In these uncertain times when there are a global pandemic, nationwide protests, brutal hurricanes back east and fires on the West Coast, and even an earthquake, we have to remember that our parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents lived through times even more difficult.
That generation, “The Greatest Generation,” lived through the Great Depression, World War II and internment, the anxiety of thermonuclear war, the Cold War, the turbulent ’60s and now 2020!
So, here’s another story of a Nisei from The Greatest Generation who endured and is a great example of “gaman!”
Linda Fujioka, nee Kuroiwa, was born in Montebello and lived her entire life there except for the war years. Her father was a farmer before the war and also earned income from seven houses he owned in Montebello. Some of the Kuroiwa family was interned at Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
Linda, however, along with two sisters and a brother, relocated to Charlton, Massachusetts, which is located between Worcester and Boston. Another brother had a chicken farm there.
Her brother was in demand as a chicken sexer. The farm was known as Wee Laddie. They also grew apples. She helped to sort eggs, and sold the cracked eggs to the local school cafeteria, where they were made into egg sandwiches. She fondly remembers being able to keep money she earned. Linda was proud that she had a driver’s license at 15.
My connection to Linda is my father-in-law, Lew Abe. He was a good friend of her future husband, Willie Fujioka. They attended UC Berkeley before the war. The war would interrupt the education of both friends. Willie’s goal was to become a doctor.
During the war, Willie served in the 442nd and was a decorated veteran. He was wounded twice in combat and would spend a year in a VA hospital recovering from his wounds.
Before the war, Willie’s father, Fred Jiro Fujioka, was one of the richest men in the JA community and had one of the largest Oldsmobile dealerships on the West Coast. The family was Christian and worshipped at Union Church in Little Tokyo.
When the war ended, the Kuroiwa family returned to Los Angeles. Linda was a student at Roosevelt High School in East L.A. Since she did not go to camp, she was not part of the“in” group in high school.
She and her sister began to hang out at the Don and Kay Malt Shoppe, to get to know some Japanese. This is where she met Willie, a returning vet.
In 1949, at the age of 21, Linda married Willie and they began a family. Fred was born in 1951 and Bill in 1953. She had hoped that Willie would go back and finish college at UCLA but due to the impact of the war and PTSD, Willie never finished college.
His struggle with PTSD would challenge their relationship throughout their marriage.
We are all shaped by the times we live in. In the case of Linda, she came of age during the ’40s and ’50s, when the “cult of domesticity” was the norm. She was June Cleaver and Donna Stone (of “The Donna Reed Show”). Her role was to raise her kids and take care of her household. In those days her job title was housewife; today we call it a “stay-at-home mom.”
When her kids got old enough she returned to the work force, first in a flower shop and later as a teacher’s aide.
From her experiences as a teacher’s aide she was inspired to return to school in her 40s to finish college and eventually receive a teacher’s credential from Cal State L.A.
She went on to teach 17 years at Maywood School in Bell Gardens and was a substitute teacher into her late 80s.
Linda also served as a docent at JANM for many years and used her experience as an educator to convey the story of Japanese Americans to people of all ages.
When we celebrate Mother’s Day. her name comes to my mind. She should have been a candidate for Mother of the Year. Linda did admit that at points she was somewhat of a “tiger mom”! But the results are in the pudding.
She raised two very accomplished individuals. Her older son, Fred Fujioka, is a long-time Superior Court judge. Not to be outdone, the younger son, Bill Fujioka, was the first Asian CEO of Los Angeles County. AND her grandson Brent is a frequent columnist for The Rafu Shimpo!
Linda just turned 92 and, like most of us, she has lived through both good and bad times but continues to be optimistic. She has endured, and to quote Linda, “We were all in the same boat! We did well despite what happened because of the war.”
So, there you have it…another Nisei success story!
Bill Yee is a retired Alhambra High School history teacher. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.