Julia Tinker and Carlene Tanigoshi Tinker

Recorded March 1, 2020 Archived March 1, 2020 39:45 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby019711


Julia Tinker (49) and her mother Carlene Tanigoshi Tinker (80) talk about their respective Japanese-American identities and also talk about Carlene's experience in Amache internment camp as a youngster, dealing with racism in California, and going back to Amache as an adult to help preserve the history of the folks interned at the camp.

Subject Log / Time Code

CTT talks about her parents American vs Japanese names and that her family all had American and Japanese names.
CTT describes racism her family faces as Japanese folks in California in the 1920's.
CTT talks about her experiences in the internment camp as a youngster, in particular the Amache camp in Colorado.
CTT describes going to elementary school while inside the internment camp and remembers going to the National Archives and finding her preschool report cards.
CTT describes having been well-liked in high school and anticipating that to follow at UCLA but it did not.
JT describes all the foods that bring back memories of her childhood that she thought everyone ate but then realized that wasn't the case.
CTT describes how the $20,000 the government issued as reparations for being interned was not enough to cover dignity lost.
CTT talks about going to the reunion for folks who were interned at Amache and getting involved in archaeological digs at the camp.
CTT talks about a deep fear, even today, that when she meets new people they will see her negatively as Japanese.


  • Julia Tinker
  • Carlene Tanigoshi Tinker

Recording Location



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00:02 Hello, my name is Julia Tinker. I'm 49 almost 50 years old, Fresno, California. And today is March 1st 2020. I'm here with my mom and my name is Carlene tanigoshi Tinker. I'm just turned 80 last year. I I'm afraid I am going to be anyone in this year. So, oh my gosh, that sounds so old. But anyway, we're here in Fresno, California where we have lives since 1969 and its March 1st 2020.

00:37 Well, this is really a nice opportunity mom to sit down with you. I think you know you always talk throughout the years but we haven't had a really long. Of time with uninterrupted where we can sit and talk and I'm wondering if we can have a chat today talking about when you were a kid growing up in in California World War II 1945 41 somewhere in there. What do you think? Yeah. That sounds like a good idea. We like you said we really haven't talked about this and especially with the current situation politically and the treatment of immigrants. It's a very timely pot Topic in and it's kind of good to reflect on our past and see how people should look at our past and try to avoid some of the mistakes that they have made as a country. You know what I think back about being a kid. I always knew that my brother and I were a

01:34 Japanese-American and I knew Grandma and Grandpa were Japanese. They look Japanese but yet their names were Bill and Billy and I always thought that was kind of odd, but then I didn't say anything cuz that's kind of rude words that they're given name. Well for Papa, it was his given name and it was William K tanigoshi the K stood for katsu. Tarah, which is his father's name and William was his given name mom is grandma's name was Michelle and I think I always thought to that. She adopted Billy is her nickname. And and so yeah, it was now matching my dad named Papa's name, which was nicknamed Bill. However, I got to thinking about this, you know, maybe it wasn't just that she took that out as a nickname as I was thinking back on my family my aunts and my uncles all had.

02:34 Japanese names as well as quote American names and I think that's typical of emigrants experiences because when they come here are their names are kind kind of difficult to pronounce and people may not be familiar familiar with those names. So consequently a lot of them a job what they consider names that are easier and maybe American and telling the case of my mom. She had opted Billy which was a popular name in the 1912 era when she was born her sister's subsequent to her birth. Where name like Helen of Florence Betty. So those also our names that were popular during their birth years. So I think it was a coincidence that moms grandmas name was Billy and my dad's name was built. Well, it seems kind of fitting it was easy for us to remember so, you know, you never really told us or maybe I never asked Graham.

03:34 On grandpa how they met. Do you remember how they met? Yeah. Yeah. I do Papa Was a produce worker at the Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, which is located on 7th and San Pedro Street and it turns out grandma was a waitress in the local cafeteria or restaurant there and they met and they actually dated for 5 years, which I thought was kind of weird. Why did they wait so long to get married? But anyway, they were in their late 20s. They got married in 1938, and I was born in 1939.

04:09 So the things I remember about Grandma when I was growing up is she was very stubborn and neither one of us know we did not inherit that and shade of green song. She can make things grow out of cuttings from everywhere. She went to all the neighbors and ask for all the flowering plants. Yeah, that's really true. If I have a dying plant I would always take it to her and within weeks of head rehabilitated and was growing again thriving whereas with me I couldn't do it at all. I wonder if if she got that trait from someone in her family members that probably was a result of her experience growing up because her family was part of a truck farming family, which a lot of Japanese food came to the United States at that time where Farmers cuz they came from a farming community in Japan and Grandpa.

05:09 Grandma's dad was a truck farmer first in Torrance, California down by the LA airport. And then he traveled all the way up to Fresno and the Visalia area.

05:22 So if she was on a farming family in Visalia in the 19 while she's born in 1912, so the 1920s do you think she had some discrimination at that point? Yeah, that was a very difficult time for people of Japanese descent people of Japanese descent were excluded from about 1921 to about 1952. They stopped immigration of these people. There was a lot of competition between people of Japanese descent and farming because they were successful farmers and the people who were competing with them resented them. So they created all of these laws to restrict their movement and where they could live and what they could do. So when Grandma was growing up and torrents, for example, she told us stories or told me stories about running into the fields away from the house because she

06:22 Could hear the Ku Klux Klan coming. I mean they could actually and I've seen pictures of this they had they white robes. They were riding horseback and they had their white hats tall hats and they were coming and they were trying to roast get people out. So my mom's family was a very fearful of that. So that was in the twenties when she was a Youngster. Okay, and then when they moved up to the Fresno area, they're worth all kinds of signs if they wanted to go to a dance or use the local swimming pool. That would be signs that said no jobs allowed. So Mom never really had a very nice feeling about Fresno cuz when she got older we actually try to get her to move to Fresno. She would have no part of that and I think those were residual feelings that she had from being discriminated and being

07:22 Did so badly in the twenties now, that's that's horrible. You know when we were growing up we would talk to Grandma and I know I was trying to learn a little bit of Japanese at that point and she would try to help me. So I'm pretty sure she spoke Japanese and we grew up thinking that that eating with chopsticks was normal and then you guys taught us how to eat waffles with chopsticks because that was much less discouraging and eating rice and we were good sports about it. And we thought everyone even our friend should be able to eat with chopsticks. And that was not the case. I remember grandma would make what what she said was Gohan which means rice for practically every meal and it was always that short white grain rice. We had that breakfast lunch and dinner and it wasn't till college that I realize that that they made other types of rice rice even came in a box and there was a long grain rice and this guy said Uncle Ben. He said it only took a minute to make an unbelievable.

08:22 That is so funny Julie because there's never been list that have been published that said, what do you know? What makes you Japanese American and one of the first things that you read on that list is do you eat rice with every meal and yeah, we Japanese Americans even the third generation of which I am a laugh about that. But yes, we do have to have our rice with everything regardless, even if we have a baked potato we have to have our rice. Remember when you and Dad were we're dating dad used to say I would go over to the house and I'll try to be so polite and and I would eat my food. So politely in a counterclockwise fashion every time I got past one thing Grandma would put more rice on my plate. I could never keep up with her and Grandma, you know, she didn't make typical Japanese.

09:22 Dinners and so forth. I remember very few Japanese Foods in our house actually and I think that was a result of the fact that Grandpa was actually not all Japanese. He was half Japanese and he was half German his mother was of German descent and she had a very big influence on him and when my mom and dad got married, I think Mom. Oh Mom tried to emulate follow his mother's footsteps, and she would make all kinds of non Japanese food for example meat potatoes. I mean meatloaf potatoes, but she always had her rice.

10:05 Do you think you had a favorite meal that she used to make? Yes, I do. I try to make it myself and it's it's never turned out the way she did it would be a big pot of boiled pork spare ribs, and she would add bottles of sauerkraut and then on top of that she would add dumpling and my dumplings never got fluffy like that. They were always hard and and just hard to choose so I have fond memories of that but I could never replicated now kind of changing the subject. I mean if you're thinking about TimeWise if you were born in 1939, the world was sort of changing and in 1941, you would have been two years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japan so President Roosevelt at that point he declared war on Japan.

11:05 Obviously being so young you might not remember that much but the fact that all people of Japanese descent were sent to internment camps during World War II and considered enemies of the United States is inconceivable to someone from my generation. So when when David my brother and I were growing up we never thought about those times, but obviously that would have had a big impact on you. Yes. It was even though I was two or three. I don't have a consistent memories of of camp or being in an assembly camp.

11:44 My experience is where we're being a child. I could have been a child anywhere but looking back at what we were put into these and I like to think of them now as our incarceration camps because they were actually built and very isolated areas. They had barbed wire around them. They were guarded by armed soldiers and there are stories of people actually being shot trying to do something really in nocuous and maybe trying to find a ball that had rolled under the fence and there is this very sad story about this death man. And since I'm in my older years on I've gotten death I kind of relate to this but the guy was trying to find his dog who had rolled on there who had crawled under the barbed wire.

12:37 And the guard shouted at him and of course, he couldn't hear and so the guard said okay, you got it and he shot him and he got killed. So there it was not a pleasant place to be you know, you think of Camp is like going off to summer camp or Girl Scout camp or YWCA Camp? Well, it was not like that. Unfortunately. Anyway, not a good time. Yeah, I can imagine because Grandma and Grandpa never talked about Camp any time we brought the subject up they sort of changed topics quickly. And so they never actually talked about that when we were when we are kids. Do you remember what was the name of the camp that you were in originally? It was called the Grenada Grenada, but they pronounce it Grenada a relocation Camp, which is tough on the Highway 50 in Southeastern Colorado, and it will

13:37 Acquired by eminent domain they declare the government declared it as unfit. And so the local farmers had to sell it to the government or give the land to the government of the town. As I said was called Granada again Grenada and because the camp came in the people came in there were seven thousand of us who came in and our mail in the inundated their post office and they said well, we can't handle all your mail. You have to come up with another name. So some people in the local community of Lamar, which is about 20 miles away came up with the name. Ammachi in amache happened to have been in the 18 hundreds of wife of the local Cattle Baron. Who was John Prine, her name is hamachi, and she was a daughter of a Cheyenne Indian chief not too far from there so that they adopted that name and so the campfire

14:37 Send was no longer ganado relocation Center, but I'm watching so when you were a little kid, you didn't have any siblings. So Grandma and Grandpa and you and some of our relatives I think went to the same internment camp. That's why were there schools at the internment camp or did you just stay in their Barracks all day long. Now there were schools in the camps were actually replicas of what Society was like on the outside the people once they got their instituted all kinds of organizations schools. For example Weber, very important. There were elementary schools that were preschools. There was even a very nice high school that was bills and in fact the high school cuz I look at pictures now was very well-stocked. It was very well fitted staff by people from the outside as well as local and in Fernie teachers and

15:37 Because the high school was such a nice building the people around the camp the local community people resented it and because they resented it so much they forgot they didn't forget. They stop building the elementary school. So the elementary school was held in one of the barracks. Did you get to go to school when you were there? Yes, I did. That's one of my fond memories that I have being about my guest for 5. I was in preschool and I remember having my own little box that had my blanket and which I would lie lay out on the ground on the floor rather and I get my orange juice and my graham crackers and I would have my snack and then I would lie down so school was very important to me. And by the way a couple of years ago. I was in Washington DC and I happen to go to the National Archives and they actually have a lot of our personal letters and

16:37 In my case report cards and I actually found my report cards from preschool and kindergarten which were quite amusing quite amusing.

16:48 You probably had pretty decent grades as a youngster. So so during the day what did Grandma and Grandpa do if you went to school? Well, that's a good question. I think Mom stayed with me because I was so young until she got permission to go off with other women to work in the fields because a lot of the local people local men were in war they needed people to pick the the crops that were growing around the camp so the women and then to went off to some of the farms and harvested onions and then also I think sugar beets and sugar beets by the way are very important in the production of bombs. I didn't learn this until recently. But yeah, so the men and my case with Papa he went off to shovel coal on the Railroad and then he also went to Minnesota. I think I do.

17:48 Flower company and he was a truck driver there. So yeah, they did have a job and you told me one time. I kind of remember you said that they had dances and they had Sports for the kids. Ohyeah. As I said earlier if Camp was very much like being on the outside the people there had a tenacious a character. Once they were there they accepted the fact that they couldn't get out. They couldn't do anything in the course the future was unpredictable. And so that there are two guiding principles of those for those people and I really admire them for using him. For example, the one that is a Buddhist principle called she got that gun knife that tells you or tells people you it is what it is. You have to deal with what you have don't you know, don't be morose about it. You want to keep on struggling you want to keep fighting and

18:48 The other concept is gum on and that is to preserve a persevere rather hell with dignity. So I think those two traits were very important in keeping people to keep on with their daily lives. So yeah, there were dances there were Sports. I had a laugh at one of the newspapers. I read from the camp about their tall basketball players, you know, Japanese Americans even even today, they're not very tall people, but they talked about their tall basketball player big five foot seven with a giant after Camp you guys were sort of let back into society and expected to integrate. Where did you guys go? Well first after amachi, we went to Denver for a while and I attended School grammar school there for a while.

19:48 And I did not have a some bad experiences there because the people there didn't really familiar with us. But they knew we were at War the United States was at war with people of of my ilk another word. I look like for your enemy and so the kids would throw rocks at me as I walk to school and I had no idea. Why would they doing since I was about five years old I went home and I said, oh gosh what course my family said, you know, they try to explain to me. But what is a little kid of 5 years old going to understand? But yeah, and we we lived in Denver for a while and then we move back to California. Not many people did a lot of them went to the Midwest and the East to go to school or get jobs that we went back to Los Angeles and then my parents were able to buy

20:43 Grandma and papa were able to buy a lot in North Long Beach and built a house. But then again that was a problem because those people didn't like us either on the face of it. Then we're even petitions circulating among the neighbors to try to get us out on the other hand. Those people who initiated that petition became my folks very dearest friend and that guest gets who's goes to show you that, you know, when you get to know people you can't judge people by the looks you have to get to know them and then you understand what kind of people they are. And that's why what you should look for and how you should become friends with him over Sherry. I mean, you can't judge a book by it's cover, right? That's right. Exactly. So after you were you were in high school and Junior High he went on to UCLA.

21:40 What were your experiences there? Well fortunately in Long Beach in middle school and high school. I happen to fit in. Okay, based on the fact there were only two Japanese kids going to school at the time. So we weren't numerically a threat and and also the fact that I think we fit in pretty well socially personality-wise. We were popular. Okay. So in junior high Middle School, I was elected student body president. And so that was based on popular vote. And then when I was in high school, I chose to become a pom pom girl and I belong to a very exclusive sorority. I mean that sounds kind of funny now, but at the time it was very important and both of those were based on popular vote, but then I assume that when I went to UCLA those those Rewards or Awards would continue

22:40 But I learned very quickly there were very exclusive groups you as a Japanese-American and this was in the early fifties. So World War II was not too far behind this so people still had her a lot of anti-japanese feelings. And so there were exclusive sororities. You could not join if you were an Asian like myself you can become a popular pom pom girl. And so I quickly learned that I had a place in my and society that was not as what I had experienced in middle school or high school, which probably was kind of a shocker because you go from being so popular to all of a sudden being almost looked down upon and so the world is a funny Place. Yeah exactly. It was a big shock.

23:31 And then after

23:33 College you and Dad married and then obviously David and I are here now and and we have all these Recollections of being kids and growing up as Japanese Americans and and not that we could speak Japanese, but we always went to the Japanese obon festival. For example, we had red beans at the bottom of our Shave Ice, which I thought was normal Grandpa the older he got the more octopus E8, you know, the more show you he had which I didn't even know was called soy sauce on honestly until I was in college and then he had wasabi with everything grandma made this delicious sushi and he's little fry two pockets of tofu sweet rice vinegar in this delicious cucumber salad, which I figured everyone made but not the case and you taught me how to make this fish with panko seasoning and breading on the outside and our relatives sent us those packages of green tea that had

24:34 Toasted barley in it. And I tell you I have so many Hello Kitty pencils and erasers from Japan and packages of origami that I could never make because the directions were always completely in Japanese which who knows even which direction to put the package in and the other thing I remember growing is that up is always had to take our shoes off and put our slippers on and even if we really had to go to the bathroom or is Grandma said you better hurry up and go to the banjo we had to take our shoes off before we went to the banjo even to this day seems odd to me that people don't take their shoes off when you go in the house. So I suppose in some sense. We had some idea of of a few Japanese Traditions being respectful for example, and then not interrupting your elders those sorts of things that I I thought were.

25:23 Traits everyone has probably not the case. Yeah, that's interesting to me. And I'm I'm surprised that you have a lot of these memories. In fact, I'm really pleased that we have this opportunity to talk about that because I've looking back at those very instances. I have the same memories. You know, how come we don't do this or how come we do this? What what is this Japanese about me? What is not Japanese about me? So the identity of us has become or has now become salient.

26:01 Yeah, even as a as a graduate student, I remember thinking well, I have some extra time in the afternoon. I think I'll take Japanese classes. And so I did I took about three years worth and I learn how to write and speak OK and could even talk with our relatives and I thought this is a great chance. I'm going to practice with Grandma. She laughed at me my accent but I just kept going kept practicing so it would have been nice. I mean in hindsight to learn Japanese as a little kid, but obviously of course what we're talking about now grandma didn't feel that she could have spoken Japanese to us. Yeah. I don't know partly. I think she it would be embarrassment. She was not well educated. She was pulled out of high school and to work in the field as a lot of other kids work and I think also she recognized that, you know, still she feel that she was still feeling the resentment.

27:01 Other people and probably wanted to escape being identified as Japanese although of course our facial features give that away so you can't really Escape that but I think that had a party

27:14 Yeah, interesting and it's weird have a X Change and now it would be okay to speak Japanese. Right? But I do remember another thing that was pretty important in our past when in the 1980s or so when President Reagan issue that apology and he said that sending all these Japanese Americans on the west coast to internment camps in World War II was atrocious and and I remember this because not necessarily was I reading it in the news but you and Dad took that that poster of the executive order and you framed it and I remember you sort of said that the apology was nice but it wasn't sufficient and it couldn't gain back all those those times that were lost in the offense in the embarrassment. Right? Right. Yeah. I should we call the each person who was still alive who had been in Camp and even I get some of the soldiers who physically weren't in Camp, but there were connected to World War II each of us got $20,000 and up.

28:14 What time it was a lot of money? I mean, it's not enough. However to as you said to replace the things that people lost and more specifically to to bring back the dignity to our identity. In other words. We were of Japanese descent, but we were identified With the Enemy simply because of our physical features and we were put into these incarceration camps and for 454. Well 3 to 4 years cuz they they went from 1942 to 45 in the think the last one closed in 46 and to replace the things that people physically lost Farms clothing appliances cars Etc. $20,000 does not go for.

29:09 Anywhere near to replacing all of those things by the way, just this last month. I think it was February 20th, California was there's a resolution that was passed in and the middle of February that California was now making its apology to the people who were of Japanese descent who were here and World War II and to figure how to restore our dignity and so even though it's 78 years late. I think that is a good thing because California was rabid they talk about the yellow Peril. I mean here we had one of the governor's Earl Warren who later became a Supreme Court Judge who was also the one who was a big guy who was pushing for the exclusion of the Japanese Americans. However,

30:09 And his and his defense. He did wise up I should say and if so to speak he did a later apologized for the position he had taken and he admitted that he was wrong in doing that.

30:25 So even though all of those times can't be changed and you can't go back and reverse what was done. You still had some sort of resurgence in your interest in amache and in the last 10 or 15 years, I think you've become involved in archaeology archaeological digs at a tamachi until as you said about 10-15 years ago. I really had no interest in going back to a match and I think a lot of people feel that way too it was there we did it time to move on but one of my friends had visited the camp during a pilgrimage and she showed me this brochure or a little memory book and I thought we do this kind of Mr. Eazi. Maybe I would like to do that. So in 2004 when we were moving your brother's car David's car to Yale where he was working at the time. We took a little side trip. Dad said, it's not too far. Why don't we

31:25 Amache and so that was the first part of my interest I got there on this is oh my goodness. It's just out in the boonies. It's in a course. They didn't take any of these camps for their beauty. And so that was 2004 and then in 2009. I was reading the Pacific citizen to your grandmother who was in assisted living at that time and I drive there was an announcement about a reunions going to be held for a March ends and Las Vegas. So I thought maybe maybe Uncle George and maybe cousin Richard would like to go so I told him about it and they said well we'll go if you go us that I hadn't planned to go. But okay, I'll go if you go. So on March think it was May 9th 2009. I went with them wait, they went with their wives and there was a professor by the name of dr. Bonnie Clark.

32:25 Who was there from D U Down Denver University and she happened to be studying amachi? And I said, oh really? Yeah, we do archaeological digs and I said, what does that mean? Well, I conduct a field goal for grad students from all over the United States and we go out and we go and we investigate the site. We actually do research we do scientific collections of artifacts away dig, we do all of this and we looking for volunteers and I said, I think I'd like to do that not because I was really interested and being Japanese-American but because being a front-row type I like to do all kinds of things like that. So I volunteered and so in 2010 and every two years since then I have volunteered and these are my chief Fields gold and every year I learned so much personally and also about our group being there and face.

33:25 Send Aiden fascinating what sorts of artifacts have you guys found? Well, let's see. We find marbles. I mean they don't sound like big things because a lot of the things that when the campus closed people just went to the dump and jumped dumped everything there. So you can't really tie that with any specific site, but let's say we're block. Let's say we're block 29 and because of the grad students for dr. Clark have an interest in maybe what's children did for activities of then we would look for a little marbles or anything that would would suggest what kind of games they were playing or so forth and then dr. Clark interest. She likes to work with Gardens. So in fact in front of my apartment, which was 11 G4 see we actually found rocks that denoted kind of designated of Garden right in front of our Barrack.

34:25 And so we dig there we collect this of us and we sifted and possibly we find Nails we find pieces of metal porcelain, you know that small items like that on the other hand. We have found remnants of an outside bathtub, which is called in 04 and I actually remember being in one when I was a child we found these bowls that we make cement bowls that way pound rice at New Year's time and we make Mochi. Okay, we found several of those we found parts of a backstop for softball games and that kind of thing. So it's pretty it's fun. So when you make that reference to the to the Barrack, you called it an apartment. Do you remember like being inside of that apartment or what it looked like oh and you know Julie that is an amazing experience the first year I was being interviewed being a volunteer above

35:25 Colorado Public Radio and the news station in Denver and I stood in my apartment and all it was was just grass but I helped until that time. I had not thought about the apartment and then just standing there physically standing there. I could remember where the pot belly stove was. I could remember remember I was only two or three at the time I can remember the rope that divided the Roman two halves. There was a big car Army blankets screwing over that cuts on the other side. Yeah all this time. I had not thought about you being there in Camp, but all of a sudden I do remember being an intern e o what a what an emotionally evocative moment that was

36:17 So it's interesting to think that none of that had come to you as an adult until you stood in the physical space. Yeah and something that triggered that in your brain. Yeah. Yeah. I talked to one of the grad students about that and she said yeah. Yeah, you think of your memory has to have being in layers. And so when you stood there layers coming off and all of a sudden this Vision was there.

36:44 So what what more can you think about you know as an adult and looking back and how how being Japanese-American has shaped your life and and the things that my brother and I have had to do learning about being Japanese American what are the important and Salient points that you might like to to leave me with for example, well and

37:08 Yeah, you know a lot of people who have been in a camp like this feel very embittered and course. I was a child. I didn't feel that although there's some people who claim to being bitter. I mean have bad memories even though they're the same age as I so I really can't relate to death, but I haven't really I guess I follow those Buddhist principles of life is what it is you keep on going and but I will admit even to this day. I'm almost 81 I still feel some some hesitancy when I meet somebody I'm always a worried that they're going to react to me not as a person not as an American but as a Japanese person and that is scary. I mean to think that I'm at this age and I still feel that so I am bearing the emotional scars of being an intern.

38:09 But on the other hand jalade having this conversation with you.

38:14 Shows me how much my history your grandparents history has become part of your history and that we can have this commonality in our in our lives. I'm so happy that we had this opportunity to share this these experiences that I had and how much you actually remember about Grandma and I know it really impressed me that when you published your recent book on Japanese fish prints Gill Taco that you dedicated the book to Grandma and I had no idea how you felt about her and what her experiences are. So your history is my history and I hope you will share that will future generations and other people

39:02 Yes, well, thank you very much for sitting down and having this chat. I mean, I know we talk all the time, but we don't usually get a long. Of uninterrupted a chance to to learn from each other. So so thank you for for that and and I've learned a lot and I hope that I will continue learning more about be our history and being Japanese-American and and do it some justice. Okay. Thank you so much, Julia.