Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Bessie Yoshida Konishi Interview
Narrator: Bessie Yoshida Konishi
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Denver, Colorado
Date: May 13, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-kbessie-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MA: So today is May 13, 2008. I'm here in Denver, Colorado, with Bessie Konishi. I'm Megan Asaka and the videographer today is Dana Hoshide. So Bessie, thank you so much for coming out to do this interview with us. I really appreciate it.

BK: Well, you're welcome.

MA: So, I wanted to start off with asking you when you were born.

BK: I was born September 17, 1932.

MA: And where were you born?

BK: I was born in La Jara, Colorado.

MA: And that is, can you explain where that is geographically?

BK: Yeah, it's in the San Luis Valley in Colorado, and it's, it borders New Mexico. It's about in the middle of the state, clear down south.

MA: And what was your name given at birth?

BK: Mieko Yoshida.

MA: When did you change to going by Bessie?

BK: When we started school. All of us had Japanese names and we were all born with midwives except for the youngest one. And we were all given Japanese names. And when we started school, it was difficult for the teachers to pronounce Japanese names and so we were all... I don't know how they picked 'em, you know. And I don't know why they named me Bessie either. [Laughs] 'Cause some of my other sisters got Shirley, for Shirley Temple, and Judy for Judy Garland. And here I end up with Bessie, but, but that's how we got our English names.

MA: So I wanted to talk a little bit about your family background. What was your father's name?

BK: Eiichi Yoshida.

MA: And where was he from in Japan?

BK: He was from Hiroshima-ken.

MA: What did his family do in Japan?

BK: I'm not real sure, but I, probably farmers. I would say farmers. But his father came in the early 1900s to California with one of the sons. There were five boys in the family. And, just like other immigrants, they came to make some money and sent it back to Japan.

MA: I see, so your father actually came as a young boy with his father.

BK: Yeah, he was nineteen when he came.

MA: And so, you said his motivations were to sort of make some money and then eventually return to Japan?

BK: I imagine so, I don't know if that was my father's motive. But that was his father's motive, so yeah.

MA: And what did your father do? What kind of jobs did he do when he first came to the U.S.?

BK: Yeah, I think they helped a lot with fishing and canning, and then went into the vegetable growing part.

MA: And where was this? Where did they first arrive?

BK: In Oakland. And then he worked around Lodi, California. And then he was a foreman for a company called Smith Farms in Stockton.

MA: He was a foreman of like, a labor camp?

BK: Yeah, uh-huh.

MA: Do you know, were the workers all Japanese? Like Isseis

BK: I think they were all, I think they were all Japanese. Yeah.

MA: So how did he eventually meet and marry your mother?

BK: Well, my mother was a picture bride. And she is also from Hiroshima. And she said that her mother and father asked her, "(Would you) go to America?" And she said, "Yes." And it was an arranged marriage. And her, my father's younger brother stood in as the proxy and they were married in Japan and then she got on a boat, sailed for America with other "picture brides." And all she had was a picture of my father, and his name written on the side of the suitcase. But they got along very well. And my father was very good to my mother, so, and that wasn't always the case. So...

MA: Did she talk to you about her experiences coming over? Like on the boat, or what her impressions were when she first --

BK: That's all she told me. She didn't, it must not have been a bad experience because she didn't say anything about the boat ride over. But it was a month long, I mean, it took them thirty days to get over here. And, no she didn't, I don't think she had any bad experiences. Yeah.

MA: So how, do you know how old she was when she came over?

BK: She was, let's see, I think she was eighteen. Yeah.

MA: And she joined your father in...

BK: California.

MA: In California.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MA: So I want to talk a little bit about your siblings. You said you had twelve siblings. Or there's twelve children in your family.

BK: Twelve in the family. There were ten girls and two boys.

MA: Where do you fall in that?

BK: About in the middle. I'm the eighth child. Seventh daughter, eighth child. One of the brothers is about third from the oldest and the other one is second from the youngest.

MA: And when was, what's the range? I guess, when was the oldest born, and when was the youngest?

BK: Okay, my oldest sister is still living. And she is, let's see, she's eighty-nine. And the youngest one is, hmm, how old is she? [Laughs] She must be, she must be about sixty-six. Yeah.

MA: And you were saying to me earlier that four of your siblings were actually born in California.

BK: Uh-huh.

MA: When your parents were still, still there.

BK: Yeah. The four oldest were born in California. But the two oldest ones, and the two oldest sisters were taken back to Japan to live with the maternal grandparents. And, and the thought was that they would bring 'em back in just a few years. Well, times changed you know, economics, and money, and everything, and so they didn't come back 'til they were eighteen, nineteen years old. So they're more like Japanese from Japan. They just spoke Japanese. I know it was hard for them when they came. But my oldest sister was married within a year, and it was an arranged marriage.

MA: She was married when she came back.

BK: When she came back to America. Uh-huh. Just a year later, she was married to a man who was much older than she was. That's how it was, that's what they did back then.

MA: And your two eldest sisters that went to Japan, was there a specific reason why they were sent over there?

BK: At the time, my mother said that they lived on a place called MacDonald Island. And I tried to locate that on the map when I was thinking about this, and I never could find it. But she said that they would have had to put the two little girls on a small boat every day to go to school. And so they just opted to take them to Japan instead.

MA: I see, so there wasn't a school on the island where they were living.

BK: No, uh-uh. No.

MA: What were they doing at that time on MacDonald Island? Was your father still working in labor foreman?

BK: Yeah, he was, uh-huh. Yeah.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MA: And so then when did your family actually move to Colorado?

BK: They moved to Colorado in 1925. Earlier, the year before, there was a man who owned a lot of land in the San Luis Valley. And he knew a lot of that land was good agricultural land. And so he actually sent two of his representatives to California and talked to some Japanese farmers. And so a couple of the men, without their families, came to see what the situation was and reported back. And then my father was the first one to bring his family. And they came by train. And he said this man who owned the land was very good to 'em and helped them get set up on tenant farms, because back then you couldn't own land. Because they couldn't, they weren't a citizen of the United States, and the kids were too young to buy land under their name. So they were tenant farmers. But they did very well, they were good farmers.

MA: So your father moved to Colorado. Did he have experience in farming before that, or...

BK: Well, just only as a foreman. And before that, he must have worked in the fields. So, yeah.

MA: Was your family one of the first families in San Luis Valley, or what was the, was there a Japanese community there before your family arrived?

BK: No, there really wasn't. There were a few men there. My sister kept cemetery records of all the Japanese who are buried in the San Luis Valley, and she had it all written in Japanese and everything. And before she passed away, fortunately, I had gone over and translated it all in English. So I do have all those records. And I'm, I can't remember the year, but it was early in the 1900s, when the first burial was there. And it was a man, a single man. So there were some Japanese men there, working on the railroad before the families came in.

MA: It seems like your family might have been the first, one of the first actual families setting in that area.

BK: I would think so, yeah. Uh-huh.

MA: So then your parents were farming on this land that the man who had recruited your father in California, so they were doing that when you were born, is that right?

BK: Uh-huh. Yeah, 'cause that was 1925. So, yeah.

MA: So I'm curious, can you describe their farm in La Jara and what they grew and who they sold to?

BK: It was vegetables. And things like, they hadn't grown there before. The Caucasian farmers had not grown cauliflower and cabbage. They weren't familiar with that. And so that's what they grew and I have a picture with my uncle and my father and a friend named Mr. Nishikawa. And they were very good farmers and did very well. And the other Japanese families that came also were successful. So successful in fact that they had their own packing shed. And they did very well until the Depression hit in the '30s.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: When you were growing up in La Jara, how many Japanese American families were there in your area?

BK: Oh, my gosh. I would think there must have been about a dozen. We lived in La Jara and then when I was in the middle of the second grade, we moved to Alamosa, and that was in 1939. So I really didn't live in La Jara that long.

MA: Why did your family move to Alamosa?

BK: Well, because my uncle, and my brother, and Mr. Nishikawa, because it's the Depression and everything, they lost the farming business because the Depression. So each one went their separate ways and my father chose to move to Alamosa and farm there, instead, on his own.

MA: Was there already a Japanese American community in Alamosa?

BK: Yeah, uh-huh. And the farm we were on was owned by a Japanese family named Hattori.

MA: How, what was the population of Alamosa when you were growing up? I'm just trying to get a sense of the community.

BK: Oh gosh, you know. I really don't know. Right now, it's very small, it's, a little over five thousand is all. And so it was much smaller than that.

MA: And where did you attend school, elementary school?

BK: In Alamosa, uh-huh. Yeah, I graduated from high school in Alamosa.

MA: What was the name of your grade school?

BK: Central Elementary.

MA: And how many Japanese American students were in your school when you were there?

BK: Oh, there weren't very many. Probably just my cousins and my family. So not very many.

MA: And the rest of the students, were they Caucasian?

BK: Caucasians and Hispanic.

MA: Okay.

BK: There's a large Hispanic population down there.

MA: In general when you were growing up, what were the relationships like among the various, like the Japanese American community, the Hispanic community, and the white community?

BK: I would say it was very divided, very segregated. The Hispanics usually lived on the south side of the tracks, as it was known. And the Japanese were, well, we were never included. And being raised a Buddhist, it was just really strange for us in school because they would observe Easter holidays and Christmas. There'd be a Christmas tree and we weren't familiar with all those things. Yeah, I would say we were, there was a lot of prejudice. We were never invited to the parties and things like that. And I know the Hispanics weren't either.

MA: So the Japanese American community and the Hispanic community also sort of --

BK: Were separate.

MA: -- were separate from each other.

BK: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Yeah, most of our social activities were at the Buddhist church. And we also went to Japanese school on Saturdays, in the Buddhist church. Pack our lunch and we'd have Japanese school.

MA: Seems like the Buddhist church was kind of a, the center of the community.

BK: Very much for us, yeah, uh-huh. But I guess I just didn't realize the situation because all my friends were Japanese and we had fun when we got together at the Japanese church. And so, I just never thought too much about it until things would happen to me.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MA: You never thought much about prejudice or discrimination?

BK: Prejudice, yeah, uh-huh, until things would happen. Like being called "Jap" during World War II and it was mostly by being called "Jap" from the Hispanics, and not the Caucasians. And I've often thought about that. Why they would do that, instead of the Caucasians. But it was the Hispanics usually who called me "Jap." Yeah. And I remember one time when I saw other kids going downtown and eating in a restaurant, instead of taking your lunch. And so I thought, "Well, that would be fun." And I guess I must have been pretty gutsy back then, too. [Laughs] I'm the most gutsy of my family. Anyway, so, my little sister and I walked down and we walked into this restaurant. Of course, nobody waited on us and they would turn around and kind of laugh and make comments. So we didn't have lunch that day. Yeah, that was my very first encounter with prejudice.

MA: Not being served in a public restaurant.

BK: Yeah, and we were just little kids in elementary school. But yeah, and other things in Alamosa. Yeah, I was only ten when the war broke out, but I knew that the men couldn't go into the barber shop to get their hair cut, 'cause there would be a sign. Some of the grocery stores and stores wouldn't wait on you.

MA: And this was after Pearl Harbor?

BK: Yeah, uh-huh.

MA: Before Pearl Harbor, did you...

BK: Yeah, but you still felt, you knew instantly whether you were welcome or not when you walked into a store. And it's strange, but I'm thinking that was still going on, that was still going on in the late '50s and early '60s. I knew immediately when I would walk in some place. You can tell, yeah. So there were signs.

MA: Yeah. The teachers that you were, going back to your experience in elementary school, were your teachers mostly Caucasian?

BK: Yeah, they were all Caucasian.

MA: How did they treat you and the other Nisei students?

BK: You know, the teachers were very kind, very kind. I especially remember my sixth grade teacher. Oh, my gosh, she was very good to me, yeah. At the end of, before Christmas holiday started, I remember one time she said, "Who doesn't have a Christmas tree?" [Laughs] So me, I raise my hand. So I called my mother and I got scolded for saying we needed a Christmas tree. 'Cause we weren't Christians, we weren't observing Christmas. And so my sister had to drive in with a pick-up and take the Christmas tree home, but after that we had a Christmas tree. 'Cause I guess my folks realized that some things that we were encountering in school, so we would have one present at Christmas time, even though we weren't Christians. So they tried to help us, yeah. [Laughs]

<End Segment 5> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MA: In general, did you speak Japanese at home with your parents and eat Japanese food?

BK: Yeah, yeah, uh-huh. 'Cause my mother only spoke Japanese. My father picked up English and he did very well. And he wrote English very well, too. My mother did never, never did pick it up. So we all spoke Japanese to her. And then as the older kids would go to school, so we all learned English, too. And I'm always sorry that I did not teach my kids Japanese. Yeah, I regret that.

MA: What types of activities would your family do together? Like picnics, or...

BK: We went fishing a lot. My mother and father loved to go fishing. Yeah, we would, on Sundays, he would take time off from farming and we'd pack a lunch and go up and fish. My dad was really a kind man, a very kind man. And he was very good to the kids too. And so he would always, he was on the board for the La Jara Buddhist church and so, as a result of that he was on the board for the Denver Buddhist church. And so he would go to these meetings, and the younger ones of us would get to go with him. And he'd stop and show us sights along the way, and take us to the zoo when we got to Denver.

MA: Oh, so you'd go to Denver with him.

BK: Yeah.

MA: You'd accompany him.

BK: Yeah, uh-huh. Yeah.

MA: What were your impressions of Denver back then?

BK: Oh, my gosh. I thought, well, I don't know if I'd like to live here. I still prefer the small town, but it was exciting to come.

MA: Would you go to the Japantown, or Nihonmachi?

BK: Oh yeah, yeah. We'd stay in a hotel that was close to the Japanese temple, yeah. All the Japanese stores. And there were quite a few back then, Japanese restaurants, yeah.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: Going back to Alamosa, your father's farm there. He also, it was a produce farm that he started in Alamosa?

BK: Uh-huh, uh-huh. It was a vegetable farm.

MA: Vegetable farm.

BK: Uh-huh, and so we all worked on there, on the farm along with the migrant workers. And as soon as we got home from school, we'd change our clothes, eat a snack, and then we'd go out in the field and work alongside. And even after we graduated from high school, most of my sisters went to sewing school in Denver, because my dad didn't think girls needed more education than high school. And besides there were ten girls, and he couldn't afford to send ten of us to college. And so they would go to sewing school in the winter months and then come back in the summer months and work on the farm until they were married. And when my turn came, when I graduated from high school, I said, "I'm not going to sewing school 'cause I already know how to sew and I'm gonna run away if you send me to sewing school." [Laughs] And so they let me go to business school, but I had to stay with a Japanese family the first year. And then my sister was married by then, so I lived with her for the next winter. So I did that two winters and then came back on the farm, worked on the farm in the summer. And then the third winter, I worked at a carpet company in Denver. And I remember going to an employment agency and being told that, "It's very hard to find jobs for you people. But once you're hired, they really like you." And this was 1952? 1952, yeah. So I went back to Barnes Business School and they found a job for me, so I did that, that winter. And then the following year, 1953, I got married.

MA: Going back to the farm, so you would work maybe, all the siblings would work after school and on the weekends.

BK: Oh, yeah.

MA: What types of things would you do?

BK: Well, we grew lettuce, cauliflower, cabbage, carrots, and a few potatoes. And the lettuce has to be cut early in the morning, early in the morning. So we'd wake up crack of dawn, my dad would wake us up. And we'd be out there cutting the lettuce. And cauliflower, cauliflower leaves have to be tied up so they don't turn yellow, so the cauliflower don't turn yellow. And we would walk through and cut those, we'd be lifting up fifty pounds of potatoes and loading them on. Yeah, we worked hard. We worked hard. But it didn't hurt us, it was good for us.

MA: Who did your father sell the produce to?

BK: (There) used to be big produce trucks that would come in and load 'em up and take 'em, I would assume to grocery stores and places like that, yeah. But I remember big semi-trucks just lined up. We'd load 'em on there.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MA: I'm curious, you mentioned the migrant workers earlier. Who were these Japanese men?

BK: No, they were Hispanics. They were Hispanics. And there were a couple of families that lived here in Alamosa. And they, they would come out, and it'd be like generations, I mean, their kids would come, and then their grandkids would come. So it was like a family thing. And then when he needed extra workers, then he would drive into town and just go to a particular spot and there would be men lined up looking for work. No, they were all Hispanics. Yeah. But during potato season, sometimes we had American Indians come in.

MA: Oh, really?

BK: Uh-huh. From the southwest corner of Colorado, and from New Mexico.

MA: Is that where the majority of --

BK: The Indians lived. Yeah. No, they weren't Orientals. They were Hispanics, yeah.

MA: So when the Native Americans and the Hispanics would come work, was there much interaction between you and the workers? What was that, what was that like?

BK: Oh, not really, except some of them lived right on the farm and my dad had rooms for them to live in. And he was good to them. And we'd take breaks like in the morning and afternoon, and he'd bring refreshments to everybody and they were all included. Something to drink, something to eat. He'd bring boxes of apples out in the fall. He was good to his workers.

MA: How many, in general, how many workers were usually there?

BK: Oh, my gosh. I would say during harvest season, probably, gosh, I don't know, maybe, maybe three dozen, in addition to us. Yeah. It would just depend on the vegetable and harvest time.

MA: So harvest time would happen and then, and then after that they would --

BK: They would go back, uh-huh. Yeah.

MA: Who were the, was there any competition in the farming world where your dad was? Did he have any competitors or was it pretty ...?

BK: Well, vegetable farmers were mainly the Japanese. And so they would all work together. Like the packing shed that I mentioned earlier.

MA: Can you describe the packing shed a little bit for us?

BK: It was right by the railroad and so they could load the vegetables right on the railroad cars. And ice them down. And so they had their own corporation. I think the booklet that I gave you from the historian, there's a picture of that, I think, in there. Or a certificate of the corporation or something referring to the corporation.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MA: It seems like the Japanese American community in Alamosa was pretty tight-knit, as a strong community, would you characterize it that way?

BK: I would say so, yeah, uh-huh. Yeah, Alamosa and La Jara were together, kind of. And then there was an area, let's see, that would be west of Alamosa called Blanca. And San Acacio and Fort Garland and there were Japanese families in that area. In fact, they had their own Buddhist church there, too. There were just a couple of families in Monte Vista and Delnor area, which is west of Alamosa. But mainly it was La Jara and Alamosa.

MA: Would you have community-wide activities, field days, or New Year's celebrations?

BK: Oh, yeah, big New Year's celebration. Yeah. We'd either meet in the homes or at the Buddhist church. There'd be a lot of sake drinking and singing and it was fun. We looked forward to that. And then we always had an annual picnic up in the mountains. So all the Japanese would get together, the men would go up earlier and they'd fish for trout, and then we'd fry that the next day. We'd have races and also, there was a basketball team and a baseball team of all the Niseis. And we would play teams from Rocky Ford area.

MA: Are they all Nisei teams?

BK: Yeah, all Nisei teams. Other teams in Colorado, so it was fun. And we'd have dances afterwards.

MA: Did you participate in sports at all as a young child?

BK: Are you kidding? [Laughs]

MA: I'll take that as a no.

BK: No, no. I couldn't even wear a mitt and catch a ball at the same time. I wasn't a good batter, no.

MA: What were some of your hobbies kind of elementary school age?

BK: Oh, this sounds strange, but I used to like to write. I'd write plays. And then my sisters and my cousins would act them out, and then we'd play house all the time. We'd get empty vegetable crates and build house in our yard, pull weeds and use them for food. And I liked to dance, I liked to tap dance, so I learned how to tap dance. And then, as I got older, I also got to take Japanese classical dancing. So I did that, too. No, I wasn't athletic at all.

MA: I'm curious about your dance class. Was that in, would you take those classes in the church?

BK: It was in Denver. It was in Denver. When I was going to school up in Denver. So that was just during the winter months, too. In fact, my sensei was from Seattle, Washington. I don't remember her name any more, but she was from Seattle. And she gave the lessons and then there were several of them who would play the shamisen and the koto. I really loved that. I loved it.

MA: I wanted to ask a little bit about the church, or the Buddhist temple in Alamosa. Who was the priest there?

BK: They didn't have a regular one, because they were so far away, so the men would take turns and two of my brothers-in-law were very good, and were very religious and good speakers, so they were, they served a lot of times, kind of like a lay priest. And then once a month, Reverend Tamai from the Denver Buddhist church would come down. And somebody still does that, even though there's still just a small group. Once a month, he'll go down and meet with them.

MA: Oh, still present day.

BK: Still, uh-huh.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MA: So I wanted to talk about Pearl Harbor and the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. I mean, you were pretty young, nine years old or so. Do you have any memories of that day or hearing about it, or anything about that, those couple days following?

BK: You know, I don't remember that particular day, 'cause I was pretty young. But I know before that happened, even we had to black out the windows. And someone came and they took all of the firearms and cameras. And my one brother-in-law was a Kibei and so he could only travel so many miles from his home. He was restricted.

MA: This was your sister's husband who had lived in Japan.

BK: Uh-huh, yeah.

MA: So who came to your house, was that FBI or police?

BK: I would think some official, probably the police. I don't remember that part at all. But, in looking at pictures afterwards, there's a reverse of the swastika, the Buddhist symbol. And that was in a lot of the Buddhist temple pictures, and so they were blacked out. And they burned a lot of pictures, too. Because they didn't want people to think they were supporting Japan and had that connection.

MA: So people who owned the pictures would black out the Buddhist symbols?

BK: The symbols, uh-huh.

MA: Do you remember your parents being concerned at all about being arrested or being put in camp or anything like that?

BK: No, we, 'course we didn't have to, because we didn't live on the coast. But they did sponsor families from California, so they wouldn't have to -- if they had a sponsor, they didn't have to go into camp. So they moved to Alamosa. And my one cousin in particular, it's very sad, because he lived in Norwalk, California, and he wasn't a farmer. He had a very beautiful home in Norwalk. And so they came to Colorado and my dad set him up on a little farm and so he tried to farm. And horse ran away, it was still driven by horse back then instead of tractors. And the wagon ran over him and he died. And of course we couldn't meet in the La Jara Buddhist church at that time, because we couldn't congregate at all. So the windows were boarded up, 'cause the windows were being broken, and so they did open the church up and let us have the funeral for him there. And I have a picture of that which is very sad to me. To see the windows boarded up and the weeds knee high, and here was the funeral in front of that church. It's very sad. But most of them, the ones who came, instead of going into the camp, most of them moved back to California 'cause that was home after the war.

MA: So your father would sponsor them. I'm guessing this was early 1942, before the camps opened?

BK: Yeah.

MA: So they'd sponsor people to come, move to Colorado.

BK: Colorado.

MA: San Luis Valley, Alamosa, and he would help them find work.

BK: Uh-huh, yeah.

MA: Do you remember how these people who had come from the coast, how they fit in, in Alamosa?

BK: Oh gosh, they were welcomed. And it, it just doubled the population, so it was great. And then after the war, we were allowed to meet again in the Buddhist church and so the church was expanded in the back. 'Cause they didn't go right back to California. They stayed there a few years and then moved back. Yeah, I remember it as being great.

MA: So they added a sort of fun, added a lot to the community.

BK: Oh yeah. 'Cause before, we just knew the small group and most of us were either related, so it was nice to have some new people there.

MA: So going back to the issue about the church being closed, was that, did someone come in and, like a police, or authority, and tell you to close the church?

BK: Apparently, they must have, because we couldn't meet. We were not allowed to congregate together in large groups. I guess they thought we were going to plan something, you know.

MA: And that was sort of known in the community that you weren't supposed to meet or congregate.

BK: Oh, yeah.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: And you'd mentioned earlier that you had some experiences with prejudice and discrimination. Did you really feel a change after Pearl Harbor in terms of sort of discriminatory attitudes towards you because you were Japanese?

BK: Yeah. And things would happen, like I said, you'd walk in the store and you knew immediately whether you were welcome or not. And then after my kids started school, there would be incidents. And I remember a particular one where my daughter was in middle school. And all of her friends were going into Rainbow Girls, which is sponsored by Masonic, Elks. And she was told that she couldn't join because she's Japanese and she came home crying, yeah. And things would happen to my boys, too. And so that's when I thought, "Well, we needed to talk about this." And so I heard about a Green Circle program which is a good human relations program started by the Quakers, the Friends. And by the way, they were very good to the Japanese during World War II, that religion was. And they use that Green Circle program in their church and so I was in AAUW at that time and so I saw that presentation. I thought that's a good way to talk about prejudice to little kids. And so I started that program and would approach principals in the elementary schools and set up a time and I must have visited almost every elementary school in the valley. And then I started being asked by clubs and even at the college classes. And so... 'cause it wasn't just the kids who needed that. You started out with a green, it's a felt presentation. You start out with a small green circle. You put you in the circle and you talk about how lonely it is, and so you include your family, and gradually you include other friends. And then you talk about different flowers and how dull it would be if all the flowers were the same color and the same kind, and you relate that to people with different color. And then I would bring in different religions and so pretty soon the circle is big, and you're including everybody. So it was a good program. So I hope it helped.

MA: So going back a little bit to the time just following Pearl Harbor and around the early '40s, do you remember any other memorable incidents that come to your mind, like after Pearl Harbor that happened to the community or to your family that you felt maybe targeted because you were Japanese or, maybe the community was treated differently in general?

BK: I'm trying to think. My husband and I were married in 1953. And even after that, like, he's a veterinarian. And even in the '60s and '70s, I know there were a couple of ranchers who would not call him because he was Japanese. Isn't that something? And to this day, there is still one rancher, to this day, who won't call him because he's Japanese. So it still happens.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

MA: So, going back a little bit, there was actually, Amache was a camp, a WRA camp in Colorado. Did you hear about Amache? Did you know what was going on there, or that they were building a camp in Colorado?

BK: No, that's quite a few miles away from us and I wasn't aware of it until I got older and started becoming interested in the history of the Japanese Americans and everything. But no, I wasn't aware of it. But there was a German POW camp in the San Luis Valley, not too far from us, in Monte Vista.

MA: Really?

BK: Yeah, and I wasn't aware of that until just a few years ago, when the museum, the local museum in Del Norte had some pictures that some of the German POWs had painted and they were displaying them in the museum.

MA: But you had never heard anything about it when you were young.

BK: No. And apparently they worked on some of the farms up in that area, and were treated good.

MA: Did people from Amache, or even from other camps, resettle sort of maybe during or after the war, in Alamosa and in the valley area?

BK: Yeah, there was one family in particular. He's a dental technician, and his family was in Granada, in Amache.

MA: Who came to --

BK: And he settled in Alamosa, uh-huh. And there might have been, yeah, there was another family too, they were in one of the camps and I don't remember which one.

MA: Did they stay, or did they generally move back?

BK: The daughter still lives there. And the man from Amache has passed away.

MA: It seems like just from what you were saying before, a lot more people came maybe before the camps opened in early 1942, and that came during that time then came after the war, during the war.

BK: And they're the ones that kinda stayed and they went back to California. We didn't have too many straight out of the camps. Did you know that Amache is the name of an American Indian?

MA: I didn't know that.

BK: Isn't that ironic? [Laughs] 'Cause we didn't treat the American Indians very well, either.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: So you started high school, then, in the late '40s, is that right?

BK: Yeah, I graduated from Alamosa High School in 1950.

MA: So you went to Alamosa High School.

BK: Uh-huh. And after I got married, then my husband wanted me to go to college. And there's a four-year college, Adams State College, in Alamosa. And so after our daughter was born, then I enrolled in college, carried a full load, and graduated in four years. And during that time, we also had -- [coughs] -- excuse me, we also had another son. And then I went on and got my Master's, too, and that was in 1961.

MA: And your Master's was in what field?

BK: Elementary education.

MA: So back when you were in high school, how was the farm doing at that point? Your parents were still running the farm and everything was...

BK: Yeah, uh-huh. Yeah, and they were doing very well until, oh gosh, it must have been the '60s, things just started going downhill. And my dad had a brain tumor and so he couldn't manage the farm anymore, and my brother took it over and things just weren't going well. So they eventually lost the farm, which was sad.

MA: And that was in the '60s?

BK: Yeah, that would have been... yeah, that would have been in the '60s.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

MA: So when you were in high school, at Alamosa High School, what were your, I guess, goals, or dreams for the future, when you were that age?

BK: Everybody talks about that, and I thought to myself, "Hmm, I never used to think about that." I didn't. I just, things would happen, and I guess fortunately they were good things that happened, and I just never gave much thought to, "Oh gosh, what am I going to do after high school. What am I going to do after..." things just seemed to work out and I just never worried about it. But I would stand up for myself, like not wanting to go to sewing school. So I knew what I wanted. And I knew also that I didn't want to be in an arranged marriage, because all of my sisters and brothers above me were arranged marriages. And two or three of them were very, very bad. And I remember one sister just crying and crying on her wedding day, and I thought, "I am not going to be married like that." So I do remember that. So I was the first one in my family not to have an arranged marriage. So it made it easier for the ones below me.

MA: And your younger siblings then didn't have to have arranged marriages?

BK: No, no. They didn't.

MA: So, I'm curious about the arranged marriage and how that worked in your family. Were these mostly Japanese American men and women from around the San Luis Valley or in Denver?

BK: There were a couple of them from Denver, one from further north. But there was an insurance man in Denver and he would kinda keep an eye out for like any prospects and who he could arrange. So he arranged several of them for my sisters, I know. And then we would have baishakunin, friends of the family who were the baishakunin, and even though I wasn't an arranged marriage, I still had to go through the whole ritual. I still had to have baishakunin, go through the whole thing.

MA: Can you explain that a little more, the baishakunin?

BK: They would come and talk to the parents and say, I guess, they'd bring a picture and say, "Can we arrange this?" And I know when one of my oldest sisters was married, how they had that, when they're engaged they drink that sake, you know, three times and things like that. And I remember helping her with that and going to the future groom's home and doing that ceremony. We kept a lot of the Japanese rituals, like we'd pound, families would get together and we'd pound mochi for New Year's. And have that New Year's party. And I can remember my dad on New Year's morning, he would always get up early and fix ozoni with the, with the mochi in it, and he would fix breakfast for us that morning. We'd always have to clean the house from top to bottom before New Year's Day. And we'd have hanamatsuri, we'd learn all these Japanese dances and give speeches in Japanese. So we carried on a lot of the traditions, celebrating the sixtieth birthday and the eighty-eighth birthday and things like that, too.

MA: Yeah, it seemed like your parents kept a lot of that alive when you were growing up.

BK: Yeah, I'm glad. I loved all that, I loved all that. When we built our home, I wanted it all Japanese. But my husband didn't, so we compromised. But gradually, I'm getting it all Japanese. [Laughs]

<End Segment 14> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

MA: So, I'm curious about, you said you were the first child in your family to not have an arranged marriage. So how did you meet your husband?

BK: Well, my husband had set up practice in the valley. He worked for another veterinarian for two years in a neighboring town, and then he moved to Alamosa and set up his own practice. And so his folks were telling him, "Well, you need to get married. You need to get married." So his uncle was trying to arrange a marriage for him. So he met this girl and took her out this one time, and he said he didn't like her. Well, she was my friend, happened to be my friend. So she would come to Alamosa and we would chase around looking for Ben. [Laughs] And he finally said, "Well, I'll go out with you if Bessie will come with me." And so I said, "I really don't want to go," and she said, "Well, he won't go with me unless you come along." And so I did and he'd just lean over and talk to me all night and so that's how it got started. And so we'd only gone together about three months and decided we wanted to get married and so I came home and I told my folks. And they were in bed already. So I told them, and there was dead silence. And I thought, "Oh, my gosh, what is going to happen?" But they went ahead and let us. But we, like I said earlier, we had to do it with baishakunin and the whole thing.

MA: The traditional way.

BK: Yeah, uh-huh. That was back in 1953. And we've been married a long time, so it worked.

MA: So you've said, you were the first one in your family not to have an arranged marriage, and you had mentioned that you were sort of the brave one in the family. Where do you think that came from? Like where do you think... you know?

BK: I don't know, I don't know. I really don't know. But, I just never worried, like I said before. Things would happen and I don't know, maybe being the seventh, seventh daughter, I don't know. [Laughs] Lucky seven? I don't know, I don't know. But yeah. But I just... things just happened.

MA: And your husband is a veterinarian, you said.

BK: Yes, uh-huh.

MA: So what that was like back when he first started his practice and everything? Would he go all around the state, would he, how would that work?

BK: Well, no. It was mainly in the valley. And he built up a good reputation, and he was especially good at pregnancy checking cows, to see whether they were pregnant or not and whether they wanted to sell them or not. And so, gosh, he would be flown to Texas sometimes, he'd go into New Mexico and just do that because he was so fast with it. And he could do thousands in the day where some veterinarians had to put each one in a separate chute and it would take time. You couldn't do very many at a time. So yeah, he's had some neat experiences.

MA: And where was your husband born? Where is he from?

BK: He was from Fort Lupton, Platteville area, which is north of Denver. And he went to school at CSU, it was Colorado A&M back then. He graduated from veterinary school in 1950.

MA: Was his family a farming family?

BK: They had a dairy farm which was kind of unusual for a Japanese family. And so he grew up with cows and he said he knew he wanted to be a veterinarian since he was in the fifth grade, so that was his goal. He had an interesting experience when he was in college, he was in this honorary fraternity in vet school, and he was chosen as the delegate to go and the convention was held in Georgia. And one of the professors, he said he remembers him telling him that, "You need to be aware of some of these things when you go down south." But he had no idea until he got there that, when he go there, he thought, when he got on the bus he thought, "Am I supposed to sit in the front or the back? Am I supposed to drink from this white fountain or the black fountain?" And that was his very first encounter with prejudice of that sort.

MA: And was that in the '50s? '60s?

BK: Yeah, that was -- he probably went down there like either '49 or '50. Yeah.

MA: So segregation was still very much ingrained in that culture?

BK: Very much. But you don't think about that: are you black, are you white? You're not either, so what do you do?

MA: Yeah.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: So I wanted to go back a little bit, you said that your husband encouraged you to go to college, to apply to college. What was that like? You had a small child at that point, your daughter?

BK: Yeah, I just had Pam, our oldest, and oh my gosh, I was still nursing her. And so, and we only had one car between the two of us. We didn't have very much money starting out. So a friend would be kind enough to run me home and I'd nurse her, and then run me back to class, 'cause I was carrying a full load. And a lot of times, I would just walk because we weren't very far from the college, too. Yeah, but I was married then and there weren't very many married students going to college.

MA: How about women in general?

BK: There weren't very many married women either, yeah. Of course, I was married and so there was no social connection with college at all.

MA: Did you know at that point that you wanted to go into education?

BK: Not really. I just kind of picked it when he said, "I want you to go to college." And so I just picked that, yeah. And found out that I really did not enjoy it. So I only taught two-and-a-half years.

MA: What did you not like about --

BK: Well, I think it was just... the first, I taught, I finished half a year for a teacher and it was in a one-room school and I had first, second, and third grade. And that was my first experience as a teacher. And it was hard. And a one-room school and I think that kind of turned me off. And then, I taught first grade and then I taught kindergarten. It was in private kindergarten 'cause kindergarten wasn't in public school back then. And it was more the parents, ruling what I was supposed to do, instead of what I felt I should be doing. And so that was another bad experience. And then, by the next year, while I was pregnant with our youngest, and you couldn't teach when you were pregnant. [Laughs] And so I thought, "What am I doing? I don't even enjoy it anyway." And so, I did other things, short-term things, I love short-term things. I was a fashion consultant and then I would do volunteer things and I joined a lot of clubs, women's clubs and AAUW and got involved that way.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MA: And you were also active in, was it an Issei memorial project?

BK: Yeah, uh-huh.

MA: Can you talk a little about that?

BK: Yeah, at the college there's really a neat area that was made into a memorial garden for Japanese. And this one, one man started it when his mother and father passed away. He wanted to do some kind of a tribute for all of the Japanese, not just his mother and father. And so there's a Japanese garden and it had some water running there. It's really a nice area there. And so, it was dedicated and we had taiko drummers from Denver come down for that, and the reverend from the tri-state Buddhist church came down. And then last year, on 9-11, we had a special peace memorial day right there. And it was really neat. I went to all the schools and taught the teachers how to fold origami cranes and then the kids learned. College kids would stop by in the student center, would sit there and make origami crane. People in town made them, and we had a thousand cranes hanging there that day. It was so neat. And then I asked them to light candles in memory of someone. And so they would light candles and they came floating down the little waterway. That was a neat night. And then we bundled all the thousand cranes, and we sent them to the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. And we got a picture and we recognized some of the way the birds were hung, and so they actually did make it there, we got a thank-you note. So when I take my grandkids to Japan in July, I'm gonna make a point of trying to find that lady and tell her we're from Alamosa. That was really neat.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MA: Can you talk a little bit about this tradition you have with your grandkids and taking them to Japan? Because I think that's really interesting.

BK: Yeah, we have seven grandkids, and six of them are half Japanese and half Caucasian. And I should show you pictures of them. [Laughs] They're all beautiful. It's a good combination, just like you. [Laugh] My husband kids about it, and he said it makes their nose taller and their eyes bigger. But they're all beautiful. Anyway, I have one that looks just like Ann Curry, too, like one of my grandkids. But anyway, I think it's important for them to learn about their Japanese side. And so when they graduate from high school, I take them to Japan. And I've taken two, and two are graduating from high school this year, so I'm taking two. And then the other two are eighth graders, and I thought, "I may not want to do this in four more years," and so, I'm taking those, them, too. And then our youngest son to help me. So there will be six of us going.


MA: Well why don't we talk a little bit about your kids, then. And when you were raising them, you said earlier in the interview that you were kind of sad that you didn't teach them Japanese. What, what sort of Japanese traditions did you celebrate or pass down when they were growing up?

BK: Well, we still have, we don't pound the mochi for New Year's, but my husband's sisters all get together and so, whenever I can, I'll go over and do it with them. But, yeah, we usually eat mochi on New Year's Day. And then, we try to come up to Denver for the Obon festival during cherry blossom time. But I'm not as good about it, either, as a lot of my sisters are, yeah. They'll prepare the full New Year's feast on New Year's Day and things like that. In fact, I can't even make sushi, so sad to say. I would depend on my mother, when she'd come down and visit. She'd make it for us and I could do it if I wanted to, but...

MA: Are these your two sisters that lived in Japan?

BK: Yeah, they were, but some of the others were, too. They were good at Japanese cooking.

MA: And your kids then grew up in Alamosa.

BK: Uh-huh.

MA: Did they, you mentioned earlier that your, your kids had some problems with the way they were treated and discrimination. Was it hard for them to grow up in Alamosa, do you think? A smaller town?

BK: No, I don't think so. Because it was a small town. Those incidents were not like every day. And they had good Caucasian friends, and Hispanic friends that they still keep in touch with to this day.

MA: Do you feel like in those years that you've lived in Alamosa that various ethnic communities have sort of come together more? Or is it still divided, do you think?

BK: They come together somewhat, but there's still a division, there's still a division. You'll hear remarks, especially made from my Caucasian friends about the Hispanics. And we have a few blacks now, going to college at Adams State. And when I'll say, "Oh, there's still prejudice around," and I'll talk about it, they'll say, "Well, we don't think of you as being different." And I just laugh, and I say, "Oh, come on now. It's pretty obvious." No... yeah. But it's not as bad as it used to be.

MA: That's interesting though, the views would be, would change towards you, whereas after Pearl Harbor you were sort of looked at as a "Jap."

BK: Oh, yeah.

MA: Now it's sort of like, "Oh, we don't see you as.."

BK: Yeah.

MA: It's almost like it's gone sort of more, not as overt, but it's still there. It seems like from what you just said.

BK: Oh, it's still there, it's still there. But in a smaller town, we can integrate easier. I know my sisters who live up here in Denver, they still stay with just Japanese friends, and attend all Japanese things. And I try to encourage them to join clubs. And they're very reluctant, but if you live in a small town, you're invited to join and so I became active, very active in some of these clubs. So, and that's helped me a lot, I think. And maybe that's why they say that they don't think of me as being Japanese.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

MA: So looking back over the years, can you talk about the changes that you've seen in the Japanese American community in Alamosa, specifically?

BK: Well, it's changed a lot in the last, even the last five or six years. Because the population has dwindled so much, you know, the closing of the Buddhist church and selling the building. So we just don't get together very often anymore. And when my older sister was alive, then she would, after the church was sold, they would meet in the homes and it was usually at my sister's house. And so, I would go over and join them, especially if it was for some observance for our folks or something like that, or one of my nephews. And so, and then we'd all eat together. I really miss that, because we don't do that anymore. So that has changed a lot. Not very many of us there anymore.

MA: Did your kids, where do they live now? Did they move out of Alamosa?

BK: Uh-huh. My one daughter lives in Fort Collins, and the two sons live here in a suburb of Denver. Highlands Ranch. Yeah, when they were growing up, though, and now also, there weren't very many Japanese people to date. And some of them were related to us, and so, they all dated Caucasians. Ended up marrying Caucasians.

MA: Is there anything else you want to talk about? Any reflections that you have or any thoughts that you want to share?

BK: Oh... I was just thinking, earlier when I said that we really, we really need to be more outgoing, we need to get involved. Just like I tell my sisters up here, and they're so reluctant. And I think that would really help break down barriers if they would do that. 'Cause I know it really has helped me. And so, and I often wonder why they don't do that. I know my sisters don't do it because I think they feel safer being with other Japanese.

MA: Within the community?

BK: Yeah, being within the Japanese community and not straying out. But I just really feel that we need to do more of that. We really do. Especially now that our kids and grandkids are marrying Caucasians and outside of the Japanese race. We really need to. But don't lose the Japanese traditions either. [Laughs]

MA: I was going to say it seems like there's always this tension between keeping the Japanese traditions alive and also understanding that people are marrying outside of the race and everything and you have to sort of talk with other communities and interact with other communities. But it seems sometimes that there's a tension there, between keeping the traditions alive and going in the other direction.

BK: Yeah, that's true.

MA: Is there anything else you want to share?

BK: No, thank you very much for interviewing me.

MA: Yeah, thank you so much, this was just really interesting. Great interview. So thank you.

BK: Thank you.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright ©2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.