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-01-0016

<Begin Segment 16>

KN: Can you describe, you said your father was looking for places. Can you describe the first place that you lived in in Chicago?

EK: Oh, yeah. Sedgewick and Division. It's the near north. It was... it's changed now from what I hear, but at that time it was what later became Mother Cabrini housing, which is rather infamous. It was near there. And the schools were far. We had to walk all that distance. It must have been way over, at least a mile. I don't know how we did it except we were young, so that helped. But when I think about it, I feel sorry for my mother. 'Cause here she had to leave the children and then go to work in this freezing weather, walk to the bus stop which was like two blocks away, and it was dark when she'd leave the house. And she said, "Yeah, sometimes it was very scary." But luckily we were never hurt, but her friend was dragged into the alley. One time they used to work together, another Japanese American friend, and she was, her house was even further away than ours from the factory where they made metal frames, picture frames. She was dragged, but luckily they just took her purse. Like now it would be so much scarier with all the drug problems, and I guess when you take those drugs you're not human anymore, so you just do all kinds of... I mean, awful things. But luckily she just lost her purse and she got knocked down so she was hurt a little bit, but she's okay. It's scary of course, it's never... it's very scary. But yeah, so we lived... we have seen everything, I think.

KN: Your father said this was, this was before there were housing regulations.

EK: Oh, yeah.

KN: So there were, some of these apartments weren't apartments, they were tenement housing in that there were multiple families in small multiple rooms. It could be a fire hazard.

EK: Yeah. Never thought about fire hazard but it could be. You're right.

KN: And were these small conditions that you lived in...

EK: Well, when we first went, the building, my dad tried to locate better housing because then he knew it would mean better schools for us. But no one would rent him. When they asked him, "How many children do you have?" he couldn't lie and say, "Just two," when there were already five... how many? Five? Well, six by then. [Laughs] And so it was very hard. So finally his friend, landlord was Japanese American. And he says, "Well, I'm having one flat that's opening up, so you could use that." And so for a few weeks we did have a whole flat which was very nice, except it was dirty. You know, that's okay, you could clean it. The bathrooms were filthy, so we had to clean that, scrape that the night that we came. But later, maybe my parents, I don't know the reason exactly, probably just lack of money to pay the rent. So they divided the flat which had two bedrooms, living, dining, and a kitchen, and he divided into two apartments. And so the other couple would use the same bathroom.

KN: And so now you only had one bedroom, your family had one bedroom?

EK: Well, we didn't really even have a bedroom. The living room became our bedroom, and then my parents asked the landlord, he said -- and the kitchen. That's all, the two rooms and communal bath. And he said, "You know, this pantry," I don't know if you know Chicago old houses. The pantry was pretty roomy, with lots of shelves. So he said, "Would it be okay if I took all the shelves and make that into our bedroom?" And the landlord said, "If you could do it, go ahead." So he took all the shelves and made the beds and bought a, I'm sure, secondhand mattress, and that was their bedroom. And the baby had the crib in the kitchen.

KN: So your mother, you're living, all of you people were living in these pretty cramped...

EK: Cramped.

KN: And I'm just thinking, I have, coming from a family of three brothers, so that's four of us, you had double the amount, so quite cramped. So you folks would go to school and there were young children still. Your mother would be working in a picture factory, picture frame factory. What was your father doing?

EK: He was working all kinds of jobs. But you know, because of the stamping of the "illegal entry," they would be the first one to be fired, too. And so it was very, I'm sure it was very tough, but they never really told us, "Oh, it's tough." They never, ever did. So we never knew it until we ourselves became adult and realized how tough it must have been. So he did all kinds of work, all types. But still, they scraped. And then I would do also like babysitting. The lady in the basement was a Mrs. Yamashita, and they had two little boys. And the husband was a military Nisei, so whenever they needed a babysitter she would say, "Can you come and babysit?" And with that money I saved. Didn't spend a penny. And so with all our little savings here and there, he was able to put down on our first building that he purchased with a very minimum. Because it was also owned by a Nisei I think in a much better location. And so that was his first purchase.

KN: Your father is... and all of you folks are working and going to school and slowly trying to save money and do all of this. You mentioned that you were working also. Your father, when he's writing his story, it's very complimentary. He says, "My daughter Elsa worked, and she put herself through school."

EK: Yeah, I did. I don't know how I did it, but you're young, you can do anything. [Laughs]

KN: So he remembers how, he says, "My eldest daughter not only took care of the children, but worked to put herself through school," and he was so proud of that fact. He says, "One time, my daughter saved for an ice skating show." Do you remember that?

EK: Yes, I do. Well, see, they never ever went anywhere, not even to a movie. Now my mother occasionally would go to the Buddhist church, because they would have Japanese movies. And then she would go to those because they were cheap and it was in the neighborhood, not too far from where we lived. But later I realized, gosh, especially my dad, he never goes anyplace. He never, I thought, "He never has any fun." And I was lucky by then, I was in demand as a babysitter because I would not only babysit, I'd wash the dishes or whatever needed to be done after the children were asleep. So they always gave me jobs, so I always had jobs. And so then in this particular time, I was already a freshman or sophomore at U of I in Chicago. And this Mr. Rutherford really liked me, so he would give me, like for my birthday, he'd buy me a ticket or two tickets to go see a show, or he introduced me to opera. I was very fortunate in meeting nice people. And so then I said, "Oh, Daddy and Mom would love to see this." They'd never been to an ice show. So I did. I purchased that ticket for them to see.

KN: And he still remembers it.

EK: Yeah. [Laughs]

KN: He says, "My daughter bought me tickets, and that was the first time my wife and I were able to enjoy ourselves going out."

EK: Yeah, it was the first time they went out together to a nice place.

KN: Place to see, and just experience and enjoy life a little bit.

EK: Yeah. And you know, ice show is so pretty.

KN: I just thought it was such a great memory that your father had of you.

EK: [Laughs] I guess so.

KN: And the other thing that we were talking about earlier is that your father had wrote that you were going to school and that you graduated and you introduced someone you met at school, your husband.

EK: Oh, well, you know, when I started, when you're in college, I didn't date too much in high school because I had to go to work. And always, we had to... not only I, there were other kids in our neighborhood who worked, even hakujin people who worked, 'cause it was a, more or less a poor neighborhood. But later in college, when you start to date, and I think my husband had just come back from the army and he was thinking of enrolling at U of I. And he said he was put off by me because he said I told him, "Oh, but University of Illinois is so hard." [Laughs] And he took it upon himself, he thought that he wouldn't be able to make it. I wasn't talking about, I was talking about myself, that I'll be so lucky if I could graduate. [Laughs]

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.