Kamaroku Ige

ojichanMy Father

My father Kamaroku Ige was born in Yaka village, Kin, Okinawa on August 17,
1887. He immigrated to Hawaii in January of 1907 and worked in the sugar cane
fields near Pearl Harbor. He later went back to Okinawa to marry my mother and
then they both emigrated to California in 1921. They entered this country at Angels
Island in San Francisco. After some days in San Francisco they moved down to Los
Angeles and stayed at a hotel near where the Japanese American National Museum is now located. After some time working on the farm and strawberry fields they moved to Terminal Island where his fishing career started.

I remember hearing that he was thrown into the ocean during one of his fishing
trips. I only thought that he was pulled into the sea by a big tuna he caught. Some weighted over two hundred pounds. Last summer my daughter saw in the Ancestry.com what really happened. The boat he was on was down in Costa Rican
and Panamanian waters where they went for tuna. There the boat was rammed by a
freighter and the crew was thrown into the sea. Luckily, they were all rescued by
Costa Ricans, taken to Immigration Office and returned home. I still don’t know how
badly the boat was damaged and how they returned home.

On their trips down to Costa Rica and Panama my father would get shrimp and abalone. The shrimps were iced and the abalones were cleaned and placed on a screen inside the chimney. By the time they returned from their fishing trip, the abalone were
smoked and it was the best present for all of us. It was delicious and chewy and we ate it like chewing gum.

Looking back, I did not spend much time with father because he was out at sea
most of the time and we were separated most of the time during the war. When home he always woke up early to enjoy his coffee and cigarette and made school lunches for us. He never mentioned sports but I remember him going alone on the streetcar from San Pedro to Los Angeles to see Joe Louis fight before he became the heavy-
weight champion of the world.

I remember when I saw the fire hydrant near our home shooting water into the sky in Terminal Island and a street in Compton opened up. Thankfully, my father was home. I learned that the earthquake happened in 1933 and I was only 3 years old! It’s hard to believe but I remember it clearly. It’s surreal! What I don’t remember is the earthquake itself which I found out later had happened the evening before. That day we left Terminal Island to go to our friend’s farm in Norwalk and I remember, again, that we spent the night in the strawberry field.

We had a model T Ford but it was seldom used. My father drove but I found out later that he didn’t have a driver’s license. I remember the time he drove us to visit our farming friends in Hynes, now a part of Paramount. We played in the field and ate turnips and carrots that we picked. He didn’t drink sake but played the Okinawa samisen and sang until late. We kids would be in the car waiting to go home.

A judo tournament was held in Los Angeles every year. It was in a hall on San Pedro

Street across the street from where the East-West Theater is now located. There on the street near the hall was Jackson’s Cafe. On the outside were posted signs like “No Blacks” and “Whites Only”. It was okay for us. One evening my two brothers said they were going to the cafe for dinner. I wanted to go too and was upset that my father took me instead to a Chinese restaurant on the corner of San Pedro and First Streets. It was on the second floor and the name may have been ‘San-Kwo-Low’. I was still upset but then my father ordered several dishes and one was the almond pressed duck. When I bit into it I was so happy! It was so good and delicious that even today when we go to a Chinese restaurant I check the menu and ask if almond pressed duck is available.

My father enjoyed baking cakes, not only for us but for the neighbors too. He prepared memorable meals that were not our normal dinners. He once roasted six cornish hens, one for my mother, one each for my two brothers, my sister and me, and one for him. On one holiday season he took me shopping to San Pedro to buy dried fruits and nuts. I didn’t know what they were for but soon found out that he needed them to bake a big fruit cake.

He also salted and packed fish in 5 gallon soy sauce wooden tubs he got from the market to send to his friends in Imperial Valley and distant farming friends in the Los Angles area. In return, we received honeydews and cantaloupes from the Imperial Valley and vegetables, citrus fruits and strawberries from friends in the Los Angeles area. He was a kind and generous man. He enjoyed his Chesterfield cigarettes and roll-your-own Bull Durham tobacco. He never drank alcohol but I remember once on a New Years day a friend came and he had a small cup of sake with him. That was too much for him.

We lived next to an open field and could see the beach and breakwater from Long Beach to Cabrillo Beach, and the Navy airfield. In early December 1941 I looked out the back yard and saw the entire Navy fleet anchored along the breakwater. On December 7 my brothers and I went fishing and saw that the entire fleet was gone and when I went home to get lunch there were no men around, just the wives huddled outside the house. That’s when I found out that Pearl Harbor was under attack by Japanese planes and the entire Navy fleet was in Hawaii.

One day when we returned home from school there were no men around and I discovered that my father and all the fishermen were arrested. They were sent to the Tuna Canyon Detention Station as well as the detention station and the Federal prison on Terminal Island. We didn’t see our father again until we were briefly reunited at the Rohwer relocation center in Arkansas in 1943. My father had been sent from Tujunga to the Missoula Detention Center in Montana and then to the Santa Fe Detention from where he was released to join us at the Rohwer Relocation Center. The rest of us first entered the Santa Anita Assembly Center and after six months sleeping in a horse stable we were shipped to the Rohwer Relocation Center. I remember my father made wooden geta (clogs) in Montana for the four of us and sent them with bags of pine nuts but we had all grown so the geta were too small for us.

I can’t remember when but my father was again sent and detained at the Santa Fe Detention Center and I believe it was because of his insistence to be sent back to his birthplace in Okinawa. Our family was then sent to the Tule Lake Internment center. After the war ended and when we learned that our father was sent to Japan my mother, wanting to return to Los Angeles, decided she wanted the family to stay together so we were evacuated to Japan in 1946.

When we met our father there he was working at an Army camp and lived in a rented room in a farmhouse nearby. He quit the job shortly thereafter because mother was in a hospital some distance away and he was there to care for her, by her side, day and night for several months.

I remember the time my father took me to a bank in Tokyo to withdraw some of his savings that he had made for us to go to college either in the states or in Japan. He found out how little his savings were worth from the years he worked hard as a fisherman. I saw the anger and disappointment in his face and I could see that all he wanted was to return to his birthplace in Okinawa. Fortunately, he did not see the war destruction there because he and mother returned to the states afters several years in mainland Japan.

I did not know what my father’s interests were when at home and he never told us about his love for sport and music. He enjoyed playing the Okinawa shamisen and singing. He once took the train from the outskirts of Yokohama where we lived to see Misora Hibari’s stage show in Yokohama. She was just a child but was getting rave reviews for her singing and acting performances. She became Japan’s most popular singer and actress.

I’m glad that I was able to meet my father at the Haneda airport in 1963 on his way to Okinawa and take him to my home in Misawa, Japan. I was then assigned to the Army and Air Force Exchange Service at Misawa Air Force Base. My daughter Natalie was born there and my father was able to see her and hold her in his arms. She was 2 years old. He then finally returned to Okinawa and lived there with his brother and family until his death a year later. It is now his final resting place.

About the Contributor

By: Tsutomu Ige