MS. HIDEKO "HEIDI" SAKAZAKI
Oral History Interview
Date: July 31, 2020
Ms. Tracy Huddleston and Ms. Karen Coffee met with Ms. Sakazaki on July 31, 2020. In addition to a recorded interview, Ms. Sakazaki prepared written responses to the subjects to be covered in the interview. She prefers this representation of her family’s history.
Name: Hideko “Heidi” Sakazaki
Birth: March 28, 1928, Clarksburg, California
How long and where specifically did your family live? Except for years of internment during WW II, family lived in Clarksburg, California. Father came from Japan in 1905 and mother, 1923. Mother said she came just before the ban on immigrants from Japan to US.
Where did your family come from and what drew them here? Both came from Hiroshima, Japan, to the US to seek a better life. They sought to earn enough money so they could return to Japan and live comfortably. My father loved living in the US and had no intention of returning to Japan. First, he worked to pay off all debts his grandfather had incurred. His grandfather, a trusting soul, was head of a village. He co-signed IOUs for anyone who asked. When these debts went bad, my father paid off every cent owed by his grandfather. Mother said he kept meticulous records of every cent he paid.
Community in which you grew up: I grew up first in Clarksburg (near the Freeport Bridge) next to Kirtlans who still live there. Neighbor on the north side was a Portuguese family. They didn’t speak each other’s language but got along well. Mother said her Portuguese neighbor taught her how to preserve food like salting fish and pork. In 1934 we moved to West Sacramento (Slack Ranch) to farm, mainly seed crops for Ferry Morse Seed Company.
How did your family and the community celebrate holidays? Family celebrated New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving, Independence, and Christmas at home. Community held family picnics at a public park. For New Year’s, my parents pounded 100 pounds of sweet rice to make mochi, using an usu and kine, a Japanese tradition. They also made traditional Japanese New Year’s food, osechi. Everthing was so tasty, I couldn’t help but overeat. I was a glutton.
Occupation: Parents were farmers.
Remembrance of grandparents and great-grandparents: No recollection since I never met them. Grand parents lived in Japan; they passed away before we were able to make a trip to Japan. I felt sorry for Mother because she couldn’t see her Mother (my grandmother) before she passed. My parents were too busy working and couldn’t afford the trip to Japan nor did they have the time. Growing seed crops is extremely labor intensive. During harvest time, they would work at night under the moonlight.
Did they experience any particular challenges? Mother recalls spending her last $5 on a hunk of ham she bought from a local grocer so she could make ham sandwiches for us to eat while being hauled away to the internment camp. When she returned home and opened the package, the hunk of ham was crawling with maggots so she had to throw it out. Obviously, the local grocer was prejudiced against the Japanese, an evil person with no morals. We ended up eating peanut butter and jam sandwiches, which I liked better anyway.
Family: Father, 9-23-1891, Deceased; Mother l/30/06, Deceased; Sister 2/18/25 Deceased; Brother 1/27/27; Myself 3/28/28. First born died during childbirth. We were all born at home with the help of a midwife. Mother said when I was born on March 20, it was raining so hard for days, she couldn’t drive into town to get me registered until March 28.
Where did you attend school? Attended First Grade at Clarksburg Grammar School for several months and then my family moved to West Sacramento (Slack Ranch) where we attended West Sacramento Grammar School. We lived three miles from school. There was no school bus service where we lived. During inclement weather, Father walked us to school. He put our school books, lunch buckets, and shoes in a bag, slung it over his shoulder and hauled it to school for us. We changed from boots into our good shoes a block before reaching school grounds.
The school building still stands but has been converted into apartments. There were only three classrooms so several or more grades were conducted in the same room. One teacher taught more than one class. Attended Freshman Class at Clarksburg High School and then finished high school in Tule Lake Internment Center, Newell, California. I did not attend college but took evening classes in management and paralegal courses to qualify for State examinations. First ten years, I did domestic work for room and board while working for the State. Commuting from home was too precarious during foggy winter days. I don’t know how I managed, but during this time I would wake up at 4 AM, clean the Living Room, sweep the patio, and mangle dozens of shirts before heading to work in downtown Sacramento. I took Public Transit. The Bus Driver and I became very good friends. He would wait for me if I was late in the morning and remind me to get off if I forgot to get off.
Special memories of school or teachers? I enjoyed all my classes. Teachers in Tule Lake Internment Center were dedicated. Most were interned themselves who had college education but did not have credentials for teaching. There was one Caucasian teacher who was “hopeless.” All he did was recite from text. He taught Economics.
What did you do for fun during youth? We played the usual kid games. During winter when parents couldn’t work in the field, we played board games, like “GO.” One had to think more than several moves ahead to win and anticipate your opponent’s moves. It was a challenging game. I think my parents let us win to enable us to maintain self-confidence.
Where did you shop? Father shopped in Japanese stores in downtown Sacramento, Jimbos for groceries and Yorozu for dry goods. Mother shopped at JC Penneys for our school clothes and Sears or Montgomery Wards for other items.
Jobs you had: After release from WRA, we worked in Roy, Utah at Varney Canning Company peeling tomatoes alongside German war prisoners. After one season of cannery work, my sister and I did domestic work, first in Ogden Utah, then in Southern California. My sister did child care work in Hollywood for the Frank O’Connors who produced the Jack Benny Show and I did similar work in Beverly Hills for the Jerry Walds. Jerry Wald was Producer for Warner Brothers. He received film industry’s prestigious Irving Thalberg Award. One of the Academy Award winning films he produced was “Johnny Belinda” starring Jane Wyman and Lew Ayers.
This was the turning point in my life. It led to my working for professional entertainer Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers, one of whom was Andy Williams. He owed a lot of his success to Kay Thompson. Kay Thompson also coached Judy Garland, Lena Horne and many others at MGM. She also authored the “Eloise” books.
In retirement, Church activities and local community organizations occupy my time. I’m also active in ITC (International Training in Communication). One year I placed third in the International Writing Contest. New Zealand won first, Newfoundland, second; and USA, (myself), third. Last year (2019) I placed first in the writing and speech contest. My word for speech contest was “Gratitude” and wrote a poem entitled “Rummage Sale” for the Writing Contest.
Marriage status: I am single (by choice).
How did the following affect your family?
Great Depression: We lived on a farm so we always had food on the table. However, I recall Mother sharing rice with families who couldn’t afford it. Father was also generous. He paid his farm workers well and at the end of the season, gave them a bonus. Also, at the end of each workday, he gave each farm worker a cup of wine, probably to ensure they would come the following day.
WWII: During war years, Mother burned family photos for fear the Government may think she was loyal to Japan. I knew this was painful for her to do but she didn’t want to jeopardize the family’s position. We had a small painful bonfire as cherished memories went up in flames.
We were Interned in Tule Lake Concentration Camp. In Tule Lake, there were prisons within the prison to incarcerate dissidents. After internment, our family first went to Roy, Utah (mentioned above), then my parents and brother moved to Pingree, Idaho, to work in the potato sheds. They then moved to Clarksburg to farm. My sister and I moved to Southern California to do child care work (see above).
Civil rights: Florin JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) is active in civil rights. Its leaders work hard to insure no one’s civil rights are violated. I am a member of Florin JACL and served as its Newsletter Editor for 15 years.
Personally, I didn’t experience excessive discrimination. I do recall having difficulty renting an apartment in Sacramento. Over the phone, the landlord was receptive but after seeing me (being an oriental) the landlord would say, “Sorry, the room has already been rented”.
Women’s rights: Since I lived most of my life away from Clarksburg, I have no comments but assume women’s lives have improved.
Intermarriage: My brother’s wife is from Japan. He went to Japan to get married; it was an arranged marriage. My sister’s marriage was also arranged. She had three children all of whom were class valedictorians. They graduated from Placer High School. Donald graduated from California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech) in Pasadena; he is a Civil Engineer; and Sally and Linda both graduated from UC Berkeley. Both became CPAs. Donald’s son is the Resident Minister of the Sacramento Buddhist Church. He has radical views and is unafraid to express those views. His main objective is for everyone to live in harmony and do good for others. He believes there should be an alternative path for people who are marginalized – that it is imperative to recognize the necessity to take action along with Black Lives Matter.
Clarksburg’s uniqueness and what I like about Clarksburg: Clarksburg is unique in that everyone lives in harmony and looks after each other. What I like most about Clarksburg is its serenity – quiet and peaceful.
How has the area changed? As far as farming, most of the fields are in wine grapes. There are a few alfalfa and sugar beet fields, if any. Crystal Sugar Beet Factory has been converted into a Community Center; it also sells wines from grapes grown in this area.
Years ago, I helped my brother haul sugar beets to the Crystal Sugar Beet Factory. I drove a Ford Bobtail truck and another larger Ford truck which had double-shift gears. I always held my breath when driving this truck. One thing I learned quickly is one doesn’t drive too close to a vehicle in front. With a loaded truck, ample time is required to stop. There would always be trucks and trailers lined up to get their beets dumped at the factory and I would be squeezed in among them. Some of the farmers probably thought “What is that pipsqueak doing here anyway?” But that didn’t bother me one iota. I had every right to be there and no one was going to intimidate me. I just ignored them.
Fond memories: Living with Mother and Father. They were the best parents ever. They had a phenomenal work ethic – not one lazy bone in their entire body. That is another story.
Note: I donated several artifacts to CSUS/JAAC (California State University, Sacramento/ Japanese American Archival Collection). These are archived at Sacramento State University. They have been displayed at the Sacramento State Museum and also at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. Artifacts are Abacus made from scrap wood by my brother (Shoya Sakazaki) and a quilt made by my mother (Yukimi Sakazaki) from 1700 pieces of discarded scrap material she retrieved from the floor in a sewing class she attended in Tule Lake Internment Camp. These two items are shown in Delphine Hirasuna’s book, "The Art of Gaman".