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-01-0012

<Begin Segment 12>

KN: So in the camps, you folks were speaking Spanish and Japanese?

EK: Yes.

KN: And only later, after you left the camps, did you learn, or go to English schools?

EK: Yeah, well, we went to English school a little bit in camp, but we didn't know what the teacher was saying, and we didn't know "Jingle Bells" or anything, but it's embarrassing not to know the words. But then they would give us these little jingle bells, so that's all we did was jingle those. [Laughs] Yeah, learning of English is another story that started in Seabrook after the war.

KN: What was your experiences like as a child? Was it happy?

EK: It was happy for me because my parents were together. We were a family again.

KN: Your father had wrote that he was glad to see that the children were happy because they could play...

EK: Yes, and were at school...

KN: You were at school, the community had built a swimming pool?

EK: Yeah, they, it's really not a swimming pool per se, I think it was a reservoir that they made it into a swimming pool, 'cause it's so hot there and people wanted something, especially in the hot summer days. So they cleaned it up, it was full of junk and tadpoles... well, there were still tadpoles even when we did go in. Yes, they did do that.

KN: And he said, "The children were happy, the adults, now, it was difficult." They were starting to run out of things to talk to or events, or...

EK: Yeah, you don't get the news, right? You don't get the news like you do freely on the radio or newspaper. So a lot of rumors abound. Yeah, and the adults would think of the future, what's going to happen to us? What's going to happen to the children? Now they're beginning to learn English, where are we going, what are we going to do? Are we going to have a life of any kind? We have nothing. I'm sure as parents, I'm glad I was not in their shoes. I was just a child, so my days were always happy, just as long as they're together and we're a family. So I didn't suffer anything.

KN: So you mentioned that your parents were concerned about what would happen after the war, because you folks were starting to learn English.

EK: Yes.

KN: And you knew Japanese and Spanish.

EK: Yes, and we're beginning to eat peanut butter and eat hot dogs and things like that. [Laughs]

KN: So once the war had been concluded, what were your parents...

EK: Okay. Then the government said, "Now you must leave." So we said, "Okay, we'll go back to Peru." The Peru government said, "You took 'em, you keep 'em." That was the attitude, of course. We had nothing to go back to, but at least we knew the custom, we knew the laws and most of the fathers thought they could restart again. But that was the answer, so we couldn't go back, so they said, "Okay, you sign papers and then you'll go back to Japan." So my grandparents said, "Well, we're older now, if we're going to die shortly thereafter, we'd rather die in Japan than anyplace else," so they signed papers to be deported, taking my, at that time, eighteen-year-old auntie. So they went to Japan. But my dad said, "No, I cannot sign this paper." They had like three hearings, and he refused to sign because he said, "What's going to happen to my children? We have no one in Japan who could take care of us even temporarily. They are suffering, they have no food, they lost the war, they have been bombed. What are we going to do with our children? Surely they're going to die." And so he refused three times, he refused to sign the papers.

KN: So your father had already heard stories about the destruction and poverty?

EK: Oh, yeah, yeah, somehow. Somehow by then he must have gotten news from somebody. By then people also were out of camp, especially the Japanese Americans. And so many became friends and they would write what's happening and what happened. Yeah, so he and a few others, I think about three hundred plus, counting children, refused to sign. So now they're stuck. They have to pay every day, food and things. So they wanted to get, they wanted to close camp, but it didn't close until about a year and a half or two later.

KN: Because these internees could not figure out where to go or where their...

EK: Yes, exactly. And they said, "Well, you find a sponsor." Said, "How can we find a sponsor when we have been behind barbed wire, no freedom to go out or anything." So a few had connections with a Buddhist temple or something in San Francisco, so they were able to go there. But we didn't know anyone, and so then this man named Seabrook, Mr. Seabrook, said, "We need workers because now all our prisoner of war people have left, so we need workers. So if they're willing to work, we will give them" -- which really was not true, 'cause we had to pay rent, but, "they can have a house and so forth." But, so we signed up for that. Well, when we went there, we were so... I remember being so disappointed because we felt, now finally we're going to have a real house. It wasn't. It was almost worse than camp, that last house. There was nothing. There was no sink, no running water, we had to go have... because we had so many kids, they did put us next to the building where the communal bath was, but you still had to leave and walk in this mud in the rainy season. It would get muddy, it was not paved, it was just dirt.

KN: This is in New Jersey.

EK: In New Jersey.

KN: So I'm trying to picture what you folks are going through.

EK: It was terrible times.

KN: It was from a tropical, temperate climate in Peru, to hot dusty in Crystal City.

EK: Texas.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.