<Begin Segment 1>
AI: Today is December 7, 2002. We're in Seattle at the Densho office interviewing with Kara Kondo. I'm Alice Ito with Densho, and also co-interviewing is Gail Nomura from the Department of American Ethnic Studies at University of Washington. And Kara, thanks so very much for coming from Yakima today. We really appreciate it.
KK: Thank you.
AI: And as we had mentioned earlier, we wanted to start off our interview by asking you to tell us a little bit about your mother and her family background in Japan and anything you can tell us about her life there before coming to the United States.
KK: Would you care to know about my father first, a little bit?
AI: Either way. We thought we might ask about your mother, but your father, also.
KK: Well, my father came... preceded my mother. And he came -- he and his brother, Sho Matsushita. My father's name was Yasutaro. And they came to the United States together. And they came through the Port of Seattle. And I think, while in Japan -- in Hyogo-ken -- they were the, not the oldest son of that family. So both of them were fairly well-educated and... but realized that they could not make a living in Japan. So they -- the first opportunity, I think -- they came here to the United States. And when they were asked to declare what their occupation would be, they both said, "Students." And so when they were, promptly asked my father where he was going to, and the only one he could, institution he could think of was Columbia in New York. And, of course, he never got past Mississippi River. I guess he did during evacuation, but that was his first thought.
But as they joined the Japanese contingent -- small group of Japanese who were here in the valley -- they recognized that it was a very fertile valley and that in 19-, 1904, the first irrigation system was introduced. And the first job that my father had... he didn't go to school, of course. He couldn't afford it. But my Uncle Sho did go to Wapato High School. But my father's first job was with the Northwest Land Development Company, and their job was to put in the first apple orchard on the reservation. The reason for the reservation was that although it was not a closed reservation for the Yakama Nation, and some of the land was purchased by other Caucasian groups... and the Northwest Land Company, following the first irrigation possibilities, had put in the first apple orchard around Wapato. And I often go by Ashue Road and find that the orchard is still there. Of course, the trees have been replaced, but it is the roots of my father's first venture in the valley. And the reason why the Japanese, the Isseis, elected to settle in the, on the reservation was because land was made available to them by leasing through the Yakama Indian, Bureau of Indian Affairs. And that's why so many of the Isseis came to this area and helped clear the sagebrush and started the farms in the lower valley -- or the mid-valley, it is. Mid-Yakima valley. But my Uncle Sho went to school in Wapato High School. And, but my father continued to work. And then it gets a little vague when my mother came. But she came about ten or fifteen years after they had... both the Matsushita brothers had settled in the valley. And the story of my mother, how my father and mother met is unclear to our, to us.
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<Begin Segment 2>
KK: But my mother grew up in Kobe, although she was born in Shizuoka-ken. She was adopted by her aunt, who was fairly wealthy and had no children. They were... she was Amitani, and they, they adopted my mother and, with the idea that they would find a yoshi for her to carry on the Amitani name. And my mother was, received her education in Kobe and went to the Aoyama Gakuin, and she was, she told us that her mother felt that she would never, she would never need to use English. My mother wanted to learn English and take English so she could speak English, but her mother told her that oh, she would have no use for it because she would never leave Japan. And so she took all the cultural studies such as tea ceremony and ikebana and the, both the shamisen and the koto and all the social -- to obtain the social graces. But, and then she did finally marry. And I can't even remember what his name was, but she was married for about a year, and she had a child. But I don't know how she met my father. But after she met him they were, she di-, whether she divorced her husband, I'm not sure. But she vowed that she would come to America to join her new husband, and she did.
And so her life began here in the early 1900s. And it was quite a shock to her, being sheltered and given the privilege of a wealthy child, to be faced with living in a very raw, undeveloped area where her transportation -- she was told she would have a basha, and when she came, it was a wagon with farm, driven by farm horses. And that the water was a pump, that she had to pump water. And she had to heat the water on wood stoves. So it was a very primitive condition, which I'm sure she had no idea. She felt that America was a land of opportunity, and that it would be an adventure. Of course, it was an adventure for her and a very difficult life, I'm sure. But I will give credit to her and to so many of the Issei women who probably had a more difficult time than she did.
But we lived in a, the area called, at that time, (...) the Brownstown area, which is about, oh, about eight miles west of Wapato, the small town that was the center of the middle valley. And we lived on a hay farm. And whereas most of the Japanese families had smaller acreage, and they lived closer to town, we were located some distance from the town. There were, and we were, the reason why it was called Brownstown was because the Brown brothers, seven of them, came from Virginia with the idea of having big plantations, Virginian plantations, that they had seen in Virginia. And they had staked out large amounts of farmland, and they were all around us with great big houses. And (they were) hardy people who, we were told, that they had accumulated land in very, some ways that were not really legitimate. But that we do not know. But we lived on a hay farm or alfalfa farm. And our school, my, I have an older sister, Amy, and I grew up during that early period in the '20s where we went to a two-room schoolhouse called Johnson School. And, of course, you know, we walked two miles through very cold, and often hot days and dusty days, through... on, unpaved roads.
AI: Excuse me. Before we get too far along here, I wanted to back up a little bit back, going back to your mother. And I wanted to ask you what your mother's name was.
KK: Oh, my mother's name was Kiyoko.
GN: Kiyoko Amitani.
KK: Kiyoko Amitani, and then Matsushita.
AI: And she was born in -- I think you showed us earlier, 18-
KK: 1870 -- let me see. It was in 1886.
AI: So she was born in 1886, and then she came to Yakima in about, 19-
KK: I would think about 1912. Something like that. (1912).
GN: And I don't think I heard when your father came?
KK: My father came in, he was born in 1879, and he came in 1905.
GN: And did he come directly to the valley, you think?
KK: Yes, I think he did.
KK: Yes, he did.
GN: You didn't tell us something about your father's family in Japan?
KK: Oh, my father's family lived in Akashi. It was close to Kobe, I think it is a suburb of Kobe at the present time. And they had a small farm, a citrus farm. And, but he had an older brother, of course, who inherited the land. So the younger brothers did not, did not inherit. But both of them were teaching school before they came here.
GN: I see. Did they go to normal school or --
KK: Oh, I don't think so. I think they were, finished high school and were probably, at that time, were able to teach lower, very lower grades. But I'm sure that they, it was not very productive in that way, and you know, the venture of a new country certainly beckoned many people in those days.
GN: Did your father ever tell you why he wanted to come to the United States? I mean, how did he hear about it, and why Washington?
KK: I'm sure that they had some, word by mouth, I'm sure. And they probably had the opportunity of finding employment. But their first intent was, you know, when young people, what do they do nowadays? They, they go even if, to another land even if they don't have a job. I'm sure that's the kind of spirit of adventure of young people even now, I hope.
GN: And how many siblings do you have?
KK: I have a older sister, Amy, and a younger sister, Marjorie. And Marjorie is six years younger than I am, and my older sister is two years older. And we both will, still in existence. [Laughs]
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GN: When were you born?
KK: I was born in 1916. And my name is Kara because on my birth certificate it was K-a-r-u, and my first grade teacher said she misread that and gave me K-a-r-a. So I have retained it since that time.
GN: Do you want to tell us something about reservation life for the Japanese Americans? I mean, why come to the reservation rather than...
KK: Well, the reservation land was quite open land, although it was under the Yakama Nation. The Bureau of Indian Affairs had their land managers, and they had allotted the reservation land to various Native American families. And that gradually was, as a descendents occurred, they sold off it. In many instances they sold the land to people, to the buyers, and... but it was an open land, and leasing was made easier for the, for the Japanese. And, and that's why so many of the Japanese settled here, although there were quite a number of Japanese in Yakima city, itself, which is a little larger city, and who had the usual small businesses, operated small business such as having small hotels or grocery stores or restaurants. And, but the larger population -- Japanese population -- in the Yakima valley, which is a fairly large valley, settled in the, the, what we call the mid-valley area around Wapato, Toppenish area. And Toppenish had a nursery that had really, earlier (...) employed a contingent of Japanese from Hawaii, who had come from Hawaii.
GN: Is that the McDonalds?
KK: No. It was --
GN: Washington Nursery?
KK: It was... oh, I can't remember the nursery, but it was in Satus area, that's south of Toppenish area. And it's still on the reservation, I believe.
GN: Your father began to then farm?
KK: You know, I have... yes. I think he leased land in the Brownstown or the Bench area -- we called it the Bench area -- and had a alfalfa or hay farm. I think it was around 80 acres -- 160 acres, I think it was. And that's where, in that area -- I was born in that area. Until, he leased that until the anti-alien land law which made it much more stringent, and quite a number of people left the valley at that time.
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AI: Before we get there, why don't we continue hearing more about those very early days of the Issei. And, of course, that was before you were born, but perhaps the things that you had heard about what life was like for them?
KK: In the wintertime, of course, everything is at a standstill because the crops are in, and so the people are much, have much more leisure time. And, and it, for people who lived in closer to Wapato, which was sort of the mecca, or the center for the Japanese, I'm not quite sure what they did because we were out in the country, but... and I can remember having my parents' friends in almost daily. And I, we remember that my mother always seemed to prepare meals for them and that the men would sit around and talk. And that's where we used to listen to them.
But, but a lot of the Issei lives were the same in that we were sort of a self-contained community. We were able to maintain our Japanese foods and customs, and on New Year's Day they had mochitsuki and all that kind of, same kind of customs that they were used to. But it was a very difficult life, and I have a lot of memories about living out in the country and having wild horses come in to our land and having to chase them out and having the, the sheep coming in to graze on the last bits of alfalfa in the fall. These are memories that you have. And very often the, we could hear the coyotes at night and often see them around the haystack. But, for the Japanese --
AI: Excuse me. I also wanted to -- before we got too far along -- ask you whether your mother had ever told you a little bit more about what kind of living conditions she and your father had when she first got to the valley.
KK: Well, I suppose you have no conception. I can have memories, of course, you did your washing with a washboard, which I'm sure is a novelty nowadays. [Laughs] But a washboard where you had to heat your water on the cook stove. And your heating was usually by stoves -- either a potbelly stove or, for heating, wood stoves for cooking. And usually without running water in those days. I remember having horses. We did have a car, eventually had an automobile. But the early memories are that they used horses, mainly. They'd have, in addition to the wagons -- very utilitarian wagons -- they had buggies. And I recall, or my memory is that when they went to Yakima by buggy, they would have to stay overnight because... and they would take a bale of hay and stay overnight because that was quite some distance, about 20 miles or more -- probably longer in those days.
GN: What were their earliest race relations at that time? Did they ever tell you about before the anti-alien laws and some of that?
KK: Well, they, they did not talk too much, although reading some of the history of that area, there were some. And I, and I have read the early ones... in the early 1900s, the first ones, that my father had gone to Toppenish to send a wire to the consulate because, because they were threatened somehow. And, but, you know, you read that now, but I don't have any memory of that, of course. But you had the regular relationship with your neighbors. I don't think it differed very much. Our immediate, white neighbor was married to a part-Indian woman, and I remember the name of Maxwell. And with other neighbors the controversy, or friction, was over water, if I remember. And it's the same now. But I remember that our hired man, Mr. Tomita, was hit by a shovel. But it was, it was about water and whether or not somebody, they felt that someone was stealing water. The other memory that I had was that you really, because we were -- had distance between properties and residences, that you did not mingle that closely with the white, Caucasian neighbors and --
GN: Was there any sense of a Japanese community?
KK: Yes, there was. Always. It was, I think it was a very close... they had the Japanese Association. Eventually they had formed the Japanese language school, and in the '20s -- '22 and '4 -- the buildings of both the Japanese Yakima Buddhist Church and the United Methodist Church. And some of the early pioneers were those who came to be associated with the churches. But our, I remember when, it was a rare treat when they had Japanese movies. We would have them at the Association building, and we would sit by the person who (...) ran the projector and talked for all the people on the screen and... which was really a talking, before, long before talking, "talkies," as they said. The operators provided the entertainment. I remember that. And we used to sit by, watching him perform and take the parts of the -- speaking parts -- of those projected on the screen. We thought that that was really very entertaining.
AI: And these are things that would, events that would take place at the Japanese Association building?
KK: Yes. After that was constructed, yes.
AI: And I think I read that that was, building was dedicated in 1920?
KK: It could have been.
AI: Is that right in Wapato, was it?
KK: Yes. In Wapato. It was, that was where the first, the churches' services were held there earlier, and then each church had their own separate buildings. But the Japanese language school continued there, and it was added on where it was the center of, center of all the social activities.
AI: So, in the early 1920s, the Association building was dedicated, the Buddhist Church, and the Methodist Church --
KK: Church, yes.
AI: -- were both built and dedicated.
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AI: And as Gail mentioned earlier, that was also the time when the anti-,Washington State anti-alien land law was first passed in 1921. And the amendment in '23. So there was, it sounds like there was quite a bit of activity.
KK: Yes, I'm sure there was. And we felt that because we, after the, soon after the anti-alien land law we had to move from our property, you know. We had 160 acres and at the middle of the, in late spring we moved in with my uncle who lived several miles away and continued to farm with him in a vegetable farm. But we had to give up that property, I remember. But, you know, as a child you don't, I'm sure you're aware that there was something wrong but weren't quite sure --
GN: The law didn't exactly... it was a state law, didn't apply to the reservation lands.
KK: No, it did not.
GN: But, but the government went along with that and --
GN: -- did not lease directly to the Japanese farmers.
KK: No, and so it, well, no, they did not. And you had to have either a older member of your family who was of age to secure, or a friend who was older, or someone who was a friend who were, who were Caucasian. And I remember that my parents had gotten the name of a Johnson Shimizu, who was the older, one of the older Japanese, and later my sister, Amy, who was older than I, who had the legal responsibility of signing for mortgages and leases and all those kinds of things.
AI: Because they were American citizens.
KK: Yes. They were citizens and of age.
GN: What is "of age," though? Is that twenty-one?
KK: Twenty-one, I think, though -- no.
GN: But many of the, but your sister wouldn't be twenty-one until '35.
KK: Well, I believe that the early, it was in the early '30s, I think, when she began to... but prior to that time it was somebody older who was twenty-one and who signed for the legal papers.
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<Begin Segment 6>
GN: I'm wondering if we should go back to some of the cultural activities, early cultural activities, and then go detailed into the reservation situation? You were talking about the churches?
KK: The churches, yes.
GN: And what kinds of activities did the churches do?
KK: The churches had their regular services, of course. But then they also had their festivals like the Bon Odori and the hanamatsuri. I can remember them. And, and the Methodist church followed, had a, the minister, or the woman who came to be the Japanese language school teacher was a widow, Mrs. Okuda, who was a single parent. And I don't, we didn't ever find out what happened to Mr. Okuda, but she, but she was a very intelligent, forthright, brave woman who was the language school teacher and was, also was a worker within the Methodist church. We have had the Methodist ministers and the Buddhist priests until, until we were evacuated from the area.
But they had their regular festivities, and they also had cultural events where they would -- the greater public -- would be invited. Most of them occurred in conjunction with the, the language school, and they had their regular activities. Then they had the sports activities, the judo lessons and the kendo and the Wapato Nippons, or the baseball teams that became quite famous. And I believe they probably, until this day, there's some myth about, about the Wapato Nippons, that they sort of integrated to a greater Northwest baseball picture of the Nisei baseball teams. But it also integrated with the other baseball activities of the community in that way, but, but the Japanese community was a community in itself. It was a subculture within a culture. We had our Japanese grocery stores. There were several of them. And a couple of eating places, a little garage, and we even had a dentist. I can remember the early dentist who would pump his foot for the drills and it was just a, a community within itself. And where the, it was very close-knit. And the Wapato people were, there were more of them around Wapato but there were some from the Toppenish area -- and that's the lower valley -- and from Yakima. But as a whole, the whole valley was a very close-knit... and I think we just continued to live our unique lives.
GN: What were the major events for the community?
KK: The major events, we, the Japanese community had their dances, they had their -- which, you know, some parents disapproved, and it always created some sort of controversy. We didn't care. But they had athletic events, and then they had their cultural events, and they had organized into a girls' club and the judo and the kendo and related activities were also very --
GN: How about the Issei? What kinds of organizations did they have?
KK: Well, you know, I think that they were, they were not involved in too many social activities except the shigin groups and --
GN: Shigin groups are...
GN: Could you define that?
KK: Yes. And, you know, they took time to visit each other a lot. I think that our house was always full of Isseis. Always, always talking. And they were, I think they were much more worldly in their attitudes than, that we were led to believe. And sometimes we would argue from our American viewpoint, and I can remember my father say, "Well, everything is not black and white. There are various shades of gray." And the other thing I can remember him saying -- when we said, "Well, you don't know. You just speak Japanese," he said, "Well, you don't always think in English. You can always think in other languages." These are the kinds of things that I recall. And they would discuss literature and I can remember my father reading rather heavy books and heavy subject books and my mother would read light subject books and I can remember him saying very proudly, "Oh, she's reading Anna Karenina," and he felt that was quite a progress, and here she was reading all these fiction in Japanese.
GN: Well, the Yakima valley, actually, the Japanese community was well-known for its senryu club?
KK: I think so.
GN: And it's supposed to be the origination...
KK: Is that right?
GN: Did you know of the Isseis writing poetry?
KK: No. I knew Mrs. Tomita, but she didn't live here that much longer, either. She stayed for a while because she, she and her husband worked for my parents. But I know that her writings are very well-known. But they moved to the Seattle area, I imagine about in the mid-'20s because, during the anti-alien land law, quite a number of the Japanese were displaced. Some of them went to Oregon, and some of the families returned to the area, but, until things were a little more clear.
But there was a lot of, prior to, prior to World War II and our evacuation, in the '30s, when there was, some of the farms were bombed, and our place was, had arson. But it was not necessarily directed at the Japanese, although I'm sure it was, part of it was. But all the ones that were targeted were, had hired the Filipino workers, and they were the target at the time. But that must have been about the third wave of anti-Japanese feeling. But it was very frightening at the time, I think it was because we were older and could understand that. But as far as the life in the community, we were a very close-knit family of Japanese, both Isseis and Niseis. And so it was, I think that we never felt deprived, although we realized that life existed around us.
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<Begin Segment 7>
KK: But I remember growing up in a place called the Guyette area where we were nine miles on Fort Road from Toppenish. And that was a one-room schoolhouse. And in that neighborhood, we had the Caucasian families. And the families that I remember more closely were Finnish families who lived in that area, whose parents could not speak English. And the Kauppis, the Kantonens, and the Enboms. And we would, I would visit their families and learn about their saunas far before it became such a popular thing. [Laughs]
AI: How about old were... excuse me. About how old were you when you were living in that neighborhood?
KK: In that area?
KK: I must have been in about fifth or sixth grade. And it was a one-room schoolhouse that I think after seventh grade you went on to Wapato by bus. But that was my first job because we lived right across from the school, called Guyette. And we had a, first I remember a, our teacher was single, and she lived in a little shack and had cats, I believe. And she lived there, and in very primitive conditions. You know, we didn't have running water, we had no indoor toilet, and... but the second teacher that came was a widow, too. She had a daughter, and she drove in a vintage car, now, from Wapato. And so when the days got short and it got dark, she had wanted someone to build a fire in the, in the stove, and clean, and sweep up the floor. And guess who? That was my first job. [Laughs] And I got fifty cents a month for that. But I remember when it got really dark that my father would come and help me, although I didn't acknowledge that very much. But, but we started, and we'd build a fire early in the morning and sweep up at night with kerosene lantern, in the light of kerosene lanterns.
And that, and it was so long ago that my Native American friends don't even know where the Guyette school was. And it's interesting that I was telling a person -- a Native American person I know -- about that, and I described this beautiful Native American young woman that I used to see driving by. And we had a little, our parents had a little fruit, vegetable stand so that we would stay out of mischief in the summertime. And we would sit there and sometimes they would stop in to buy watermelons. And here we saw this beautiful Guyette. Her name was (Rosie) Guyette, and we knew this area must have been named after her. And I was telling him, "I remember this beautiful woman who used to be in the company of white men all the time." And he said, "Oh, that's my aunt." [Laughs] But he didn't know about the area.
And here, you know, we had Finnish friends. And my younger sister's good friend was Dorothy Suluskin, who was from the Suluskin family, who were chiefs. Joe Suluskin was a chief, at one time, of the Yakama Nation. And then we had the Shephards and the Clarks and we had even one person who was disabled. And so we were just little kids growing up together. And we tolerated her because she had a horse, and so, and it was interesting to know that, she told us much, much later in life that her father was just livid because she had associated with Japanese and that he opposed her playing with us. But, but we thought we were tolerating her because of her horse. [Laughs]
AI: Well --
GN: So it sounds like a multicultural neighborhood.
KK: We grew up multiculturally.
GN: In your schools, too.
KK: Yes. We didn't, well, we didn't experience, I don't think... we weren't made aware of that kind of -- I think down deep we realized that there were limits. We didn't try to get into DeMolay or whatever the other kinds of, strictly, the Rainbow Girls or some of the things that I don't think we ever attempted to.
GN: Did you ever, what's your first memory of realizing, maybe, that you were different?
KK: Oh, I think we always knew. I think we always knew. My sister, when she went to first grade, couldn't speak English.
AI: Your older sister?
KK: My older sister. But by the time I went, though, I had learned from her, although my first language was Japanese. And I could read Japanese by the time I went to... yes. I spent time with my mother. I could read katakana and read Japanese stories. But I, by that time I was, I think I was proficient in English, but I probably wasn't. [Laughs]
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<Begin Segment 8>
AI: So when you started school, you don't recall having any trouble with English --
AI: -- the way your older sister probably did?
KK: No. And then in one- and two-room schools where you are, you could listen to the classes around you, you pick up so much more. And the school enrollment would be thirty or something like that.
AI: In your whole school?
KK: Well, in one-room schools maybe it was around thirty or thirty-five or so, and you just listened to the other classes. And it's amazing how much you pick up. You probably paid much more attention to other classes than your own.
GN: Did you go to school with the Yakama Indian children, too, or...?
KK: I think they were integrated, at that time, although early on, when they were, they had a school at Fort Simcoe, and they were a segregated school. By the time that we have memories of Fort Simcoe, the schools were closed. And although we spent a lot of time at Fort Simcoe, and where they still -- well, the Fort is, Fort Simcoe is a state park, at the time. And they (...) have preserved some of the, they have preserved the fort, and they have preserved some of the residences, (...) but the school is gone. And I remember playing around the wreckage and climbing over their fire trucks and things like that when we were little, when we (went to once), little tourists to Fort Simcoe.
GN: You said that your, you were able to read Japanese before you went to school.
GN: Did your mother have Japanese language children's books?
KK: Yes, she seemed to have. Uh-huh.
GN: Where do you think she got them?
KK: She, well, I'm sure she brought them with her some way. Or got them.
GN: What kind of stories do you remember? Do you remember any?
KK: Well, I remember the, the legends like "Momotaro" and all those, and the... about throwing ashes into... remember that one? Into somebody's eyes? All those little children's stories I can remember.
GN: Is there any one lesson your mother seemed to be teaching you through these stories?
KK: I don't think so. I think she was just trying to keep me occupied. [Laughs]
AI: Well, you know, as you were, you and your sister, your older sister -- you were only two years apart -- and, as you say, you were all in this one- or two-room schoolhouse in the early years. Did your mother or father ever talk to you about being Japanese, being Nihonjin, or being American?
KK: Well, I don't think, I don't think that we ever discussed it. I think we were made aware that we were, but not consciously. And I think that those are things that you know because you speak Japanese. If your language is Japanese around you, because they were not very proficient in English, you communicated in Japanese. And your life centered around Japanese activities, you know. And so, and I think that it was never consciously brought in, but, although you knew. You grew up knowing that. And you knew, (or) learned your limits. And I couldn't tell you what they were, but you gradually learned those.
GN: Did your parents talk to your teachers at all?
KK: I doubt it. I doubt it. I don't think there was any communication. I think that if our behavior was such that it warranted some discipline or talking to that they would have, but I imagine the teachers had their hands full just like they do, they have now.
GN: Did you feel the teachers treated you in any different way at all?
KK: I think the teachers were exceptionally good. They were. And I think they had, I certainly credit a number of my teachers who have taken time off, time to, to try to nurture some talent, or what they perceived were talents. I can remember after going to the Ashue School, Mrs. Weaver, who felt that I was artistic. And I think she reasoned that. I didn't think so, but, anyway, she would take time after school to tutor me and encourage me (about) those things. I wasn't, (but) I appreciated it, I think. But I don't think I was very talented. And I don't know exactly what she taught me. I don't know. [Laughs]
AI: What grades did you go to the Ashue School?
KK: To Ashue School, we went to... I went to Guyette after I went to Ashue. Ashue was when my parents moved from the Bench area to where my uncle lived. And that was the Ashue School, and I was in about the third grade. Third grade. And I probably was in, close to third or fourth or fifth grade when I went to Guyette School. (...) I went to these one-room schools until I took the bus and went on to the big town of Wapato to the Wapato Junior High School.
<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 9>
AI: Well, let's see... when you were about ten, that would have been about 1926. And I'm just wondering, around that time -- fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, or so -- were those the times where you would have been active in things like -- your family and the rest of the community -- in Bon Odori during the summer? That kind of thing?
KK: We, summer was not a time for activity. They were very busy. There was the harvest time and preparing for harvest time. So, either in early spring, maybe the hanamatsuri might be. But in the summertime you just, it was a short time to make a living. And so you worked on the farm.
GN: What did children do, then? Did you help?
KK: Oh, they helped on the farm. They worked.
AI: What were some of your jobs on the farm, as a kid?
KK: Well, I remember that we were... at Guyette area, we, they had a little fruit stand for us. [Laughs] I don't think we made much money, but we would, they would sell the produce from the farms. They would... I remember having to wash carrots and bunching them, and I can't remember what else. Beans, whatever, we were, we picked and had them out. And watermelon time, cantaloupe time. And I don't think we made anything on it, but at least we, they knew what we, what we were doing.
GN: You know, in the earlier periods, did your mother work in the fields at all, or was she taking care of the house and the children?
KK: Well, when we had the hay ranch she cooked a lot for the people who worked in the harvest. I remember that. And the harvest time brought in a lot of people to do the harvest, and it was not the convenient way they do now. They had hay derricks where they cut the grass and let it dry, then they raked it up, and then they brought them in and had haystacks. But, but she... but, see right, it was in the '20s when we moved to, to my uncle's place. And there it was just stoop labor. And so all, everybody worked whatever (way) they could.
GN: In the heat.
GN: Well, I'm also wondering with the, with your mother. You said something about how she helped other young wives as they came into the valley?
GN: And she was one of the early wives, wasn't she?
KK: She was one of the early wives. And she also was a midwife, too. I don't think that she was specially trained, but she was a midwife, too. And she worked with young women, newcomers to the valley. She did -- I don't recall that she was ever involved so much in organized activities, except that she did have, she was advisor to a young women's group who were my older sister's age where she taught ikebana and tea ceremony and things like that for a while. And the Wapato Girls' Club. I don't know whether we have pictures of them or not, but... and she worked with, with the young women at that time. But she was not... she didn't really attend the church. They were Buddhists, but they didn't attend church. And it wasn't... they were not involved so much in the Japanese language school activities, either, because, for one thing, they lived some distance from Wapato.
AI: So, did they send you to church? You and your sisters?
KK: Well, yes. They, when, we had a choice of, in our community. The difference, I think, there was some feeling of the -- if there was any kind of feeling, it was between the Christians and the Buddhists. And so there was some sort of, not controversy, but some competition between securing congregations and who would go to which church. And that was some sort of difference in the community. And we had friends who went to the Methodist Church and we told my mother that -- our parents -- that we'd like to go to the church. And she, and my father, who leaned toward -- although my mother went to a Christian school in Kobe. She understood and said, "Well..." They both said, "If you join the church, you may join the church of your choice, but become faithful and supporting members of that church." So I guess that's why I'm still a Methodist person.
AI: About how old were you when you decided to join the church?
KK: I imagine I was, probably had started into junior high school age. After I came and was more exposed.
AI: And I think you mentioned earlier that when you started junior high school, then you were going to a little larger, that was a little larger school, then.
KK: Yes, it was. Of course, it --
AI: And it drew from the entire Wapato School District?
KK: School district, yes. Yes. And I can't, I can't say. You know, I have very little memories of junior high school. I think it was just the growing up years. And so --
<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 10>
AI: And where were you living, at that time, in your junior high years?
KK: We lived in a... we lived in several different places, but the first one was at the Guyette area. And then we moved. As you followed the lease, sometimes, you'd go from different farm property. And we, we lived closer into Wapato, but it was a good six, seven miles from Wapato. And we would take the bus, I remember. In those days they allowed high school boys to drive buses, I remember. [Laughs] And I don't think they are allowed to do that now. I think they have to have certified drivers. But I remember our, one of our, my... I don't think he was... I can't remember whether he was my classmate or not, but he was somebody in high school who drove the bus. And the bus tipped over, I remember, and the top came off, which was a good thing because we sort of scrambled out. But... so they had accidents in those days, too.
AI: Well, now, you would have been going to junior high in, what? About the late 1920s or so?
KK: I graduated in 1934, so probably in the late, in the late '20s. Uh-huh.
AI: I was wondering... you had mentioned, also, about that you had not gone to daily Japanese language school, but sometimes you would go to Saturday school?
AI: Could you just say a little bit about that? What that was like?
KK: I don't have much memory because... and, you know, that's why... of that. We had, by that time it was Mr. and Mrs. Frank Fukuda that had come to be the instructors of the Japanese language school. And they would have Saturday classes, and I remember coming to them. But I wish I were more Japanese proficient. But I, it's probably because I didn't attend every day like most of the people who lived in the area and went to school for eight years or more. They graduated from eighth grade, in after-school, Japanese language schools.
AI: I think I read that Mr. Fukuda also was the coach for the baseball?
KK: Yes, coach of the baseball, and --
AI: Could you tell a little bit about the baseball?
KK: Oh. The, the baseball team was, was the one that has the acclaim because it became, it was organized, and after Mr. Fukuda came, he was an excellent coach. And he had, the Japanese Nippons became a very good baseball team and joined the local valley league and got in a, after several years got the championship and also participated in games with other Nisei baseball teams throughout the Northwest. And participated in their annual... I think it was Fourth of July tournaments in Seattle. I remember coming to them. And I think the Wapato Nippons has taken a couple of trophies in the Seattle area. And that's how we got to meet Japanese from other areas. So, in the Northwest you, either through the church conferences, young people's conferences, or through baseball or some other form of athletics that you got to know the Japanese from the other areas. And I think that was the Issei way of getting the young people to meet each other, which was very wise.
<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 11>
AI: And we're continuing on with Kara Kondo, and we're going to go back in time a little bit and ask you to show us these pictures and tell us a little bit about them.
KK: This is my mother's family. Here is my mother, and I'm not quite sure how old she was. She was probably between sixteen and thirteen or something like that. Her mother and her father. You can tell she's a matriarch. She was a very firm, upright woman who probably would be very much at home in the 21st century. And these are her relatives. And I didn't know very much about this young man and his parents.
Now, this is a picture of the time when my sister Amy, and this is me. I look bored, don't I? Or sleepy. We visited Japan. It was our first visit to Japan. And my father's family. This is my father's mother, his cousin, and I'm not quite sure... probably, it could be his sister. So, but we, this was our first step. And I recall, when I went to Japan and met my grandmother, of course we were very enthusiastic and very glad to get off the boat. And, and, and my grandmother -- and we dashed into her house with our shoes on. And so we made a, didn't make a very good impression about American children.
GN: Who don't take their shoes off properly before they enter.
KK: No, we don't. We didn't even think about it. And this is my mother. I don't know whether you can get a very good picture of her. I have it in 1902. She was giving a, taking either a koto lesson or giving a recital. I'm not quite sure. And this is my mother, early picture, when she came to the States.
GN: Is that with a ikebana?
KK: No, I don't think so. I think this was just... it might have been, but I, but my Uncle Sho was the photographer of the family. And he took a great deal of, a great number of pictures that probably will be brought up later. But he was the photographer.
GN: What happened to your uncle?
KK: My Uncle Sho had, was diabetic, and he died at the age of forty-two, I believe. Of course, we always thought he was old, but he had a family. His, he died in, in the Guyette area... lived in Guyette. And his oldest daughter was a senior in high school. And eventually the family moved to Portland. But he had a little, on this corner where we lived on Guyette he had a little service station. And he didn't farm, but he had the service station and a little, oh, what would you call it, convenience store now. So, but at that time, so he, but he was a very talented man. He was a man that loved to, was a good conversationalist, and he would like to argue. And he would, he's the one that went to school, too, so he was the one that kept, was intellectual. But he also had a great deal of temper, I remember. Maybe it was due to his diabetes, but he had difficulty health-wise.
GN: Well, it sounds like your family, both sides was quite educated. What were their hopes for their children?
KK: I'm not quite sure. I think that it was struggle, such a struggle for him to make a, them to make a living here that as girls, I don't know if they... I think they hoped that we would marry rich people, persons, and be well taken care of. [Laughs] I'm sure that was eventually, I think most parents felt that way about their daughters at the time. And, but my younger sister, they encouraged her to go on to, beyond high school, and they encouraged us, too. But my mother used to always say that, the children should always leave home and that was, I think, revolutionary. That you don't know about the world unless you ate (out), ate at somebody else's table. And so she felt that women should be independent. Well, what else could she say? She elected to come here. But that was the attitude, and they, they read a lot. And of course they didn't have TV or, and radio. They wouldn't understand very much. But they read a great deal, I remember.
<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 12>
AI: I was wondering if your parents or your uncle ever talked about going back to Japan and taking you all with -- I mean, permanently. Do you know whether they had ever planned to?
KK: I don't think they ever did. I think there's, that they had a great deal of loyalty to Japan. And, but I don't think they had ever considered -- perhaps early on they did -- of making a fortune and returning. But I don't think, I felt that their future was in the United States, and our, the future of us was here, also.
GN: Did they ever tell you why they went back to Japan? It seems about 1919 or so?
KK: Mostly to visit. When we went back, they were, they took us back so that we could meet our families, and mainly for that. But I don't think there was any intent of their staying there.
GN: Did they visit your mother's family?
KK: My mother's family. Yes. We, that was my adopted, her adopted mother's family. And we did visit Shizuoka, but I have very vague memories of her real mother. I'm sure she was alive, I think. But you know, a three-year-old. I have very vague memories, anyway.
<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 13>
AI: Before we took the break you were just saying a little bit about how you didn't know that much about your parents' early life.
KK: No. I don't think they talked so much about their early life, nor did they tell us that much about their early lives. We understood that my mother had sort of a past, but we weren't made aware of just what it was nor did we attach any kind of stigma to what happened. Of course, and we realized that life was hard for all the Isseis, or anybody, regardless of whether they were Caucasian pioneers because they were pioneers in the Yakima valley. They were early pioneers. And especially on farms it was very difficult for them.
AI: Well, in fact, for people who don't know, could you describe a little bit about what some of their pioneering work was, especially on some of that land that really was...
KK: Yes. Much of the land, although it was a very good land, was still in sagebrush. And until irrigation came in, I don't think that, except for along the river where they could get some sort of water, much of it was cultivated, although there were some along the river. But after the irrigation came in, system came in 1904, then it opened up the land. And some of the, many of the farmers -- or the Isseis -- cleared the land, and they, it was with horses, of course, and how they... it was very difficult just to clear a land out of sagebrush with just horses and manpower. And so that's one of the reasons why they had small parcels of land, which led them to farming, into crops that were more... they were able to introduce crops that would produce more income from small acreages. And that's when they introduced such products as the row crops of tomatoes and corn, (...) and peppers and cantaloupes and the melons so that they could yield some income from small plots of land. And that was -- they probably introduced these small crops that grew very well in the climate and the soil conditions on the reservation. They still do. At that time they did not go into orchards or trees because that was, it required some permanence, and they, and the Japanese farmers depended on leases. And they would move from one parcel of land to (another) depending on, I imagine, the lease agreements and the kind of soil that they were seeking. So, in many ways, they pioneered different crops for the valley, for the lower valley.
And they also say they also began the mobile homes because (...) most Indian land had very poor, (or) no, living in resident houses on them. And if (there) were, they were very, more of a shacky kind. And so the Japanese would build one-room, little structures. A house that they added onto the existing structure. And when they moved, they would take it along. And so, I've been told, they really initiated the mobile home, which in some ways they did, I think.
GN: There were these rollers on the front.
KK: Yes. They would take it to the next place. And I think that was the kind of, the one we had where Mr. and Mrs. Tomita lived. And we took that one onto my uncle's property, and we lived in that, in a tent following leaving the Bench area.
AI: You actually lived in a tent house?
KK: That summer we did. Yes, we did. Besides our one-room "mobile" home.
GN: I think sometimes they were wood on the bottom and then sort of canvas on the top?
KK: Yes, yes. But the kind of thing that they took with them, though, that they moved from place to place were rather solid. They were, they were, I think, fairly well-constructed. They didn't have the plumbing in or anything like that. But that wasn't introduced 'til later.
<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 14>
GN: Did your family move from lease to lease? Or did they have a permanent --
KK: We did. We did. We did move from lease to lease until evacuation. And I think most of the (Japanese did), except for about three families who had purchased land. And they were able to do so because they had children who were older and were able to purchase land.
GN: And those families were?
KK: The Matsumuras and my parents-in-law, the Kondos, and the Hatas. And they were the three on the reservation that owned their land and all returned following evacuation.
AI: Well, also, I'm not, wasn't sure about how long the leases went. Were they about three years, or...?
KK: It, it sometimes... it depended. And sometimes they were at least, perhaps two years. Or you could extend it if you wished to do so. And for a while you leased them. I know that in our experience we didn't, although it was by, to a family, a Native American family, a Yakama family. And it was gradually broken up between brother and sister or whoever. And the tendency, now, is for the Yakama Nation, themselves, to buy up these private lands owned by the Indian families because they would like to have more reservation. Their own land now. The tendency was for the Indian families to sell, and they were often sold under some questionable circumstances. I know, like the Brown brothers had acres of land, just hundreds of acres of land. And it's right in the heart of the reservation. And you often wonder how it was possible for them to acquire that much land, you know. And you hear all kinds of rumors.
GN: Did your father lease directly from the Yakama or through the Indian agency?
KK: Probably through the Indian agency. Yes, through the agency. And even if there were private land -- Indian-owned land -- you did it through the agency.
GN: But of course he could not do it.
KK: No, but it was either somebody older or my older sister after --
GN: As you got older, did you become a, take out any leases for people?
KK: I don't think so. I don't remember that we did -- I did. I don't recall that I ever did. Isn't it strange that I, I think that I would have remembered that if I was a lessee. But I'm not sure who leased, I think in the last property it was under my name because, in taking care of the evacuation, and it was my responsibility to, to do that and made arrangements for, for the sale of, of various items that we owned. So, I'm sure it was my responsibility, but it probably wasn't as tedious as it seems now.
<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 15>
GN: So what were the main crops that your family grew?
KK: (Well), after we raised hay, which was the main crop for a long time, my father raised potatoes for one -- at one time that was very, very lucrative. And, and made a great deal of money at that, year, I understand. And then the following year he raised more potatoes, and then the price of potatoes went down and so he almost went bankrupt. And these are lessons that I think we still have to learn. I see that among the fruit industry. People keep producing more. And the hop industry. And someone told me years later, "Why did your father wrap the potatoes like they do apples and send them on to Chicago?" He was very proud, he had a lot of pride in his potatoes, and he wanted to show off the bakers. And I think he wrapped them and sent them off. I don't know whether it was worthwhile or not, but I didn't even know he did that until someone said that, years ago, asked me years ago why he did that. But, you know, Isseis were innovative and they had some ideas of their own.
GN: So, what did he grow in the '30s?
KK: In the '30s he grew the row crops; the tomatoes and the melons and cantaloupes and the --
GN: Did he ship to Seattle, or...?
KK: They had local shippers, usually, and they had several shippers in Wapato. Some Japanese, Kay Morinaga, and Mr. Kamihira were shippers from this area. And the Pacific Fruit. And they, they shipped it, it had good years and bad years, just like all farmers experience now.
AI: Well, the early '30s, the Depression was really underway. And I was wondering whether that affected you and your family very much?
KK: It affected everybody. It affected everybody, but as, I think that I remember we could hear our parents telling, and often our meals were like pancakes or something like that. But as children, I think they sheltered us from, I'm sure, from the kind of panic they felt at times about feeding. But it was a time when everyone seemed to be poor in the Depression years. And that was really about the same time that many, some of the people were, older students were graduating from high school. You know, in the '30s, '29, the earliest high school graduate was in '28 and '29 and, and the '30s.
AI: Oh, and then your sister graduated.
KK: My sister graduated in '32. And I'm sure that... but everyone seemed to poor, so that I think we all sort of handled it. And nobody was... I think there were... I'm sure there were some people who were much more wealthy, but --
GN: You said you ate, sometimes, pancakes. What -- I'm curious -- what did you... what was the typical meals like in your family?
KK: You mean during Depression years?
GN: Or just in general in your family.
KK: Oh, I think we always had rice. And, and my mother pickled and made tsukemono and all that, so, always raised daikon, and nappa was always a fare that the Japanese raised. And I have friends who still do that. They had gobo, for... and --
GN: How about matsutake? Did you...?
KK: Oh, yes. Yes, I'm sure, it became very popular, and we would go matsutake hunting. But it never, it was just for, for outing and luxury. But not to the extent that has commercialized it in current times. It was just an outing where we would enjoy being out into the, to the mountains. But we, as a family, would go on camping trips at times. And live, sleep in tents, and eat outdoors. And we had picnics, family picnics, and picnics with friends along the Yakima River at times. So, and we were just little kids there, so that those were the kinds of activities that the Isseis indulged in.
<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 16>
AI: Well, in your high school years, I was wondering what kind of activities you were involved in? I think you started mentioning earlier about the young people's Christian organization?
KK: Yes. They had the young people's Christian organizations that to an extent it may exist today. Not to the same degree, but the Protestant churches throughout the Northwest would have a yearly, what they called the Young People's Christian Association. And I'm sure they did at the Buddhist church, would meet at different areas, whether it was Spokane or Portland... Seattle. We had several in Wapato. And we would get together and have just, I'm sure that hasn't, that kind of format hasn't changed that great a deal. It's mainly so that the young people can get together. And it was a form of socialization as well as a religious activity. And it was, I think, these activities within organizational, brought out the leadership among the Niseis. They took on certain kinds of responsibility and continued them. That helped them, whatever organizations they participated in later. The other form was the various athletic competitions, which, including judo, kendo, and the baseball and basketball teams.
GN: How about girls? What kind of sports did they play?
KK: Nothing. [Laughs] It was a spectator sport, I think. I did, I became knowledgeable about baseball because I kept score and sent it as a correspondent to the, I think it was the North American Post. I was just reading out there where it was a hundred years, and so it must have been the Post. And I would send that in. And later I was a scorekeeper, and I can still enjoy baseball because I know much more about it than, it was my training of keeping score for the Wapato Nippons.
GN: Wasn't there a girls' basketball league?
KK: I think that we tried, but it never took off very well. There might have been, you may have read about it. [Laughs] And somehow it gets mixed up with my junior high school days. Whether it was, was it a school activity or was it a Japanese activity? I can't remember. But I know I must not have been very good at it or else have more memories of it. [Laughs]
AI: What were some of your other school activities?
KK: The school activities were somewhat limited because we took the bus in and, and, and they didn't make way for after school activities as the emphasis is now. And so we... I can't remember being that active in school activities. I remember being in an operetta. Of course, it was one of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in junior high school. And, but I don't remember being very active in school.
<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 17>
GN: Was there, like, obviously, you went to an integrated school.
GN: Did you, did you have outside school contact with your non-Japanese American student friends?
KK: Not that much. I think that our neighbors, by and large, were Caucasian because we were scattered and so probably had more contact with our neighbors. And I had good relations with my, my schoolmates, but I don't think socially we participated, very much interaction. As teenagers, though, we had a lot of dances, among the Japanese. And although some of the parents frowned on it, I can remember putting, getting flatbed trucks together and having the phonograph and dancing at night in the moonlight. And those are kind of unique things that happened and were good memories. In those days you didn't have to worry about drinking. You didn't have to drink. Some might have smoked, but I don't recall anybody. And no drugs. And why the parents were so -- [laughs] -- objected so much, I know that the parents who were broad-minded, who allowed their kids to dance, and others who frowned upon it. I think there was some tension among the parents, but as far as the young people were concerned, it was just sort of a fun activity.
AI: How did your parents feel about the dances?
KK: Oh, they were very open-minded.
GN: So your, the Matsushita farm hosted these dances?
KK: No, because we were, for one thing, we didn't have any brothers. And I don't remember having great big trucks, either. So, we always had it at places that had big trucks and maybe electricity so that they could play the phonographs and lighting sometimes. Hook up some lights. But they were sort of unique activities that were just sort of identified, I don't know whether other groups around the Northwest -- Japanese groups around the Northwest -- ever did that. They were fun.
GN: What kind of songs did you...
KK: Well, you'll just have to go back to...
GN: Big band?
KK: You know, I could remember the ones that were more identified with evacuation days going back to the "White Christmas" at the first Christmas in camp. But I'm sure if I heard them I might know what they were.
GN: What did you wear?
GN: What did you wear for the dances?
KK: We didn't wear pants. [Laughs] I'm sure we wore skirts. I can't, and then, of course, we graduated from, from on top of the flatbed truck dancing to having dances within, at the Association Hall. They permitted that occasionally. And then they went to public dance halls. We went to the Donald Dance Hall a lot after we were a little older. And, live band, and not everybody would go, but we would go to those, and there you intermingled with the Caucasians, but you had your own group.
<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 18>
AI: Well, I was wondering, in high school, what might a typical weekday have looked like for you? You'd get up in the morning and...
KK: Catch the bus. And you make, probably we made our lunches because they didn't have school lunches at that time. I remember when the school lunches were introduced when I was in high school and they brought in soup made in a tub. I can remember that. [Laughs] And that was the first step. And, but we made our lunch, and then we went to school and participated in whatever activities and got on the bus and came back. And it was mainly... and sometimes if there were Japanese schoolmates who participated in some of the activities, athletic activities, we might attend a game or something like that. But, and then in our one-room schoolhouse I remember in Guyette in the summertime we would lift the window and crawl up and get into their library and, and take them out and crawl back out of the window and, and, for reading. And I was telling a friend who is a judge and I said, "Oh, I suppose that's breaking and entering," and she said, "Oh. Well." [Laughs] But in those days it was quite innocent.
AI: I was wondering, when you were still in high school, were you involved in the Japanese American Citizens League at that time? Or was that later?
KK: Not... I think they began the Japanese American Citizens League, and it was, it was semi-active, but just prior to evacuation in those days, but it was never an active organization. And probably more people from the Yakima, and from Yakima were more involved in that. Although there was an organization. There were a lot of organizations, such as, especially among the kendo and the judo. And they had their lessons and, and --
AI: Oh. Did you say there was a girls' club, also?
AI: A Wapato girls' club?
AI: Was that something that you were involved in?
KK: I was too young. My, my older sister was involved. And they, they had odori. [Coughs] Excuse me. But they had odori, Fukudas. Excuse me.
AI: For people who don't know what odori is, could you say a little bit about that?
KK: Odori? Well, it's Japanese... it's a classical, in Japanese dance, mostly. And it's very stylized. And they have -- since I didn't take it, my younger sister took the odori. And it's sort of a disciplined dance where you wear the kimono and the tabi and you, you learn classical dancing. And they have... Mr. Fukuda, who was the coach, who was also the tennis coach and the baseball coach -- also taught Japanese dance, odori. And there were quite a few who took odori from him. And they would have their recitals, of course. But it was in conjunction with, very often with the language school productions, maybe once or twice a year, to which the general public was invited.
AI: Did very many of the white, Caucasian population come to these events?
KK: Yes, they did. They did come.
AI: What kind of reaction would they give?
KK: Well, I don't think they... I think they, they came because they were interested. And I think they, it doesn't differ from any kind of reaction if you went to something that's a little different, a different cultural activity. And some were probably supporters, others were curious, and others were happy that we had a diverse culture. And others really didn't care. The, the community was integrated in that, except for certain periods of time and certain people, you felt the sting of waves of discrimination... of violence, occasionally. But, generally, people accepted you. But they didn't really champion you as, toward integration because in theaters you were segregated. You had to always go upstairs. And these little subtle kinds of discrimination existed even when we were evacuated, I believe. So --
<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 19>
AI: Well, you just mentioned the violence, and I was wondering if you would just tell us about that time in 1933 when violence was directed against your farm.
KK: The violence was really directed against the Filipino farm workers. And at that time there was a number of Filipino young men who -- I can't remember whether the women were allowed in or not -- whether they were under quota. But there were, the population of the Filipino young men who were farm workers, many of them worked, I think they either went to the cannery in the summertime and came back in time to harvest, or they stayed on the Japanese farms. And it was, they targeted the Japanese farmers that had hired Filipinos. And it was really directed toward them, although I'm sure that they're willing to bomb a Japanese farm as well as anybody else. And there were about five, I think, four or five bombings of, mainly of greenhouses or some structure that was on, not the residences, normally, but generally some structures that were on the farms. And they were not devastating bombing, but enough to do some damage and, of course, to frighten people.
And ours happened when our front porch was set on fire. And I remember my father getting out and stamping it out with -- he was already in bed and taking off his, his nightclothes -- and stamping out the fire. But, and we had a Filipino farm worker living in our mobile home, and he realized who it was directed to. And I can remember he went to tell him that everything was okay, and he had his knife out, sharpening his knife, and it just really brought... it really sort of frightened us then. But they did catch the, many of the arsonists later, and it's usually the names that we were aware of that were anti-Filipino, anti-Japanese people.
AI: It must have been really scary.
KK: Yes, it was. It was scary. But, what can you do? You hope that, that those who were enforcing the law would do so. But I don't think that any of us were knowledgeable enough to really pursue it -- to demand some sort of extra protection or care. By that time, I do believe that the law enforcement became aware that it could get out of hand. And then, I'm sure it would be interesting to look at this through the eyes of those who were directly affected; the Filipino farmers or Filipino young men who were, were the subject of the, the bombing and of the, the terror -- we would call the terrorist acts. But I think most people, minorities, who experience this kind of, what would be considered violence, or terror, now, have to live through it gradually over the years. I think the first one was in 1907, I believe it was. And to different degrees of what happened, you live with it. You live with that, and you don't like it. You barely tolerate it, but you have to wonder, "What else can be done?" And they prefer to stay and raise their families and make a living and whatever.
GN: Did your father talk to you about this stuff? It must have been quite frightening for you all. And what did he say?
KK: I think that we probably were just, by that time, most of us were old enough to realize the seriousness, but, and we were made more acutely aware of the possibilities of more violence, but I don't think our parents probably were as frightened as we were. And probably we had to try to assure them as things occurred in ensuing years leading toward evacuation.
GN: How about your classmates? It was, did they say anything to you?
KK: I can't remember that they did. If they did -- oh, I don't think they would talk about it as young people. I doubt it very much.
AI: Did your father continue to hire Filipino workers?
KK: Well, yes. He stayed on. I remember Pete stayed on, and I imagine he was quite frightened, too, though, because I'm, I'm sure he realized it was really directed to him. And I'm sure he felt bad that it was the house that was fired upon. And it, and I'm sure these, as it turned out, they were teenagers, probably, older teens or teenagers who did this.
AI: When some of these arsonists were caught and convicted, were you surprised that anyone was actually --
KK: Yes, I think we were. I think we, some of them we knew. The word gets around, who were the instigators. Some of them we knew. Others, we were surprised. And some of the families have become upright citizens. [Laughs] As the years go on, I think then the kids grew up, and I don't, whether they got into further trouble or not. But some of them turned out to be good citizens and others, I think, probably not. We didn't follow their careers or anything. [Laughs]
<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 20>
AI: Well, that incident in 1933, you were, I guess, a junior in high school?
AI: And then the following year you were a senior, a time when most kids in high school, you're starting to think about your future. And --
KK: Right. Uh-huh.
AI: -- I'm wondering, what were some of your hopes and dreams at that time?
KK: Well, I think that we're... the Japanese families instilled the value of education, of continuing on. And I'm sure that we, we felt that it would be nice if we could continue on to. to higher education. And, but it was during the Depression years, too. And my, I don't remember whether I said that it was the philosophy of our parents that we should leave home to grow up. And my older sister went to Seattle and stayed with a Japanese family and, and worked at a, at the Furuya store. She worked there, and, for several years, and she really, she met the man she married at the store and eventually lived in Seattle.
But I wanted to go on to... I was very interested in design, and I had the opportunity of going to a design school in Seattle. And... no, I think that I had the opportunity of working as a nursemaid -- a babysitter -- to a Japanese family who, he was identified with some Japanese bank, I believe. But they had four children. The youngest was about a seven-months-old baby. And I was the nursemaid and took almost full charge of the children because they had a housekeeper and a cook who was also Japanese. And while I was there, I, that was my job of taking care of the youngsters, and they, and I think I was not very old myself and I really kind of enjoyed that. And they taught me how to ride a bicycle, and I remember falling into the rose bed and things like that. [Laughs] But while I was there I went to the, I had friends at the Blaine, the Blaine Memorial Church. I went to the church, the Methodist church in Seattle and got to know people. And then I think I heard about this design school in downtown Seattle, and I applied and switched.
And I went home during the summer and came back and stayed with the proprietor of the design school and stayed with them for about a year and, working for my room and board. And, but then I went back -- oh, during the summer we would always return to help on the farm. But it was my, my mother's philosophy that we should get out in the world and not depend on parents to support them all the time and to get to know other, other conditions.
AI: Well, does anything kind of stand out in your mind from that time in Seattle? I mean, here you were, kind of your first time really away --
AI: -- from your folks, and...
KK: Yes. Uh-huh. I remember that we had young men from Seattle who would come and work on the farms at summertime and they would say, "You better be careful what group you, pick your friends." And so I don't know what they thought. And we had friends who were in, at the university, too, so I attended a lot of the social activities from people who were already at the university. And some of them I knew, and some of them I met after being here. And I was pretty safe staying with the church group. And I don't think I ever really got into something that was of great concern and had a great social life, get to know the Seattle people.
AI: Well, were you dating at that time? Going out with fellows, or...?
KK: At that time, I wasn't that much. I did date in a, you know, kind of friendly way. And while I was in Seattle I dated with someone who was going to the university who was from the east side that I knew before and with different people from Spokane -- some of the students from Spokane. And, and not generally dating anybody, although when I went home I began to go out with the man I married, who was also from the valley and who was going to Washington State University, which, WSU. But generally, we experienced what, at that time, were Nisei social activities.
GN: What kind of design school? Was that clothing design?
KK: It was clothing and drafting design. And I was really interested in... oh, it was a, a school here from, the Charette School of Design from Los Angeles. And I had a lot of drafting, and so, but, you know, it certainly was... the evacuation ended that.
<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 21>
AI: Well, let's see. I guess there were a couple of years in between there where you moved back -- before World War II started -- you moved back to Wapato.
KK: Yes. Back to... and at that time, I think I stayed with my parents and worked for a while at the, the grocery, the fruit grocery store in the winter there. And I think it was during that time when -- 1941, and why I stayed there instead of coming back to Seattle, it's not that clear for me. But when Pearl Harbor happened it was... and I can remember that changed everything.
AI: Can you recall that day for us? What you were doing and how you found out?
KK: We had gone to church that day, and whether we heard it at church or whether we... I'm sure we heard it at church. And I remember coming home and telling my father, who had not heard about it. And he was just shocked. And then, from there on, it was, it was a different climate because you were so unsure of what would be happening. And events happened very quickly. The various orders came down and for a long time, because we were located 150 miles or so from Seattle and the Pacific, the ocean, that we thought that there would not be, we would not have to be evacuated. And some of the families from Seattle, who had businesses, relocated their businesses to Yakima, thinking it would be permanent. My older sister and husband came back to live with us because they had, they realized that Seattle would be evacuated.
And, but the orders came quite late. But we, but the farmers were told to continue farming as if they were not going to be evacuated, although we knew we were going to be evacuated. And they did, they did... they kept up their farms and tended their crops as if they would not be leaving, meanwhile, going through the process of getting, making arrangements for their, their possessions or their leases or their farms depending on what business they were in.
GN: Did you have any premonition that these, something might happen? Were you aware of tensions between --
KK: I think that we did, I did, because the orders came in establishing boundaries. But we weren't aware. And we were aware that there was some activity going on in the Hanford area and probably that triggered the move, except that the boundary was the Columbia River and those who lived on the east side of Columbia and those who lived on the other side, it was a boundary. But it took from the Canadian border to Columbia River on the south side. And that area left in June, they were entrained in June.
<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 22>
AI: Well, before we get to that point, I wanted to back up a little bit because I, it would have been about March or so that -- well, the end of March -- that the Bainbridge Islanders actually were moved out.
KK: Yes. Yes. Early in February.
AI: So, so when you heard that, at that time, you -- the farmers in the Yakima valley -- were still being urged --
KK: Uh-huh, yes.
AI: -- to continue on with all your crops and everything.
AI: What would you have been doing in March and April and May?
KK: Well, there would be, March and April we'd be planting and cultivating, planting and tending. By the time in June your crops are up. And, well, we were aware that the Farm Home Administration, I guess, sent out notices to, it would be nationwide or, especially around the Colorado, Oklahoma, those areas who, to, for, to take over these farms. They were paid to do that. And then you were aware, after the orders came, that people from out-of-state licenses would drive by and, and come and look at your property and drive on and, and so you are very much aware of our eventual moving. But law-abiding as we were, we continued to keep up with the farms.
<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 23>
GN: Well, how did life change after December 7th?
KK: Oh, of course, you had the curfew. The Isseis were, the Issei leaders were picked up, and so that really crippled, as far as the Issei leadership was concerned. And, by that time, there were some violence or activity, terrorist activities. The Japanese Association building was burned, and other attempts were made to set fire on some other places. So that it, we were made aware, very much aware, that there was a great deal of hostility. But we were so busy trying to take care of our own business of what to take, what to store, what to sell, what to throw out. And, eventually, what to do with what you had.
AI: Did you throw out things? I know that some people felt very scared about having anything Japanese or that tied them to Japan.
KK: Yes. I remember we didn't have very many firearms, anything like that. But my father burying his Japanese books. I still have some that I got later that hasn't molded yet. But I think most of it were contraband, so-called contrabands. But orders came about curfew. Orders came later about restricting your mileage or how, and they came gradually, so, before you knew it, you were living under a great deal of orders. And meanwhile, you had to do something about what to keep, what to store, what to throw out. And you had to contend with people who came to, to pick up things so cheaply and --
AI: Well, you were the oldest --
KK: Yes, I was.
AI: -- child at home, because your sister was married by then.
KK: My sister was married. But I remember just doing things so my parents would not become very frightened. And I would cry every night, after everybody was in bed and think, "Oh, my gosh. What's happening to us? Why are they doing this to us?" And it, it really was not so much frightening, but a very distressing time. You got so you didn't know who to trust and who to depend on. The neighbors who were your friends, you weren't quite sure. Others who were, you weren't quite sure turned out to be very loyal, but were afraid to speak up. We helped the Wapato townspeople in the registration and could hear them saying, "When are they going to leave? We'll sure be glad when they get out of there." And having to listen to people like that who were so-called upright citizens and officials in the, in the town.
And so those who were older and had to do a little more, assist in things, in registering and working with those who evacuated us... I don't know about others, but you got to the place where you were very skeptical about relationships with other people. And you didn't really blame your neighbors or people who would not speak up in your behalf, and you really appreciated the few who did. But --
AI: Tell me more. Why do you say that you didn't, you wouldn't blame those who didn't speak up?
KK: Well, those who would speak up for the Japanese would be very unpopular. They would have to face the consequences. After we, even after we were gone, you see. You, it's the same kind of attitude you had during the Civil Rights movement. You were sympathetic to the African Americans. I'm sure that it would be magnified in some ways so that you, you, but you really got so you didn't quite trust people unless they somehow knew. And because the people you, had some, respected before and were town leaders, it turned out that they were not. They were just as hostile and, and, probably in more polite ways, but... so it was very hard to, to really trust people until you get to know them very thoroughly after that experience.
AI: Well, because here you and your family had grown up in Wapato your entire life. Your folks had been there from the early 1900s.
AI: And this, here this is forty years later.
KK: But you see, periods of prejudice or discrimination erupted from time to time over the... so the discrimination and prejudice is very deep-seated, and I think it depends on how it affects you personally. And I think that all of us are capable of, of experiencing that. You might have hostility to somebody else, and I think we can only point to the Civil Rights movement, we can point to the Vietnam days, we can point to what's happening to the Hispanics in my area at the present time -- the immigrants -- Hispanic "illegals," they're called. Or what happened to the Filipinos before us -- after us. Or the Chinese before us. And it's inherent in our culture, I think. And how we view Muslims at the present time. And, and I think all of us have to ask ourselves, are we entirely free of that kind of feeling ourselves? And I can understand that, but you don't condone it, of course.
AI: Well, we're continuing our interview with Kara Kondo. And right before our break, we had been talking about how life changed after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. And you had also told us some about how you could understand that some of the white community members would be fearful of standing up on behalf of the Japanese Americans. And yet, some did.
KK: Yes. We had two, especially two people, prominent members of the community. One was the proprietor of (the Short's) Hardware Store in Wapato, Esther Boyd, who testified at the Tolan Committee, as well as Dan McDonald, who was an orchardist in Donald -- and that's, well, about two miles north of Wapato -- who also testified, and, at the Tolan Committee. And it was not a request made by the Japanese community, but from their own conscience. And both helped the community by, either storing some valuables, or being trustees of some of the property. Both, Mr. McDonald (...) was a trustee of the Buddhist church and kept some of their Buddhist church altar pieces in his care, and Esther Boyd served in many other ways. Esther Boyd, especially, suffered the wrath, or the, of those people who failed to understand and boycotted her hardware store. And probably she suffered other indignities because of the support for the Japanese community. But we were ever grateful for their support. [Coughs] Excuse me.
In Wapato, I think all the areas where the Japanese were, left, experienced... it was a frightening experience to return to that area. It was in Wapato where every business in, in Wapato had "No Japs Wanted" signs, and there was a distinct feeling of, of hostility. And, among most of the people and, and some of those who came to test the area, thinking of coming back, if they stopped and talked to some of the business people, were encouraged to move on. It was a time when the Methodist church was occupied by, by a family who refused to move. Miss Pete, Azalea Pete was a missionary and had worked among the eastern Oregon residents, who were former Yakima valleyites, came back there to open up the church as a hostel and had to take very strong measures to have the people, residents, move. And the same way as far as the Buddhist kaikan that became a hostel. I remember the first Christmas, people were very (frightened), those who had returned sat around discussing what would happen, whether they would remain in the area or to move on someplace. And it was more frightening than, I believe, (than) when we left. The feeling was very, very hostile, and everyone felt unwelcomed.
It gradually changed, however, through the years. It took quite a while, but at that time, those who might have had good business relationships with townspeople could no longer feel that kind of trust. And it gradually has returned to normalcy, but I think that the war, itself, has taken... took a, took toll in many, many ways.
<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 24>
GN: Do you have a personal story of maybe one of these relationships that...
KK: I, you hear, and somehow you don't really listen. But there were a number of them where they would stop by at the, the newspaper office and... perhaps just to say hello. And they would be asked whether they were going to, plan to stay, relocate, in Wapato and were encouraged to move on -- that they would not be welcome. People that you considered were your friends in the past. And certainly, as you go into businesses with "No Japs Wanted" signs, you certainly did not feel welcome at all. And it... things changed, I think, as people began to settle there. But only a very small percentage of people who returned to Yakima valley and to, for Yakima residents there were just only one or two families that returned to Yakima and only very few families that returned to Toppenish. Those who had relocated from the camps into eastern Washington -- or even to Moses Lake or parts of Idaho or to California or had jobs in the Midwest or on the East Coast, who had attended schools -- elected not to return to the valley.
GN: But how about personal stories of after December 7th?
KK: Excuse me?
GN: Back in 1941. Do you have personal stories yourself --
KK: Oh. 1941.
GN: -- of how neighbors or friends... anything outstanding?
KK: Oh, we had some, we had a Finnish neighbor, I remember, who stored some of the things that more, that we didn't quite trust to the government storage, who kept our things, who was a -- who would not speak up, but who was adamantly for her neighbors, perhaps because we were her neighbors, and we had known her for, over the years. And we, neighbors who would not speak up, but privately would come to us and support us.
But by and large, I think it was sort of a "hands off" by the community, itself. And, as a result, the Japanese population changed from the families that, who lived in the Yakima valley to a very small percentage. Those who had owned their farms, their families returned and resettled. My parents-in-law came back and were there the time that my husband was discharged from service, and they were settled in their farm. But for those who leased property, very few people returned to the area.
GN: What did your family take? You said that you stored some things with your Finnish neighbors. What did you, were you able to take to the camps?
KK: Well, of course, the things, as you know, you could only take what you could carry and that really meant one or two items and it varied. I had bought a new portable sewing machine and I carried that heavy thing all over, but, along with, perhaps, something else I could carry. But... and it differed with, the teenagers wanted to take their mitts. And I don't, someone said they wanted to take their bat, but they wouldn't let them take the bat. But they could take their mitts and the balls. And they took their scrapbooks that meant a lot to them. There are, of course you have to take clothing and bedding with you.
GN: How about your mother?
KK: I can't even remember what she took, but I think it was probably clothing for all of us, all she could carry. And you were able to store in a government storage provided by the Relocation Authority that said they would be eventually shipped to, when you were relocated into a little more permanent quarter rather than the evacuation centers. And we received several boxfuls of -- I can't even remember what came. But, certainly, it helped make our one-room apartments more livable.
GN: Do you remember that you wrote a letter that was published in the newspaper?
KK: Oh. You know, I've written so many letters, so I don't know which one. But --
GN: When you were being evacuated?
KK: I, I, I know you refer to that, but I don't, actually, I don't even remember that. I couldn't even tell you what I said. [Laughs]
GN: I'll tell you later. [Laughs] What did your parents, did they discuss this with you? What were their feelings?
KK: Not too much because I had the responsibility of seeing that they were, that they were as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. And I think you could see the change in responsibility at that time. It was a new experience for them, of course, as it was for me. But, but they were willing to go along with the regulations and, and went along without complaint. Which is... [laughs]
<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 25>
AI: Well, now, in 1942, in the spring when, when you were being so-called "evacuated," your father would have been in his sixties already.
AI: And your mother in her fifties.
AI: And you were about twenty-six or so?
AI: And so when you talk about the shifting of responsibility, here your father had been the head of the family and run his farm and so forth. And now, it was coming into a situation where you were really handling most of the affairs for the family?
KK: Yes. It was really baffling to him. Of course, it was unusual circumstances, and it dealt with legal documents and orders that came almost daily and, and activities that it was hard to understand. I think they --
AI: What did end up happening with all the crops that you had put in?
KK: Well, eventually a young couple bought, bought the lease -- so-called lease -- and they moved in after we moved out. But they had made arrangements. I don't know what kind of arrangements they had made with the government, with the agency that was handling that. I gather that to many of them, they were able to get it for free, probably.
GN: Did you have any bank accounts at all, or...?
KK: Oh, the bank accounts we were able to keep.
KK: And I look over the list -- I still have them, I didn't bring them -- of those items that we sold. And ten cents, fifteen cents, twenty-five cents, and so, and we threw out so many things. I keep thinking of the headboards, of what would be antiques now, hardwood headboards that we had to take to the dump, and things like that, or give them away. But selling them, everybody knew that you could just really get things cheaply from those who were going to be evacuated.
GN: Did you have any pets?
KK: We, I think we had a dog, and whether, whether the dog was still alive or not, I don't, I think the people who took over our property kept the pets. We had chickens, too, but I don't, they must have taken those, too. It was a time when people raised their own chickens and pets.
<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 26>
AI: Well, I think you had mentioned that it was early June when you and your family were finally actually physically going to leave.
AI: Could you tell us about those last days?
KK: Yes. It, it had such a feeling of unreality. The contingent of the military that came from, from Fort Lewis to evacuate us, to get our final papers in order and to actually put us on the train, were very kind. They were helpful, and we worked with them for about, close to a week. And they're the ones that had to see that we got on the train. There were two, we had two trains. One left on, I think it was June the 4th, and the other, the 5th. But I think I went on the first one. And to accompany us from Wapato to Portland was another group that stayed on the -- came to escort us to Portland. And I remember that I was, when we approached there I was helping. I helped with name interpretation and pronunciation and with the, with the GIs that were helping us move. And so I was outside helping them with the names of people who were supposed to get on the train, and I heard a scuffle and pretty soon someone was being kicked off, one of the soldiers that were to accompany us was being thrown off the train. And it was very frightening to think, "Oh my goodness. What's going to happen to us?" And those who had been there said, "Don't worry. Nothing is going to happen to you. They had a little leave time in between and they got drunk. And so they were, but we told them that, gave them explicit instructions that nothing was going to happen to you."
So these are the kinds of things that occurred, but I can never, I can always picture the sun was setting and the crowd was gathering where the people -- some of your friends -- and there were hundreds of people there. Some were there to say goodbye, others came just for the curiosity. And it just had sort of a circus feeling about it. And people were looking for their friends to say goodbye to, and, but finally we got on the train. I remember pronouncing the last name and I got help going up the train. And I said, "Thank you for your help." He said, "Forget it. Thank you." And it was such an odd feeling, it just... as we pulled out I can remember my father holding onto the arm of the seat, hard seat. The blinds had been drawn, but you could, before they did that you could see the shadow of Mt. Adams and the sun behind it. And looking at his face I could just feel that he was saying goodbye to the place that he'd known so well. Pictures like that just really, when you think about it, were very sad. But it was... it was such a -- it's hard to explain the kind of feeling, the atmosphere of that time.
But... and we went, traveled through the night with the shades drawn and got to Portland livestock center, our evacuation center about, really about dawn. And I stayed until the last person got in the, into the compound and heard the gate clang behind me. And I think -- when people ask what my memory was about evacuation -- I think I'll always remember the sound of the gate clanging behind you and knowing that you were finally under, you had barbed wires around you, and you were really being interned.
Well, is there anything else you would like to know as pre-evacuation?
<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 27>
GN: When you got to the assembly center -- the gates closing -- what did you think about the future then?
KK: I think you got, you know, you hadn't had much sleep the night before, and I think we were dog-tired. And then you came into this enclosed area. And it was a huge building that covered eleven acres. And you could hear the noise, and I think they had some breakfast for us. I remember... but the noise and the smell and the people around you. You really don't have much time to even think. You want to, then you're assigned to your little small apartment that has a, no ceiling, just walls around you. And no outside windows or anything like that and, and you... and they ask you to get your mattress -- bags and go to the, get some straw to fill it because they didn't, they ran out of mattresses. Then you realized, I think you're in a daze for a while until you get your bearings. But --
GN: How about your parents?
KK: They, they probably took it better than we did. You know, they, shikata ga nai. And they, and their stoic acceptance. And of course they were frightened and, of course, they were unsure, but they had to, they were far more acquiescent than we were, and I think they accepted things that were occurring the best they could. And there was certainly a lot to complain about, but, surprisingly, I guess they seemed to accept the situation. Probably we were much more vocal about it.
GN: What is the, first memories you have of settling in at the assembly center?
KK: Oh. Last year I was asked to write a little, what our memories of the center was, and I stressed the sight, smell, and sounds. And the sound was the gate clicking behind us and the clatter of dishes around us. And smell was the smell of food cooking and, and you could -- because everything was rather open -- and you could smell the food, and you could almost tell what you were going to have for the day or the particular meal. And the sights were many. I can remember they seated about 3,000, and you see the rows of tables set. Rows and rows of, they had a precise way of setting their table. And rows of white bowls, and I, they have a little formula, and you could see rows and rows of tables with the white cutlery and the, the dishes, you know, the very sturdy white dishes. It was very... and they were very proud of the way they were able to do that, and I think that -- it took a great deal of time to make it as neat as they did. And the smell of Pine-Sol. The floors were boarded over, and they would have, they would wash it with Pine-Sol. And you could kind of smell the manure underneath with the Pine-Sol. Things like that. But it's amazing. You get in sort of a rhythm in a place like that. It's inconvenient. You could hear the wail, crying of babies and snoring of people and, and the life that goes on around you. But it was a very hot summer, even for Portland, and I can remember people would go out and take their blankets and sleep outside.
I worked for the, the newsletter, and we had our little office on the balcony. And I would sit in the window and watch the lights of the Jantzen Beach, and I could see the Ferris wheels, the lights, and hear the music and hear... I would sit in the window and listen to that knowing that that's outside. That is outside. And I could hear the, occasionally hear airplanes or the truck, the movement of cars below you. And you knew that you could not, that you were being imprisoned. I can see the, the high wire, the fencing around the place where on Sundays they would -- the visitors, the friends, would come, and they would speak to each other across the fence. I can remember warnings about what would happen if you got too close or to, whatever. There were always some sort of warning to the evacuees to "do this" or "do that." Also, I can remember the dances and the music of those days. And there were, the inside of the... there was, they had boarded up the arena where people played tennis and badminton. That was, and people that were organized and, so much that they could live as normal life as possible. But --
GN: Did anybody visit from the valley?
KK: Not that I recall. But I remember a twelve-year-old Japanese girl named Madora Baker, I think probably it was Midori, and she wanted to be called April. And she was about twelve or thirteen years old. She was adopted by an elderly Caucasian couple from around Salem or somewhere -- small town around Portland. And she was put in the center. And her parents would come to see her and try to assure her. But she was different because she grew up in a Caucasian neighborhood and family, and we all knew that she was different. We called her Madora, Midori, or April. "April Fool." I think that's what she was called. [Laughs] And she was outspoken, and she would follow the director of athletics, I think, around, just like a puppy. And George Azumano. I think he's well-known. And I've often asked him, "Do you know what ever happened to Midori?" And he said, "Oh...." He could hardly remember her. But he would, she would follow him around. And -- [Laughs]
GN: Who did she stay with?
KK: You know, I know that there were young boys, too, who had to stay with, with single men, in the dormitories for single men. And I don't know whether there were dormitories for single women. But, but, you know, there were conditions like that that was just heartbreaking. And I've often wondered what happened to Midori, to April.
<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 28>
GN: What kind of other activities were there at the center?
KK: Oh, they, both evacuation centers and the relocation, they really organized the young people. There was something going all the time. They had competitive sports. Softball, baseball, and volleyball, badminton. Just things that would keep the residents occupied. And I think go and all kinds of board games for people who were interested. And classes for women.
GN: Did the last class of '42 receive any graduation from Wapato High School?
KK: Yes, I think they did. They weren't able to attend, but they received a graduation, uh-huh, their diplomas.
AI: Well, now, while you were still in the assembly center in North Portland, were the Wapato people housed close together at all? Or were you all --
KK: No, not necessarily. And then very shortly after we were there, there was such a cry for a need for our farm labor, and many of them stayed in camp just a few days and they had the opportunity to leave. They left and many of them went to eastern Oregon and parts of Idaho to the farms. And many of them resettled in that area. But they were called for sugar beet toppers or workers and, and that happened in relocation centers, too. (Then) from Heart Mountain they went all over to Montana and places where sugar beet was grown. But when it was needed, they, I guess they felt justified in having them out of, out of internment of some kind.
AI: When you were still in North Portland at the, and this was -- for people who don't know -- it was actually the livestock exhibition building.
KK: Exhibition center. Yes.
AI: And so when you mentioned the smell of manure, that's where it came from because it had formerly had housed the livestock.
KK: Housed the livestock. And people were, would laugh and say we were in the prized beef section, and... [Laughs]
AI: Were you in the same room with your parents?
KK: Yes. Everybody was at --
AI: And your younger sister, Marjorie?
AI: And was there anyone else in the same room with you?
KK: No. The four of us. And then my sister and her husband were evacuated the same time, but they had their own little apartment. But someone said that there was a communal shower room and everything, and they had rigged up, somewhere, the window so guys would peek in when they were taking a shower. We didn't know about that until later, I guess. [Laughs]
AI: Well, and you had also mentioned that you got involved with the newsletter at, there at North Portland. What was that like? What kinds of things did you do with the newsletter?
KK: Oh, I was just a reporter for a while, then... what did I do? I get mixed up with what I did in Heart Mountain. But I think I, I did reporting for a while, and then I think I, whether I managed the news or whatever. I can't remember, now. It wasn't a very long time, either. We had a very nice crew. You, (though) mimeographed. If anybody knows what mimeograph is. But we put out a weekly newsletter and, actually, we had a very good cartoonist and a good editor and we had a very congenial group of people that worked together. And had outlines like, where "Zombie Day" scheduled for such and such a day. And that's when the girls ask the boys or something like that. And how the payroll was coming -- the first payroll was a big deal. And the movies that were going to be shown and, of course, a very good, a very prominent sports page where there were a lot of activities going on.
And somehow you managed to... its amazing what physical things you become accustomed to. It's the mental... it's the mental part of you that somehow goes through the kinds of emotions and leaves an imprint on your attitudes and feelings later. But physical -- you know, you hear hikers and campers who sleep on, in all kinds of weather and all kinds of conditions -- so physical things. Even food. You get awfully tired of it, and you don't, may not like it. But you can tolerate that even for periods of time, but I think it's mentally being in, the freedom is taken away. And for young people, so many of them had the first time where they didn't have their parents being bossy or disciplinarian, where they had some freedom that they take a different attitude about the internment experience.
AI: Yes. Whereas you were a little bit older.
KK: Yes. Yes.
AI: You were no longer a teenager.
KK: And it, just sitting up there in the window ledge and looking and seeing, hearing the sounds of outside. It made one aware that your freedom is, is lost.
<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 29>
AI: What, what came to your mind about your identity as an American at that time? Your feelings about your country?
KK: Well, I think, the thing we noticed was some of the guards were Chinese and they would wear their "I'm Chinese" buttons and, although we looked a great deal alike. And so the identity became... I don't know. I think it becomes almost a personal kind of thing. You do value your own identity. But I don't think, ever, that we would dream of, saying, being repatriated, although I'm sure some people felt that way. And, and you just --
AI: You mean, for example, your parents, being repatriated to Japan. Or you being expatriated.
KK: The, whole families, later. Some of them felt that strong. But I, I don't think... I think we felt eventually we would be released, but we never knew just exactly when. And I know that the sentiment was, "Well, you're just going to be like the Native Americans. You're going to be put on the reservation and you'll never get out," or whatever. That was the kind of attitude. And I believe that the government, our government didn't want that, either. So...
AI: You know, that is so interesting to me because I had heard about this idea that some people were thinking about reservations for the Japanese Americans and the Issei parents, but it's interesting to hear it from you because you lived right there at the reservation --
KK: Yes. Uh-huh.
AI: -- unlike many of the other West Coast Japanese Americans who were nowhere near a reservation.
AI: So, for you, did it sound like it could have been more possible?
KK: I... you, you heard all kinds of rumors, and you entertained all kinds of ideas. I think the main attitude was the, that your freedom was taken away, and what would replace that? I don't think one could worry whether it would be reservation, whether you would stay there forever, whether you were going to be shipped somewhere else. And then, certainly, I don't think we were aware of what was happening in Europe like the Holocaust. It was never that clear to us, nor was it publicized to us as much. And I recall that the sergeant who was in charge of the, our evacuation in Wapato, had taken me aside and said, "Why are you letting them do this to you?" And I was so -- I was stunned. And he said, "We go into a community and we check the police files. We find nothing. We check the, go to the school and check their files and reports and we find nothing. And we see no reason why they should do this to you." And here it was his job to, to help us entrain and evacuate. I was really stunned and, and he was very serious. And, but he probably, he was from Brooklyn. He was Jewish. He probably knew, understood what was happening in Europe and Germany. And I'm sure he felt the injustice being done, but... and I can remember. And that was part of my testimony to the redress committee, that experience with him.
And, and then I realized that not everyone -- even those who had to perform the task of helping us evacuate or be responsible for our evacuation -- felt the same way. So I think the idea of freedom is very important to everyone. And sometimes, you know, we, as Japanese, were probably -- even having gone through the experience -- probably are not as, not as enthusiastic or supportive of other groups or individuals or races who have, who have endured similar kind of deprivation, whether it would be for civil rights or because of a war that is unpopular or in the current time when there's such emphasis on Muslim, Muslims. So, and I don't think the Japanese were so -- we as Japanese did not, were very reluctant to enter into the Civil Rights movement, for instance. And there were not many Japanese who, who... who may have been sympathetic, but I don't think they were very open about it. And some of us are very prejudiced, too, very critical of other races, as well. Aren't we? [Laughs]
AI: Well, you know, you had mentioned, I think a little bit earlier about how through this early so-called "evacuation" period that, that some of the, the Issei had more of a stoic attitude and shikata ga nai or, in other words, "this can't be helped." But that some of you, of the younger Nisei generation, were a little bit more vocal about your thoughts about it. And so, among yourselves or even at North Portland, did you have some discussion about that this wasn't right or what was being done to you?
KK: In North Portland it was, we were so close together it just seemed like we were just living on top of each other. There wasn't a period of time where there was any really quiet time where we could even get together and talk about it. But in Heart Mountain there were those of us who talked about some of the freedoms and the lack of freedom and what might happen to us, too. In Heart Mountain, we, there were groups who talked about it. And, of course, then, the next issue was the resisters and the --
<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 30>
AI: Well, excuse me. Let's talk a little bit about your -- you were in North Portland at the assembly center for a little over three months, was it?
AI: June, July, August.
KK: And September. We left in the middle of September for Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
AI: What were you told about that? Or do you remember being told anything about where you were going next?
KK: Because we... because we were from Yakima valley, they kept the valley people together. But they took, I think, the Portland people went to Minidoka or elsewhere and they kept the Yakima valley people together. But we didn't know until the very end where they would go. Because you know, you'd establish friendships in three months and you're very sorry that you're not going together. But we realized that we were going to Wyoming, which we weren't sure what kind of a place it would be. We, who even thought about Wyoming in those days? [Laughs] But when we got there it was... it was a little bit like Yakima valley in its very early, early years. And, but the wind blew a lot and it was, just getting there, I remember going and stopping somewhere along the way. And the train, the train, it was over two days of riding on the train and it, it just was so tedious. And when it stopped I got up and went out toward, in between the trains. And the stars were so bright and so clear, and I wondered where in the world I was. I think somewhere near Montana somewhere. But when you got there and got to the place, the wind was blowing and the dust was blowing and the barracks were (bad), were not finished. But you had a lot of open space around you. It wasn't even... the fences weren't even up yet, and I remember the first attempt at some kind of resistance was having the fence put up. We said, "Who in the world would want to get out of this place? Where would you go?" Because it was so barren and the sagebrush and rugged, and you could see for miles around, and, and where would you escape to? That was our first protest. But those are the kinds of conversations that often occurred.
AI: Who did you protest to? Who was...
KK: Oh, we protested to the administration. But they, it wasn't -- [laughs] -- they didn't establish policy and so... but there were the older Niseis who were there, but I wasn't there long enough to get into the other controversies that occurred.
<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 31>
AI: Well, when you first arrived there at Heart Mountain, again you were assigned a living --
AI: -- quarters. A room. Was it still the four of you together? Your parents?
AI: You and your sister?
AI: Can you describe a little bit about that area and your block where you were in camp?
KK: I was in Block 14, and when we moved in we were, we got off the train and were put on backs of trucks, I think it was. And the wind was blowing and the dust was blowing and we were assigned our apartment. And, as you know, we were in the regular barrack-type with small apartment housing up to three or so on the end. And then there were bigger units that would house up to five, I believe. And then smaller sizes. But the tarpaper wasn't on it yet, nor... and you could see the cracks between the boards and the dust sifting in. You were given a army cot, and, I think, mattresses. We had a mattress there at the time. And the potbellied stove was your heat. And one single light bulb dangling from the ceiling -- no, I guess our ceiling was complete. I can't remember, yes. It probably was, had the rough boarding up there. But, but it seemed like it was so dusty, and the wind blew the dust around and, and, and having to go out to the latrine and to... for showering and to all the laundry facilities. They were located in buildings in the middle of the block that, I can't remember how many apartments were in the block, but... and your heat was from coal that was delivered in the middle of the two, two barracks areas, the block. And you ate your meals in a mess hall. You did your laundry in the laundry, shower, and latrine room, and, regardless of the weather. And it wasn't so bad even when it was blowing, but when it got to be twenty or thirty below, that was really a chore.
And gradually, though, the evacuees or the residents of the camp was, they were very ingenious and they used to have orange boxes that were, wooden boxes. And they would get them from the mess halls and build shelves, and occasionally they would pick up lumber from, from construction of the school or whatever they were building. And there was building going on all the time. And they would make tables and chairs, and some people became very ingenious about making furniture. And I think that you've seen apartments that look very cozy and very home-like. And others, it was a touch and go kind of thing.
AI: In fact, you have a few snapshots there --
KK: Oh, yes.
AI: -- from Heart Mountain and maybe you could tell a little bit about some of these.
KK: Well, these were taken at the Heart Mountain and we, we lived in Block 14. And our immediate neighbors were the Abes, and here are Frances Abe and her sister. And the, my sister and I were the four. And she had a brother named Lewis, who is here, and that was Tak, my husband. And my parents were in front of the, our apartment, and my father was on the coal crew and... who dumped coal. And they became very popular because when the coal shortage, they waited for the coal truck.
The one here is at the USO, and we had this visiting servicepeople that would come and visit the families. This one is in front of our apartment, my parents-in-law to be. I think this was taken a few days before I left. My sister and brother-in-law, and my mother-in-law and father-in-law to be, and my parents here. And I can't remember what day it was because I left in April '40 -- was it '43 that I left? So, by that time, we had settled somewhat into a routine even at the camp.
<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 32>
AI: Because in, you had gotten there in September of '42, then you had a Christmas there, actually.
KK: Yes. Yes. It was a very memorable Christmas. I remem-, we had a singing group, I recall, and we gave a concert, a Christmas concert. And my sister, Marjorie, my younger sister, Marjorie, had a very good voice. In fact, she had taken voice training, and she sang "O Holy Night," I remember. And that song still has so much meaning. And I can just picture when, that evening, when it was a very cold and windy evening, and I could see people coming in with their heavy pea coats and clothing, and the songs that we sang. And I also remember on Christmas Eve when we, when they had individual Christmas Eve dances at the mess hall. And the people in our block had a, had a dance Christmas Eve, and it hadn't snowed. It was still, it felt like it was going to snow, but it hadn't snowed. And "White Christmas" was popular that year, and when we got... the dance was over around eleven o'clock, and we went outside and here it was, the snow was beginning to fall. And those are the kinds of memories that you have. And so "White Christmas" means a lot, "O Holy Night" means a lot, and some of the songs that were popular in those days still has a great deal of meaning. And, the kind of, the outpouring of gifts from the outside through the churches for the residents of the camp, especially for children. And there are a couple of things I recall that, I had friends in Seattle who sent me her skis, saying, "We don't, we have gas rationing, and I can't go skiing." So she sent me skis. We didn't have much snow there, but... and she sent me a box of holly knowing that I would not have holly. And these are the kinds of things that you remember. And I don't know whether I even thanked them properly.
I remember reading a letter from a little girl who had written to, to I think the minister of the church saying, "In our church" -- from New Mexico, saying, "we wanted to send something for the children in camp, but we don't have very much money and the only thing I could do was to have some chickens." And so her father had caught some chickens and sold them or did something. And so she wanted to send something to the children. And those are the kinds of outpouring that came from all over the... and here, again, where you felt that nobody cared. The outpouring assured us that there was, there was a lot of concern and caring throughout the nation. And I think these are the little things that sustain you.
I recall that the same -- I was advisor to a high school girls' group called Hijinks, and we went out caroling. And we went to the, to the guard towers where people were, the soldiers were stationed to guard us. And I can see the, I can just picture how cold it was and the frost glistening on the barbed wire and our singing songs. And I could -- we thought we were being smart. [Laughs] But, and this poor voice that was almost choking with tears said, "Well, thank you." And how lonely he must have been up there. Those are the kinds of memories you have about Christmas.
<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 33>
GN: You were writing for the Heart Mountain, Heart Mountain Sentinel, at that time?
KK: Yes. I worked under Bill Hosokawa and Haruo Imura and Michi Onuma and Louise Suski. There were, who... and we had to laugh because I finally was a "society editor" and they said, "What does a society editor do?" The term is never used anymore around for a number of years. But we reported on the social activities that went on in camp, and there were a lot of them. So...
But it, it was a very nice group, and we had a very talented group. And occasionally at Heart Mountain reunions we get together. The numbers are fewer and fewer, but we reminisce about the times that we, what we had to do. And the paper was printed in Cody, and occasionally -- I think I only went once -- but we went to go out when they took the paper to be printed. And, and Bill Hosokawa would take us and we would even stay for, to have dinner and we would all go to a movie, although we had movies inside, too.
AI: But it must have been a special feeling to be outside.
KK: Yes, it is. Yes, it was.
GN: Were you under guard?
KK: Huh? No. No. They trusted us, I think. Who would want to go off somewhere, even in Cody?
GN: You had use of a car?
GN: Did you have use of a car?
KK: Yes. Well, it was a camp car. I think that, whether it was Bill, or maybe it was Mr. Vaughn Mechau, who was the... who was the head of the department, who was a very kind and liberal person, who, I think, trusted us.
AI: Well, now, you were one of the -- it sounds like -- one of the few women who was active on the Sentinel staff.
KK: No, there were others.
AI: Were there others, or...?
KK: Yes, there were others. Louise Suski was an editor, and there were Miwako, she became Miwako. I can't remember her maiden name, but she became a Mrs. Miya, who went to New York and continued with her work a great deal. And there were a number of women, quite a number of women on the staff. So it, it was interesting to work with them, and we had the same deadlines, you know, that you had. And the pressure that you get. But the camp papers are really a chronicle of the activities in camp and a record, now, of, of the camp life.
AI: When you look back on that -- on the camp newspaper and the coverage of the things that were going on in camp -- do you, of course, looking back now is different than when you were right there in it, but do you think that it did reflect quite a bit of camp life, or were there some areas that you just weren't able to cover in the newspaper because of the times?
KK: See, I was not there long enough. But I think they tried to do a good, credible job of covering activities and, and the camp life expanded after the high school was built. And when agriculture, they opened up agriculture for farming for the, and they finished the canal and brought the irrigation in, and they were able to plant crops that people in Wyoming never dreamed would grow there. And Mr. Ito, Lance Ito's father, was a soil scientist who determined the type of produce that could be produced. And I think that was revolutionary to that area. But they fed, they had enough produce that they sent to other camps as well. You know, things like... Japanese things like nappa and daikon and things that you wouldn't get ordinarily.
<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 34>
AI: Well, today is December 8, 2002, and we're continuing the interview with Kara Kondo that we began yesterday. And again, I'm Alice Ito at Densho with Gail Nomura of the Department of American Ethnic Studies at University of Washington. We're here in Seattle at the Densho office. So thanks, again, Kara, for continuing with us. When we left off our interview yesterday you were still in Heart Mountain, Wyoming, camp, and it was, you had told a little bit about the Christmas of 1943 in camp. And also you were --
AI: I'm sorry, 1942 in camp. And had told us a little bit about your work on the Heart Mountain Sentinel -- the newspaper. So I thought we could start off today, this morning, with talking a little bit about the New Year of 1943 in Heart Mountain, and I wanted to ask you to, here is a copy of the Sentinel, if you could hold that up. And you can see that the big headline is "Stimson Opens Army to Nisei." So that was one of the big topics of conversation that new year in January.
KK: Yes, it was. Of course, mainly to families with, with men or young, or young boys. Perhaps I was not so personally involved because we were a family of three girls. But it was a topic of interest because, I'm sure that people were wondering what the status of the young men who were in camp. And to have Stimson open up army to the Niseis, and it will be on a volunteer basis. So that really created a lot of interest in camp.
AI: There were a lot of people also very active and, and some concern about the registration going on at the same time -- that it was, the registration was sometimes called the "loyalty questionnaire."
KK: Well, yes. The survey or the questionnaire form.
KK: And it was a, one that was aimed at the residents. But, of course, it was really more strategic for the young men who would be directly affected at that time. I don't think the women even thought that they were the ones who would be involved. But... and it, particularly, emphasis on two questions. And while I was there, the controversy seemed to be brewing among people of different opinions: those who volunteered readily and wished to do so, others who questioned, questioned their status depending on the conditions of the camp. Of their families. And, and, and perhaps the question of their treatment if they got out of camp. And if they volunteered what would, what their, their status as a military personnel would be. So there were many troubling questions to all of us. But, of course, it would affect those who were more directly affected.
AI: Right. Because the, for those who were not young men of draft age, or military service age, the questionnaire title was actually something like "Application for Leave Clearance," I believe.
KK: Yes. And, of course, everyone had some clearance to leave camp. But this was a particular one on the military. And the, the issues remained. And I think even to this day of what happened during the incarceration. And, but by and large, many volunteered, and many volunteered after some thought. Others resisted because of their own personal reasons, and others... and, but the underlying causes were numerous.
<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 35>
AI: Well, I wanted to also mention that in this same issue of the Heart Mountain Sentinel was your column.
AI: Called, "Covering the Heartbeat with Kara." And I have a copy here just, if you wouldn't mind just telling a little bit about a couple of the items there. I think the --
KK: Oh. I, I almost forget the things I've written years ago, then. If you'll forgive me. But I'll read the little titles that were... "Bidding Godspeed" and "Afternoon Tea," "Capacity Crowd" and "Impressive," -- so forth. They were dinners or little, and people may wonder how come that they were allowed to have teas, how come they could have individual dinners, how could we have a Fireman's Ball, for instance? Of 300 and... was it 200? I'll have to look, get my glasses.
KK: Imagine, even 350, nowadays, would be considered quite a crowd, wouldn't it? And they had door prizes. How could this happen? And the chicken dinner? Where did they get the chicken? I can't really remember where these things came. [Laughs] And, and I was, I reported what the news was given, the news that was given to me. And I think the one that Gail pointed out was a marriage procedure for young people wishing to get married either in camp or to, a camp resident going out to marry somebody else in another camp, or whether they wanted to be married outside of camp or in camp. And there were definite procedures, and I won't go into them because there, and it differs with state to state. But probably this was written because there seems to be a crush of young people intending to get married. And you could see, with the draft coming, people going into the military and the camp opening up, too. So you could go out, either as a student or to find work, that relationships had developed within the camp. Some of them wished to be together. So there seemed to be a rush between the people who met in camp and wanted to get married or wanted to join somebody else who might be outside or in another camp. So we had marriage procedures that outlined what you'd have to do.
AI: Right. And so also, at this time, it's so interesting that you have these very serious issues going on such as the volunteering for the army and also the people, as you mentioned earlier, trying to keep as normal a social life as possible.
KK: I think it's rather amazing, when you look through that again, how many activities took place, social and the church activities and the, and, of course, and numerous activities were attached to the sports activities and the various organizations. And there was a purpose in having so many organizations. Any group of six or more had an organization, it seemed. And, and it was to keep the residents occupied and involved in their own internal kind of living so that, I think that, perhaps, they did not think about, so much about the outside.
<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 36>
AI: Well, another activity that happened in February of 1943 -- that we had seen that, covered in the Sentinel newspaper -- was the visit of Gordon Hirabayashi along with Caleb Foote.
KK: Yes. I remember Caleb was, we didn't know too much about the Fellowship of Reconciliation. He headed the national organization. He was an imposing figure because our short Japanese stature, and here he was, six foot some, very handsome young man. And Gordon, whose name was well-known among the residents, who had come to a fact-finding, I believe, to see what kind of conditions existed in the camp and the structures within the camp and how the Fellowship of Reconciliation might be able to assist the, the internees. And it was... I have to tell you a little story about Gordon. He and Caleb were, had traveled a great deal, I think, from camp to camp. And Gordon's camp, pants were baggy and shiny and I said, "Gordon, do you have, did you bring another pair of pants with you?" And I don't remember what he said. But I said, "Gordon, you take off those pants, and I'll press them for you so you'll look halfway decent." I reminded him of this incident several years ago, and he didn't remember that, of course. [Laughs]
AI: [Laughs] That's really funny. Well, and did Caleb and Gordon, did they do any speaking themselves at all?
KK: I can't remember that they did. But I, they may have to smaller groups, but not to a public gathering, I don't think.
GN: Did the community ever discuss the Hirabayashi case? How well-known was it?
KK: I don't think we, the community, as such, did. It was those who knew Gordon, probably followed it through various sources. But Gordon was from Seattle, and we, I was interested, and I imagine the people from California knew very little about the incidents and, that he was involved in.
AI: My understanding is that, at the time, that this was -- Gordon's actions were fairly controversial partly because he was also, he was a pacifist and so, not only was he protesting that his rights were violated because he was Japanese American, because of his race and ethnicity, but also he had earlier protested the war in general because of his pacifism.
KK: Well, I think his, his association with the Schmoes, Floyd Schmoe, who... the Schmoes were, were pacifists, also, and I think -- although people, some people didn't know what pacifists were and they really didn't know what the philosophy of the Friends' Society were, and very suspicious. You know, Japanese are rather traditional. They view something that's out of ordinary as suspicious. And I'm sure that Gordon, many people felt Gordon was wrong, just as the other, Caucasian society felt that he was, for different, perhaps for different reasons.
GN: You know, you were saying that a lot of the activities in camp maybe were, in some ways, to help people not think about the outside. Did you think about the outside?
KK: Well, if you were a busy person or a busy housewife, you are forced to think within a certain limit. And because of getting out the paper, that entails a lot of detail work. And some of the social activities, people really were not aware of the outside as much as those who were outside. I don't think they even thought about people who were interned. They thought about us. So, whether it was intentional or not, probably it was. In hindsight, perhaps it was. We were so organized and programmed some way. But I don't think, at the time, we thought of it that way, it was merely of existing and, and being as normal as possible. I don't think Japanese community were, were as organized or, or are as organized as we were in camps, concentrated.
AI: Well, I was wondering, also, that when Gordon Hirabayashi and Caleb Foote came through, whether it -- you mentioned that you were somewhat interested in his case and his situation, Gordon's situation. And I was just wondering what was it that you were following and what your thoughts were.
KK: Of course, I knew Gordon before, you see. I had known him, not well, but I had known him. And I knew the family quite well, and he was from Seattle. I knew the Schmoes, too. Had known them. So it was more of a personal interest. Perhaps... and, if I were to defend him, I, perhaps, would have examined his philosophy more closely, but I, I did it more or less as someone I knew, who I trusted, and who was a friend.
<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 37>
AI: Well, let's see, around that time of February, so many things were going on. I also wanted to ask you whether you had some discussion among your family with your parents or your sister. So many people were making plans to go out, and what were you thinking about yourself and your family?
KK: Well, my fiance, at the time, had come there to camp, and we were engaged. And we knew that sometime I would leave to be married. Of course, that was paramount in my mind. My sister had, was, had made application to Hamline University -- or she had received a scholarship from Hamline in St. Paul and left in latter part of January so that we realized that people were leaving from camp. And it's usually the camp activists who were aware of the situation and took advantage of scholarships offered from the various colleges and took advantage of the opportunities that were open to them at the time. But there was an underlying feeling, especially among the students who were in college or at the universities at the time of incarceration, of finding ways to get out to finish their education. And then, about the same time, the war effort was demanding -- or requesting -- more help, assistance. And opportunities were... began to open up in large cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, and even New York and, besides the farm work that was always open to them. Many people left right after being in camp to go to Montana to work in the sugar beets or to surrounding areas to help in farm, as a farm laborer.
AI: Well, let's -- I'd like to ask you a little bit about your fiance, because you knew him from before the war started, and what his name was and how you knew him and his family?
KK: The Kondo family, as I think I've stated before, the Japanese community is very close-knit. They were, his mother, especially, was very active in church. The Kondo family. And Tak had finished, had gotten a degree in pharmacy from Washington State College, at the time. Washington State University. And was seeking work at first and then was able to work in Seattle for George Tokuda at the pharmacy. And when he was drafted in September of 1941 and was -- at the time of the evacuation of Pearl Harbor -- was stationed with, at Keesler Field in Mississippi. And I think he eventually got, was sent... I think he was with the Air Force. It wasn't the Air Force at the time. Air Corps, I think was what the, but was then sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky and was living at Fort Knox when he came up -- I can't remember -- in early part of February or in January. And we were engaged at the time. I had known him for a long time and had gone with him before he was drafted. But I, you know, how to get out? I think maybe a good way was to get married. [Laughs] And so his sister, who had, was never evacuated -- she was a senior at the University of Washington and transferred to the University of Chicago. And so we planned to meet in Chicago, and she had arranged that all the, the ceremony at the Thorndyke Chapel of the University of Chicago Seminary. And it was surprising that the number of people from the Yakima valley who were there: People who were stationed around, and people who had relocated there. And our very small chapel was filled with old friends. It was surprising, but it was a happy time. And then I, we went to Louisville, Kentucky, which is another story.
AI: Well now, when was it that you left Heart Mountain? That was early April of '42?
KK: Yes. Mid-April. We were married on the tenth, and I think I left a few days before.
AI: The tenth of April, 1943.
AI: So, tell us a little bit about your actual wedding in Chicago.
KK: Weddings, I think, even at the best of circumstances are a blur to the, to the participants. I don't know how you've, if you remember every detail. I do not. But I remember sewing my dress in camp. And may I show a picture of my wedding picture? And, and I remember I loved violets. It's not shown here, but I loved violets. And I asked for a violet bouquet, and it was there. And our attendants were Misako Kondo Hagiwara, who was already married to her husband, Pat Hagiwara, who was originally from Ketchikan, in the service. He served in the 442nd. I don't know where he was stationed. And I really don't know if Pat was there, but I know Misako was there because she made arrangements. But I had sewn my dress, and we wanted to keep it simple. And, but as far as, as the details, it's really a blur. I know that my sister came from St. Paul, and there were others who I knew quite well that I was surprised to see. And, eventually, I remember even Tak's old girlfriend, who was already married, and her husband came and, and came up with us to our hotel, and we sat and talked to all of them. So it was rather strange to me, but it was kind of a blur. Still a blur.
GN: What about your parents? Did they say something to you as you left camp?
KK: I can't remember that, Gail. It, I'm sure that they were happy, and you know, they knew Tak very well. And as far as my marriage... but I'm sure they were a little apprehensive because they were alone. My sister had left for college and for St. Paul, to, to go to St. Paul. And I was leaving because I was the one that was, had taken care of them. And there was, there were legal things that they had to go through, and I was gone. But I guess camp is good as anyplace to leave your parents because you knew that there would, they would be fed, and they knew the routine, and both were working. And my father was working on the coal crew, my mother was working in the hospital, at the time, as an attendant, and at least you knew that no harm would come to them, and they would be well-taken care of.
<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 38>
AI: So you and Tak were in Chicago only for a short time.
KK: Oh, just a few days, and then he had to report back to, to Fort Knox. And we, you know, these are periods of very, I can't put the time, and, I remember being in Louisville. I remember attending University of Louisville for a while and also working for a while. And then he was transferred to Carlisle, Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania to get his, he became a candidate for officers training, and I moved to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. And --
AI: Oh, excuse me. Before we go into Pennsylvania, I wanted to ask you about your impressions when you first got to Kentucky because this is an area of the country quite different from where you had grown up.
KK: Yes, it was different. And, but the southern people -- this is kind of a border town -- but southern people are very gracious people, I found. And, and through the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Methodist Church -- we attended the Methodist Church. It was very close to where we lived, and through the Methodist Church, people who were FOR people and Methodists took me in, and the friendships have continued a long time, and they sort of helped me through the transition period of being from the camp and being outside.
But I'll have to tell you about one incident. And I have the, still have the notes of my first talk. I was asked to, through the Eurys, who was a Methodist and a member of the YMCA, had said, "Oh, I think that this story should be told to our businessman's group." And, and I was invited to lunch. And I had made copious notes to tell them about the evacuation, and so I went through what I thought was a fairly comprehensive speech. And here the men... after I got through, there was silence. Nobody said anything. They kind of looked at each other and kind of didn't look at me. And I thought, oh, what a, I was a failure. And I felt really bad about it until, and I think I told the Eurys I thought that I... I didn't think I was very successful. And they said, "They were so stunned they didn't know what to say." [Laughs] It didn't make me feel much better, but, but I have kept these notes all through the years and I do refer them to some, to... from time to time. They were basic notes. It doesn't take me through redress or anything, but --
GN: What were the main point or two that you wanted to convey to that audience?
KK: I probably took them through chronologically, which probably wasn't what they wanted to hear. Or, you know, they, they could understand that. But I don't think I told them about the human stories within camp, which probably would... they would understand. I think some of them probably knew nothing about the evacuation. Others have, may have heard about it. But I don't, I don't know what response I expected, but maybe some questions. And --
AI: When I looked at your notes, earlier your -- the notes that you were just showing -- I noticed you had quite a bit of information for them about the, the dates and the, the orders that came. Of the exclusion order itself, 9066, the orders to get ready to be evacuated. You even had the orders about curfew and travel restrictions. So you had quite a bit of information for them.
KK: Yes. And, and, and perhaps it was too much for them, you see. Because I was very conscious of what led to the incarceration and the orders that came by and how we were restricted early on after December the 7th. And, but, probably, that wasn't what interested them. They just wanted to know why, why I was in Louisville, Kentucky. [Laughs] Strange face.
AI: Well, I also to ask you to take a look at the very back of your notes, the last part of your notes. And I noticed there that you had ended with a, a kind of a statement to them. I wonder if, if you're able to read that because --
KK: You mean -- I haven't read this for years, Alice -- you mean the ones about lack of privacy and all that?
AI: Right. From below "lack of privacy."
KK: "We still feel that the basis on which we were evacuated (because of racial extraction) was unjust and although we believe our incarceration was illegal (because of American Bill of Rights) we have decided that the fullest cooperation of the government" -- to the government -- "is very best way to prove our loyalty and to our country."
I haven't, I haven't read these over for years. I think what I say now is -- well, I never read the last one -- trying to prove our loyalty. I don't think it's up to me to try to prove it, really.
AI: But at the time...
KK: Yeah, at that time, I think it was very important to the public because that's the way they understand things. Why were they incar-, why would this happen?
AI: I found it very moving that you -- in your original notes there -- that you did make a very strong statement that you believed that it was illegal and unjust.
KK: Oh, I think that all of us felt that. But it needed to be repeated, I believe. They may question it. You know, people still question it. So you can't repeat it enough, I guess. Just by saying so doesn't change people's ideas.
GN: What was it like to be the young Nisei wife of a military person in Kentucky?
KK: Well, the military treated me very well. But... and, and generally I felt no prejudice and had, I remember various activities that involved other people in discussing the feeling between the North and the South. That was still going on. And when I tried to interject something, they said, "Just be quiet. You're not even a Northerner. You're a Westerner." [Laughs] So they didn't regard me as being somebody who was Japanese-faced, but being a Westerner made a difference to them. But I have made a number of friends from Louisville and later on in Pennsylvania, had lots of good friends who didn't care whether I was from camp or whether I was Japanese descent or whatever. I think it becomes on a personal basis, even as it does today.
<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 39>
AI: Well, so you had said that you and Tak moved to Carlisle because he was transferred and --
AI: And what was that like when you got there?
KK: Well, it was so funny, when I got out of the train in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I saw a line of buggies and men with beards and black hats, and I thought, "I knew there was gas rationing, but I didn't realize it was that severe." And then I learned that they were Amish people and, and that was, you hear there were these people that were all, they had, they were different from the other people, just like we were supposed to be. But that was my first impression.
The other impression, I lived in Carlisle. We found a place. And Molly Pitcher, who supplied, she fought with the (men) in the Revolutionary War, she supplied water. I remember it was Molly Pitcher who did that. And, and she was from Carlisle. They were having a ceremony to (her), the statue of Molly Pitcher (was) at their grave, a public (gravesite). And they were bronzing her. They had bronzed her and they were having a ceremony to celebrate the re-bronzing of Molly Pitcher. And this woman, who was a missionary from Japan, who, I don't know how I got to know her, but she befriended me. She said, "I want you to come as an honored guest and sit at the front row when we have this ceremony." Here I was sitting as an honored guest at this old cemetery out of the 1700s, the late 1700s. And I thought there was such an irony in this. [Laughs] That would never happen in Yakima, Washington or in Wapato.
GN: Did you sense a difference between the Midwest and East Coast --
GN: -- reception of Japanese Americans versus the West Coast?
KK: Oh, yes. I think so. I don't think, there may have been people who questioned it, but they, they, the general atmosphere was quite a bit different. And of course, you didn't see everybody, but the general-, the thing, the other interesting thing that happened in Louisville was the need for workers in the defense factories. And I thought, well, Louisville had a lot of defense factories, and I would go to the, the wartime -- whatever, the (federal) defense (employment project was called), and tell them about all these people in camp that need to (find jobs), that they probably could hire. And I got this blank look. And they said, "Thank you for this information." And I think nothing came out of it, but I, I don't know how, I don't think the man really understood or, and he was, probably (thought) was, a very strange Japanese woman coming in and telling me that there were a lot of people from camps that could help with the wartime defense action. And so, these are the little idiosyncrasies that happened while, when you leave camp and, lots of experiences.
<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 40>
GN: You worked in Kentucky and Pennsylvania?
KK: Well, I, my husband, at the time, after he, he was discharged and wanted to get back into medical school, he went back to the University of Louisville to bring his grades up so he can get into medical school. So we had two experiences there. And the first... when I first went there and for over a year I worked for this Mrs. Felder, who was a, from a very prominent Louisville family, who spent most of her life in France (until) her family urged her to return to Louisville and, because of the war in Europe. And she hated it. She loved Paris. She loved her, her penthouse apartment in Paris and her summer home in Baritz. And she was really a thwarted interior decorator. And so wherever she went, because she had the money, she would decorate her home. She was in the process of moving from this huge home in the outskirts of Louisville into an apartment, which I thought was a luxurious apartment. But she was giving up this very large home, and she needed someone to assist her. And that's where I, my first job was. And so she was a very cosmopolitan woman who didn't care what I was. Just so I was a help to her. My second job was at the Louisville Courier-Journal and Times, and I worked for the... and so that was a different atmosphere at the newspaper there.
AI: In what way was it different? The atmosphere?
KK: Well, of course, going from a single employer who dealt with, decorating her home was the biggest object and where to put her stuff and all those, giving up a ten-room home to a three-bedroom apartment, I believe. And to someone who didn't care about anything about what was going on worldwide, except that she had to give up her living in France. And then going back to a rather structured business and especially of the news business at the time.
AI: And --
KK: And then, when coming back after we went back the second time, I worked for the Department... State Department of Health for a woman who was head of the department, Sarah Dugan. And that was another story. She was interesting. Outstanding woman.
AI: Well, I wanted to ask also that you had mentioned about your husband, Tak, originally had applied to the Army Air Corps.
KK: Yes, he had. And, in fact, he wanted to go for cadet training for flying, and he was accepted, and he was given a leave of absence. And the leave of absence went from ten days, or whatever, to several weeks. And, and when we finally said this isn't, there's something wrong, or something's happened. And so after an inquiry, he, he found out once he had been accepted and that they rejected the application because he was Japanese ancestry. And so he gave up that idea, which I'm kind of glad that he had, but he, so he went back into medical administration and pharmacy. But then he, after he was discharged, he went --
AI: Oh, excuse me. And then he, he had applied for officers' training school?
KK: Yeah, well that's the one time --
AI: That --
KK At Carlisle, yes.
AI: So even though he had received that one rejection, he, that didn't stop him from --
KK: Oh, no. Not from, from the army. That was the, Army Air Corps was, that was before the Air Force was established as a separate unit, I believe. Wasn't it? And that was for the combat fliers, I guess.
AI: Well, I was very interested that he, that after having one rejection that he still believed that there was a chance that he might be accepted for officers' training. Because even though he had been in the service since before the U.S. entered World War II, I'm sure he was aware that there was some feeling against --
KK: Well, I don't know why he did it. But he was qualified. He was a college graduate and he had, he was highly trained and he had lots of experience in the service and had responsible positions within, within the, at Fort Knox. So, I guess most army people don't want to just remain where they are. They like to advance their positions. And I don't know why I, I never really questioned him why he should apply. But --
AI: Well, and once he, once he got in and he was in the training program at, at Carlisle, did he ever say anything to you about how he was received there or...?
KK: I don't think that he felt much difference. At that point I, I believe that the information about what was happening in Europe, the 442nd and, and the, the involvement of the intelligence in the Pacific had gotten around into the military. And so I don't think, as far as his being of Japanese extraction, made any difference.
AI: So, by that time, there was some positive images coming back from the Nisei soldiers?
KK: I'm quite sure. I'm quite sure. By that time, you know,we were --
GN: Did Tak ever tell you what happened? He was in the army on December 7th. Did he tell you?
KK: I'm sure that there were, and he probably did, but I, I do not remember. I do not remember. I know that the Niseis that were in the service experienced different things. Some of them were put in jail. They were jailed, were they not? And others were transferred into different units, and I'm sure these occurred differently in different, different camps. I'm not sure.
<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 41>
AI: Well, now, eventually Tak finished his officers' training, and I think you said then he was transferred --
KK: To Staten Island. And I still lived in Carlisle and would visit him in New York City on weekends. So, and then, after his period in Staten Island, he was sent to the camp that was near Joplin, Missouri. So, we... I remember we drove to Joplin, Missouri. And I don't know where we got the car, or whatever. But we drove to Joplin, Missouri, and were there only for about... over a month, maybe. I can't... I can't recall. But I remember having my tonsils removed there. And I was sick a lot of the time there in Joplin. But Joplin, Joplin, Missouri, is an interesting little town with a town square. A small town. But only people I got to know was doctor and nurses and people like that, and didn't get to know the town too well.
GN: Did you live on base or --
KK: No, no. I can't even -- we had an apartment in town, and I remember it wasn't too far from anything. Joplin is a small, little town.
GN: You had no housing problems?
KK: Usually we rented one-room apartments, efficiency apartments.
GN: Did they rent to Japanese Americans?
KK: I don't think we had... they may have, we may have been rejected at some of the places, but usually one-room apartment owners are, they really don't care unless they get paid rent. And, you know, there's a lot of movement within the military. We weren't the only military couple, and it, a lot of the places we lived in, like in Louisville, were, were converted old houses that were broken up into apartments. Maybe one or two rooms with shared bathrooms and places like that. And they were usually military couples that lived in those kind of places. And there was a lot of turnover.
AI: Even though you were only in Joplin a short time, I'm wondering if you had much of an impression of the racial segregation there and the racial dynamic, which, again, would be different in the South.
KK: It would be the South, wouldn't it? Well, of course, I was aware of that in Louisville. And I discovered I didn't have to go to "black only" places. But, but in Joplin, I wasn't sure. I don't think I even registered the African American people there. I either had a very bad case of tonsillitis, or I was unaware, in some way. And after, it wasn't a very good surgery, so I was sick for quite some time.
GN: So you were aware, though, in Kentucky?
KK: Oh, yes. And once you get over hesitating which entrance to use or, I don't, I guess they still had the back of the bus, too.
GN: How did you know your place?
KK: I think I asked. And they said, "Oh, you can go to the white-only," or... but I didn't, I didn't know many African Americans. And they were, I don't remember seeing people employed at the Courier-Journal who were African American, either. Most of them were not. So I, as you, you have this little shell around you where you look after yourself. Your self-preservation. And no matter if conditions are rather normal around you, you do, you assume a shell around you once you leave camp because you, you know almost instinctively when to, to become active in certain social causes or to speak up or to avoid instances. And I think it's a normal reaction that you're unaware of at the time.
AI: Did you know where you could go and where you couldn't go?
KK: Well, you know, with a military salary, and what little I earned on my own, there are limiting... it's a limiting factor. And the time factor, also. But when we were, when I worked for the newspaper, we were able to get season tickets to cultural and music and symphony kinds of activities. And we lived just about a block away from the music center there and to the civic performing arts center. And so we were able to go, and I don't think we were ever segregated or anything in those activities.
GN: Not like Yakima when you had to go to the next floor.
KK: Oh, yes, yes, yes. I remember that. And that, and the balcony. Yes, I remember that.
AI: That's so interesting that as, when you were in Yakima that you, you were segregated. You couldn't sit with the whites in the theater --
KK: And then in a Southern town where you could go sit with the white people. [Laughs]
AI: That's interesting. Well now, during this time, did your... did your parents stay in Heart Mountain for the rest of the war years?
KK: Well, my older sister and her husband, Amy and Jim Nose left camp, and they went first to Spokane. So my parents were alone in camp. And then my, Jim and Amy Nose went to St. Paul because they were able to get something, Jim was able to find work there that was better than in Spokane. And then when they went to Spokane -- to St. Paul, they called my father and mother from the camp to St. Paul, and they, they rented a house. And my sister was there, and my younger sister Marjorie was there, and then Jim and Amy Nose, my older sister and husband, were there. So they lived with them for a while until they decided, my parents decided they... that was fine, but then my father wanted to do something more and, and since there was a need for farm workers in Eastern Oregon -- the Nyssa, Oregon camp where many of his friends had relocated -- they decided to move to the Nyssa camp in Eastern Oregon. And eventually that was where, after we returned back to the Yakima valley that we got them back home and resettled in Wapato.
AI: Well, now, when did that happen? That was about 1945?
KK: Probably about '46.
AI: So the war had ended.
AI: And then, and Tak was discharged.
KK: Discharged. And, and he really had a little difficult time finding a job in Yakima.
<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 42>
AI: Oh, excuse me. Before getting back there, I wanted to ask a little bit about how you got back.
AI: Did you... after he was discharged.
KK: From, we drove back from, and we, it was in, I think, early September of 1945. It was soon after the... was it the European? Japanese war? The war with Japan was over. I can't remember.
GN: September of '45.
KK: September '45.
GN: September 2nd.
KK: I think that he was discharged soon after that date, and we prepared to drive back from Joplin, Missouri, to... and I have no memory of, of that drive back. But we got back to his parents' farm home, from Joplin, Missouri and decided we'd stay with them, or they invited us to stay with them until, until we got resettled in, in the valley. And, at that time, Misako, his sister, and her husband, Pat... Misako and Pat Hagiwara, who had, was, Pat was also discharged and was waiting to enter the university in mid-September. And they were living there, so our... the refugees, the kids, returned back home to the family farm and after Pat and Misako left for Pat to go to the university, well, we stayed there until we found a place of our own. But by that time, Tak had gotten a job with Browns Pharmacy and, and stayed on a number of years later. But that was our transition from coming back from Missouri to Wapato and then, eventually, we remained in the valley.
GN: Do you remember the initial reception?
KK: Oh. Coming back from... yes. I think coming back to the valley was a frightening experience. It was... in the first place, you weren't sure who were your friends or not. You'd gotten to the point where you did not -- that you heard enough that you did not quite trust anyone. And when you came back, every sign was, in our small town of Wapato, was "No Japs Wanted." And we heard stories as we, of those who had come to resettle in the valley who were encouraged to move on. And those who had come to stay at the hostels that were established, the Methodist church was occupied by a family that refused to leave and was forced to leave and, and the kaikan, the large community building of the Buddhist, Yakima Buddhist Church was, had a number of families who were living there. But, and many of them stayed there just during the transition period. But I remember the last, the first Christmas in 1945 we sat around and just wondered what was really going to... how it would, what we would face in the future because it was a very hostile time.
AI: Did you have people -- white people -- telling you to your face that you should move on, that you shouldn't stay there?
KK: I had, no, not to my face. And I don't think they did it to Tak, either. But we had numerous instances where we were told that they had stopped in to see the publisher of the Wapato Independent, the weekly, who just, who had known them quite well, just as a friendly way of saying that, "This isn't a place for you. You should go on." That kind of, and, and it was evident and in the feeling and the place where we used to meet for coffee or pop or whatever, we felt was a very friendly place, also had the sign. So you really didn't know who your friends were, and it was really... and having experienced the bombings in the past and some of the instances that had happened during the early history of the valley you, one was... I think we were, didn't feel comfortable to return. And I would say that two percent of the original group of about 1,300 returned to the valley. And most no one except for one family -- the Tateoka family -- returned to Yakima because, for numerous reasons. And many of them had resettled into, into satisfying areas. In places where they were much more satisfied and welcomed and had become established. Many of our former residents went to the eastern Oregon... western or the eastern Oregon area and had worked as farm workers and had acquired farms and started farming operations on their own. And others had gone to a newly developed area around Moses Lake and had settled there. And so having to fight the uncertainty of returning home, and they preferred to go on to different areas. Many of them were working in California in agricultural areas that were much more productive for them and so on.
AI: Well, and, of course, as you had mentioned earlier, most of them did not own property in the valley.
KK: No. No.
AI: Whereas in, in your case with Tak's family --
KK: Yes. They, fortunately, they had people who took very good care of, of the farm. And they were able to return there.
GN: But the Matsushitas returned. You didn't have --
KK: No. We had leased property and so, and you know my -- well, of course, Tak's parents were probably not as old as mine. And, and once you have reached in the late fifties, or close to sixty, you can't, it's very hard for Isseis to establish themselves. And it was... it was... and public assistance is a terrible term, and I think is very, something that hurt the pride of a lot of people. But, on the other hand, I remember my mother saying, "I was so worried about what was going to happen to us." And, and she was so grateful to receive some sort of public assistance. And, and that was so unlike them. That... but on the other hand, there didn't seem to be any alternative.
GN: Where were they staying?
KK: Oh, they, they sold... from the small bit of, from their selling of the possessions, very little. And they had a down payment for their new house in Wapato, but no way of sustaining any kind of living or living wage. Or any job, prospects of job. And so it was really the public assistance people who had set up the public assistance, monetary assistance. Not a very large amount, but just enough for subsistence. And, and I remember my mother was so grateful for that because it meant that they had some sort of income while they were living. My mother died in '47, I believe, and my father died later in a couple years. So it was not a long period of time. But they didn't have to worry about where they would get some sort of income. And, perhaps, that others -- I'm sure there were many Isseis who received that, and I feel that the state government, the federal government, realized this.
<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 43>
AI: So we're continuing with the interview. And when we had just stopped before the break, you were talking about the return to the Yakima valley, and Wapato was still rather hostile with an anti-Japanese sentiment. But in the meantime, that Tak was... had had some difficulty finding work in pharmacy and that he was then thinking about going to med school. You mentioned he needed to get his grades up and so that he decided to go back to school at, in Louisville.
KK: He selected Louisville because Louisville Medical School had a good reputation, and we had lived in Louisville for a number of accumulated years -- several years -- and knew the community. And although he had been accepted by a school of osteopathy in Chicago, he was a pharmacist and identified with medicine. And so he wanted to get his medical degree, and the medical schools were getting more stringent as far as grade points. And he felt that his college grades were not up, and he wanted to bring them up. So we decided to go back to Louisville and would probably get to try to get into the Louisville Medical School. So we... I guess we... did we drive back? We must have. I can't, those are little vague memories. But we got to Louisville, and we found an apartment. One of these converted old stately buildings converted. And we had an attic apartment, I remember, walking distance to the University of Louisville.
And he went to school, and I got a job with the Department of Health. And I would come back after a day's work, and he'd been out playing tennis, or something like that. [Laughs] And I, so I did enroll in evening courses at the university, too. So, it was rather haphazard, but I had been there before and picked up again.
And until we -- it was after that summer, after the classes were over and it was summer break, we decided we would drive back to Yakima, and then we went up to visit my sister and husband and the Noses in St. Paul. And then we drove... we were in the middle of our drive to, through -- we decided, I said I'd like to see, go through Glacier Park. And we, I remember stopping at the gate at the Glacier National Park, and we were told by the rangers that, "We have a message for Tak Kondo that his father has died." My mother had, had died earlier that same year in 19' -- I said '47, but it was '48. And I had flown from Louisville to attend her funeral in February, I believe it was. And then, but we knew that his father was also ill with cancer, but we did not expect this message. And I remember saying, I'd like to go (north through) Glacier Park and see the beautiful scenery. But we drove (through) at night. I could hear the water trickling, but not a single bit of scenery was visible in the dead of night, the darkness. And we drove home (arriving in) enough (time) to attend his father's funeral. So we had lost both parents, two parents, that year. And he gave up his dream of ever entering into medical school and really seriously sought work in his field of pharmacy. And although he had some difficulty and, in fact, his latest, one offer that was promising was in Hawaii. We really considered that, but about the same time we had another offer from a well-known pharmacy in Yakima. And so he went to work there and worked until his near retirement twenty-five or thirty years later.
<End Segment 43> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 44>
AI: Well, so after you returned there and got reestablished again, then what were you doing? What were some of your activities? You father was still there and...
KK: Yes. I remember that my sister, who was in St. Paul and then had, she was in recreation and the -- oh, after we went to St. Paul we went to see her. She was a recreation director in Great Falls, Montana, and that's why we were up in the northern part of Montana. And she was there, and then after my father was, was alone and not too well, she came back to live with my father and to take care of him while he was alone after my mother's death. And she was there for a while, then. And also she went onto -- after my father died, I think she went on as a, with the Red Cross in Moses Lake. That was the Larsen Air Force Base. But that's her, her life of... and her living. But as far as I was concerned, I did several things and I, you know, it's kind of vague. We had, I worked for the War Relocation Authority for a while. And then --
AI: And what were you doing with them? With the WRA?
KK: Just, they were there for a short period of time, and I think I was a secretary, if I remember. And it wasn't too long. And we had moved, we had moved from a, from the farm to an apartment. And then we were thinking of buying a home, which -- and then here was, again, a little bit of prejudice that came up, and we realized that the homes that we were shown were located in certain areas. And so we said, well that's not where we want to live. And we wanted to, not be close into the center of town, and those were the places that they showed us. And then finally there was a place in Terrace -- suburb -- Terrace Heights (in a small) development (where) there was a place for sale. We moved there. And we found that there were some neighbors that didn't like us there. And it took a long time before we found that out. But, but that, the kind of attitude still occurred. Still does to certain people, but --
AI: About when was that that you were looking for your home and found that place?
KK: About '49, '48, '49, or '50. Because we had moved into the Terrace Heights area in about early '51 or something like that. It gets rather vague, but we had... we had just purchased it, and then Tak was recalled into the Korean War. He was in the Reserves, and then I was left with this house. I can remember we had to repaint it. I had to paint something. And I was painting it and my neighbors, who were good neighbors, would sit on the -- men -- who would sit on the lawn and say, "You missed some place here and some place there," and it used to irk me. I said, "Why are you sitting there if you find places where it needs painting? Why don't you help me?" But we found out there were some very good neighbors, fine neighbors and others who were a little indifferent. And it took some while until... living there for quite some time before we became a very cohesive small neighborhood in this development. So... but --
AI: And how long was Tak gone? Was he actually in Korea during this time?
KK: Yes, he was. He had gone to, he was sent to... oh, near San Antonio. Fort Hood. I think it was Fort Hood for training. And then I remember he was to be shipped to Korea, and I had quit my, I had taken a leave of absence at the credit bureau, I believe at the time, I was working, so I could go there and join him in San Antonio, with the promise that I would have a job. And when I came back, I didn't have. [Laughs] And so these are the little kinds of things that happened. And after... then I found a job with the -- what they call the, the Washington Medical Association that audited public assistance, (or patients) who were on public assistance, for the doctors (and other health care providers). Audit of their statements on, and whether or not, how much would be allowed. And it was an association that audited public assistance, would be Medicaid statements of patients who were on some public assistance, who were given medical help. And I was, worked for them for a number of years and became kind of an executive secretary to the director. [Ed. note: narrator has provided the following additional text: After that I found a job with the Medical Service Association of Yakima County, an organization that audited claims from medical service providers for patients on public assistance in Yakima County. I worked for them for a number of years and became kind of executive secretary to the director of the Association who was also secretary to the Yakima County Medical Society. I left after adopting our second child.]
<End Segment 44> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 45>
KK: And meantime we -- after Tak came back -- we had an opportunity to adopt our first child, who was six, (living) at the Washington Children's Home Society (in Seattle). We found a little history on her, but (knew) she was very reluctant to leave the home, the Children's Home Society. And we visited her and eventually adopted her. But she was a very insecure child who was half Japanese and had experienced a very traumatic experience in Japan, although she came from a caring mother. But her father, her natural father, (...) who was with the occupation, army occupation in Japan, in the military intelligence (that) was trying to get some information from her -- my daughter's mother. (She) had married a Chinese general who was with the Chiang Kai-shek's army. And, of course, you know the history of Chiang Kai-shek (...) going to Taiwan. And I think that the U.S. military was interested in what (kind of) military activity that was occurring, and they had targeted Elaine's mother as a source of information. But her natural father, who was American, felt that Elaine would have very little opportunity in Japan to grow up normally and had requested that his cousin adopt her -- a cousin who lived in Seattle. Eventually she was adopted and came, at the age of three, to Seattle. (She) did not work out with this family. She had two older siblings (there) and one younger one. They (finally) gave her up to the Children's Home Society. So she has a lot of traumatic, young traumatic, traumatic experience for a young child, and so she was very insecure. So it was, it was a difficult time for her, and it was for us. But I'm very proud to say she's a beautiful, intelligent, and talented person and, who is, or has been, a wonderful mother. She has been a wonderful daughter. And... which, but it was fun to bring her up. As a mother -- and those of you who have children know that you have problems, too, with a normal -- [Laughs]
GN: It must have changed your life tremendously.
KK: Oh, it has, it did change my life, and I remember --
GN: For the better.
KK: And the friends that first met her would say, "What a wild child. How are you going to ever tame her?" [Laughs] But we used every kinds of means, and even the teenage years were very, very difficult. But in looking over it, I feel that we did as best as we could, and that's all that parents can say, right?
AI: Well you also had a, a son.
KK: Yes. But there's a difference of ten years between Elaine and Lance. And Lance was another story. His mother, who was a, a Nisei that grew up in, (...) her family (that) had moved to St. Louis. (...) Her older sister was a surgical nurse in Yakima. And so as a, a teenage mother -- unmarried mother -- she decided she would come to Yakima for the delivery, and her, with the thought that her older sister would adopt this child. And her older sister, who was single and had a very responsible position at, at the hospital, realized she could not raise an infant, and so the baby was up for adoption. And it was through some friends who felt, "Oh, well, you have one child, adopted child, you should have this child." And it was a big decision for us, especially for me, who had never been a mother to an infant. And who had to think very seriously about... and I kept thinking, "I'm not going to be able to live long enough to go to his high school graduation." But, it also changed our lives. He was different from his sister, who was quick and bright and a rabid reader, and just, just a talented person. Whereas my son was fun, he was never a problem. He was a good person and very loyal, but he was dyslexic and so why -- we didn't know that until he went to kindergarten, of course. But, but my husband, Tak, was delighted to have a son, and the thing -- I think the beauty was that because he worked different shifts at the pharmacy that he could spend a great deal of time bonding with Lance. And, and I would see them in the morning where the little boy would trot behind his father in the garden, whatever. And it was... and, and his sister -- big sister -- I remember when we went to get him at the hospital she said, "What does he look like?" I said, "He's ugly." And the first thing she said as she looked at him, she said, "Mother, he's not ugly. He's beautiful." [Laughs] And so, there was this bonding. And, and she said to me the other day about something, she said, "Well, he's my brother," as if that takes care of all, all the faults and the problems.
And so I'm so glad to have them because they've changed... as you say, children change your lives. And we have been very blessed having them. So I feel blessed. Sometimes I wish my son would come over more frequently so he could repair all these little things that occur -- [laughs] -- but we are very fortunate to have them. But (then) I often think they were considered, considered "un-adoptable" because (they were) biracial children. And the attitude has changed now, but it, it was at the time, I think. Well, we never felt that kind of stigma because they were (our) children.
<End Segment 45> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 46>
AI: Well, as you say, the attitudes at that time were quite different, and I was, I was wondering if you talked to your children about issues like prejudice or discrimination that they might face.
KK: No. I don't think I did. I don't think I did. I think if they faced it, and they brought it up themselves, then we were... but I, I usually didn't try to, I tried to remedy it by some other means, and during the time when my daughter was having problems -- teenage problems and rebellious -- I found that I sent her as a -- what they called a "candy striper" to the Yakima Valley School where it was a school for the institutionalized. They were the people who were called mentally or physically incapacitated or challenged. And it was a very good experience for her. She was so, I don't know whether she was sixteen or fifteen, but, during this time. And then, actually, she went into this. She went into special education because of that and having that experience, and to this day she does... she, she works with challenging job of people who are either by -- referred to the, to the particular school that she directs, by the courts or by the police or by other schools who cannot handle them. So I believe that some of the early experiences, that she, she may not have realized that, unconsciously realized that it was one way of handling some of her own problems.
AI: Well, I also was wondering if you or Tak ever discussed with your children issues of ethnicity or racial identity either about your own or theirs or if they --
GN: Or if they, being... were they considered, would their parents' Japanese American experience, did you talk to them about...?
KK: Well, I think that they, physically they, they realized that we were. And then, you know, I was, I was always never far from the Japanese American experiences through my involvement in, in various ways. And they knew why, that I was involved because of my background, of my ethnicity, and they probably realized that their dad had a hard time finding a job because of certain reasons.
But I don't think I ever sat down, unless they came up with a problem that was distinctly, distinctly racial or something like, discriminatory because of race. You know, the kids faced lots of problems, not racial ones, and not because of race particularly, because of certain behaviors or certain expectations of them. And... but I never tried to prepare them. Kids are pretty resilient even if they face it because of their race. I think if they're at least aware of it... I think they're aware of it without being told about it very much. And I tried to spare them of having to look for people who might view them because they were biracial, or whether because they were different because of the facial features or whatever. I tried to keep it as normal as possible. They had enough burdens to bear.
GN: Did you talk to them about your experiences in World War II?
KK: Yes, I think I have as questions came up and probably more aware. Interestingly, it was, it was Lance who, who really was, became much more aware of things like that. Not because we talked to them. Experiences in camp would come up in informal discussions or hearing adults speak. But I never sat down and said, now we did this in camp and we did that. Or I might say about the first Christmas in camp, that, "Your aunt sang 'O Holy Night.'" Or how cold it was, and when I had an ice cream cone it froze in my hands. Things, little things like that would come up as far as camp experience was concerned. And I never kept it from them, but I never sat down and said, "Day 'this' we did that, and Day 'this' we did that." Or, "These orders came." Not like ones in the notes. It... I think they absorbed it and, probably, it's, they know about it, but it's not an overriding issue. I don't think they would crusade for the Muslims or anything like that. But I think they would be fair.
<End Segment 46> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 47>
AI: Well, another thing that was happening in the 1950s, in addition to, of course, the Korean War, was the McCarthyism. Senator Joe McCarthy was conducting the hearings with the House Un-American Activities Committee and the so-called "Red Scare," and I was just wondering whether that had touched you much or whether that affected the community in the valley very much.
KK: I, I remember watching the, on television, the proceedings on television. And Elaine was there. I remember that she was there and sat through it with us. But, and it did. But, at the time, there were some civil rights movement occurring. I remember that the mayor, mayor's committee on human rights was established in, in Yakima. And I was on it, as well as some of our, our African American people... community people within that.
AI: How did you come to be on that commission?
KK: I don't know except that, probably, by that time, I had promptly joined the League of Women Voters and I realized, through, experienced through the League that in order to make a difference in government that you have to become interested and actively involved. And for a long time I resisted because I had just... we had just adopted Elaine and, and I was working part-time. I just worked part-time when we adopted Elaine and then finally gave it up after we adopted Lance. But, and then I could make some time for organizations such as the League. And through the League I've learned to know the elected officials of local governments as well as state and national governments and became interested in the process of governance. And because of probably being seen at some of these places, I was named on... there weren't too many people speaking up, either, at that time. [Laughs] And you became the token Asian American to be on these kinds of groups, organizations. And I've served on many.
AI: Well, I'm wondering about some of those early days of the, the Human Rights Commission. What might have been a key issue or a concern at that time?
KK: Well, of course, you know, that was before the influx of Hispanics to the valley. And, and the African American population was perhaps two percent or less. But it was evident there was a great deal of residual prejudice. And probably the most vocal ones were the African Americans. And the Asians never were. They, they... I think the public realized the evacuation experience and, and I remember getting a citation from the, award of some sort, citizenship award from the legal profession. The organization for attorneys. What is it called? The --
AI: The Bar?
KK: Bar. Bar Association. And, and wondered what in the world I was getting it for. [Laughs] But it was a citizenship award that they were very proud to give me, and I still wonder what it was for. Just because I came back from the national evacuation or incarceration camp or not. But... and I prize it. I still have it somewhere tucked away. But it was a liberty bell or... and, but being, becoming aware of local government and of our government processes made you aware of the legislation and the council meetings, as well as the other organizations. And I became interested in various process in government, local and otherwise. And, and getting information to the public about candidates and about issues. So that's propelled me into becoming... I'm not really, I didn't think I was a community activist, but I've often been labeled that. And undergirding that is my experience in the camps, too, because you can point out in many ways how it can happen to people and what happens and the kinds of, of changes that occur into, in people's lives. And they differ.
AI: Well --
KK: And most Niseis were reluctant to talk about it, and I was sort of forced to, from early on, to talk about it.
AI: What do you mean by that "you were forced to?"
KK: Oh, well, just by having made the first speech in Louisville, Kentucky, where nobody seemed to acknowledge that I was a, felt I was a flop. When I had the opportunity, when asked, I did give out information. And little by little, even within a hostile place like the Yakima valley, there were groups that you talk to. And it's a, it's a gradual process. But you don't always go talking about evacuation and prejudices that occur. You work within various, various organizations and among your friends. And you don't talk about your own self, so much, as when opportunity arises that you can bring out. And I was, there were always people who were, knew that I had had this experience. Teachers would ask me to talk to their classes and that led to other invitations. And so I have always been actively involved, mostly beginning at schools and talked to college groups. And then the Asian community also sort of, the Chinese, the Filipinos, and the Japanese had a loose organization where we had activities at the college, as well as in the high schools and junior high schools.
And so that has continued, and you feel obligated, really, as a duty, somewhat, to keep the, the issue alive because it applies not only to us as Japanese Americans having experienced it, but what is happening to other groups as well. And at that time it was the African Americans, or the black people, who was faced with the Civil Rights movement, and I felt compelled to march with them on their Martin Luther King Day and take part in activities. And that was probably why I was on the mayor's Human Rights Commission.
<End Segment 47> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 48>
AI: I was wondering, during the 1960s, at that time, you were also involved with the League of Women Voters?
KK: I have been since the '50s, middle '50s.
AI: And I was wondering what kind of public forums there might have been or discussions during that decade because so much was going on in the rest of the country with civil rights issues and then later the anti-Vietnam War activities.
KK: These League of Women Voters focuses on issues that are, that are suggested by the membership on national issues, on state issues, and on local issues. That's the local government issues. And they are, they have ranged from civil rights and environmental issues, as well as educational issues of administration of justice issues, housing issues, and, and we have a whole range of our positions and, and civil rights was among them. But, and, and each League or each state leagues face the local problems affecting that area or their state and would act in compliance with their position. And civil rights was always underlying in my interest, but my interests became more into environmental issues. And I was sent by the state league to a water conference, a regional water conference, western water conference, in Salt Lake City with expenses paid. And about two or three days there I came back with eleven pounds of paper. And that's something like all organizations with pounds of paper.
But I became very interested in water. I still am involved in water, water to this day. But also became interested with the issue of land use which affects ground, with water. And I served on, I was elected to, to the regional planning commission of a region that is urban, a region around Yakima. And I was on that for about from '76 to '99 and served on various water committees. On drinking water state committee, advisory committee, for about ten years and then served on various water issues, committees statewide and local and regional. It's continuing. I'm still on a, on, on water issues. I'm sure I'm... I still will be until I say, "No more." [Laughs]
Prior to coming here, I was trying to get ready for this meeting and, and I was faced with a fifty-five page commentary that they wanted some comments on and spent the whole afternoon at a meeting on, on watershed planning. And we're getting to our stage, last stages of, of adopting the plan. And so these are the kinds of things that I have been involved in. Not that I'm, I'm not an expert, certainly not an expert. But I do represent a, a large percentage of people who know nothing about what's going on in water (issues), which will be continuing throughout my lifetime and throughout other people's lifetime.
AI: Well, from the beginning of your involvement in some of these water issues, what do you think have been the main trends in the policymaking and some of the change, perhaps, that you've seen over this long period of time?
KK: Well, I think we have become very bureaucratic, regardless of what governments -- local governments or state government or national governments -- and it isn't money that drives outcomes. I'm sad to say that the availability of money has driven energy policies of salmon recovery, of endangered species, and sometimes it's rather distressing to see. But underneath it all, I feel that we should establish a firm policy on water. And depending on various locations. But when there's money available for, for specified or special needs, then we become sidetracked for availability of grants and money for endangered species recovery, or whether it's for development of land and the use of land and of shorelines and water in general, of drinking water... as far as water is concerned, you can go on forever.
But it's the same with the civil rights movements or other health issues right now. And, but I believe that it is involvement of the people, the people have final say. And we've turned off about government, and we'd like to just go on our own way and hoping that somebody's going to take care of problems. And, and we can't do that. I think that we should establish our interest and follow it and, wherever there's possible for you to speak up because you know something that generally has not been brought up, it should be voiced. And perhaps this is my way. I couldn't say that for everyone, but it's my feeling, and that's what has kept me involved for so long. And you see different people. And because you think, "Oh well, she'll do it." And so you get from one issue to the other. [Laughs] I don't have that much time for myself, I find out. [Laughs]
AI: Well, excuse me, but continuing on with the water issue, I was just wondering, now, after all your work in this, in this area, what, what are some of the things you would hope to see happen with the water?
KK: You mean in water?
KK: I think it's, so much depends on your location. I come from a irrigated agricultural area where availability of, sure supply of water for irrigation is paramount, and that is the loud voice. But underneath it all, the public, if you were to, to influence it, need to know that your drinking water, or your domestic water, need to be secure. And, and sometimes we feel that water will be there, and that it will be potable, or it will be safe drinking water. And you can't be assured of that unless people who use it -- and we all do, it's like air -- see that the voice is heard. Otherwise, you'll have other competing uses who will want to develop more land for housing or business or whatever. That takes as much water as, as an irrigated agriculture, for instance. So they, they relate to each other, and they relate to you personally. So I can't say that we should have a, established policies that affect everybody, but it's, and it's changing. So... and it's like any issue. Like our medical right now. We're concerned about prescription drugs and the costs... and the cost of medical information, as well as the assistance. And... that most of us know very little about. But what is really, will depend on a national policy, as well as the state and local ones. And we can go on forever about some other issues as well as civil rights, right? [Laughs]
GN: Or redress.
<End Segment 48> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 49>
AI: [To GN] Well, that, did you have other questions in this arena before we move on? [To KK] Well, that does bring us up now in the, in the '70s, also, that many things happened. There were some early redress efforts in the 1970s. More locally, in the Yakima valley, I think you had a reunion?
KK: Yes. In 1973. Yes.
AI: How did that happen, and who came?
KK: You know, the Heart Mountain people had reunions throughout... oh, from early on. And they had them in different parts of the West Coast. And in conjunction with these Heart Mountain reunions, we, those who lived, lived in the Yakima valley who were evacuated and had relocated elsewhere, and now living elsewhere, said, "Can't we have a Yakima valley reunion?" And we did have these little one-day or one evening reunion following the Heart Mountain reunion that occurred every five years, or whatever. And they said, "Oh, we'd like to come back to the valley." And so they said, "Can't you have a reunion in the valley?" And so we had a reunion in 1973, and when the people came back to the valley. And, but it was a time when, really a very nice time. And they keep saying, why don't you have it? We were getting so old. And it's tedious to organize a reunion of any kind, as you, as you probably know. But '73 did bring us together, and as an outgrowth of... had serendipity movements. We felt... I think Gail knows Tei Tomita, who grew, her first residence in America, was in the valley. And she's a well-known Japanese poet, poetess, poet, and had written a great deal about being in the valley in her early... when she first came to the United States.
Anyway, when the Centennial Millennium project for the Washington State was given award for Yakima, and they decided to have a, a Millennium Project Plaza. And among them they had, the central theme was to have ordinary citizens and talented artisans who wished to have an expression about the formation of the valley and what they remembered as a focal point in little displays, permanent displays. And the artist who was our consultant, who conceptualized this monument, centennial monument, was a Chinese artist, Wen Tisen from Boston and, who worked with, in the valley for about a year and a half, almost two years and brought artists and ideas, to shorten the story. And for the Japanese -- they took various ethnic groups. And for the Japanese, they wanted something about the evacuation from the Japanese as a focal point. And so I (...) took a rough carving of the, of the camp, Heart Mountain camp, that my father-in-law had done and was a replica of that. And then the poem from Teiko Tomita about, some haiku on, on camp living. And so that's on permanent display. And so these are the kind of things that occur from, years following our camp experience. And can't remember --
GN: Well, you're known as the sort of Japanese American historian of the Yakima community.
KK: I'm getting old enough to be. [Laughs]
GN: And out of, out of that 1973 reunion, you actually wrote that history, right?
KK: Oh, yeah. Well, in a way. It was because we had some money left over, and they wanted some memento. And Isao Fujimoto had, probably had something more lofty in mind, but the only thing I could think of was to have a little booklet and a little history and some of the pictures and, and a, a listing of, of the valley people and where they were located at the current time. And it was not too far -- you know, the Japanese Association used to have sort of a census of the Japanese families and the date of birth and all that. And taking from one of their publications, we tried to locate everybody who were there in 1935, or (whenever) it was, and tried to locate them in 1973 and we got quite a comprehensive list and I had, did a little history of it. And so... and, and we had several hundred printed, and I think I have about two left. And, curious enough, it was a lot of the college libraries that wanted them. And we sent them for a dollar, I remember, just for the postage. And, and I think we later charged a dollar, or something like that. So, anyway, a lot of things have happened since '73, though. So... life moves on.
<End Segment 49> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 50>
AI: Well, I wonder if we should --
KK: But, you were talking about redress, weren't you? Something that might lead to the redress movement.
AI: Yes, right
KK: And the involvement of the valley people --
KK: -- in the redress movement. I think Gail asked me this morning, "How did, how did you become involved with it?" Those of us who subscribed to the Pacific Citizen, and many of the families do. Not that they're members of JACL, or anything. But then they keep in tab of the Japanese American activities nationwide, usually. And at that time, in the '70s, there was various proposals for redress, and whether it was through the courts or through some other systems. And when they finally decide on legislation, then we realized, with my League background, I realized it was time to pressure our, our elected legislators to support this movement. And, and we did, we had a petition movement to, for our Sid Morrison, who was the representative at that time and convinced him. And, that he should support the movement. And then, on the state level, I had tried to... they had a resolution in support of the redress and our, from coming from a very conservative area, I had talked to several. And, and some of them did support it. And then Alex Deccio, who was our senator, I thought was (supportive). Then I learned that he did not vote for it. So I said, "Alex, you know, this, you could have been in my place, because your family is Italian." And he was very sheepish, very nice to me. [Laughs] But he didn't vote for it. But, but I had to point out to him that under the circumstances, he's lucky that he wasn't, he didn't go into camp. But these are the kinds of movements that you learn about through the League. I did. Others may do it through some other source. But --
AI: Well, you, you said it so quickly that it, it made it appear almost easy. But it must have been quite an effort to get -- especially your congressperson, Mr. Morrison -- to get his support. That there, you must have had many activities that led up to that.
KK: Well, we, we had... so many things have occurred that sort of colors it, but because of our location, and that went clear down to the, to Columbia River to the south. And some of our relatives, residents here lived in Dallesport, and we had a gathering at one time where we invited the people to come and then sign the petition. And so it would point out to, to Senator -- or Representative Morrison the range, the wide range of people that were affected from, and, and he was friendly with the Japanese community, anyway, so he was open to this kind of pressure, if it was pressure. And --
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<Begin Segment 51>
AI: I'm wondering about the process of getting support from the other Japanese Americans, themselves.
KK: Well, there were... some among us who felt that this was unnecessary. They wouldn't take the money even if it was approved. I don't know, I didn't question why they would not support it or why they felt that way. I don't think we need to challenge these ideas unless they are, wish to be challenged. But in preparing for the hearings that occurred in Seattle, I remember that the JACL had invited people with stories that, of their coming, returning, and some of the reasons for their support of redress, to come for a, just an initial planning meeting. And it was there that I believe some of the people talked about their firsthand experience for the first time. And there were many instances that really pointed out what we knew was unfair and unjust and... but having their, the third generation, or the second, Niseis, tell what happened to their parents, what happened to their business, what happened to... what toll it took.
I remember, particularly, about this man that had a, whose parents had a dairy farm on the peninsula around, I think it would be, oh, around Bremerton, or perhaps in that area there, that probably -- I don't really remember, but I thought, what a strange, you know, we never knew that they had dairies out there, and it was run, a very large dairy farm, successful dairy farm, was run by a Japanese family. And he talked about his father, who had never talked about being, evacuation. When he was in the hospital, how all this came out. And that it was when the son who was telling this story, and how his father died. And how, how it had affected his father, who had been silent and had accepted and had gone through the period and how it had affected him. And, of course, they were never able to regain that, their dairy. And so the son, who told the story... it made a lasting impression on me.
And there were stories that -- unbelievable stories -- that people told for the first time and probably never, they didn't appear at the commission hearings, either. But, so the process of securing redress in its many forms. It were the, they were the personal stories that really made the difference, I think, to the, to the commission themselves.
AI: You're speaking of the United States Commission --
AI: -- on Wartime --
KK: Wartime --
AI: -- Internment and Relocation of Civilians. [Ed. note: interviewer is referring to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.]
KK: And I've heard George Somekawa talk -- who was on the commission -- telling about that, too. That it was the stories that made the difference.
<End Segment 51> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 52>
AI: So we're continuing on. And just before the break, we were talking about some of the activities for redress, and you had just finished explaining to us about coming to Seattle for the practice --
AI: -- session for preparing people who were going to be giving some testimony to the Commission on Wartime Internment and Relocation of... or Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians. And I think you had mentioned, also, talking to one of the commissioners, and you had meant Judge William Marutani.
KK: Yes, yes, yes.
AI: But, but also you were, yourself, were preparing to give some testimony.
KK: Yes, that's true. And I think I covered in my, my presentation some of the, main part of my presentation to the commission was the encounter with the, the sergeant, Sergeant Nathan Miller, who was in charge of evacuating us and his attitude, what he found there in the community. And why he, himself, was so shocked that we were being put in internment camps. And at that time, his attitude was very surprising to me because we felt that he was just an arm of the government doing what they were asked to do or were willing to do. So that was... I think it was a story that I thought needed to be told by some of the attitude of the military personnel who felt that probably that evacuation of us, of the Japanese and Japanese Americans, was very unfair. And that was the gist of my presentation to the commission along with a brief history of the Japanese in the Yakima valley. And I remember that Judge Marutani thought that was a very good presentation, so I was quite pleased, although I think many of the other testimonies were different or very personal. And I'm sure that affected... the stories affected the commission that, I'm sure, supported the redress movement.
AI: What was it like for you to give testimony and be a part of that very public setting?
KK: It's always frightening to appear before a panel of -- but I had given testimonies before congressional groups and, and state group, groups, too, so that, in behalf of various issues, I have appeared, not on a panel of that wide importance, but.... so that you actually read what you've written, and you hope it's going to be convincing. [Laughs] But it, it comes, I don't think any time that it's a pleasant task. Some people may enjoy it, but I think no one, really. I don't think the Niseis or people who talked really relished appearing before the commission, but I felt, I think that they felt it was very important that the stories need to be told.
AI: After you gave your testimony, did you get any kind of response or reactions from people?
KK: Not that I recall, but sometimes you forget these kinds of incidences. And I don't even remember how I got home. But I guess, I... the things you forget. [Laughs]
GN: How did you feel after your presentation?
KK: Well, you're always pressed for time. And they say, "Mrs. Kondo, your time is up," or whatever. And, and it's never enough time, and you wish you could explain some of the parts of your testimony a little bit further. But usually all the testimonies ran overtime, and you were made much aware of that. So... but I, you feel relieved. And you wish there was something, something that could really sway them. But I think all the people who gave testimonies felt it, they were stories that needed to be told.
AI: Was there anything about the hearing that surprised you?
KK: Well, I can't... I really can't remember. I can't recall that, anything that surprised me.
AI: It must have been a very emotional day.
KK: It, it was. But I felt that the practice sessions were far more emotional because, for the, it was the first time that people talked about their experience and, and it was very difficult for most of them to talk about it. But once they have said that, I hope that they appeared before the commission and gave the story to those that mattered. But it was apparent that there were many, many stories that needed to be told. That people who had harbored that internally for a long time, how much needed it was to get the stories out. Perhaps to their children, perhaps to the other public. But...
<End Segment 52> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 53>
GN: Can you tell us a little bit about that practice session, then? You say it was emotional. Was there like a sharing?
KK: It was a sharing. It was a sharing experience that, for most people who came, it was the first time they had talked out loud about it to anyone. Or, perhaps, they might have shared it with few people, but most of them had not even talked to their families about it. And it, it was a traumatic experience for them. You could tell it. Maybe the second time in telling, it would not be as dramatic. But it was... it was emotional because you realized that all the people who were willing to talk about it, there must be many who were still unwilling to talk about it or who have not faced up to it. And even the young people who said they had such a good time in camp. They were carefree and they could play and didn't have to answer to their parents. When they really thought about it, I would like to have heard how they really felt about it as an adult and to look backwards, back to see, in addition to their memories of good times, what affected them really deeply. And some people, I don't think, have ever faced that yet.
GN: Was the act of almost speaking the unspeakable, as you shared with each other, made it easier to speak, or...?
KK: I hope so. Because I had talked to various groups many times before that time. But I had the feeling that many of them who shared these stories, it was the first time. And there was, and it is an emotional time when they have experiences bottled up that they're willing to talk about it. And they must have had numerous other experiences that probably, in retrospect, they might have talked about it. And I hope they have talked about it to other groups later.
GN: Did anybody choose not to testify after the practice session?
KK: I don't know. I don't know because I'm sure that there were more people who, in the practice session, than the ones that were chosen. And I don't know how the choices were made.
GN: They were chosen?
KK: Uh-huh. Because they'd... I can't even remember how the speakers were chosen. But, perhaps, they were the written ones that were submitted and then picked out. But I don't really know the mechanics of that.
GN: Did you attend all of the hearings?
KK: No. I just went one, I believe just one session. Had to wait and listen to some of them because we were always running, they were, seemed to be running behind schedule.
GN: Do you remember anything about the people there?
KK: It was full. But I, I really looked at the commissioners and, and thought, I wonder how these testimonies are affecting -- they must have heard stories after stories after stories and how, certainly it would affect them. And how would they evaluate them to really come to some sort of conclusion? Were they stories made up? Were they stories people told to sway them? Was it something that they, people just told stories in a magnified way? And, and you can, I'm sure, as a panelist, people on the panel, they had to make these judgments.
GN: You got to speak to Marutani directly at some point?
KK: I was... I can't remember just, it, were probably in another setting and we were talking about the various testimonies and, and I think they were talking about so-and-so and such-and-such were impressive. And then, I think that, he did mention something about the testimony about the entrainment, and I knew that was mine. [Laughs]
<End Segment 53> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 54>
AI: Well, I, I know, also, that at the time that so many people were starting to work on behalf of redress and were working to try and make it a reality, that at the same time some people had severe doubts whether it was even really possible to get some kind of fair decision from the government. I'm wondering what -- even though you were very active, yourself, on behalf of redress at that time of giving the testimony -- what did you think the chances were that the government would decide on behalf of redress?
KK: Well, I think that we all -- those of us who work for causes -- hoped for a positive outcome. But I never really faced reality in one way or the other. I heard the arguments of my own groups that were not doubting whether it would happen or not, but whether this should have happened at all. Some people were indignant that we are exposing ourselves again. Others were saying that we wouldn't take the money because we... not that we don't feel we're deserving, but why should the government have to pay for something happened so many... and, after all, they felt super patriotic and this, that it was another group asking for money. And that was some of the attitudes, so... but I found that most people who were given the redress applied for it and received it.
And, as you know, it continued for many years following that. The tag-in groups, they -- and I must give credit to the government for trying to find those who were deser-, who had, who were candidates for the redress, to seek them out. And I think they ran over their budget in the process.
AI: Well, as we know, there were many years in between the time when Congress actually approved the initial redress bill, and then that was signed, but then an appropriation.
KK: Well, the regret that our parents, so many of them had passed on. And it was the parents who were most affected by the evacuation, and who were unable, who, upon return, were unable to make a decent living. And certainly we felt that that was unfortunate.
GN: You wrote a letter to President Reagan --
KK: Oh, yes. But --
GN: -- regarding that. Right?
KK: I don't think it affected him one way or the other. [Laughs] I had a nice response from his secretary, but I doubt if the President saw it. But they, he, it passed, and he's, he was there to sign the redress bill in the first place, and... but it was really the Congress that needed to, to appropriate the funds.
AI: Your letter was in the process before it was passed. And what did you say to President Reagan? What compelled you to even write that letter?
KK: Well, you know, it's an activist thing to do. And I thought a handwritten letter just giving my thoughts on the whole evacuation experience and why -- and I tried to make it as personal possible -- how one family was affected by it. And perhaps he could, he would understand it in terms, not of the legality or the illegality or the patriotic or the lack of, of whatever, our loyalty or... it was really an expression of a human experience of one family that, perhaps, would reach him emotionally, maybe? Intellectually, maybe not. But emotionally. And it really is, comes down to the number of people talking about themselves, often sways the decision makers. And that was just my response.
AI: Well, then eventually, as we know, the appropriation was made, and people did start getting, in the mail, their redress with the letter and the check. And I'm wondering what was your reaction when you received yours?
KK: Nice. [Laughs] And, of course, then you say, now what shall I do with the money? And my immediate reaction was, what shall I do with it? But ended up by having a portion of that given to our local organizations that I believed in and, a few thousand dollars here and there, what was a surprise to a lot of them. And, and, and to this day they think I am a philanthropist. They keep asking for money. [Laughs] But it was fun to do that. And, of course, my husband suggested that we put it in a special fund. And I said, "Well you've gotten yours, why should I give you mine?" [Laughs] But I really don't know what happened to the balance. I guess it's there somewhere, yet. I hope.
AI: Did reading the apology, the letter of apology, what did that mean to you when you saw that in writing?
KK: Well, it wasn't, it wasn't really a handwritten note. It was a produced note. [Laughs] And what else? How can you get a check for ($20,000) without something? But it was an acknowledgement, and I'm sure that even though the signature was copied -- copies of it -- it, I still have it, so I didn't throw it away.
GN: It doesn't have your name on it, does it?
KK: No, it doesn't. It didn't even say, "Dear Friend." [Laughs] Or "Dear Former Evacuee," or anything like that. But, but I'm sure that amount was used in different ways by individuals, and that it did probably more good than not. And I hope that residue will be a memory in people's minds of why we received, the check was sent out. And perhaps even the government, who was responsible for our internment, was also responsible for having a restitution of some sort, and they would think again before precipitating some other action, similar action.
<End Segment 54> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 55>
AI: Well, speaking of "similar action," we're going to be jumping ahead now to the present, or almost the present, because I think, as we had discussed briefly before, about the events of September 11th, 2001, and what happened then with the attacks on the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon and the other so-called terrorist activities. And I'm just wondering when, if you recall, for yourself, what your thinking was. What, on September 11th of last year?
KK: Well, as you viewed it on the television, it was certainly dramatic, but I kept thinking of the scene that I viewed from the, the top of one of the twin towers. The Windows of the World, is it? The restaurant. And, and the expanse. The time it took for the elevator to go non-stop to the top. How long it took. And looking out of the window, seeing the helicopters like little tiny birds below, and the ships on, the boats on the Hudson just mere specks. And I thought, oh. And then I thought of the architect, Min Yamasaki, that I knew briefly before the war. And I thought, "Oh, I wonder what he's thinking about what's happened to his buildings." And, of course, the tragedy of the whole event. And then, of course, we were still reminded, of course, of that. And then the aftermath of who are they targeting? Who will be the targets of, and blamed for this event? And we are still seeing residues of that. I don't know whether... how long that will take. Whether it will call for some sort of redress, I'm not sure. I think we have to approach it in how, as you say, how we feel about the incident individually. I keep hearing stories of people who were there in Washington, D.C. at the time or in New York at the time and so it's still very dramatic. And we are now faced with possibilities of, of war on terrorists. And what form it will take, I'm not sure.
But I think we need to keep in mind, in retrospect, how the justice, how justice is served and how careful we must be to, as we view people who look like the perpetrators. And I don't know. I hope that we're wise enough from our own experience to, to view this and to live through this. Because it's right now at the point, where we are now in the point of history, we don't know what form it will take. But it will probably go on as long as it took for us to somewhat resolve or... in our own minds, the evacuation experience after World War II.
So I... for me to have lived through several experiences like this, it's going to be up to, to Alice and to Gail to find out how justice can be served and how we are able to look to ourselves and to others around us. How we can really perpetuate our feeling of fairness and of justice and of, of concern for people who are different. For people, for conditions that are troubling. And to be levelheaded about it and, without becoming too emotionally involved, I think. You know, "civil rights" is a big term. But in what way do we preserve civil rights?
AI: Well, there's, as we were speaking just a little bit earlier, there are so many parallels that have been made between September 11th and December 7th. And here we are, today is December 8th. Yesterday we began our interview on the 61st anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. And as you say, so much time, decades have passed since that, and yet it's still in the news.
KK: It recurs, doesn't it? Something similar... different. I think we all have to do what we can. And, with you, Alice and Gail are approaching it. And I'm so glad because it's a legacy, perhaps, that we have left a little bit and a legacy of events of our involvement in it and, and where you can, at least, come aware of current happenings and these, and circumstances around you without... and you have some feelings about the public. I know that a lot of us who are so-called retired seek pleasure. And I think, though we do deserve to have pleasurable times when we can enjoy our, what we have accomplished in the past. But I don't know, perhaps we're somewhat different that, that we, we don't, I couldn't spend the time playing cards and, and watching television. And when people say, "What do you do for fun? What kind of...?" [Laughs] I don't know what quite to say, except that I, I love gardening and, and watching nature and doing other things. And, but I think that, whatever we do, we need to be much more aware of the events and people around us and to know that somehow if, if we are really interested in it... in the events and people that we can make some sort of difference.
AI: Is there anything else that you'd like to add? Any other comment?
GM: Any final words? If you were to talk to your grandchild, what would you say?
KK: Oh, they would say, "Oh, Grandma's talking again," or something like that. [Laughs] And, and, but you, you, I think you, you leave examples. And not to say, "You should do this," or, "You should go there," but, but open up their mind to thinking, perhaps, little things, approaching things a different way. Thinking things a little broader, in broader terms and to contribute in their own way. Because certainly what will, what they will be doing compared to what I've done will be different. And, but it's a big country. We're increasingly, we're more diverse in culture and in religion, in our way of making a living. And so... but I think we need to think of each other, consider each other as persons. Here I am preaching to people, and I don't mean to do that way. But...
GN: I think you've earned the right. [Laughs]
KK: [Laughs] You think so?
GN: And I'm willing to learn.
KK: When you consider the one-room schoolhouse and, now, what changes have been made and, and... it's interesting, isn't it? It's my generation that has seen traveling with horse and buggy, and now into what? Space travel? So... and what will bring the future for our, our children and grandchildren? One never knows. But I hope that mentally and emotionally, spiritually, we can certainly maintain the rapid changes that are being made. And I'm sure that is up to you, now. I think I probably have done and said too much. [Laughs]
AI: Well, this has really been wonderful. Thanks very much.
GN: Thank you.
KK: You're welcome.
<End Segment 55> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.