StoryCorps: How a 12-year-old foiled the FBI
It’s the year 1942. The United States has just joined the war in the Pacific. On the home front, the FBI is investigating and interning Japanese-American families up and down the West Coast for fear that they are loyal to the Japanese Emperor and military. Robert Tsutakawa is at home with his mother, father, and siblings in Seattle, Washington. All of a sudden, the FBI shows up at the door. They’re looking for something hiding inside the house – something that could give them reason to put the family in an internment camp. As Robert Tsutakawa told his daughter Susan in San Francisco’s StoryCorps booth, this is what happened next.
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ROBERT TSUTAKAWA: We were very scared because I was only 12 years old then, and we didn’t know what was happening. There were about three FBIs that came with pistols on their holsters. They were big men, and they started searching our house from room to room. In particular they were looking for the picture of the Japanese Emperor and Empress. They kept asking my parents where we had the pictures of the Emperor and the Empress, and I knew we had the pictures stored in the closet in my room, but my father kept denying this. The children were allowed to roam around the house freely while my parents were sitting in a chair.
I thought I would just dispose of the picture before they get around to searching my room, so I left the area where my parents were and found the picture and took it down to the basement and I threw it in the furnace. Then I came upstairs and the FBI noticed me sneaking around the house and asked me what I was doing and I just told him I was trying to chase the dog away, and that was pretty much the end of that story!
Robert Tsutakawa spoke with his daughter Susan Tsutakawa in the San Francisco StoryCorps booth located in the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Their conversation was facilitated by Sophia Simon-Ortiz, and this piece was edited by Melody Sage. Make a reservation to tell your story in the StoryCorps booth here.