Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Elsa Kudo Interview
Narrator: Elsa Kudo
Interviewer: Kelli Nakamura
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Date: February 6, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-kelsa-01-0001

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KN: So today is February the 6th, 2012, and I'm with, my name is Kelli Nakamura, and I'm with a very distinguished interviewee. And I want to have her, of course, introduce herself. Could you tell us your name and your family background?


EK: Well, my name is Elsa Higashide Kudo, and I was born in Canete, Peru. Canete because that's where my grandmother was, and I was the first child, so of course Mother went to be with her mother, and that's where I was born. Tiny little town south of Lima. It's between Lima, the capital and the biggest city, and Ica where actually my parents had opened a bazaar or a dry goods store.

KN: Could you tell me a little bit about your mother's side, how they actually arrived in Peru?

EK: Oh, okay. My mother's side, they're from Kyushu. My grandpa is Kumamoto and my grandma is Fukuoka. And they came as contract immigrants to Peru because my grandmother did not want to be a farmer's wife, and she was very adventurous, I think. [Laughs] And so she married a -- which I learned much later -- she had married the son of a wagashiya, Japanese pastry shop owner. And so, but Peru was very primitive for the immigrants, and they all wondered, why did we come here? It's worse than Japan as far as, yeah, everything. And so he died shortly thereafter, reaching there, so she was a widow at a very young age. But in the meantime, if you know the ken people, the prefectural people, all help each other. So about a year, maybe a year plus later, they introduced each other, my grandpa, who was a bachelor, and my grandma. Then they got married and had the three daughters: my mother, the oldest, and then Tia Juana, and then Fumi Obachan.

KN: Could you describe your upbringing, your childhood in Peru?

EK: In Peru? Well, I think the first seven years I only knew bliss. I knew nothing of suffering or hardship. It was complete bliss, I must say. My mother and father, I know they loved each other, and my dad was the brains of the company, the store, but because -- even though he had studied Spanish on his own, his very thick Japanese accent, people would not quite understand him. So he made my mother the store welcome person. So he trained her, really, to always be immaculately groomed and to welcome people to the store, and that's how the store grew, because she was a very good "welcomer." [Laughs] And my dad, I think, looking back, was one of the first... what are they called? House husbands. Because although he was the brains of the company, he did... I never saw my mother read a story for us because she was working in the store. So my dad would be the one who read us stories, and he is the one that taught us to read and write in simple Japanese and Spanish and do arithmetic. And so by the time I was five, I already knew some of the multiplication table because he did it in Japanese. If you know Japanese, it's very simple. You don't go three times three is nine, you just go sazangaku, san shi juu ni, san go juu, so it was very fast. And later, when we did come to this country, that helped us in our math test, because we did it so fast. [Laughs]

KN: And this was pretty progressive, because your father was an Issei at this time.

EK: Yes, oh, yeah. He believed in education, and he always wanted to be educated himself, so he struggled to get his architecture degree going to night school. He was a young man of twenty-one and he wanted to see the world. Actually, his first dream was San Francisco. He had read so many books and he said he fell in love with San Francisco. He said, "That's where I'm going to do my architectural career," and in Japan, the ferro concrete building structures were just being built. The Diet was of that sort, so he went to look at it and study it. He said, "One day I'm going to do this."

KN: So how did your father arrive in Peru after actually having dreams of first going to San Francisco?

EK: Yeah. Now, my dad was not a (contract) immigrant per se, he came on his own. But because he was from a very poor farming family in Hokkaido, the teachers -- I mean, this is incredible -- but he said his teachers helped him, especially one, gave up his, I don't know, a lot of income to buy his ticket on the boat, and told him, "You go and have your life there and do your best." And that's how he got to Peru.

KN: So upon arriving at Peru, your father was very entrepreneurial, he had engaged in a number of businesses, and he speaks very complimentary about your mother. It was a very kind of unexpected... he wasn't actually expecting, from his impression, to actually meet your mother. Did he ever tell you how it was arranged? Because he had other things on his mind.

EK: Well, actually, my father was a very manly person. Not, I don't think, physically good-looking, but he was very, what the Japanese say, otokorashii, yeah, very, very manly. And so women went after him, but he was too shy, really. However, mothers would want him as a son-in-law, and so even my grandmother, I think. And somehow, though, he was attracted to my mother, and of course, my obaachan was thrilled because she always liked him. They had asked him when he was in Canete to be their sensei, because he was a college grad and he seemed like a very upright person. So he did teach Japanese in a little school in Canete.

KN: And he, did your father ever tell you folks about how he established a baseball league?

EK: Oh, yeah. He tried to do all those kind of things for the country folks, 'cause all they did was work. So the children were running loose and they didn't have any concrete things to do, so he did those kind of things to help out. And so, yeah, later, in fact, in 1996, I think, I met his, one of the students from those days. And I said, "How was my father as a teacher?" I know him as a father. He said, "Well, you know, for example," he gave me examples, like he said, "During the art period, some of the children" -- his name is Juan Kuroki, and Juan was a very conscientious boy, so he did all this assignments and whatever he was asked to do, he did it. So when he was, the class was assigned to do this bunch of fruits and what is that called? Still life kind of thing, then the boy next to him copied what Juan was doing. So the teacher, my father, came around and he said, "Hmm, if I stand where you are sitting, I don't see the same picture that you were drawing."

KN: Of the other boy?

EK: Of the other boy. And so he said, "You have to see things from the perspective of the other person." So Juan said that was a lesson in life. I mean, he learned, I don't know about the other boy. [Laughs] But Juan, he said he was that kind of a teacher, that he would point things out, and so he learned about life that way.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.