me more information and sent me some photographs that she had. So I felt that I had at least found them. That it wasn't just all made up. Of course I knew it hadn't been made up but when you can't find any record it's just a bizarre feeling. Growing up with the silence and ... So because my family was so silent about it, I don't know whether there was shame involved which I understand there was with a lot of Japanese-Canadians or whether they were just in a rage. I really don't know. I do know that my grandfather's silk store, Yamato Silks, on Grandville at I think it's Dunsmuir. It was right beside the old OB Allen jewelry store. That started to be ... it was a very successful silk importing company, I guess. I know that when the war started lots of racist, nasty slogans were spray painted on Grandpa's windows and my dad had to go out and wash them all off and things like that. So I knew it existed. I also know that in the '30s my grandparents, whose names were Kimmy and Bunjiro Uyeda, had donated 1000 cherry trees to the city of Vancouver. I thought, “well isn't that ironic?” You donate something to your adopted city and then a few years later you are persona non grata. Their house in Dunbar, I have gone by that many times. I have pictures of it from 1942 when they lived there and I thought “what happened to that house? Who lives there now?” I've never gone any further in that to try to search records and ring on the door bell and things like that which I have been emotionally tempted to do. I just haven't done it.
00:10:20.000
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LU
I just simply cannot imagine what it would have felt like to be living in a beautiful house in Dunbar, to be going to university, to be running a successful business, for my grandfather to be a pillar of the Japanese-Canadian community. He donated a lot of money, helped a lot of new Japanese immigrants and I know this from reading Reverend Shimizu's diaries. He did everything anonymously. So when I read Reverend Shimizu's diaries I started to understand that grandpa just wasn't a publicity hunter. So that just made it all the more difficult. So that's about where I was when this phone call came. The only other thing I would add is that I moved here in 1988 to be with my partner but also to work at Vancouver Opera where I worked for many years as a pianist, coach, conductor, and chorus music director. There was always something about Vancouver that felt foreign, not welcoming, but I didn't know what it was and if I had thought ... if it intellectually had come into my head that the internment had anything to do with my feelings now I would have probably 'poo pooed' that but it had everything to do with it and I did not discover that until May the thirtieth 2012 out at UBC.
LJ
So, May the thirtieth 2012, what was the event like? As I'm seeing here, this is the program for the convocation and it is a full convocation ceremony for UBC. So it looks like all the regalia, all the concessions and ...
LU
I have to tell you I was stunned. I mean, the Kitogawas were not ... well, I don't know how ... I was going to say they weren't forthcoming. That's not fair. I have no idea how much they knew about what it was going to be like. I certainly didn't and when Kathleen, my partner, came with me and my brother, Michael, who was going to represent Lily and I was going to represent Mariko on stage to receive the degrees but he couldn't because he knew that he would be too emotional. So, tough performer sister Leslie went up there and somehow got through it. When we arrived we went backstage to get our gowns and all that stuff and lined up. I thought this is going to be something amazing. We go out in line and went out on stage but before we went out on stage at the Chan Centre I realized that, I think it was five people from Japan or no, five original students were still alive.
LJ
Oh, wow.
LU
Yeah. Some of them were from Japan. One gentleman came back from Japan. Obviously, he's in his nineties now. Another was Charles Kadota of the really well thought of Kadota family. Diane Kadota is a well-known arts manager here. Her father, the late Charles, he was there and he was in a wheelchair by that time. So what they did, first of all they started off with the full scholarly ... what do you call that thing ... procession with the choir the UBC kids up there singing and I thought “I can't believe this.” This is just like the same one as when I graduated myself.
00:15:04.000
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LJ
And you went to ...
LU
I didn't go to UBC but I went to SFU. Well, they had pipers which is unique to SFU. But, “okay, this is serious.” I had thought it might be just a little ceremony or something but there was all the academic lineup on stage, caps, gowns, the chancellor, and the president Stephen Toope. The original students came up first and we were sitting behind them and I could see that Charles Kadota was weeping, and weeping, and weeping as his daughter, Diane, wheeled him to get his degree. In fact, he died in August of that year. It was as if he was holding on, just holding out, because his health had been failing, to be welcomed back home or something like that. It was just amazing. And so were the others and the audience, well it's hard to call them an audience but friends, families, and supporters were ... It was so moving I can hardly describe it. When it came time for us ... we were ... what were we called? Not representatives. I'm sorry I can't remember the word ... to go up I saw all the people in front of me go up but when it was my turn I just thought “how will I get through this?” but then they read out my name and the names of my two aunts and I got two certificates, two hoods, and there were a lot of pictures taken that day. There was a picture in the paper the day after in the Sun, which I have somewhere, and I happened to be in it. They just took a group of people and I happened to be in it but everyone in that picture had a specific look on his or her face and it wasn't ... no one was grinning. At that time no one was crying. It was just this indescribable look and it's just ... it's a look I had and I could feel on the inside and it was on my face. It's just something you cannot describe. Well, I can't describe what the feeling of this formal apology and first welcoming ... even now it makes me very emotional to talk about this. I felt in those days after that ceremony that my family was alright. That the bitterness and the pain that they must have experienced, even though I didn't know it from hearing it from them directly except for Mariko's one remark, was healed. I thought there was, of our family, a healing and who knows maybe that's why I ended up living in Vancouver to effect this change.
LJ
Yeah. Did they talk much about their time at UBC? Your aunts, did you know much about them as students?
LU
Nope. Nope. The only thing that Mariko said was that they humiliated her. When she was at university they humiliated her by imposing this curfew but, you know, these were snippets of things. As you grow up and you learn about the world and all of the refugees, that there are homeless people, nasty people doing nasty things to innocent people, you just think “I am very very very blessed and fortunate.” I did not know what that's like.
LJ
Yeah. You mentioned, before, that ten years before this you had gone to New Denver and to Kaslo. How did that trip come about for you? How did you find your way to researching your family's history and physically being present where they had been interned?
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LU
I had, I think, wanted to start as an adult living in BC. I wanted to start doing some research to find out something.
LJ
Yeah.
LU
I don't think it was more specific than that. I just wanted to go into the Kootenays. I'm not sure when the New Denver exhibit was formally opened but it wasn't that long ago and they actually properly made these huts look the way they look now. I wanted to see that and then ... we just wanted to take a trip into the Kootenays. Some of it was just having a holiday but this was the driving reason behind choosing that area of BC to explore. So we went to New Denver first because that's the way we drove. I did know when I saw those shacks in New Denver, I did know already at that time that my family was not consigned to those shacks. They were not poor. They weren't ... my grandfather was not a fisherman. It wasn't that kind of confiscating that went on for our family. So they were in Kaslo and they actually had houses. I don't know what they were like but I know that he did live in the town. He was not consigned to the Kaslo Hotel which had been turned into some place to put them. Seeing New Denver and seeing what some of those people had to go through was just very shocking but I kind of guarded myself from it a little bit because I knew that my family hadn't gone in there which is a pretty specific, if not a selfish way of looking at it. I was actually relieved that they hadn't had to go there. When we got to Kaslo, that was a different story because I knew they had been there. Growing up in Montreal, BC is so far away you don't think of anything past the Rockies. Your geography lessons practically didn't go past the Rockies and Vancouver was just something that had a funny football team and that's it. So when we drove to Kaslo the first thing we did was go to the Kaslo Hotel which is now a museum and spent a lot of time in there. At the end of our visit there that's when I actually saw their picture but it was in a stairwell. That's why I had gone around all the walls looking at all the information in the exhibit and so on and so forth but it was not until I was just about ready to leave and I saw them on the wall. And then we somehow ... we just spent the good part of the day in Kaslo and wandering around the lake there. I knew that my father had worked on the Japanese-Canadian, The New Canadian it was called, Newspaper there. He worked on that. Both of my aunts were teaching little kids in the camp as well as singing in the choir. Reverend Shimizu was there. I remember meeting him in Montreal when I was little, little, little, little but he was a very serene Buddhist-like character who was Christian.
LJ
Yeah, okay. Among the ... You know, you've compartmentalized these losses and some of them, you mentioned, your family may not have experienced but what does seem to resonate though is the house in Dunbar.
LU
Yes, it does.
LJ
Yeah. What do you remember of the house and what does that house represent for you or mean?
00:24:59.000
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LU
Well, what I ... I don't remember so much of the house as I have photographs of my family in the backyard, on the front steps, and I thought “oh, that looks like a very nice house” but that's all I thought of because that's all they said when I was growing up. When I came out here I determined quite early on to go and see if the house was still there. I arrived here in '88, '89 so the huge building boom had not begun but Expo had already been here so I thought that there's probably a chance it's not there but, anyway, it is there. So I would drive up there and just look at it and see my family, imagine my family there on those steps. It has a very particular front, this house, it's on a corner overlooking a park. It's probably worth gazillions now. Part of why that house means something to me is that my rage is involved in that house because it's still there. I think ... I wonder how the present owner has got it and the previous owners, how did they get it? And the previous owners, how did they get it? And did the first owners, after my family had had to leave, did they know how they came to acquire that house? In a way, as I've said before, I haven't started that journey to try to track that because, in a way, I feel that ... pretentious might be a bit strong ... but it was not my sorrow, in a way. It certainly wasn't my direct sorrow but these things are passed on whether it's through stultified silence or through rage or through verbalization or anything. I've read enough about the Holocaust. I've read lots and lots and lots of books about the Holocaust to know that ... one of the first books I read, after all the Elie Wiesel books, was by Helen Epstein. It's called Children of the Holocaust. I understood the syndrome there, what happened to the children of Holocaust survivors who were not born in one of those godforsaken places but were born in, say, Montreal and what they inherited whether their parents talked a lot or whether they didn't talk a lot. The emotions that they inherited meant that something was passed on to them and by no means was the Japanese-Canadian internment comparable to the Holocaust. I'm just referring to the passing on of emotions by whatever method to a generation that wasn't born when this tragedy to the family happened. So, that part of me thinks that “okay, I do want to know what happened to that house and I do want to see if those people there know how they got that house and it belonged to my family, not you.” That's what I feel like going up and saying. So what it means to me now is it's unfinished business but I have to say, since the ceremony at UBC which, as you can tell, was far greater than simply, quote unquote, the granting of degrees snatched from them. It meant a lot more to everyone who was there. It's as if UBC stood for BC and welcomed people back or their children were welcomed back and somehow it welcomed them back. So I don't feel the same kind of anger or bitterness on their behalf or in myself now about the house than I did before but it's still unfinished business.
LJ
Yeah, for sure. So you said that you used to drive past it.
LU
Yeah.
LJ
You haven't done that though?
LU
Not in a few years, no. Nope.
LJ
And you've never been in the house?
LU
No. I didn't have the courage those years ago to go knocking on the door. I thought “no, that's not fair.” So, if I want to do it I have to do it formally and find out who it is and find out the lineage of the house ownership and write to them and ask them if I can talk to them if it's appropriate. If it's not I wouldn't.
00:30:24.000
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LJ
Your grandfather was proud of that house? Do you have a memory of him talking about it fondly?
LU
No. No. No. But I know that my family was definitely, the five of them definitely, shall we say upper-middle class? My father was a business wiz. My grandfather was a very very bright businessman. Did very well for himself and died of a heart attack either in the stock building or in his bank. I'm not sure but something quite appropriate for him. The thing that the Japanese-Canadian community doesn't talk about all that often, maybe they are now, but they didn't in the beginning was the fact that a large number of the Japanese-Canadians at that point were dispersed throughout Vancouver like Caucasians. They were not all down around Oppenheimer Park in so-called Japan-town. I mean, some were but many many weren't. So there was nothing weird about my family living in Dunbar.
LJ
... The attachment to places like Steveston and Powell Street ...
LU
Yes. I don't have an attachment to Steveston at all apart from historical interest and what happened to those fishermen and their boats and after that. The digging around I've done about Japanese-Canadian history has just been a journey for me. I go to the Powell Street Festival every year. I had a wonderful time there this year. I also was very fortunate while I was working at Vancouver Opera to work on an opera for children that Jim Wright, the general director, commissioned from Ramona Luengen a wonderful Vancouver composer and with a libretto by Ann Hodges who's from Winnipeg based on the book Naomi's Road which itself is the children's version of Obasan by the great Canadian writer Joy Kogawa. I was the musical dramaturge and music director of that. So for two years I was steeped in all of this history as the company went about doing its research, and Ann was doing her extra research and she directed it as well, and meeting with Joy to talk about things which led to a real friendship with Joy Kogawa and I have since played, as a pianist, I have since played for fundraisers in her home. Not her home now, the Kogawa house now. So I now know a lot more about the whole Japanese-Canadian community. Now I go for myself. It's just fun. I have a lot of friends in the Japanese-Canadian community, too. Especially musician friends: Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, a terrific pianist who just did a great concert there the other day; Mark Takeshi McGregor is the new artistic director. So I have friends who are in that community and it just feels very much like a contemporary home for me, too. So I don't really do that much looking back when I go to the Powell Street Festival now. I just have fun.
LJ
Hm, yeah. It is also, as you know, impressive how much creative output there is from Japanese-Canadians, probably across the whole country, but it seems like in Vancouver in particular.
LU
Yes, I think so. Toronto too though because most Japanese-Canadians, from what I understand, went to Toronto. My family chose Montreal but the reason they chose Montreal is that my dad wanted to get out of Kaslo and so he said to his parents there, you know, “we can't stay here. We can't stay in Kaslo” but he wasn't allowed back to the coast. So, I don't know why my father chose Montreal instead of Toronto but he went to Montreal by himself and tried to get a job.
00:35:31.000
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LU
The only person who would give my dad a job was a Jewish man and I just got that. I just understood that later in life, why that would probably have been so. My father decided to stay there. My parents' engagement had been delayed because of the war so he said to his parents “if you want to stay in Kaslo you can stay in Kaslo but get my sisters out. There's no life for my sisters there.” So my grandparents, thank goodness, moved to Montreal and then my mom moved from here with her parents to Montreal and so my two brothers and I are from Montreal.
LJ
Yeah, and for your dad he wouldn't have spoken French presumably?
LU
No, no, no. But that was in the days before so-called English-speaking Canadians had to, really had to and wanted to be bilingual. No, he didn't really ever learn French.
LJ
Yeah, but found his way through Montreal?
LU
He did.
LJ
And what did he do there? I know that he passed away when you were still quite young but ...
LU
He was an accountant and he was working as an accountant at McGill University when he died.
LJ
Your mom moved back out here later or ...
LU
Yes, later with her mother and I can't remember where I was when they decided to come here but my mom and dad still had a lot of Vancouver friends. So she ... I think, you know, to get out of Montreal after her husband had died wasn't a bad thing. She waited ten years until we were all up and out of the house and all of that. Her father had died, my English grandfather. But, you know, it was time for her to make a move and it was a very good move for her to come back here and ... she had been happy in Vancouver. Undoubtedly, if World War Two hadn't come along they would have stayed in Vancouver because they liked it and my father was from here. Mom was born and raised in Winnipeg and in the states, actually. It was a nice place to live and it's where my grandfather first came as a young teenager from Japan.
LJ
Did you know where, or have you discovered where in Japan he came from?
LU
Nope. I know nothing. It's very sad for me. I know that his parents died when he was pretty young, probably as a teenager. I know that my grandmother, she had two names, Ogawa and Odajima and she ... you know in Japan they had this tradition of if somebody didn't have a brother or something, didn't have a daughter or son, somebody would adopt out one of theirs ... so my grandmother was sent to live with another family so they could have a daughter. That was very very common. I can't remember which is her original name. I think it was Odajima so she became Ogawa. She was descended from a samurai and I have a picture of him. So that's pretty nice laughs. So, anyway, they married in Japan at the home of the Hayashis. That I know and I have pictures of their wedding. They had two children in Japan who died as babies and then they both came back to Vancouver.
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LJ
And you know that in the 1930s they donated 1000 cherry trees to the city of Vancouver, to Stanley Park.
LU
Yeah, mhm.
LJ
I don't recall seeing 1000 cherry trees in Stanley Park.
LU
No. They're ... a lot of them are dead. They don't live forever, those trees. They would have been planted in various places. Some of the original ones in Stanley Park were theirs.
LJ
Oh, wow. Do you know how or why that came to be? How they came to decide how the means and the opportunity to give 1000 cherry trees, or the funds for 1000 cherry trees?
LU
Yes. I don't know specifically but what I can imagine, knowing a little bit about my grandfather as a philanthropist, was that he wanted to give something to his adopted city.
LJ
Yeah.
LU
When the war broke out and when Japan attacked Pearl Harbour and then Canada was in the war fighting against Japan, my father did tell me that was the only time in his life that he ever saw his father cry which is when his home, his native country, was fighting this terrible war against his adopted country.
LJ
I ... I ... Yeah. So when you came back you came to UBC, you said. To SFU, sorry. You went to SFU for ...
LU
To get my masters.
LJ
Oh, to get your masters. Okay. When was that?
LU
Oh, '97.
LJ
Okay, and had you already had family living back out here at that point or were you starting ...
LU
Yes, my mother was here. She had re-married by that time and my brother, Michael, was here.
LJ
So, at that point there was already family who had begun to make the migration west?
LU
Yes.
LJ
I was thinking for a moment that you were in undergraduate out here, on your own.
LU
No, I did part of my undergraduate at McGill and part at the University of Manitoba because I went to study there with a particular pianist. When Michael, my brother, came to work originally in the Queen Charlottes to be a ... or Haida Gwaii now ... to be a faller there and then he came here when he and his wife started having kids. They thought “okay, that's too dangerous and too far away.” So, he left and came to the mainland and worked for the city of Vancouver as a trees expert.
LJ
As a tree expert.
LU
Yeah, but he was a faller. So that's an incredible job now that I know more about logging.
LJ
Yeah.
LU
Yeah.
LJ
He, you said, was too emotional to receive the degree on behalf of your aunts but what is his approach to this process been? Has it been a similar sense of closure for him, you think?
LU
That's hard to say. My brother is a man of few words. Both of my brothers are men of few words so I don't know what Michael was really feeling and I didn't know until that day when we went to pick him up and he said “I can't go on stage. You have to do it.” I thought, “okay, I'm not going to ask him now.” You know, he had a vexed relationship with my father and so I think it must have been quite conflicting for him because my father didn't go to UBC so he wasn't being officially welcomed. But as far as I'm concerned, as I mentioned earlier, I think it was the whole Uyeda family that was let back in. So I felt very healed on their behalf. I'm not sure whether Michael did or not. He hasn't done any of this research or anything like this but he's just not that kind of fellow where as I am.
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LJ
Has your art been helpful in any way? I mean, you mentioned a little bit about working on Joy Kogawa's Obasan as a music production. Has art, in general, been a cathartic part of all this?
LU
Yes, I mean, art is a journey as you know and it has all its own ups and downs. The Japanese side of my family has directly influenced the way I write, for obvious reasons. When I write to haiku, I've written two sets of songs to haiku for the Japanese cherry blossom festival for Linda Poole a few years ago and had them performed. They'd been performed quite often. I've written two song cycles, or three actually, to Joy Kogawa's poetry and that's what we performed in her now, Kogawa House, Writer's Retreat. Art used to be a refuge ... music used to be a refuge for me but I finally got through enough in my life to know that I didn't want it to be only a refuge. I wanted it to be a path, too. So now it's pretty healthy for me but there's a huge huge Japanese influence in the way I write in some instances, not all the time because I'm pretty Western and I've worked in opera for years and years and years and so I'm filled with Verdi and Puccini laughs. It's pretty much the opposite end of the spectrum from Shakuhachi.
LJ
Right. Did you know that you were doing things that were distinctly Japanese or is it something ...
LU
Oh, definitely. What I didn't know was that it was in me. When I started writing songs to Japanese text or texts by Japanese-Canadians I didn't know but it's all there. So that's partly because of Mariko and her love of music and my grandparents used to have some Japanese music playing and it just ... I've been a musician since I was three and there's been a lot of music going in my ears and a lot of it was Japanese. Over the years, when I lived in Toronto, I'd go to the Japanese-Canadian Centre there to listen to performances there.
LJ
So Mariko was your first musical influence.
LU
Yes, definitely.
LJ
What sorts of things would she be putting in the headphones and putting on your ears?
LU
A lot of opera. She loved opera. She took me to symphonies. She was pretty Western. I mean, they were born here. That is the thing. They grew up with Western musical tastes but being from ... being the children of immigrants they naturally had a lot of original land music in their household, too. So, she would buy me recordings of Japanese music because she could see that I was interested in it. Koto, Shakuhaci, those were the main two. She had it on in her house but not all the time. It was kind of a mix. The main influence from Mariko was that she loved classical music and nobody else in my family did. Nobody. So I knew that there was a whole field out there which was there waiting for me to discover.
LJ
She sounds like a bit of a renaissance woman.
LU
She was, yeah. She really was.
LJ
And Lily?
LU
Lily was a real outdoors woman. Loved hiking, just being outdoors, picnicking, went to some far off places in the world. Well, they both traveled a lot but Mariko was a very, kind of, gentle person and Lily was, well, liked hiking boots.
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00:50:12.000
LJ
Both have a place in your daily life?
LU
Oh, absolutely. They influenced me profoundly. They really did and I'm very very lucky to have had them as role models because when I was growing up there were women who worked but there were more who didn't. So, the fact that they worked and it was completely normal ... nobody talked about it in our house they just ... my father worked, they worked. My mother worked, too. She had her own nursery school and ... So, I was very lucky with the women in my family which is important for girls.
LJ
Yeah, absolutely. They both sound like very strong, passionate women.
LU
They were. They were. Yeah, I was very blessed.
LJ
I'm trying to think ... what else. We've covered a lot of ground quickly.
LU
Yeah, we have.
LJ
Is there anything else that I haven't asked you that you think I should know or would be helpful in clarifying?
LU
No. I don't ... well, all I can say as kind of a wrap up is that I'm very ... I feel at home in Vancouver now. I miss Montreal, I miss Toronto, and big cities. That's why we go to New York and London and Paris to get real culture injections but there's no substitute for feeling at home in a place. So, to have lived here now since '88 '89, it's like twenty-seven years or something, and to finally feel okay here since 2012 is a nice ... it's not closure really but it's so much more insight for me and knowledge of what happened and I feel healed for myself and for them. So, going to the Powell Street Festival now is not so much a longing as it was and I've gone all these years and until 2012 it was a longing and a searching for them, really. I was looking for my family every time which might sound odd since I knew them growing up and everything but to come back here and to have them all gone ... The Powell Street Festival was what I was able to cling to. So now when I go and have fun that feels really good. It feels really good. So, thanks to people like Stephen Toope at UBC and Roy Miki and Mary Kitagawa and probably, not probably, but many others I think that so much has happened to heal this wound and to keep it ... I hope it's still being taught in schools so that kids know what Canadians were capable of doing. Like any other people on this earth we're good and we're bad.
LJ
Because you didn't learn about it in school?
LU
Oh, no, no. Or maybe one sentence, something like that. But you don't know what it is because nobody explains it and then when you read all the racist rhetoric that was going on by people like Ian Mackenzie and so on, you think “Woah.” We have to know that we are all so capable of that. Given the right trigger we will slam the door if we're not careful. So what happened while that particular incident might be on its way to being healed, what it was is completely capable of being repeated and if we don't watch out. That's the lesson.
LJ
It's an election year.
LU
It's an election year.
LJ
Yeah. Alright, well thank you very much.
LU
You're very very welcome.
00:55:11.000

Metadata

Title

Leslie Uyeda, interviewed by Josh Labove, 01 August 2015

Abstract

Leslie begins by describing her relationship with her two aunts and what she knew about them before they passed away. She talks about her aunts’ feelings and opinions on the dispossession and internment of their family. Leslie’s family largely kept silent about this period in their history. Leslie goes on to tell the story of how she was invited to attend a UBC convocation ceremony meant to honour Japanese-Canadian students who could not complete their degrees as they were sent to internment camps. Leslie reflects on how she felt when she was on stage receiving an honorary degree on her deceased aunts’ behalf. She then explains what sparked her interest in learning more about her family’s experiences during the period of internment and dispossession. Near the end of the interview, Leslie concludes with an account of how her Japanese-Canadian background influences her music, life, and individuality.

Credits

Interviewer: Josh Labove
Interviewee: Leslie Uyeda
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Vancouver, British Columbia
Keywords: United Church of Canada ; Ontario ; Oakville; Winnipeg ; Brandon; Montreal ; Pauline Julien; Montreal Bach Choir; UBC Convocation; New Denver ; Kaslo United Church ; Kootenay Archives; Dunbar; Yamamoto Silks ; Grandville; Dunsmuir ; Charles Kadota; Holocaust; Obasan; Naomi’s Road; Roy Miki ; Joy Kogawa ; Steveston; Powell Street ; Stephen Toope; Mary Kitagawa ; 1940s – 2010s

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.