Interview with Diane Benedetto, April 10, 1979

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Interview with Diane Benedetto, April 10, 1979
Benedetto, Diane ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Palm Beach County Oral History Collection ( local )
Spatial Coverage:
Palm Beach (Fla.) -- History.


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Palm Beach' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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INTERVIEWEE: Diane Benedetto

DATE: April 10, 1979

W: All right, it's Diane Benedetto...

S: Benedetto. My real name is Imogene Alice Gates, which, if you
have read any of the historical papers, that was my original name.

W: Are your parents....

S: Harley and Harriet Gates, from Vermont.

W: When did they come to Florida?

S: My father came down the first time in 1907, and he brought mother
down in 1915, when he married her.

W: In 1907, did he come to the Boca [Raton] area?

S: He went all through, you know, down to Miami and up through, and
he saw this place and he thought it was paradise, you know. There
wasn't anything here except the Rickard's pineapple farm, and a
few farmers. The Japanese colony was already here then, wasn't it?

W: In 1907, they would have just gotten started. I think they finally,
they first came in 1905. They were here in 1904, looking around,
I think, and trying to get it established. And when were you born?

S: 1916. April 20.

W: Okay. In Boca?

S: Yes. Well, we lived down by the canal. There were about twelve
families, no doctors, no midwives, no nothing. So Mother went to
Palm Beach and had me up on Jasmine Street. I was born in West
Palm Beach, and then brought back. But I always say I was born
here, because it is where I really started my life.

W: Well, what are your first memories of Yamato and the Japanese
people there?

S: I met them when I was going to school here in Boca. I went to school
in the north side of Miami, my first year. I was about seven. And


the second year, I went in Miami. Then we came back here again.
Dad had to go down there because he couldn't make a living here.
There was nothing. And on that plantation, it was just food to
eat but no income. Plenty to eat, fish and turtles and everything,
you know, just rampant [laughter]. And he went down there to open
a real estate office. Then we came back here and he used to come
back and forth from Miami to here. And then I started school here
and that's when I met the Japanese children. There was Kazuo,
Masuko was my girlfriend, Frank, Roscoe, I don't remember, I mean
Rokuo. I don't remember too well. He was the oldest. I remember
Roscoe Kamiya. Roscoe Kobayashi. And those are the ones I remember
in school. And they were smart and I was so dumb [laughter].

I don't really think so [laughter].

S: Yes, I was.

W: Did you know, do you still see the Kobayashis or the Kamiyas?

S: They, I told you back during the World War II, you know, when Japan
was bombed, they became suspicious of all Japanese and they put them
on farms. And everyone disappeared. And I did see a Japanese art
shop in Miami once, and someone told me that one of the Kamiyas,
someone that worked there, but when I went in, there was no one there
of that name.

W: Well Frank Kamiya lives in Lake Worth. I'm going to see him this week.

S: He does?

W: And the Kobayashis live in Fort Lauderdale. Tom Kobayashi.

S: Isn't that wonderful, 'cause with things today, how would you ever
find those people again?

W: Well, the Kamiyas are still here. One of their grandsons is Henry,
the grandson of Henry Kamiya.

S: Isn't that wonderful. I remember him. I used to go out that little
old sand road to their big, wooden, frame house.

W: The Kamiyas?

S: Yes. And it was so much fun, I thought, you know, because they lived
so different than I did. And I loved Masuko. She was so nice. They
were all so nice.


Well, they had the two story house.

S: Yes.

W: The biggest one there. What was the physical layout of Yamato,
other than the...?

S: Well, Andrew Montgomery is in Fort Lauderdale, and his, I'm trying
to show you, as you go up Dixie, like this, there was a curve there,
and here you went out to where the Japanese lived, and over here was
the Montgomerys'. And I think they had a little gas station. I'm
not sure. And they were there. They were not Japanese. They were
Irish. I think Andrew works for the water company of the city of
Fort Lauderdale. Andrew Montgomery. He came to see me once, when
we had the Che Joy Restaurant. He had one of the most promising
careers. I don't know what happened to him. He was terrific at
baseball. He had a brother that had one arm, that was really a
terrific baseball player. And his mother, the father, I think, died.
Then there was his sister. And she is still around somewhere. Can't
think of her name right off. I know it, but I can't think of it.

W: Well, I can get in touch with him. Talk to him about that.

S: Yes. I think through the city you could find out where Andrew is.

W: Okay. Then, the Yamato, then, wasn't just strictly Japanese, is
that right?

S: No, not that part, right on the bend there, see. That was where you
go up to Delray [Beach]. That was the old Dixie Highway. And there
was no Federal or King's Highway, or whatever you want to call it,
then. And that's the way we would go up. Then, later on, they built
the ocean road, there by the beach [laughter].

W: Were the houses of Yamato, were they pretty close together, or were
they spread out?

S: Well, I don't remember any house being near, and even their barns, not
barns, what would you call it, where they put their produce and every-

W: Produce sheds.

S: I, something like, you know, like they have at Farmers' Market down
in Pompano [Beach], where they have the great big, long, well, they


had great big ;storage barns, I'd call it. And we used to play all
out in the woods, and we would walk over to that storage barn....

W: Okay, so there wasn't a real defined city limits...

S: Oh no.

W: ...or anything like that.

S: They were scattered and they each had their own, they lived, probably,
near their farms.

W: At, about that time, when you would go there, do you have any idea
about how many Japanese families were there then?

S: I thought there was about five, but I could be very wrong.

W: Five families.

S: I don't really know. Kami Kamiya, I know he was up near Delray.
But, see, in those days, the expanse of acreage, it was farms,
sort of went from one family into another's, and over here, it is
hard to tell just where anybody lived.

W: You mean they would work each other's land?

S: No, they had their own land. I imagine they helped each other. I
don't really know, you know, as a child, I was pretty young then,
but I know they were pretty well spaced out. I remember Kobayashi's
coming to see my father very much. Dad helped him a lot. I think he
had another son, too. Do you, I know Roscoe.

W: Yes, there were two Kobayashis there, and I think the mother is still
alive down in Fort Lauderdale.

S: Yeah.

W: I believe so. I'm not sure.

S: That's strange. You know, and I thought, well after the war, you
know, and all the discomfort they were caused, and this being in the
air base and everything, that they had put them on one of those
Japanese farms, 'cause I never could find where they went.

W; Well, when I can find out because I think Mr. [George] Morikami was,
he stayed here but he was more or less under kind of a loose guard
that wasn't very strict.


S: Yes. He just lived all alone. He had no relatives that I know
of in, I don't know if he ever did have.

W: I don't think so. I don't believe so. Did you ever hear of them
talking about Joseph Sakai?

S: The name sounds familiar.

W: He is supposedly the founder of Yamato.

S: And they sent his ashes back to Japan when he died.

W: I believe so. He died in North Carolina...

S: Yes, I remember.

W: ...of tuberculosis.

S: But, well, there is one that came here from Japan, sort of the leader
of the colony, that they sent his ashes back to Japan. That was
their custom, if they died here at that time.

W: Do you remember any talk of a count, Okudaira, or anything like,
does that name mean anything?

S: I never knew any Japanese were counts.

W: Well, apparently this was some part of the royal family that was
involved in it, because I found newspaper references to him being
here with Joseph Sakai. Sakai was the one who originally made the
contact with the railroad.

S: I think this iswonderful what you are doing.

W: Well, it's been a problem.

S: Jackie has been doing this on the history of Boca. Can you imagine
what she went through in three years? And they were all on her back
to get the book out and you have to get all of your italics. I've
taken creative writing for one year, you know, so, I know enough about
it, what you are going through.

W: It's a problem. Well, I, mine's not going to be a book.

S: And people think all you do is just sit down and just write this out,
you know. You talk to a few people and write it out. They don't know


what it entails. I'll be very interested in reading something
like that.

W: Well, I hope to get it together soon. I have to finish it by the
end of May. Prior to World War II, when things got bad, what was
the day-to-day relationships with the Japanese families and the Anglo
families, the American families, around here? Was it pretty cordial?

S: I imagine, you know Southerners are pretty hostile to anyone that
wasn't a Southerner. I came from a family of "damned Yankees," you
know [laughter]. And so, well, my people aren't, they're not warm
and hospitable like the Southerners. You know, they were brought
up in Vermont, where people are a little different. You know, con-
servative and kind of on guard against other people. And down here,
the Southerners are very friendly, and when my dad married my mother,
she says they never forgave him, because on their wedding night they
came to sing and wanted to come in, you know, and celebrate, and my
father chased them away. He was about as popular as a pork chop at
a Jewish wedding after that! [Laughter]. And Dad was shy. He was
self-conscious and shy and embarrassed by it all, especially bringing
a bride down, you know.

W: How did they get along with the Japanese? Or did the Japanese get
along with them?

S: I never noticed them getting too close, you know.

W: They kept to themselves pretty much?

S: Yes, they seemed to, to me. I don't know.

W: But you went there quite a bit though, right?

S: Yes, and I think Masuko came to my house to pajama parties and what-
ever I, things like that, or birthday parties. If I have a picture
of a birthday party she's not on it.

W: What about their social customs? Did they try to maintain any
Japanese culture?

S: Well, they did in the way that they lived, their life style, I mean
the things they ate and everything. As a kid, I went there and I
didn't know what to do. You know, when someone puts something like
that in front of you, a little kid, that never seen anything like that,
a pair of chop sticks, you know, and you watching them and you don't


know how they use those things. They finally rustled up a fork
for me, or a spoon or something, I remember that. And I tasted
that rice, you know, and I had been taught, you know, that you don't
complain about anything. You eat what is on your plate, and....

What kind of things did you eat, what did they have?

S: Rice with that seaweed.

W: With seaweed.

S: And the fish, I don't know how they fixed it. I don't remember that.
But I had eaten, I'd been raised on fish. We didn't have any super-
markets, you know, just a grocery store that had very simple things
like Eagle Brand Milk, and rice in the great big bags. Very primitive.

W: What kind of, what would the living conditions be like as far as homes
are concerned?

S: Their homes were immaculate. But they have wooden floors and, like
the Southerners, I guess, they cleaned them the same way, with the
soapy water and then rinse them and sweep them. And, well those cracks
in the floor are very convenient for the water [laughter]. And they
were up on pilings about that high.

W: A couple of feet high?

S: Maybe that high. Yeah, and the air went under it and kept the houses
cool. They were made of wood, pine wood, I imagine. They were primi-
tive. Sometimes the floors got a lean [laughter].

W: What about the environment at that time, what did you have problems
with, as far as growth and bugs?

S: A few snakes.

W: Mosquitoes?

S: Snakes, mosquitoes, oh golly. You know where I lived down by the
canal, when you went out in the summer, you looked like a big, black
bear. That's how thick they were. I did a little sketch for the
children's museum, or no, I guess it was for that book. You're solid
black. That's how thick they were. And I used to get Florida sores
or boils from those things, you know. There was nothing you could do
to keep them off. We'd make smudge pots and citronella, kerosene on
the screens. Sand flies were even worse because they can get in through
the screens.


They bite?

S: And they live in the sand and you can't see the little things, you

W: What about the working conditions as far, for instance, the
Japanese families, did they have to go out and clear the land
to farm?

S: Yes, they did, and they had to dig out those old palmetto stumps
and burn them. And they did it all manually. There were no tractors
or anything to help them. They would burn off the land.

W: I don't suppose their farms were really very big, then, because it
seems like they would have to spend so much time clearing land that....

S: They did. Maybe they worked together. I don't really know that.
Every farm I went to, you know, out west here, you know, there
like Raulerson had farms here, too, and they would have those croker
sack bins. Everyone had those little sheds with the croker sack
bins and they put all the beans, or tomatoes, or whatever they had,
and they would put them in, sort them, put them in the crates. And
we kids used to get in those bins and eat raw peppers and cucumbers
and everything, you know.

W: How was the pineapple industry then? Was it going very strong?

S: They raised pineapples, but it was beginning to diminish. I don't
know what happened with that. Rickard's had a farm here over across
Palmetto Park Bridge.

W: Where did you live? Where was your home from Yamato?

S: You know where the Boca, well, the Bayou Restaurant is, down on
Fifth Avenue?

W: I think so.

S: From there to the river, twenty-eight acres up and down, and it was
called Palmetto Park Plantation. And Dad named it that, and they
named the road uptown, Palmetto Park Road, because it led down to
our place. Dad and Mr. Long and few others got together and
built that road themselves, you know.

W: Did you father hire any Japanese to work...


S: No....

W: ...or did they just work by themselves?

S: He had one colored man from the Bahamas, Uncle Willie and Uncle
Jimmy. They were all my uncles, the colored Echuckle3. And I
was raised like that, you know, and old Aunt Dinah and....

W: Did any of them do any sharecropping or working for the Japanese?

S: Yes, yes, I imagine. I don't know if they did for the Japanese.
I think they just did their sharecropping on their own, and 'course
somebody leased the land. I understand they leased their land. And
they worked for the farmers, you know, picking beans, peppers and
things like that.
See now, you've got to check and double check what I say, 'cause
you're going by the memory of a seven year old child. At eleven I
went away to boarding school. There's four years that, and when I
was two, you know, I started remembering when I was almost two. I
can go back to when my mother was changing my diapers [laughter].
Really, I can tell you everything.

W: You spent four years then in school here, is that right?

S: Yes, uh huh. Then I, I went up to, well, around Orlando there to

W: Where was the school located where the Japanese went to, the Yamato

S: Well, they came right over here. Same school. The one that's on
the far side here was it. It was just the one building. Then, later
on, they built another room. I remember when I was in the third
grade, I guess it was, I was over in that side, and then at the
fourth grade, it was here. And we used to play baseball just where
those kids are playing now. It's so funny.

W: Where is that?

S: Right over here, between Royal Palm and Second Street. That was
built, Dad had it, wait a minute, I can tell you when it was built,
'cause they said, "We're building a new school. $10,000 school
and community building." Now I say this was written approximately
around 1920.


W: Okay, one of the notes I found at the historical society is that
the school at Yamato was closed in 1924.

S: They didn't have a school up there then, did they?

W: Apparently they did, yeah. There was a Mrs. Williamson...

S: I think they did, and I think they used to have dances up there.
Yeah, that is right. They used to go on the old mule buckboard up
there to dances.

W: They had a picture of Machi and Michi and...

S: You are right about that. They did have a school. And the people,
the Southerners used to go up there in mule teams. Now you look
at Douglas's brother, Luke, (where everything was), had feet this
big, and he would prop them up on the buckboard and drive up there

W: Then would the Japanese attend those dances? Do you know?

S: I don't know if they did or not.

W: You were too young to go.

S: Yeah. I don't remember ever going there. I remember going to them
over here. My mother used to have dances at her house.

W: Before World War II when a lot of them started to leave, do
you have any idea what happened, why farms collapsed and so on?

S: No, I don't. He mentions Yamato here, but that's all. I don't
know why. I think the war kind of made them nervous. I mean it
would me, if I was in a foreign country and all of a sudden a war
breaks out. It's like going down to Jamaica now or something. My
doctor is going down there and he says, "You know Diane...." I said,
"Yeah, the political situation there is a bit shakey," I said, "but
I wouldn't worry." He's a plastic surgeon.
I've been going through this reconstruction. I had cancer. And
I was, you know, just completely stripped, and they have all recon-
structed my breast and cut one side down and I work for the Cancer
Society. I'm always doing charity 'cause nine years ago they didn't
think I'd live, you know, I got hit by a car, and my whole body has
been smashed to pieces, bones fractured. All my face, and bad head
injury they didn't think I'd live through. So, I've started running


counseling sessions, addiction research, drug abuse, and now
I've gone into this to help young girls, I hope, showing them
what can be done. But, I have to pay the hospital, which I'm a
little bit concerned about, but I have a lot of faith, and I
know God's always seen me through things, and it will be taken
care of. That's the way I look at it. It's going to be taken
care of. When I need money, somebody calls me to go to the air-
port or something. So I look at it that way.

W: This woman that is writing a book, you said that she has this copy
of whatever was written about Yamato.

S: Yes, and I thought I'd get your address, and if I might make a xerox
of it or something-, if I can find it. That's, she's got to get it
back, 'cause she....