Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
This podcast is almost totally about Shizue Seigel's ancestors.
In the episode, the poet and author digs deep into her family's history, which goes back to Japan just two generations ago. Sakuichi Tsutsumi and Umematsu Yokote Tsutsumi were from Kyushu, a large island in the south of Japan. Irene Yoshiko Tsutsumi Saiki, Shizue's mom, was born in Hawaii. Her family moved there to work on sugar plantations, but the conditions were brutal and they weren't able to save money thanks to the sugar companies' "company store" operations. Also, conditions in the cane fields were dangerous. The family went back to Japan.
Sakuichi moved to San Luis Obispo on the central coast of California. He and his cousins bought some land and used their knowledge of irrigation to help them grow produce. Thanks to an oil boom in the area, the town of San Luis was growing and its population needed vegetables. Now successful, it was time to send for his wife back in Japan.
Shizue shares the incredible story of finding the tiny mountain village and home where Sakuichi's family lived. It's one of those "you have to hear to believe" tales.
Shizue's mom, Irene, was born in 1920. Shizue shares many stories of her mother's family and the Japanese community in and around San Luis Obispo where she mostly grew up, notably before World War II.
Her dad's family moved from Hiroshima to Hawaii with his two older brothers. Life was tough there for them as well, and so it was decided that her grandfather, Yasaburo, would go ahead to California while her grandmother, Shige Matsuoka, took their children back to Japan. Shige waited for two years with no word back from the US. She left her two kids with in-laws and decided to come over to track her husband down. Her journey east is another amazing tale you just have to hear.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 and the continuation of Shizue's life history.
We recorded this podcast in Shizue's Outer Richmond apartment in November 2021.