I've lived in San Bernardino and especially here on Baseline 70 years. I've lived first out on 6th and Herris back in 1927, went to Harding School and then my folks built the home out on Baseline in 1930. So I've been living here ever since. I went to Mt. Vernon School, from Mt. Vernon to Sturges Junior High School and San bernardino High School and San Bernardino Valley College. I think the opportunity for an education has been available to just about everybody if the the financial end of the spectrum is right. Why I say that when I grew up it was during the Depression. The opportunity for good jobs were not available during those times and by jobs I mean like at Harris' Department, being school teachers, being mechanics. Those jobs were kind of reserved for the whites. So it was survival.
The schools weren't segregated. I never went to a segregated school. and we didn't have segregated schools then in San Bernardino because it was the area in which you lived . if you lived in a certain area you went to a certain school. We call it now de facto segregation. You were segregated because of housing. The opportunity to live anywhere in San Bernardino wasn't availble to you during that period so therefore you went to one school. But if the opportunity to build housing or to move in certain areas was available you went to that school. For an example I went to Sturges and alot of my friends went to Arrowview because they lived in that area. I couldn't go not because of my race or color. It was because of where I lived. The opportunity for education was still the same because we had the same books and good teachers.
When I graduated from high school I applied for a job at the Santa Fe Railroad. The only job I could get at the time was a laborer's position. When I started there the blacks worked on one side of the shops and the whites on the other side. When the engine came in it was the blacks and mexicans that stripped the engine down, took all the parts, put them in live vats, steamed them, sandblasted them and then when they were all cleaned and tagged then they went on the other side of the Santa Fe and it was mostly the whites that assembled the engine again.The labor was there but the wages were cheaper. There was a difference. Instead of being called a machinist you were called a Differntial Machinist. You were paid 5, 6 or 7 cents an hour less than the whites. I was fortunante enough after I went to the service and came back and went to Valley College. I applied for a machinist apprenticeship. I received the opportunity and I was the first black in the Santa Fe in San Bernardino to get a machinist appreticeship. I served four years and became a machinist after that. During that time there was a transition from the steam engine into the diesel locomotive. So they started laying off steam mechanics and machinists. I went out and and got a job at Norton where I continued unitl I retired in 1985.
The opportunity for employment as I said before was very poor. You couldn't work downtown. Matter of fact the only job you could get in a lot of places were elevator operator, you could clean floors, be a janitor, you could clean the silverware and polish but they wouldn't allow you to sell any items.
I'v seen a tremdous change in San Bernardino. It's all been for the good. It took a long time to do it. The opportunity now for young people to get an education and profession and make something of their lives. It's incumbent upon each person and each person in their family to instill in their child the need for an education and to follow that from the time that they are starting into school or even before that until they graduate. A parent needs to be involved. That is the focal point of the discipline and the education of the child. and once the child goes to school the parent still needs to be involved otherwise the child will regress and have nothing but problems.
When my folks built the house this house on Baseline there were only four black families that lived west of mt. Vernon. that was in 1930. They didn't have a gas line from Muscott, what is now Medical Center Drive now, for stoves or hot water heaters. My mother and a number of the neighbors got together and together petitioned the gas company to bring gas out here. I've seen the change and I'm kind of mad with the change now because their building a high school right across the street. When I went to high school I had to walk from here on Baseline all the way to San Bernardino High School. there wasn't even a bus that went that way. Then we were able to buy bicycles and then we'd ride a bicycle to hish school.
Even the theaters and cafes were reserved, certain areas were reserved for the blacks. They wanted them to sit in the balcony or sit on one side of the theater. Up until the 40's and after that the war started and all the racial barriers were broken down. Rialto, the Isis theater, and the Temple Theater which wasn't segregated. but the main theaters like the West Coast, the Fox and the Ritz theater had a segregation seating area. But as again I said that area was broken down by people just really defying; saying "I'm not going to sit in the area you have designed for me. I'm going to sit in the area where I want . I've paid my money and this is where I'm going stay or going to sit."
I don't know. There are so many things that you try to remember that have happened over the years. I know when I went in the Navy I went to an all segregated training facility in Great lakes, Illinois. When I graduated from Communications School and went to Astoria, Oregon to a naval training station I had to be on station because they would not put seaman aboard ship. It was reserved for whites. That was during world War II. Near the end of the war after Roosevelt died and Truman took over as president. Truman integrated the services.
Things have changed over the years and I feel it's been for the good. It's been positive. and again I think that every young person needs to get an education. Everything is technical now, computers have taken over but the opportunity for employment, to advancement, for being a professional is available. If you just strive, study. Not everybody is designed to go to college but everybody has a skill or trade within themselves.
I was born in San Bernardino. My parents came from Japan way back in the beginning of the 1900's. I thought they came about 1903 but my sister claims it was when he was 25 which would make it around 1904. My father came over and worked in labour, farm and finally settled in San Bernardino. I know by 1911 because I have a city license showing that he had a restaurant with someone as a partner and then had a hotel business which was the site of the first hotel in San Bernardino, across the street from the present courthouse. and later on he settled with a general merchandise store, a general on 3rd between D and Arrowhead. We had that business for another 30 years then we had to evacuate when the war broke out.
My father called his wife from Japan. She was a picture bride. She had sent pictures and he had sent a picture of himself. She finally came in 1912 and then helped him with the store and raised a big family. There were my older sister and two other sisters and my brother that survived. I went to the old 4th street school which is no longer there because they tore it down to make Court Street. We were the last graduating class from the 6th grade school before they tore it down. We also had a reunion of the teachers and some of the class members at a restaurant some time ago. And then I went to Sturges Jr. High and then to San Bernardino High School. That was the only high school then. And I went to Valley College then the University of Redlands where I got a scholarship. But I did have to change my major: they insisted that I wouldn't have an opportunity in the teaching field being oriental. And at that time the prejudice was quite strong. I changed to sociology. I did some settlement work after camp in New York.
I stayed in camp three years. It was a trial to get ready to go. We didn't have much time to get rid of the business. My father had been picked up by the F.B.I because he had served as president of the Japanese Association at that time. He was up for questioning because of his backround. He was not a citizen yet because Japanese 1st generation, the Isei, were not permitted citizens of the United States. There was a law that prohibited that. So both of my parents were not citizens until after the war when a new law came into effect that they could be citizens. And they both became citizens and I' m real proud of them for having done so.
When Pearl Harbor occurred, I think I was in Riverside at that time, visiting and we were shocked. And we immediately came home and we wondered what was going to happen to my parents, not being American citizens, and we were American citizens. We didn't think anything would happen to our parents. We just pondered and then some time later we found out about the proclaimation that President Roosevelt signed that put us under the command of the army and we had to evacuate and go go to these 10 different camps. We went to Poston, Arizona. We left early in the morning from our church which was on First Christian church, on 5th street near Mt. Vernon. As we went over the viaduct I know my heart sank, wondering, "Will I ever see the roundhouse again?, Will I ever see the Santa Fe? What will happen to us?" We went all the way to Riverside and picked up another contingent of Japanese and we rode on the bus for hours. The shades were pulled down. No one could see us as we traveled aross the desert into Poston, Arizona.
We blew in with the wind. It was almost dark and we were all so very tired. And what we had to do once we got into camp was sign and give information and then given a tick to fill with straw which served as a matress for a time. Later we were given better mattresses. We lived in the barracks. There were about four different rooms to one barrack. there were about five people at least to each room. My brother stayed with another family for awhile because their father had been interned also and they didn't have enough people to makThey were allowed to go out of camp for labor like that. Soon there were extra rooms so they didn't limit us to the number of people in a barrack.
While at last in the barrack I'm thankful for the one thing: that it permitted me to get into teaching which I had hoped to do. But knowing the limatations of an oriental teaching in California I didn't have the opportunity but in Poston I did. In the three years that I was there I enjoyed every bit of it. My pupils were great. They were very industrious, sweet, very driven. They had motive to do their best and I enjoyed that. A quilt that they made is traveling with the "Stength and Diversity" exhibit that the Smithsonian is sending to different parts of the United States. It traveled since 1990. I don't know exactly where it is now. The last I heard they were trying to raise enough money to send it to Japan for an exhibit. It has been in Hawaii, New York, the Field Musseum in Chicago and to the---I can't think of the name of the museum in Los Angeles. At that time I had some of the pupils now in their 50'. close to 60's and we had a great time. We get together now and then.
When I was growing up there were ill feelings toward the orientals. The orientals were excluded from many things like restaurants, from the public pool, plunges. Maybe we could go on the day they changed the water but on the whole we were excluded. Only "White Trade Only " at the restaurants so my parents wouldn't tkae us out to eat. The only place we went to eat was the Chinese restaurant and they allowed us all the time. There were so many limitations.
I had to be very careful that I wouldn't cause any shame to people of our race. I abided by those rules and didn't make make myself obnoxious or cause difficulty in any place. We like to be peacemakers and not troublemakers.
I have lived in San Bernardino all my life on the west side of town. I attended Ramona elementary and Alessandro elementary which were Hispanic also on the west side of town. when I was a kid I remember walking to the Railto theater which was on Third and Arrowhead. and on the way I could see the restaurants and hotels that said "White Trade Only". Also in the theater there was an area that was roped which we were not allowed to sit, that was reserved for the whites.
Mt. Vernon was the main business street when I was growing up. Most of the stores were owned by Japanese but when World War II broke out they were taken away and sent to camps then it just became a hispanic business area.
Also I remember that we were not allowed to use Perris Hill Swimming Pool. My mother was aware of this and in spite of it she sent me and my girlfriend to buy a ticket which of course we were denied. My mother and a few other people got together and filed a lawsuit which was settled out of court. The reason was that my mother felt why my brother was able to fight for this country but his sister could not swim in the pool here.
I had a brother that was in the navy and went to school on the G.I. Bill. He got his Ph.D and became the first hispanic president of San Jose City College. I'm proud of my daughter and nephew and niece that are educators now.
While I was in high school I remember not used to being mixed because all through elementary, junior high, and high school we were all hispanic. When I went to high school we were all mixed. I remember myself taking a 0 before I would recite anything, anything orally. Anything written I had no trouble with but I was really aware of my accent so that kept me from getting ahead a little more I think.
Our being segregated was a problem for most of the hispanics when I was going to high school , dropping out of school. It was never stressed to us to take college prep classes. they used to more or less have all the girls take homemaking, clothing; the boys paintshop and workshop. I think those vocational work.
Silvia Salem, San Bernardino City Schools Unified School District