The People of the Central Area: Dee Goto

This post is first in a series of profiles of Central District residents, part of the “People of the Central Area” project developed and written by Madeline Crowley.

Dee Goto (photo credit: Madeline Crowley)

Dee Goto (photo credit: Madeline Crowley)

In Japanese Culture we have the Daruma Principle, when life knocks
you down seven times, you get up eight.

About Dee: Dee Goto is an author who also kept working (with many others) over many years to make the Japanese Cultural & Community Center in the Central Area a reality.

When did you live in the Central Area?
In 1960, I had been accepted in the University of Washington nursing program in public health. I worked nine months full time at King County Hospital before I started school and then worked part time at Swedish Hospital.  I came to school here from Oregon because my grandfather wanted me to go to school in Seattle; his roots in America were here.
When I got here and started looking for an apartment, my housemates and I were turned away from three different buildings before we could find one that would rent to Japanese.

In 1960? It’s interesting to learn that even in the Central Area with redlining there were further restrictions on renting to Japanese-Americans.

We ended up living at the Monticello Apartments. At that time I was studying at the Japanese Language School. My future husband’s younger sister was a classmate. I didn’t have a car and she offered to drive me home so that’s how I developed a relationship with my husband. We married on Christmas Eve in 1961.

Once you got married where did you and your husband live?

On 23rd Ave, near Holy Names. That house is still there right as you turn downhill towards the University, if you didn’t turn you’d run right into the house.

What was that neighborhood like in 1968?

When we first moved in a neighbor came over very excited that we were Japanese-Americans and were moving in.

In 1968, I was unaware of the incarceration/internment problems that had taken place in the Central Area in the ‘40s.

You grew up on the other side of the Cascades?

Not only that. We went to the incarceration/internment camp to visit and I thought they (the Japanese internees) were having a great time. Back then, we lived on a farm in Idaho, we had relocated before the war and didn’t have to go to the camp because we lived outside the restricted zone which was 400-miles from the coast.

We visited Minidoka because many of our friends were there. Living on a farm, we didn’t have neighbors very close by so when I visited it seemed like the kids in camp were all having a lot of fun. My mother particularly envied all the craft classes the ladies were taking. Also, she noticed the women didn’t have to cook. My 21 year-old Uncle worked hard during the week so he could drive to Minidoka for the Saturday night dances. Despite what seemed like the good times they were having while incarcerated, our family wouldn’t consider trading places. We knew freedom was most important.

You started talking earlier about the composition of your neighborhood on 23rd.

There was two black families across the street and one Japanese family a few doors down, the Hayashis, another black family three doors down. There were the Vogels, Germans, across the street.

We knew everybody for about 2-3 blocks; we were pretty close.  I organized Block Parties. Our kids played outside with all the other kids, they all were playing in our yard. I had doors open so there were kids running through our house. One day a kid knocked our television off its stand.  There were trikes and bikes all over in our yard. I found a photo last night of the kids making a train of these toy vehicles.

Because the kids were always playing in the street, I organized a kitchen conference and got all these signatures to get curbing put in on 23rd Avenue so the cars couldn’t rush in. That was one of the first neighborhood traffic diversions. Since then, the Department of Transportation made lots of diversionary traffic controls in the streets of Seattle but that was one of the first ones.

Another thing I learned was that after Minidoka a high percentage of people didn’t come back to the Central Area. I wonder why?

I think their feeling about the discrimination they’d faced. Some were willing to fight for what they had while others were not entrepreneurial and business-savvy so they didn’t come back and went to work for someone else. There was a time, even if one had a college degree they wouldn’t be hired. The war eased that and Japanese were known to be honest and hard workers.

With discrimination you had to be pretty self-reliant and savvy to fight through it. I think some people took the easy way out and became employees rather than business-owners. The business owners who came back are the focus of my book on the Lion’s. You needed to be strong. Discrimination in a way helped some become stronger.

To read the rest of Dee Goto’s story, click here.

7 thoughts on “The People of the Central Area: Dee Goto

  1. As someone who grew up in the CD and had internees as neighbors, I sort of balk at the idea that internment was some sort of party. My neighbor’s father died in internment, and my auntie’s family certainly suffered greatly during internment.

    • And I can tell you the Hayashi family certainly didn’t have “a great time” during internment. That’s honestly really insulting. For those interested, read books like “The No No Boy.”

  2. The perceptions of a young visitor remain valid – as her memories of the event. Further they may well represent an aspect of the situation as we might expect to find – people making the best of a difficult situation. Nobody suggests internment was a trip to a dude ranch full of joy and hijinx. Still it is interesting to hear incongruous snapshots placed in a backdrop of history. Many of us remember fondly the Japanese farms and grocer’s on the corner.

  3. Thanks, Pinebeetle. It is as you said, she was a young girl living far from other people on a remote, rural farm and her memory reflects that child’s perspective.

    Others who have memories of the incarceration/internment on the People of the Central Area site are: Yosh Nakagawa, Herb Tsuchiya, Pastor Brooks Andrews all who remember Minidoka (and provided pictures from it). As well as Anonymous (depicted by the photo of Langston Hughes Performing Center, which was a synagogue in her time) who being a bit older remembers the privations and the death of a friend after internment.

    It’s mentioned in other interviews as well… Thanks to those taking time from their lives to read it!