Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Kara Kondo Interview
Narrator: Kara Kondo
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Gail Nomura (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 7 & 8, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-kkara-01-0047

<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.