Monday, September 20, 2010



After reading the current discussion (re: restrictions placed on Italians during WWII) on the LNOSTRA-COSTA BLOG, I feel prompted to share this story with you and your fellow bloggers.


In South East Portland, Oregon, there once was a small but well built fruit stand in front of a nice private home. The fruits and vegetable were always the finest to be found, and arranged in artistic manner. The owners of this business were Mary and Haru Okamoto. Mary was Nisei, a native of Watsonville, California, while Haru, a
Nihon Jin, was born in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Their several children were all born in the United States.

The Okamoto gained a large following of customers, not just because of the high quality and fair prices of their products, but also by their friendliness and courtesy. Many people called them "Oka San" and "Oto San". (Grandma
and Grandpa)

By the time the war began, two of their older sons were already serving in the U. S. military. One of them later was lost in action. When the family was given short notice that they were to be bussed to a concentration camp in Arizona (because of those WWII restrictions against "enemy aliens"), they took with them all the clothes they could carry, plus a tricycle for the small children, and an electric iron and ironing board. Those three "luxuries" were the only ones at the camp, and they were shared by many families.

After the war they were allowed to return home. They continued the business until one morning a car driven by a drunken driver smashed into the fruit stand, and completely demolished it. Neither the driver nor the fruit stand were insured. Mary and Haru received no help to restore their business. It was over two years before they could resume their work, but somehow they managed to return to normal, with no help from those who should have given it.

On my latest visit there, I found the stand looking nice as before, but being run by a young American man. Haru had passed on, and Mary, now very old, was only working part time. Presumably the Okamoto are now both on the other
side of the "Nihon Hashi" or Japan Bridge.


GINO SAYS (CONT'D) It has been many years since the times I used to see these people. Their place was on 52nd Ave. in South East Portland, near the Rhododendron gardens, Reed College, etc. I would stop at the fruit stand any time I was scheduled to work on a TV anywhere near it, and buy something, either "ringo", (apple) "sakurambo" (cherries),"budo" (grapes), or "kaki" (persimmon). Note that persimmon is "cachì" in Italian and pronounced the same. It is also khaki in English, for the color of the leaves of the persimmon tree.


Ivano Franco Comelli said...

I received the below e-mail from Lawrence Distasi, Editor of "Una Storia Segreta". Thanks Larry for the added info.

this is a moving story. my only comment is a corrective one. the japanese were not removed because of the restrictions on "enemy aliens." some of them who lived in prohibited zones did, in fact, move for that reason just as the italian and german enemy aliens did. but executive order 9066 made it possible for the government to force "all persons" to move, whether they were american citizens or not. in the case of the japanese, the government decided that all persons of japanese extraction, american-born or not, had to move away from the Pacific coast. they did not, as the enemy aliens did, have the choice of where to go. therefore, about 110,000 americans of japanese descent, including about 70,000 who were american-born, were taken to internment camps such as the one in arizona mentioned here, and kept there for periods of more than two years. this included some of those "enemy aliens" who had moved away from prohibited zones already.
it is important to keep these things straight. what happened to japanese americans involved a greater level of control than that applied to italian and german enemy aliens.


Canadian Furlan said...

This message is for Gino. Excellent summary and recollection of your past. I can envision the fruit stand as if I visited it on regular daily routine. Gino your name says it all you are definitely a "Campione" In summary we can say War is ugly and benefits no-one.
Keep them flowing ... Molto bene e sempre avanti !!!

Ciao e Mandi
Doriano "The Canadian Furla"

Anonymous said...

Grazie, Doriano

Queste persone erano molto gradite e molto rispettate da tanti, anche da me. Mi dispiace soltanto che ebbi pochissimo tempo di conoscerli meglio, che avevo pochi minuti ogni visita.

Ache io, quando guardo le foto, mi pare che potrei vederli di nuovo. Forse ci vedremo, come dice Ivano, oltra l'ultimo ponte.

Saluti, Gino