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Tacoma Community History Projects: 1991

A guide to oral history projects compiled by students in Professor Mike Honey's "Doing Community History" course. Projects date from 1991.

Project Descriptions

Brief History of Land Use By Indian and Pioneer Communities on the Key Peninsula, A - Call # 1991#01

I chose to interview Bill Otto, a longtime resident of the Key Peninsula for two reasons: I am interested in the history of my area, which has supported both Indian and European cultures, and I am particularly interested in the contrast between the two. I represent a blending of these two cultures because of my mixed blood, but there was no such blending on a cultural level - one society replaced the other. In this paper, I have looked at the transition from Indian to white society in terms of its impact on the land. In order to assess that impact, I looked at the historical events that occurred, compared aspects of two cultures, and drew on the personal memories of a person who was actually present during part of the transition. The bands of Indians living on the Key Peninsula were Salish, of which the Puyallup-Nisqually is a sub-grouping. -Megan Aprile

 

Changing Peoples of Hilltop, The - Call # 1991#10

Charles Walker, owner of "K Street Auto Parts", has lived and worked in the Hilltop area of Tacoma, Washington for the past thirty years. As an active and respected member of the business community, he has witnessed the changes that have impacted this area. Mr. Walker's life and his views come from his military experience as well as that of a Black business owner in a part of town that has a reputation it continually strives to overcome. Active in civic groups and social clubs, Mr. Walker has kept a pulse on a community that steadfastly refuses to give up. His memories reveal what it takes to survive in an area that seems to have more going against it than for it. Mr. Walker contributes his success in business to the ideal that one needs to return to the community a portion of what one receives from it. This combined with Mr. Walker's belief that hard work mixed with fair treatment of others demonstrates to the reader what it takes to survive in this world of racism and economic exploitation. This interview illustrates that even with a sometimes ambivalent history, there is a strong sense of pride in the Hilltop Area. From gangs and drugs to social change and community activism, the Hilltop area has risen and fallen, yet still exists. Although people may come and go and the colors of their skin may not be the same, residents of this area have a rich and meaningful tradition of working together to survive. -Michelle F. Treat

 

Interview with Eudoro Estrada, An - Call # 1991#02

This interview contains the life history of Eudoro Estrada, a recently naturalized American citizen from Mexico. Eudoro tells about life in Mexico, struggles as a Mexican migrant worker in America and starting his own business. Eudoro shares his nuclear family as well as his extended family experiences and briefly touches on the discrimination he has encountered as a successful Mexican businessman in America. Eudora Estrada operates a reforestation company that employs only Mexican migrant workers, providing the labor required to plant seedlings for large timber companies. -Deborah D. Boyd

 

Interview with Luke Joinette, An - Call # 1991#12

In addition to being a personal history, my interview with Luke Joinette focused on his association with Local 61, the Tacoma chapter of the Hotel & Restaurant Employees' Bartenders International League of America. The history of this chapter is a long one, beginning with their charter on June 27, 1901. World War I accelerated the growth of Local 61, and by 1920 it numbered over 500 members, approximately 300 of them women. War II again accelerated growth for the union, and by 1947 membership stood at 3,400. Local 61 bought a four-story building at 1130 Commerce and virtually controlled all hiring of waitresses and cooks in the Tacoma area. Over the years there have been a number of splits and mergers, ending with the merger between Bremerton, Tacoma, Olympia and Seattle in 1984 into Local 8, which currently (1991) has a membership of approximately 800. Local 8 is attempting to revive its membership with more regular meetings, more active shop stewards, and more services to its members. Whether the unions will provide the leadership, insight, and ability to look beyond their own self-interest to strive for better conditions for all, will be an interesting chapter in our future. -Cyndi Pierce

 

Italians in Hilltop - Call # 1991#03

The first Italians in Tacoma had relatively low paying, laborer jobs. As Mary Stella Calabrese relates in her oral history: "For most of them it was ditch digging. They couldn't speak, but they could work and they were willing to work. Naturally as they got to know the language a little bit they were able to go here and there and look for a better job." Prejudice and competition for employment forced many Italians into lower paying work, according to David Nicandri: "Tacoma's Italian Street car employees were mostly from Southern Italy and formed half of the maintenance gang work force. The jobs that came into contact with passengers, motormen or conductors were usually filled by Americans, or ifby immigrants, those from Northern Europe. This was primarily because of the limited English known by the Italians, but also because of the prejudice against disfavored immigrant groups like the Italians and Japanese." In Bob Gallucci's oral transcript he also relates the struggles of the Italian community in gaining a foothold in the mainstream economy: "The people that came over were laborers and farmers, like my father and many others, just doing what they called 'pick and shovel'. They worked hard; they didn't have machines then to do all the work. They did what you would call the most menial (work) - they were 'wops without papers.'" -Dian Hathaway

 

Oral History Project, Joseph Kosai - A Japanese Internment Experience - Call # 1991#04

I conducted an interview with Joseph Kosai to obtain from him his experience during that period in history when personal freedom and justice were denied to all people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast soon after the outbreak of the Second World War. The interview begins with a personal introduction of himself and occupation. It then describes the situation when he and his family were ordered to evacuate and the journey to various places before settling at Minidoka. He recalls, what he can for a boy of 8, activities and events while in camp and then his experience, education, and opportunities after leaving Minidoka. The interview continues with his involvement in the redress movement and concludes with personal insights into the treatment of the Japanese people of this country, and the Japanese culture then and now (1991). -Arlene Mihara

 

Oral History Project on Thomas Dixon and the Tacoma Urban League, An - Call # 1991#05

The Tacoma Urban League (TUL) is a community service agency fully committed to securing equal opportunities for African-Americans, other minority groups, and Caucasians living below the poverty level. The League's goal is to see equalization of life achieved between black and white Americans. To further understand what motivated this group of volunteers to organize the TUL, one must first look at the overall conditions in Tacoma and try to understand the racial situation across the country. The Tacoma study group first met only two years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This was an extremely tense time for racial relations across the country, and Tacoma was no exception. Economic inequality and racial insensitivity caused an atmosphere of mistrust, frustration and hopelessness among African-Americans and disadvantaged citizens of Tacoma. To address these problems, eighteen months after the first study group meeting, Tacoma officials formed the 89th local Urban League affiliate or chapter. This chapter also selected it's first Executive Director (title later changed to President/CEO), Mr. Thomas Dixon. -Jacqueline O'Bannon

 

Refugees: Cambodians and other New Asian Immgrants - Call # 1991#11

The members of the immediate Chue family are Mr. and Mrs. Chue, their four children Thida Khim Chue, Julidang Khim Chue, Pholine Khim Chue (the three daughters) and Phonleng Khim Chue. Thida was born in Cambodia. Julidang was born in the refugee camp at Kao I Dang. Pholine and Phonleng were born in the U.S. AdditionalIy, two children died under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. All members of the family are now U.S. citizens except for Thida, who must apply separately from the other children because she is over eighteen years old. The extended family are the four children of one of Mrs. Chue's brothers who was killed along with his wife and another child by the Khmer Rouge. The oldest is her niece Srey Khau and the three nephews, Veng, Chamroeun and Chan. They form a separate family unit here in the United States, but all family members are in close contact. My contact with this family started through Veng Khau, a nephew, when his entry for an Amnesty International art contest was selected as a poster to further human rights work. The participants in this interview include Mr. and Mrs. Chue, their daughter Thida, Mrs. Perry and myself. While the full interview was inclusive of the family's experiences under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and their lives in the refugee camps, this transcription starts with their plane flight to the United States. -Virginia Hatch

 

Slavic Fishermen of the Puget Sound, The - Call # 1991#09

This project was put together in the hope that it will describe in part, the Slavic contribution to Washington's fishing industry. It emphasizes the purse seiner because the modem purse seiner evolved from the beach seine, or "chinchola," brought here by the Slavic fishermen. But it also describes other methods, equipment, and aspects, because they are also part of the whole. Although unplanned, the conflict between Indian and non-Indian fishing interests became a part of this project. Through the interview with Dominic and Rose Tarabochia, the philosophy and lifestyle of the Slavic water people is described. They also describe a time when there were few of the safety nets we take for granted today. In the era they describe, "everyone rowed their own boat." -Penny M. Tennison

 

Tacoma's African-American Baptist Church, Then and Now - Call # 1991#06

In 1890 Bethlehem Baptist Church was founded as the first Black Baptist church in the Tacoma area, established by Reverend E. Byard Wilson. In 1952, sixty-two years later, St. John Baptist Church was established by Reverend Joseph A. Boles and in 1953 Shiloh Baptist Church was organized by Pastor E. H. Hankerson with a membership of 50 people. These were the first three Black Baptist Churches to be organized in the Tacoma area. When St. John and Shiloh emerged in the early 1950s, the church functioned as the only source of information, entertainment, and stability for the black community. Blacks were coming to Tacoma from the southern States and through the military, to escape from the hardships and severe racism of the South. In the 1950s and 1960s Black church leaders came to the forefront to combat prejudice in unemployment and housing. The Tacoma Ministers Alliance, lead by Rev. E. S. Brazil, Rev. J. A. Boles and Rev. Wilson, confronted employers in the retail, supermarket and banking industries to generate employment opportunities for the black community. In addition, they fought the Housing Authority. In spite of the struggles during the early years of Black churches in Tacoma, Reverend Ernest S. Brazil and Reverend Joseph A. Boles stressed traditional moral values to their congregations, and encouraged active involvement in the community. -Elnora G. Palms

 

Tacoma Rescue Mission: Hope for the Homeless - Call # 1991#07

Day-after-day and night-after-night, 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week and 365 days-a-year the Tacoma Rescue Mission lives up to their motto on the sign over the door: "You May Not Have a Friend in the World, But You Can Find One Here!" I found the people I interviewed to be kind, gentle and caring individuals. I am speaking of the staff and the homeless. For almost eighty years, this agency has responded to the growing numbers of homeless, and their changing needs. Founded by evangelist Gypsy Smith in 1912, the Mission was concerned with the physical and spiritual needs of transient men drawn to Tacoma by the lumber and maritime industries. The present (1991) Executive Director, Joe Ellis, is quick to point out the Mission is much more than a "soup line." The Tacoma Rescue Mission has changed dramatically over the past 80 years. It has grown from a handful of church volunteers in the early 1900s to an organization which employs 42 full and part-time staff and has an annual budget of $2.6 million. The programs now provided deal with longg term solutions in changing lifestyles instead of just the "quick fix" of food and shelter for the night. -Patti R. Saunders

 

Takemura, Thomas Shoji; Camp Harmony - Call # 1991#08

"No Fair" is about an Assembly Center named Camp Harmony where Japanese Americans were interned during W.W.II from April 28 to September 12, 1942. Mr. Thomas Shoji Takemura was born in 1920 and was 22 years old when interned at Camp Harmony. During 1942, the Puyallup Fairgrounds were taken over by the government and made into an Assembly Center. Assembly Centers were hastily constructed on the West Coast to temporarily house Japanese Americans before they could be relocated inland away from strategic military zones during World War II. This report discusses the circumstances that led to the discrimination and mistreatment of Japanese Americans especially in the Western States. It also discusses events surrounding evacuation. The report goes into detail about the set up and existence of Camp Harmony (the name of the Assembly Center at the Puyallup Fairgrounds). A symbolic trek was made in 1978 to the Puyallup Fairgrounds which publicly dramatized the evacuation by the Redress Committee. In 1983 a memorial was dedicated at the site which was crafted by Mr. George Tsutakawa. -Susan Stout