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  • Emily Pan

The Struggle Japanese Immigrants Faced: Take Eto

Updated: Jan 4, 2021

These are quotes from Grace Shibata, Take Eto's daughter, which protrays the struggle Japanese Immigrants faced: when coming to the United States for the first time, during the Great Depression, and during World War II. The full book can be found here.

Mrs. Take Eto [1]

When Take Eto first arrived in the United States, "The journey was pleasant enough, but [Eto] was soon struck by the cultural differences she faced. For example, in the dining room she was bewildered by the array of silverware before her and waited, shy and uncomfortable, until a kind waiter inconspicuously pointed out the correct one to use. One evening she lost her appetite at the sight of the main entree, meat with bones attached to it. In Japan, only thinly sliced meat was served. Another time a beautifully rolled yellow globular object had been placed on a small dish. Thinking it an egg yolk, she put the whole thing into her mouth, only to experience a horrid taste in her mouth. Too shy to spit it out, she swallowed it, an egg-yolk sized blob of butter. Many more cultural shocks would follow" (77).

Take Eto and her newlywed husband originally settled in Arroyo Grande, CA, where "Deer, coyotes, raccoons, jack rabbits and opossums roamed the area, and neighbors lived miles away. From the very first day, [Eto] plunged into a mental and physical endurance test of frontier life, meeting the challenge head-on. Her husband's brother taught her cooking and house chores, which included starting a fire by gathering dry kindling, chopping wood, drawing well water by bucket and pulley and carrying the filled container to the house" (78).

After one year, Take Eto gave birth to her first daughter, and soon after, they moved to Oso Flaco and Eto, "now with baby Kofuji on her back and another on the way, helped pick nasturtium seeds. To harvest these flower seeds, the nasturtium bushes were pulled by hand, stacked in piles, then pitched on to a horse-drawn wagon. The bushes were then dumped on a large canvas and beaten with pitchforks to separate the seeds from the plants. However, many of the seeds, the size of green peas, fell to the ground while harvesting, and [Eto] and the other women gathered them up. 'It was like picking up money' she said. 'Nothing went to waste'" (79).

They were forced to move many times, but "The Alien Land Law, which prohibited Asian non-citizens from owning land, forced [Mr. Eto] to buy his farm under the name of a Caucasian friend" (80). In addition, after purchasing land, Eto became pregnant again, but "the former owner refused to vacate the house, and the family had to live in a tent and endure the bitter cold with their three children, aged six, four and two" (80).

In 1930, the Great Depression hit and it was a struggle to pay the workers' wages, "but [Eto] never complained. Instead, she taught [her kids] not to waste anything and to take good care of [their] possessions. She carefully rolled up string from packaged goods and used it to tie pole beans or sweet peas. She saved newspapers for starting fires, and even cut the blank column on the side to use for scratch paper" (85).

No matter how hard times got, Eto encouraged her children to have fun and "also showed unlimited patience with [her] children. None of [them] can recall her ever being angry or raising her voice" (85).

But the war years were different. One night, she didn't sleep because her husband was taken away and accused of secretly meeting with Japanese spies. Moreover, the Japanese were treated with unjust because "The city of San Luis Obispo had honored Father before the war by naming one of its streets Eto Street. During the war, it was renamed Brook Street. The message was loud and clear. The Eto's were dishonored simply because they were Japanese. Yet she held onto hope throughout the war, for when asked if she wanted to return to her homeland in Japan, she responded, "The United States is our home...Our family is here, and I do not wish to leave this country" (92).

After the war, the family came back to their home in Los Osos and "In December of that same year, [Mr. and Mrs. Eto's] lifelong wish was realized, when they proudly became citizens of the U.S." (93). While the war years were miserable, afterwards, the couplle received much deserved recognition: "Perhaps the proudest moment in Mother's life came in January of 1959. A statue of Father was built in his honor at Chida City, Kyushu, Japan for his continuing aid to the Kumamoto citizens who had sought help in the United States as well as his support to the orphanage and schools there" (94).

Mr. and Mrs. Eto, After Becoming U.S. Citizens [2]

Looking back, her daughter, Grace Shibata, remembers, "Her strength and understanding sustained us, embraced us with comfort and security. Her name, Take, or bamboo, befitted her: she knew how to bend with the wind; she grew straight and strong and had put firm roots in the ground" (95).

Works Cited

Nakano, Mei T., and Grace Shibata. Japanese American Women: Three Generations, 1890-1990. Mina Press Pub., 1990. Pg. 77-95

Image Sources

[1] Mrs. Take Eto, undated: mid-20th century, photograph, Asian/Pacific - Americans on the Central Coast, Black Gold Cooperative Library System, Calisphere,

[2] After becoming citizens of the United States. L-R: Mr. Tameji Eto, Mrs. Take Eto, Mrs. Toyo Hayashi. undated: circa 1940s, photograph, Asian/Pacific - Americans on the Central Coast, Black Gold Cooperative Library System, Calisphere,


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