Mary Hada's father, Tokujiro Oyama, was born on August
16, 1883 in Fukuoka, Japan. He passed away in June of 1978. Tokujiro
left Fukuoka in 1904 as a stowaway in a boat bound for Mexico. He
eventually made it to Veracruz, Mexico, but was not able to enter the
US for eight arduous years. To avoid discovery and deportation
back to Japan he trekked through Mexico's mountains and forests, subsisting
on edible plants and nuts, especially large quantities of bananas. Mary
reports that he ate so many bananas during those lean years that he
refused to eat them again until the 1960s.
Finally Tokujiro entered the US at Eagle Pass, Texas.
He related the story in 1956 when he became a citizen of the United
States and was asked for his port of entry. He came to this country
in search of opportunity—he fled from the harsh conditions he
found in turn-of-the-century Japan.
Tojkujiro then made his way to San Francisco, California,
to meet his arranged bride. Her name was Taki Mizukami (1895-1979),
and at the time she was still a teenager. She arrived on a more
conventional ship and the two were married on December 12, 1912. They
made a living doing odd jobs (mostly agricultural) in San Pedro, CA.
Their first child, Takeo, was born on May 9th, 1914. Sigenore
(Siggie), their second son, was born on September 29th, 1918.
Sometime in 1919 a friend of the family convinced
Tokujiro to come to San Benito, TX, "the land of opportunity."
Carrying their meager possessions, the family boarded a train
that took eight days to reach the most desolate, remote, and disappointing
land they had ever seen. The only work available in the lower
Rio Grande Valley was clearing mesquite trees from the dry, scrubby
land. Though he was shocked at the conditions, Oyama had little
choice and little money with which to choose any other option, so the
family settled in San Benito permanently. The "friend"
who had encouraged them to come to the Texas Valley later ran off to
unknown parts himself!
With perseverance and fortitude, Oyama stuck it out
and made his farm successful. Illegal Mexican immigrants made
up most of the farm labor that he hired. Mary remembers them as
loyal and hardworking hired hands.
Georgie was born on April 2nd, 1921, and Mary on January
28th, 1926. Mary weighed only 2 ½ pounds at birth, yet
managed to survive and now weighs around 90 pounds, soaking wet.
Mary recounts that the doctor had to ride his horse through the mud
to attend her mother and ordered Mary's tiny body to be placed in a
shoe box with warm bottles surrounding it as an incubator.
Unfortunately, the Great Depression hit a few years
later and the struggling Oyamas were not spared. What little savings
he had amassed Tokujiro had entrusted to a bank that eventually went
bankrupt. However, the man who survived in the hold of a ship and later
in the mountains of Mexico would not be deterred. The family pressed
on with their farming.
In 1939 the family took a wonderful road trip to the
San Francisco World's Fair. Mary remembers with excitement how
the trip (which took them through Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Pedro
as well), was so exciting to the children who knew only the lifestyle
of rural South Texas. They were then able to meet many Japanese
friends for the first time. 1939 also brought the Rural Electric
Authority (REA) which finally did away with the kerosene lamps Mary
was studying by! Soon after, she got to experience the joys of
gossiping with telephone operators when the family purchased a newfangled
In junior high school Mary distinguished herself by
becoming vice president of her class and being inducted into the National
Honor Society. She was even driving a large farm truck on a paper
route—even though she was only 4' 10" tall! After completing
high school, Mary attended Texas Woman's University.
Takeo's help was needed on the farm, so he did not
continue his education past the mandatory years.
George joined the US Army and became a member of the all-Nisei 442nd
division. Mary recalls that he trained at Camp Shelby, in Hattiesburg,
Mississippi. He saw action in Italy during the war and was later
plagued by terrible nightmares until his death in 2001. Like many
World War II veterans, George never spoke of those dark years of service,
but he was awarded the bronze medal. Siggie also joined the armed
forces and saw action in Normandy. Fortunately, he did not suffer
as severely as his brother and he later returned to San Benito to work
on the farm.
Mary's father was known as the "Red Potato King"
during the war years and his reputation made him a well-liked and respected
figure in the community. This came in handy during the war because
Tokujiro's attorney and businessmen friends kept the family out of the
internment camps. However the household was searched four times
by FBI agents. Mary remembers that she was ordered to keep still
and quiet during those searches, which was easy for her since she was
well-disciplined. Although she is certain that her father did
have some articles made in Japan, the agents were never able to find
any. Mary is proud that her Japanese upbringing taught her discipline
and gave her a respect for education.
The Nisei families in the Valley formed the Rio Grande
Valley Royal Club and the Oyamas were committed participants. They
met on holidays and had picnics together, with everyone bringing a covered
dish. She recalls eating healthily and heartily, as everyone cooked
their own home-grown crops. Tokujiro was always the sashimi carver
at club events, as they ate much of that as well. He was also
always the brave one, mixing and flipping the rice when the families
pounded it into mochi. The families made Japanese mochi for during
New Years' celebrations as a symbol of good luck and long life. Every
4th of July was spent at Boca Chica—Mary relates that these were
wonderful events. Later they went to Padre Island by ferry (the
causeway was built in the 1960s).
Discriminatory laws in effect during those years prevented
Mary's immigrant parents from owning property; however, American-born
sons and daughters could. When the Oyamas' agricultural pursuits
brought them more prosperity Tokujiro decided to buy land for his two
eldest sons. Even though Mary had been working hard in the fields
just like her brothers, she didn't receive any land from her parents,
yet she did not complain because she saw it as simply "a tradition
of the Isseis."
Takeo and Siggie married two sisters, Shidu and Tsuyu
Okabayashi. George married Christine Goldman, whom he met in Hattiesburg.
All of them have children and grandchildren and are doing very
Mary Oyama became Mary Hada when she wed Californian
George I. Hada, who had been interned in Poston Internment Camp for
3 ½ years. They were finally able to officially tie the
knot in 1948, when he was released. They lived in Phoenix for
two years, where their first daughter, Marilyn, was born. Then
the young family moved back to San Benito to be closer to her aging
parents. There Sylvia, their younger daughter, was born in 1952.
Unfortunately, their farms proved to be less successful than they
had hoped. George traveled as a cotton picker to Clarksdale, Mississippi,
Navasota, and even Arizona, but never met with much success. The
Hada family gave up on farming in 1975 and moved to Houston where their
daughters attended, and graduated from, the University of Houston.
During this time Mary's parents had continued farming
and participating actively in their community. Both were baptized in
1956, making Mary very proud. She had been baptized at the age
of 6. Tokujiro helped form a church and taught Sunday School classes
to Isseis who were interested in learning more about Christianity and
the Bible. The entire Hada family was also baptized during these
Japanese Isseis were able to become US citizens after
thoroughly studying the rules and laws of the citizenship test. For
the Oyama parents this was one of the biggest achievements of their
lives. Soon after, Tokujiro and Taki Oyama took a trip to Japan,
their first one since leaving so many years earlier.
In 1974, at over 90 years old, Tokujiro Oyama was
recognized for his many years of dedication and hard work by none other
than the Showa Emperor of Japan himself! The Fifth Class Order
of the Sacred Treasure award was sent to the local Consulate General
of Japan, and Mary and Takeo accepted it on their father's behalf. Mary
was overjoyed that her father had been so graciously commended and was
only too happy to accept the award for Tokujiro (who was in a nursing
home at the time) and take it to him.
Mary's daughters, Marilyn and Sylvia, are doing well
and have families of their own now. Marilyn married Harry Okabayashi,
a graduate of both UT Austin and UH who works as an electrical engineer.
Marilyn is a self-employed CPA who is active in various civic groups.
Their son Timothy graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel
Hill and worked as an environmental scientist. He is currently
enrolled in the Jones School of Management at Rice University, expecting
to receive an MBA.
Sylvia recently retired as vice-president of a petrochemical
company. Sylvia married Howard Lindsay in 1980. Howard,
also a graduate of both UT and UH, worked for 30 years as a writer in
public education before retiring. Their son Eric graduated from
Rice University in May, 2003 and aspires to someday become a doctor.
Ironically, Eric spent his "junior year abroad" as a foreign
exchange student studying Japanese economics, language, and culture
at Kyushu University in the city of his great-grandfather Tokujiro's
birth—Fukuoka—119 years earlier.
As Mary Hada relates this story it has been nearly
a century since her father stowed away on a ship to come to the USA.
Though his journey and life were not always easy, he persevered
and through his dedication ensured that his children would be secure
in a new land. Like many Japanese immigrants, the Oyamas faced
innumerable hardships along the way, yet today feel happy to have known
the success that they have. Mary feels very blessed and proud
of her family and all their accomplishments.