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-01-0014

<Begin Segment 14>

KN: What kind of pay and what kind of hours did your parents keep as far as work?

EK: Oh, because... now this is where I'm really upset that the U.S. government had branded all of us "illegal aliens" or "illegal entry." And I didn't know about it until I was a junior in college and I was called to get my citizenship papers, I had to pass a test in front of this judge. And I think because I was a college student, he asked questions that most people would not be able to answer. And I said, "Oh, no, I'm going to flunk this one." But somehow I made it, and that's when he brought out my FBI file. That's what really... and being younger, I said, "What is this? Why is my file stamped 'illegal entry'? We didn't come illegally. You folks knew we were coming in; you brought us here." I was so upset, and that was the first time I saw that we were stamped "illegal entry."

KN: And you saw your file. Were you able to look at your file, or did they just show you...

EK: Well, it was all over, stamped all over the file.

KN: And do you know what kind of information was in the file?

EK: Oh, no.

KN: Okay.

EK: No, I don't remember that part.

KN: You were just shocked.

EK: I was just shocked because I didn't expect it. Because I didn't think we were "illegals" period. How can you be illegal when they brought you, right? But they claim we didn't have papers, all kinds of excuses, but yeah, that was the most shocking. And that caused untold misery, including the work at Seabrook. So they were paid, I can't remember right now, but they were, they deducted the taxes right off the bat, thirty percent. So by the time they got their paycheck, there was hardly anything left. And because there was so little left, they couldn't go to town to buy groceries, 'cause then you had to pay the bus which was like twenty cents or ten cents or whatever. And we all had to go to the company store. And so that, I don't know, you folks are too young, but there was a song where the "soul belongs to the company store." It was a country song, I think. It was just like that. So we always did our shopping there, which there's no competition, so you pay whatever. So never could open a bank account to save, you could not save, period.

KN: It was just poverty on poverty, you're talking about low wages as this kind of work.

EK: Well, the work, I think you cannot help if you don't have any, you'll take anything. That's okay. But it's the taxes because of being stamped "illegal entry," they took at the highest, nothing deducted, nothing. It was right off the bat. And then the other thing was -- which I learned later when my husband went to Illinois, to enter Illinois, they told him he had to pay foreigners tuition. He said, "Why? I work, I pay my taxes, why should I then have to pay -- and I live here for years and years." "Because you're stamped 'illegal entry.'" So he couldn't enter the first time he tried. So all kinds.

KN: It was just hardship.

EK: It was hardship, unnecessary hardship.

KN: Your parents are working, couldn't save, they were being exploited by the company store.

EK: Yeah, yeah, by the company.

KN: Right. And what were you children doing at that time?

EK: We were doing everything that an adult would do, like doing the laundry by hand, and you didn't have a sink in the house, so you had to go to the communal laundry room. And so, yeah, we did those kind of things, cook. Later, they did put in a little sink with a little stove, so my mother taught me how to cook simple things. And so we did do that later. But one of the first English words in Seabrook was "chamber pot." But my father pronounced it "chamba." So I said, "Oh, that's an English word." Because you couldn't go in the middle of the night in your pajamas all the way to the communal bathroom. He bought a chamber pot for us children, which, by the way, the shi shi would freeze in the winter, that's how cold it was.

KN: And who had to clean it?

EK: Oh, I probably did. [Laughs] Yeah, 'cause I did the diapers. That was the worst part, doing the diapers that were, the cloth diapers that had number two in it. [Laughs] That was the worst job.

KN: And cleaning out the family communal chamber pot.

EK: Yes.

KN: And it was cold and things froze. And you had to, you folks went to school.

EK: Yeah. And the school was far. And we had no money to buy boots, so my mother, when she sometimes worked at night, then I could wear her shoe, boots, in the daytime. And some kids, you know how they like to tease you, "Oh, she's wearing mother's shoes or mother's boots." But my husband was the same. He had to wear his sister's boots. But he said, "I don't care. At least my feet are dry." [Laughs]

KN: And you were describing how... I thought that your mother, your family had bought identical dresses.

EK: No, no, no, never. Never store-bought.

KN: Everything was done by hand.

EK: Yes, uh-huh, and she did all that.

KN: While trying to raise a family and work.

EK: Uh-huh.

KN: And your father gives your children a lot of credit by saying, "They went to school and they tried to help out, because we were never there."

EK: That's right.

KN: "Because I was working, my wife was working, and the children were by themselves."

EK: We were always by ourselves.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.