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Issei Oral History Project now streaming online

Front cover image from Nothing Left in my Hands by Kazuko Nakane

The Archive of Recorded Sound is pleased to announce the launch of a substantially updated finding aid for the Issei Oral History Project in Watsonville Collection. In addition to many other notable improvements, which include English summaries of each interview from the collection and additional subject headings to aid discovery, the new finding aid now includes streaming audio of each recorded interview. The finding aid is available on the Online Archive of California.

The Issei Oral History Project in Watsonville was created by historian Kazuko Nakane in preparation for the book Nothing Left in my Hands : The Issei of a Rural California Town, 1900-1942, one of the earliest studies of the history of Japanese communities in California and one of the few sources for pre World War II Japanese immigrant history in the Pajaro Valley. The project is based around interviews, mostly conducted in Japanese by Nakane between 1978 and 1983, with fifteen Japanese-American residents in Watsonville, California, both men and women, who were first and second generation immigrants (Issei and Nissei), who Nakane describes as "pioneers" that laid the groundwork for later immigrants to the area. 

Located in the Pajaro Valley, Watsonville and the surrounding area is overwhelmingly agricultural. Farming is therefore a major topic of discussion in the interviews. Other subjects covered however include life at the turn of the 20th century, the impact of anti-immigration legislation, relocation camps during World War II, and the difficulty in maintaining relations with family still in Japan. The interviewees also recount stories of gambling, prostitution, and labor protests.    

With the help of Professor Gordon Chang (Olive H. Palmer Professor in Humanities), the Issei Oral History Project in Watsonville Collection, which contains original audiocassettes of the interviews as well as transcripts in English, arrived at Stanford in 2009. Since then work has been ongoing to make this collection publicly accessible. This has included creation of an initial finding aid in 2011, made possible by financial support from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission; digitizing the original audiocassettes, undertaken by the Stanford Media Preservation Lab; and finally the recent development of the enhanced descriptive information at the heart of the new finding aid, created by Mieko Mazza, Japanese Technical Services Librarian in Stanford's East Asia Library.  

The creation of this significantly enhanced finding aid was a truly collaborative effort and thanks must go to everyone involved across Stanford University Libraries for making this happen, especially Regan Murphy Kao (Japanese Studies Librarian), Franz Kunst (former Processing Assistant at the Archive of Recorded Sound, now Project Archivist - Educational Collections Project), Mieko Mazza (Japanese Technical Services Librarian), Abraham Tewolde (2013 Stanford University Libraries 1st-generation summer intern), and Geoff Willard (Preservation Coordinator, Stanford Media Preservation Lab).