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

<Begin Segment 1>

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.

<Begin Segment 2>

KN: As you were growing up, then your father was a teacher. And he taught you folks both in Japanese and in Spanish?

EK: Yes, yes.

KN: So could you describe going to school, or was it just home education?

EK: Oh, okay. It was just home education, and he said, "Well, I think you're ready to go to school." And there was a school close by, so I went. But I came home and I said -- we used to call him Otouchan -- "Otouchan, I know everything that they're doing. I know more." So he said, "Okay, then you don't have to go." So therefore I never was baptized Catholic. Because in Peru at that time you had to be baptized to go, especially to public schools. You had to be. And so I never got baptized Catholic.

KN: So your father gave you your education at home?

EK: Yes, uh-huh.

KN: And could you tell me your daily activities? Like did your father educate you in the morning and did you, like many children, have to work in the store, to help out with the family business?

EK: Oh, no, 'cause remember, I was the oldest, and I was only there 'til I was seven. So I believe it was in the morning, I don't remember, or whenever he had time. But we got a pretty good education from him. And also he would go to Lima, the capital, to buy things like books. And he would bring books, those ehon, you know, the picture books, and so that he would make us read them, which I loved. And I learned about stories like Cinderella. But in Japanese it's called "Shinderera." So I used to think that was a Japanese story until later I realized it's Cinderella, not Shinderera. So yeah, so there were those kind of education, too. And I learned about the Dutch boy who was a hero because he stuck his arm so the dam would not get bigger, the hole would not get bigger. That was from the Japanese books that he brought.

KN: So was there a large Japanese community that you were a part of?

EK: Actually, no. There were very few in Ica where we lived, south of Lima. Lima had a lot more, of course, being a big city. And because I think of our... because we were so young, we played with each other more than anything. We did have a few friends, but we didn't... like now, the children go to each other's homes, we didn't do that much. I think also because people were busy, and because it was sufficient. And maybe I should explain how the houses were in Peru. The houses in Peru are long, it's lengthwise, because taxes are collected on how wide the frontage is. So it just went all the way back, I mean, you just keep going and there's room. And the very last part is what is called the corral, which is, in our case, was dirt, and that's where he used to burn all the paper waste, like boxes and newspapers, and we would have fun because he would put sweet potatoes and roast them there. And so in the meantime we would be playing around and we would come back to him and say, "Is it ready, is it ready?" 'Cause then you have that nice smell of the potato cooking in there. He said, "Not yet, not yet." So that was one of the fun things.


<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

KN: Your father was a handsome guy. He looks so, he took a picture before he left Japan, and my god, he looks so young.

EK: Oh, yeah.

KN: Eighteen, wow.

EK: Oh, I know. I think when he went to Peru he was twenty-one, 'cause he had graduated, but people of the Meiji era are so mature. They're so mature. And even though their required education was to sixth grade, it's like past our high school, what they learn. I said, "Oh my gosh, how did they do this?"

KN: Well, your father was, it was really impressive. He said, "I also do not want to be a farmer, and the hardship that I saw" --

EK: Yes, he saw.

KN: -- "every single day in Hokkaido."

EK: Yeah, and there was no improvement.

KN: No. So he said, "I moved in with my sister in Tokyo." And he said, "I was working for my brother-in-law while going to night school at the same time, while trying to work."

EK: Yes.

KN: And he said, "Sometimes I wouldn't even have dinner. I'd go straight from work to..."

EK: Night school.

KN: " night school." And he was trying to be an architect, and he was he was doing designing of buildings. And this was all before he was about eighteen to twenty-five.

EK: Oh, yeah. And, you know, later I learned why he knew so much about wood. He knew the different woods, lumber. And when I went to Japan and saw the Kiba, a place where they used to roll the logs? He used to carry those heavy things on his shoulder, and it's wet. So I said, "How did he do it?" and he's skinny. He wasn't chunky, he was skinny.

KN: How tall was your dad?

EK: About five feet three or four maybe at the most. Probably more like three probably.

KN: Because he said he was working on these jobs and carrying this stuff and going to night school and trying to draft and become an architect.

EK: And people wouldn't pay him.

KN: Right. And I'm thinking I don't know any eighteen year olds... but it was just a different generation, I guess.

EK: It was a different generation, and he was always a hard worker. That's what made him succeed, I think, because he was, as he said, whatever came, he was able to overcome it because of the background that he had. So many people would go to -- especially young boys -- to go to Tokyo thinking, "Oh, I'm going to succeed," but they fall into the wayside because it's so hard. It's much easier to lead the other life, but they don't succeed in life. So, but he wanted this education and he wanted to really, really truly go to San Francisco, but the doors were closed. Remember that immigration law? 1920?

KN: 1920 immigration...

EK: '20. So that did not allow him to enter the U.S. That's why his eyes went to South America. He said, yeah, I said, "Well, couldn't you have gone someplace else?" And he said, "Yes, I could have gone to Siberia, was one, Manchuria was other. But," he said, "they seemed too close. I wanted to go someplace" --

KN: Someplace far.

EK: Yeah, someplace more exotic, things that he didn't know, he wanted to learn. And so that's how he got to Peru. And he did have a letter of introduction to this company, and he waited at the dock and nobody came. Because in the meantime, it took how long? Two, three months to get to Peru? So the company had gone bankrupt, so there was nobody to greet him. So here's this young boy all by himself with hardly any money, I think, five soles in his pocket.

KN: Very rudimentary Spanish.

EK: Yes.

KN: He took Spanish before he left, though?

EK: Yes. He studied, but his thick accent, I don't know if anybody would understand. But luckily there were some Japanese who befriended him, those that had gone before him, and so that's how he was able to stay in someone's home, what they call isoro, which means you stay but they don't pay you, but you do a lot of the work. And he was very grateful, but he said, "But I need to make money." And so that's how he got out of those kind of things. And when they asked him to be a teacher, of course, he made a little money and then he also did janitorial work, he did everything. Bartending, he was not a drinker, but he learned how to do that. He did all kinds of things.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

KN: Can you tell us the names of your family members? Your father and your mother, brothers and sisters?

EK: Okay. Well, my dad's name is Seiichi Higashide, my mother is Angelica Yoshinaga Higashide, and then I was the firstborn, and then my brother Carlos and my sister Irma and my brother Arthur, who has since passed. And then my sister Martha, then later... so five were born in Peru and three in the U.S.

KN: So you grew up with a large family.

EK: Yes.

KN: How was that for you? Because you don't see that anymore.

EK: No, not too many.

KN: It's wonderful to have so many siblings. It's automatic playmates...

EK: But because they had taken everything, it was a time of -- which I didn't realize 'til later, I never felt very poor because I knew there were others, even American Niseis and Sanseis who went to Seabrook who had nothing. [Interruption] But in our case, we had lost everything, so I never really felt poor other than, I don't know, later I realized how poor we were. Because one Christmas in Seabrook, 1946 or '7, that Christmas, my dad made a big deal out of Christmas day with pomp and circumstance, and what we received was a bar of chocolate.

KN: Wow.

EK: But we thanked him, you know, because it was something. And he wanted to make sure that he remembered that it was Christmas for us. But looking back, I said, "Oh my goodness, bar of chocolate?" [Laughs]

KN: For each child?

EK: Yeah, for, well that that time, I don't think the little ones got it. I think just the oldest three or four got that as presents.

KN: So your father presented it to you?

EK: Yeah.

KN: Do you still remember his expression?

EK: I remember. Yeah, "Merry Christmas, this is your present this year." So we didn't grumble or anything because we knew -- I think we just knew even as children, are very intuitive, so we kind of knew he couldn't get what we really would have liked, like in Peru. But luckily, in Peru, too, it's not like now where one child gets so many presents. I know seeing my grandchildren, I said, "My gosh, they could open up a store, practically." [Laughs] But in Peru at that time, I don't know if it was the custom that my father started for his family or something that some of the families did, was children had to do something to earn this gift from San Nicolas, they called it. And it was to shine the dirtiest shoes. So the night before, you clean it, you put the polish and you shine it as best as you could and you put it under the bed. And if the San Nicolas was pleased with your work, then he'd leave the present you were wishing for. It was just one present from Santa, not from parents and grandparents and aunties and uncles, no, it's just one. So we cherished that very much.

KN: And so you still remember that.

EK: I still remember that, yeah.

KN: Do you remember the kinds of gifts that you were given?

EK: Yeah. My father, because he had to go buy for inventory of the store, he would go into Lima, and each time he'll bring something, little gift. One that I remember that I was so delighted with, with my sister, who then was about three or four, was this little box of furniture. Like one, I remember, had a bathtub. I don't know if it was plastic or ceramic or anything like that, I don't remember that. But it was a bathtub and a little sink and a little piece of sofa maybe, that was one of my favorites. My little sister, at that Christmas, received a clucking chicken.

KN: A real...

EK: No. [Laughs] It was made of, like, metal, but, you know, you don't see those toys anymore. But you push it down, and it would cluck, and then it will squirt out little white marbles to be the eggs. Yeah, so that was some. The others were handmade wooden toys that people would come and sell it, and he'd buy those. So I used to have that.

KN: So you had a very loving and a very happy childhood.

EK: Yeah. I never, I never ever thought I was unhappy. There were some scary moments in a sense because in Peru at that time -- and I still hear some people still have it -- is by the doorway entry, the front of... remember this is a long building. So the front is the store, the middle was my dad's office and where we were taught, a little classroom, and then there were like a heavy drapes going into a long hallway leading to the living quarters, the living room, the bedrooms, the kitchen and so forth, dining room. And so they, in front of the entry to the living quarters, they put this long leather... what are those things called? Yeah, whips. Whips, and it's called chicote. And all we had to do was look at it and say, "Oh, we don't want to be naughty and get that on our backs." Of course, they were never used. But that, and then at that time, people were called gitanas, or gypsies, would come shopping. And they'd wear all these bangles just like in the movies, of long ago. Now I think you're not supposed to even say "gypsies," I don't know. But they were gypsies and they had all these loopy earrings and bandanas and full skirts, many layers. And they said, "If you're not good, they will hide you under the skirt and take you away and then we'll never see you." So when they used to come, then we'd hide behind the counters. [Laughs] So, I mean, that was the only scary thing, if you can call it scary. Didn't last very long. But yeah, it was a very happy, joyful time for us.

KN: I think that's just wonderful because you think of the Issei generation as very stern and austere and never necessarily interacting with their children, but your dad was a very prominent figure in your life.

EK: Yes, he was. But you know, this is because we had enough economically. I think it does change when you have nothing. So that's a lesson in life, too, about what is poverty, what it does to a family interaction. Because if you have to work all the time, and you're tired all the time, you had no time to interact. So that was a big lesson that I learned, 'cause later it did change, 'cause he had to work so hard. Sometimes he would have three jobs. Remember, there was nothing. I mean, people say, "Oh, yeah, we had nothing, too," but no, you still have a little money. No, there was nothing, absolutely nothing, and they had to survive this.

KN: Can you explain how you came to that process where you had enough, and then suddenly there was nothing? Can you explain when it happened?

EK: Well, in a way, I'm thankful that I was little enough not to really realize it until later, how much my parents must have suffered, but they didn't show it. And my mother was very creative. She loved to cook, so she would make a very simple cabbage and the cheapest frankfurters, a meal, by putting spices and things like that that made it tasty. And yeah, and also, with our clothes, by the time we were released from camp, it's that age where you start to grow physically also. And there was no money to go buy at a store, so she would, like, bleach the diaper. In those days, there were no paper diaper, everything was cloth. And it was that flannel one, on the inside was flannel, on the outside was like broadcloth. So she bleached those and made part of our clothes, like bodice part. And the one that shows in the book, she made that. She made the pattern...

KN: So that's why you have all of that. Your sister, she had the same one. [Laughs]

EK: Oh, yeah, all the time, she would do that to cut down on expense. And she would knit and re-knit. Take it apart and re-knit for someone who needs it more.

KN: This is a woman who grew up with a very loving family, too.

EK: Yes, yes.

KN: So she also never lacked for...

EK: Never lacked for anything because Grandma, who was from Kyushu, was a very proud woman. My grandpa was very handsome, I mean, I went to see the museum in Lima, and I said, "Wow, he was, when he was younger, too, he was so good-looking." And my grandma is what people would call a "handsome woman." But she was very smart, and she didn't want... because they lived in Canete, which is a very little town, I don't know if... I think it is in some maps, but she would -- and she had three daughters -- so she always made sure they were dressed in the latest style from Lima, so they would not call them country bumpkins.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

EK: Well, my mother was a very creative person. She was creative in cooking, which was her forte, she loved to cook. So even though we had two nannies -- but this is not uncommon in South America at that time -- and even now some of my friends have a nanny or someone to take care of the household which really is helpful. I wish we did, too. [Laughs] But it was just one of those things, but she never allowed them to cook because she loved to cook and she loved to experiment. So she did all the cooking, so she would come from the store just to cook and prepare, especially for my dad, who still loved Japanese food. So she would make him things that he enjoyed, but also a lot of Peruvian food which continues in me because I like to cook, too, like my mother.

KN: Do you know any cooking dishes that your mother taught you?

EK: Oh, yeah, almost all of them.

KN: Amazing. And still today you cook...

EK: Oh, yeah. Like one might be anticucho, which is beef heart, skewered beef heart. Do you know that one?

KN: Yes.

EK: Okay. And papalahuancaina, it's a potato with a cheese sauce. And papa rellena, which is like a piroshky of the Russian, except it's made of potato and inside is the meat and the olives and the raisin and the culantro, cilantro in Mexican. And then you flour it and you fry it, and that's delicious, too. Oh, you also have to put in egg, boiled egg, sliced boiled egg in it, those kind of things. Oh, and cau cau, which is tripe cooked with... what is that? The yellow spice? Do you know the yellow spice? Starts with a T, (turmeric) now my mind is gone. It will come to me. But anyway, so yeah, I cook just about everything. Ceviche is another that everybody seems to like. Everybody loves that. And then, let's see, arroz con pollo, you know, the rice with the chicken?

KN: Oh, that's wonderful.

EK: Yes. And that's made out of liquefied cilantro, liquid, and what else? Oh my gosh, there are so many.

KN: So your father met your mother when she was seventeen, and by nineteen she had been married, was running the store, had you, was making all these amazing dishes. Your mother was a real multi-tasker and a very hard worker.

EK: She was. A very hard worker. I think that's kept us from going, feeling sorry for ourselves. Some children sense the mother, and they feel sorry. I never felt sorry for myself, ever. Even when looking back, life must have been difficult, I never felt sorry for myself. I think that's her spirit.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

KN: So what happened to your parents' relationship when, you mentioned that your dad disappeared?

EK: Well, you know, during this time, right after Pearl Harbor, my dad's name among hundreds of other older and more established Japanese males' names appeared in the paper. And so these people were hunted, and many ran away to hide in the jungle, or in the sierra, the mountains, or someplace outside of their home. But my father thought to himself, and he said, "I can't leave my young wife with," at that time, "four children, and then go to someplace where I don't even know what's going to happen there either. And so he dug a hole under the planks of the, I think it was one of the beds, and made a room enough to put a little cot, a tiny table, and lamps and a radio. And he dug this wire from the school, which I said was close by, to get shortwave news. And so whenever someone suspicious came into the store, then he would hide in there. And I remember when you opened the plank -- because there's no window, no air -- that smelly dirt smell, very musky and very kind of damp smell would come up. But luckily, he would hide, and then when that suspicious person or persons would go, then he would come out.

KN: What would you as children have to do when your father went into hiding, if people asked you, "Where's your father?"

EK: Oh, yeah, they told us that we must not say anything, and we didn't.

KN: And so how long did your father stay in his...

EK: On and off. He didn't stay, like, for days, because I think it would have been too much. I mean, there's no air there. [Laughs] So as soon as the people disappear then he would come out. So it was like, I don't know, an hour at the most, I don't know how long, but short time. Short time, many times.

KN: So your father went in there, be about 1943, he started to hide in 1942?

EK: I think 1944, after... let's see. Oh, no, maybe 1943, because '44 he was taken already.

KN: Can you explain that, what had happened?

EK: Well, the whole year, no one suspicious came, so he thought, "Oh, maybe this is over. Maybe they don't need any more guys, Japanese guys. So he said, "You know, the children have not gone out, we have not taken then anyplace, so let's go for a picnic." So the whole family, including my grandparents, who by then had come to live with us, 'cause he had opened a second store and he told them, "You can run that store and have your own place to live." So they said, "Oh, yeah, we'll do that, because we don't want to, we're getting older, so we'll close up shop." And so they did, and so they lived with us for about a year and a half maybe. And so we all went on a picnic, and when we came back... you know, in South America you eat rather late. So people, my mother and nannies were cooking dinner and we were being served when there was a familiar knock. They had devised a knock so that friends and relatives would be let in. And so this young apprentice named Victor, he must have been about sixteen, seventeen... often in those days, parents would ask a quote/unquote "successful businessperson" or storeowner to please train their sons to be storekeepers or whatever it might be. And so he had two of those boys living with us. They were like family. They ate with us, they toiled with my mother, and my dad would show them about business.

KN: These are young Nisei.

EK: Yeah, young Nisei. And so the youngest one, named Victor, ran to the door thinking it was a friend. And now we had just, you know, for a whole year no one showed up that seemed suspicious. And so we were kind of, lost track. And so he ran, opened the door, and here walked in about, I don't know, four or five detectives. And said, "Sorry, but we have to take you in under the order of the U.S.A." And my father said, "Uh-oh, I'm finally caught." And he told them, he said, "The family's eating dinner. Please wait. I'm not going to run away, you just stay here and keep an eye on me." So in the meantime, my mother quickly started to gather clean linen, 'cause she knew the jails would be awful, filthy. So she gathered all this clean linen, but there was no time to embroider his name. So what she did -- and this is something that people have said, "Oh, I never thought of that." Well, you take an avocado seed, you peel it, and you poke, you put the sheet on top of it, and with a needle you poke through to make the letters, "Higashide," and that becomes permanent. No matter how many times you wash it, it won't come off. They didn't have the pens that we have now, you know. And so that's what you did.

KN: And so she marked each of the linens for him to take with avocados?

EK: Yes. So in the meantime we're eating dinner, slowly, and he would gather, you know. And then my mother would put his clothes in luggage to take, clean underwear and shirts and things like that, 'cause we didn't know how long he would be kept there.

KN: What did you as children think about this? I mean, you were witnessing...

EK: Oh, yeah, it was a turmoil. And I remember feeling scared, but we didn't know what war is or was. It's just that here these strange people are coming to get Father, and he didn't do anything bad. But it was being done.

KN: By the U.S. government.

EK: Yeah, but we didn't know who U.S. government was, nothing. It's just that he was being taken, and so it was a very sad time. And my mother's friend, whom I saw back in 1995, she said, "You know, Elsa, you were such a happy child, always just being so happy and cheerful and smiling all the time. After that day," she said, "it was like a different child. Very gloomy, no smile," and so I didn't realize that until she told me. I said, "Wow, even as a child I guess you really feel it, but you show it," which I didn't know I did. So that was a new insight into my, how I was really feeling. I remember when they took him away that there was this heavy velvet drape in the hallway in the back, and I remember that my tears were coming, and so I wiped my tears on that. Yeah, I remember that.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

KN: So your father was taken away that day...

EK: Yeah, that same day. So it was like a nightmare. From heaven to nightmare, really, 'cause we had so much fun. We had not... how shall I say? Been rowdy or played like kids do, run around without a care in the world, and we were free outside, and there's Obaachan, Ojiichan, they all made musubis and all those kind of goodies, and some Peruvian food, and we were having a grand time. And then we came back, and then he was taken. So it was a complete shock. Complete shock. Then he was kept in the Ica jail for I don't know how long. I don't remember, several days, I think. And then they told my mother that he would be taken to Lima, to the bigger prison, and then after that they didn't know.

So that day I remember too, which is counted in the book, where we all gathered... oh, they were going to take him in the paddy wagon, which is filthy, and he said, "I am not a criminal. I will hire my own taxi, and you the detective, you folks come in with me so I don't run away." [Laughs] And so he hired a clean taxi and went to Lima. But on the way to Lima, he noticed, or he knew that there was a photographer, so he said, "Let me off here, and you guard me, and I want to leave a photo of myself to my family, 'cause who knows when we'll meet, or maybe never." And that is, to this day, my most favorite picture. Because from every angle, if you see him, looks like he's looking at you. Front, side, left, right, he looks like, it's like his spirit is embedded in there, for me.

KN: He's very well-dressed.

EK: Oh, yes.

KN: You look at this and to think that he's being arrested as a criminal and he doesn't know where he's going, this uncertain future...

EK: Yeah, but he knew he was not a criminal.

KN: And so he's dressed very well, three-piece suit and very well-groomed, and I was very struck by his appearance, which in a sense implied what he was going through.

EK: Yeah, because he says, "I'm not a criminal, so I'm not going ride in your paddy wagon. I have not done anything wrong, and here I'm being taken." They said, "We are sorry, but this is under the order of the U.S., so they had to do it. And remember at that time, if you read Professor Gardiner's book, the U.S. was giving to Peru the biggest financial help. I mean, more than twenty-eight million dollars in those days, that's quite a lot of money. I think was the biggest... what was that called? Funds to Peru, so they were glad to. And they were already glad to get rid of the Japanese because they were being so successful. Most of the Japanese were quite successful in Peru in a very short time. Not only my dad, I mean, my dad is... he says, "I was nothing really. I was the youngest." So when he saw his name in the blacklist, it's called lista negra, he thought that, "Wow, I'm among all these older, successful gentlemen, how come? I shouldn't be among their level," but he was because the Ica association, Peruvian Japanese Association, made him be the president of the association. He fought it. He says, "I don't have the time, I want to devote my time to my business and my family," and he refused several times. But they begged him, so finally he had to say yes. And that's how he was picked, because he was a community leader.

KN: So it was primarily older, distinguished men who were taken?

EK: Yes, at the beginning. In the beginning, then later I heard they took anybody off the street. Yeah. I met a Bob Shimabuku who passed away a few years back, in Los Angeles, and he says, "Yeah, I was just going to my uncle's house and they picked me up and took me to prison, and that was it." So later they were more desperate, so they took anybody if you looked Japanese.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

KN: So your father was taken to Lima.

EK: Lima, yes.

KN: And in the meantime, what was going on with your family? Did you hear any news, did you know where he was? What was your mother doing?

EK: Yeah, I think my dad had told her before departing, "Go on with the business." Because he was very forward-looking, and he says, "All the businesses have been taken over," because it's under the husband's name. But he said, "You are a native citizen, so therefore I'm going to change the store in your name and you could run it. As long as it's under your name, they cannot take it away from you." So she did, she was running it. But later, when my father was taken to Callao, the port of Callao and taken onboard to, at that time we didn't know where, but it happened to be Panama, he had sent a very, kind of amusing letter implying, "No matter what, let's be together." And so she was very confused, because in between I think there was another correspondence which she never actually received. And so she then had to sell the inventory and sell the store. But when people know you have to sell, you don't get anything, right? You almost should just give it away. But she didn't. She had so much inventory, 'cause she was able to buy from anybody. And other Japanese people could not.

KN: As a Peruvian national?

EK: Yeah, because she was a Peruvian national. But the money... so when my dad wrote this funny telegram, they all censor it, the U.S. But he knew enough not to make it obvious. So he would say things like -- which I wish I had those letters, it would be so good to have it and put it in the museums, but none exist. And I think he, or they kind of explained to me at one time that he would write, like, "Oh, the monkeys up the tree are making noises," so you knew that he must have been someplace in the jungle, and he was in the jungle in the Panama Canal zone jungle. And things like that. So other letters that other fathers wrote or husbands wrote were full of holes so you could hardly read anything. [Laughs]

KN: All of them were honest letter-writers.

EK: Yes.

KN: And they said he was so skilled in communicating what had happened and where he was, that the families of these honest letter-writers would actually go to your mother and ask her what is happening because they were so censored.

EK: Yes, censored. You cannot, it's full of holes. That's true. So my dad was very smart, I think. And that's how we were able to survive. I mean, how can you survive with nothing and then have five children, then later six children? I think, my gosh...

KN: Was your... here's your mother left behind with a number of children. Is she also taking care of her parents, your grandparents, at the same time?

EK: Well, luckily at that time my grandparents were young enough to help us. So it was a good thing they were there, 'cause then my auntie, who was a teenager, would take over the lessons. And even before she passed on a few years back, she said, "You know, you realize" -- which I didn't -- "in camp, we were encouraged to go to Japanese school," in our camp. Because our camp, Crystal City, Texas, internment camp, they called it, was meant to be used as hostage exchange. So they encouraged learning Japanese for the children. And so my auntie said to me, "You realize it's because I taught you that in camp, you just went from nothing to third grade," which I didn't realize, cause I didn't know about grades. My father never said, "Oh, you're now in first grade or second grade," we just learned, you know. And so I didn't realize 'til an adult that I was in the third grade.

KN: You were so advanced because of your aunt's effort?

EK: Yeah, that's what she said. [Laughs]

KN: "You can thank me later because I made you learn Japanese."

EK: Yes, yes.

KN: So your mother's family was helping her out and raising the children.

EK: Were helping with the kids, yeah.

KN: And meantime, what news was your mother receiving from your father?

EK: Yeah, so in the letter, he said there's a boat, a ship, that's leaving the port of Callao, I forget what date. But my mother was pregnant with my sister Martha, and so then after she was born, we sold everything and went to Lima, and from Lima to Callao, to get on board. But I think we missed the one that he wanted us to be on, so we went on one of the last ones, I believe.

KN: So who accompanied you?

EK: So all of us.

KN: So your grandparents and...

EK: Yes, my grandparents, my auntie, and us.

KN: Do you know what your mother did with the money that she had sold...

EK: Oh, yeah, that was cash. People didn't use credit cards, it was cash. So she entrusted this man called Juan, I won't say his last name, because he came through Obaachan, whose friend was Juan's mother and parents. She said, "Well, they are from Kyushu, so we could help them work and they could earn a living." And so he worked for us after Daddy left. And so she trusted him, of course. So she said, "You take this money" -- 'cause we no longer had the banks, right? And even if we did, no use, 'cause we were already leaving for the U.S. So she told him, "Keep it for us until we return, or if we need it, then please send it to us." Well, evidently, when you give someone who has nothing all this cash, it's cash. You are tempted, and he was, and he did. And so he ran away with it, so we had nothing. We could have had an easier life, my parents could have had an easier life had he been very honest, but that's, some human beings are too weak, and he was a weak person, tempted by money.

KN: Later your mother did see him.

EK: Oh, yeah, isn't that something? On their first trip back to Peru, they're just walking a street of Lima and she recognizes him. He was shabbily dressed, and she said, "Juan, you made us suffer!"

KN: Did he recognize...

EK: Yes, he did, he did. And I'm sure he felt shame, because he turned around and ran. But my father stopped my mother and said it's like, what is that called, water under the bridge. "Mou wasurenasai, forget it." And, "Look, we're in a better position than he is. When you do something like that, you always suffer someplace, emotionally or physically or both. And looks like he suffered both ways, so let him go. That's okay, it's past already." So that was my father's philosophy.

KN: So I'm imagining your mother...

EK: Oh, I would have been furious, too. [Laughs]

KN: She has all these burdens and she's pregnant. She gives it to someone and he takes off with the money when you need it the most.

EK: Yes. We could have used it after camp. Oh my gosh, we could have used it.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

KN: And your father wrote that your mother converted some money that she had left behind, extra money, because she thought the cash was okay, into jewelry.

EK: Oh, yeah, yes. She always loved jewelry, and my dad would buy her good stuff, really nice things. And of course it was also good for the store, because she was well-dressed, meant a successful store, and so people would come from everywhere because had such a forward-looking way of doing things. Like he would make jingles and advertise over the radio, and the radio wave would go all over Peru, not just the little town. And so there's another side story to this. In 1965 when my husband and I were the first young couple to return to Peru, maybe the first one, my Auntie Juana, the second sister, was so kind, and she was actually my dear auntie, my favorite auntie. [Laughs] And she took us all over; she hired her cousin to drive us around, and we went to Ica to show us where the store, at that time it was still there, and someone, Mr. and Mrs. Garcia bought it, but it was still there. Italian shoemaker was still there, and so forth, and then we went to Huacachina where we used to go. It was a lagoon filled with green water which was very healthful. And now it's no longer there, it stopped, the water stopped coming, flowing, so it's no longer a very touristy place, although it's very hard, 'cause it's such a pretty little place surrounded by sandy mountains where we used to slide down. And when we stopped at one of the restaurants to have a little tea and coffee, and she asked the waiter there. In those days, still, if you're a waiter at a young age, you're a waiter forever. And so he was a waiter, and my auntie said, "By the way, many years ago, before the war, do you remember the bazaar called Bienvenida?" which means "welcome." He said, "Oh my gosh, I remember that," he said, "because at that time we lived away from Ica, but for every birthday and Christmas and special occasions, they would go to Bazaar Bienvenida to buy their gifts (for Christmas and special occasions)."

KN: So that was your family's...

EK: Yes. I was so thrilled, I really wanted to shout to my parents, who were at that time living in Chicago, to tell them, "Daddy, look what your advertising did." Because here's this man who used to come to Ica to do the shopping, and he would always go to my dad's store.

KN: Your dad was very ahead of his time.

EK: Yes, yes, he was.

KN: He was doing advertising in the newspapers...

EK: And the radio.

KN: And radio, and he was doing these jingles as promotions.

EK: Yes. And the way he designed, the store window was different, too. I mean, I don't remember that part too much, but it was.

KN: And you said he made your mother a reflection of the store. She was very well-groomed, very well-dressed.

EK: Yes.

KN: And so your father had bought her jewelry all through then, too.

EK: Yes, so she had a lot of jewelry. She's always loved jewelry since then, I think. And so even to an old age, she was always well-groomed, even in her eighties.

KN: So what did your mother do with all the jewelry going to camp? I mean, was she allowed to take that or did she also leave that behind?

EK: Well, she left a lot behind, but the better ones, of course, she took it. But they just got lost. I know, they just got lost. Many were lost here, and I don't want to say too much about that, but they did get lost.

KN: In the camps?

EK: No, not in the camps. Later.

KN: Oh, later.

EK: Either people swiped it, or I don't know, but it just got lost. So she hardly has anything left.

KN: I think, when I think of my mother's, thinking about my great-grandmother, it's about the jewelry, there was something about that generation, they had beautiful pieces.

EK: Yes. It's not cheapy type, you know.

KN: It's no inexpensive...

EK: No, it's very beautiful. Yeah, because you think that you'll pass it on, I think that's what it was. But it's never easy. They thought that they could convert it to cash, but then you don't know who these wealthy people are after camp. Who do you meet that's wealthy? Nobody. [Laughs] So they never were able to really convert it to cash.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

KN: So your mother is with young children and pregnant, and going out to camp. What was your impression about what's happening? Your mother is liquidating the store, packing up everything...

EK: It was just a busy household. But you know, we had, we were so little, and we just played. We just played among ourselves, really, in the backyard, 'cause it's a huge place where you could run around and there was, like, a certain area by the window, had this dirt that was more like clay. So we made dishes, dried in the hot sun, and use it for mamagoto, you know, home...

KN: Merchandise... play...

EK: Play, yes, play cooking and things like that, we did that. And then he had also made, for us, swings. He made it himself.

KN: Who?

EK: My dad. It wasn't like now where you just go to the store and order and get it and set it up, no. He made everything. He made the swings, he made a high jump, the, what do you call... seesaws, things like that, he made all of those things in the backyard. Oh, yeah.

KN: Do you remember the voyage? Did you go by car?

EK: I don't, you know, I don't remember the voyage to Callao, but on the ship, my mother tells me that because the child was only like three months old, but she could not nurse like she nursed all of us. So I think it was all that emotional trauma, that she couldn't have milk. And so she bought a lot of PET Milk, Carnation milk, and stuffed it in the luggage. But we did not receive, she said she never had the notice. Maybe being in a smaller town, my husband's family said, oh, they got information that you cannot pack any food of any type. But she didn't know it, and she was thinking about the children, too, so she packed it. Well, when we got to Callao, they dumped all of that, so she didn't have anything. And that's when she told me later that here she was trying to feed the baby, and only blood would come to her breast. And so she begged the American soldier, please, she didn't know English, so she would plead in Spanish, "Please, milk for my baby," and he would pretend not to understand. I mean, how stupid can you be? You know what I mean? It's just very prejudicial. But later, when a Filipino soldier got on guard, then she said, "Por favor," you know, in Spanish, "give me some milk for my baby," and he did for her. So from that time on she had milk.

KN: This is for your youngest sister.

EK: For my baby sister, the one that's wearing the dress my Auntie Juana made, yeah. And I remember that dress. This is another story -- I remember all these things. I must have been about four when I was visiting my grandmother in Canete, and she also had gone to sewing school and pattern making and all that. So she was making this blue dress out of silk, thick silk, it's called seda in Peru. Do you know Spanish?

KN: No, I don't know Spanish. I know some...

EK: Oh, okay. And so she was making this with little embroidered at the bottom with little baskets with little flowers on it, which I still remember, 'cause it meant so much to me. And all of a sudden there was this horrific earthquake. And my mother, I mean, grandma's emperor's picture, you know, everybody had those. Like you, if you were British, it was probably Queen Elizabeth or something. Well, she had emperor's picture. They all came down, things from the little store came down, people were screaming outside but she said, "(Mesa)no shita ikinasai," you know, "go under the table," 'cause this table was one of those very thick old-fashioned tables, very sturdy, hardly anything would hurt it. And stuff fell on it, but we were safe under that table, absolutely safe. But when we came out after the earthquake, people were crying, some of the adobe houses had crumbled, but luckily we were okay. And that was my experience of going through an earthquake in Peru.

KN: In Peru there were earthquakes.

EK: Oh, yeah. Still are.

KN: It's so different.

EK: Yeah, but that was one of the severe ones.

KN: So going back to your mother trying to get milk for your sister, as she's trying, did you folks know where you were going?

EK: Well, by that time we knew that we were going to be meeting my father someplace. We didn't know exactly where, but we knew we just follow the boat. And this ship was, I think, a transport ship. I think it was called Vapor Cuba. And we were, because we had little kids, my mother and how many of us children, five children, were allowed in this very narrow room, but you had to, it was a bunk bed, so I'm sure we all shared. It's a good thing we were little, really. I don't know where... Grandpa I think was down below deck, because he was a male, grownup male. And then, but all of us were in this thing, but it was so hot because you could not open the window, especially at night. All the lights had to be off because enemies could see light, so they told us to shut everything off and no light, nothing. And then that's how we lived there. But occasionally we were allowed on deck, and that's when all the children would just, you know, be so happy. And that's the first time I saw the, I guess they're swordfish that jumps, schools of these things. And that's the thing I remember about this period of our lives.

KN: How many children were there? I mean, how many families were there?

EK: There were many families, there were many families, I don't know how many.

KN: All from Peru or from different areas?

EK: I think on our ship that I know of, they were from Peru. There could have been from other areas, but mostly from Peru. Even if you read some of the books, I believe that a majority were from Peru anyway. There were a few from other places, but majority were from Peru.

KN: So during the day, sometimes the children could run around the ship.

EK: Yes, yes, and that was a joy just to get out of that stuffy room because not only were we stuffed in there, we also had these heavy lifesavers. It's jacket, but it's not like present-day light thing that people wear on water, it was heavier, waxy, and this wax had a terrible smell. And so, but we had to keep in there just in case. And I think we had drills, too, to put this thing on. So it was not pleasant.

KN: Your father remembered that same smell. He said he had to sleep when he was on his transport ship. He says he remembered that same...

EK: Oh, I don't remember that part.

KN: He said he remembered that, "I had to sleep on it," and he said, the smell.

EK: Oh yeah, oh, the smell was awful. Yeah the smell was terrible.

KN: What was the food like?

EK: Awful. [Laughs] Well, remember, Peruvian food, if you've eaten Peruvian food, it's very tasty, and there's a lot of seafood because the Pacific Ocean is in there, very cold, so the fish is very firm and very tasty, and you get all kind of mariscos, you know, clams and all kinds of seafood. And so here we're having our first American meal, that was so awful. I mean, like frankfurters and sauerkraut. And that smell inside an enclosed place with that sourness? We said, "Oh, can't eat this stuff." [Laughs] Now we've gotten to like hot dogs, but it took a long time.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

KN: So how long were you on board this ship, do you remember?

EK: You know, I don't exactly remember. I think I have it written someplace, but it must have been several weeks at least. I have to dig out my papers.

KN: And where did you arrive at?

EK: I think we went through the Panama Canal, and then onto a bus and then train and then to Crystal City. And I have that written out, too, yeah, because I don't quite remember the details but my husband did, so he helped me with that. And so then when we got to Crystal City, everybody was lined up to welcome us, but we couldn't really... we had to be quarantined because someone had, was it chicken pox or something? [Laughs] So we had to wait again. But at least we did meet Daddy.

KN: And that was the first time you had seen him in a few months?

EK: Oh, yeah, six, seven... no, maybe longer.

KN: Even longer?

EK: Yeah, maybe about eight months maybe.

KN: And he had never seen your younger sister.

EK: No, no. So that's when my mother held his hand -- and she was always proud of his hand, because he did have beautiful hands. I mean, he was an artist; I saw some of the work later and I said, "Oh, my gosh, he could have succeeded as an artist, he was so good." But laboring in the jungle with shovels and stuff, in the hot sun, it just changed his whole appearance, especially his hands were all, like, hard and dark and callused.

KN: So when your family reunited at Crystal City... so you had arrived at the camp and you had been quarantined for a bit. And then you were sent to the...

EK: Oh, in this hut. And it was so hot in Crystal City.

KN: Can you describe Texas, Crystal City?

EK: It was... all I remember was the cots, the metal cots. Even the thin mattress, because of the metal cot, underneath this roof it would be so hot we could not sleep. You could not touch it, you could burn yourself. So then my father would hose the whole floor to cool it off. And I know that we were little so we didn't do this, but the teenagers, especially guys, would sleep underneath. They were on stilts like some of the Hawaii homes, and they would dig underneath the house, which is the coolest, yeah. So I know some of the teenage guys said, "Oh, yeah, we couldn't sleep in the house so we used to go underneath and sleep there."

KN: But your dad had wet the floor.

EK: Yeah, yeah, he did, but I suppose not everyone did it. My dad did, but he also built on this so the roofline would be higher. And that's when he realized how rich U.S. was, because when he asked, can he use the lumber that's lying around, 'cause they were still building things, they said, "Oh, yeah, go ahead." [Laughs] And so he would build like a, kind of a lanai, but with a high pitched roof. And so we had a more comfortable place, but it was still hot.

KN: Can you describe, was it a family living quarter area that you all slept in?

EK: You know, I don't remember too much other than the hot cot. The mattress even got hot.

KN: I can just imagine Texas, and you have...

EK: It's hot.

KN: And was it dry, was it dusty?

EK: It was very dusty, of course, it was very dusty. I do remember the camp. We were surrounded by barbed wire with every so many yards guards with their guns. They're not, as they said, "protecting." Of course, they were aiming at us. And one man did go a little berserk and ran towards the fence. There was a fence, barbed wire fence, and then, I don't know how many feet, and then a big ditch, which was deep enough that when it rained a lot, it would inundate it and you could drown in it. We children could drown in it, it was that deep. And then space and then -- this is later when we moved to the better-quality German houses. [Laughs] And so, yeah, it was not pleasant. But you know, when you're children, if you're with your parents, it doesn't matter. You don't think about the hardship because children, I think, are happy as long as the parents are together, really, and you have enough to eat, which we were provided very well. Because I think... in our case, I think in the beginning I don't remember, but later, Mother was able to cook, yeah. So we had our own little cooking area, things like that.

KN: Many internees, it was just these houses or huts, areas, they tried to beautify it, they made some gardens. Do you recall if your family made it a home...

EK: Yes. Well, in the beginning, there was nothing like that. But later, I think probably right after the Germans left, we were able to move to their homes, which was better-built. It had a shower, it had a toilet, it had a sink.

KN: Inside?

EK: Inside the house, yeah. And even then you see the inequality of things. And so those with children were able to move to those houses, better houses. It did have a little yard in the front with a tree and some... I remember climbing the tree, I was very tomboyish. [Laughs] And play around with the neighborhood kids. But he did build, he did do gardening, so we had like watermelon, I don't remember tomatoes, but I'm sure he did. But I remember watermelons and cucumbers and melons and things like that. And beans, beans.

KN: Was your father exaggerating when he said the soil was so fertile, he says these watermelons were so huge that sometimes two children would have to carry them.

EK: Yes, exactly. So he says, "How in the world did Japan go to war with this country that's so rich?" Even the soil is rich compared to the Hokkaido soil which was very poor. And he said, "Anything grows. Look at the beans. In one night, it's already a couple of inches tall." So we did have string beans, too. [Laughs]

KN: So was your routine living there in the camp since you folks... you mentioned that you went to Japanese school?

EK: Yes, we did. In the beginning we went to Japanese school because later someone told me that they encouraged that because, "They're going to ship you off to be used as hostage exchange." And so yeah, so I read all the books that were in the library. And after the war, though, then we started to go to English school because I think they might have closed the Japanese school.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 13>

KN: And then you're moving up to Seabrook, to New Jersey. And describe the climate. You said it was just horrible.

EK: Well, the housing was so disappointing to me because it was not what I would consider a real house. There was the barest of... I don't know if my father had to buy this or not, but we did have a table, and, I don't know, five or six chairs, just wooden type, the simplest type. And then a bunk bed and like two single cots, and then my parents' bed. It was like, because we had so many in our family, it was divided, there were three rooms put together in one building structure. But luckily, the people before us had demanded that there would be opening between the walls, so you didn't have to go out each time to go to the next unit, so you could go through. So we did have that.

KN: So this is going to be four children...

EK: Five.

KN: Five children on two cots, (a bunk bed), plus your parents.

EK: And a baby bed, yeah. They had the third, so-called "third room."

KN: So it was very crowded.

EK: It was very simply the barest minimum. I think if you see that picture, I don't think we even had money to buy curtains.


KN: So when we were last talking, we were discussing your experiences at Seabrook and living in company housing that your father had to pay for.

EK: Yes.

KN: So in Seabrook, what kind of company was it? What were the jobs that your mother and father...

EK: Yeah, Seabrook Farms was known for its frozen vegetables and canned goods. And so they would also pick beans and beets and spinach and those kind of things. My mother, because she had so many little ones, had to work where she could come running to feed the children or the child. At that time I think Richard was born. And so she did like... there were buildings just for the single men, and so she would have to clean their latrine. And that's where she also got heckled by some member saying, "That's so demeaning." But my dad told her -- and she would cry sometimes -- and she would say, "But I have to do this because it will allow me to see the children and make sure they're okay." What my father said then was, "It's an honest job, it has to be done, and you're not doing anything wrong, so be proud. Don't be ashamed that you're doing this kind of work. It's an honest work." And so that made her feel better, I think, and so she did.

KN: So by this time there were six children?

EK: Six children, yeah.

KN: So your mother was working and also taking care of the children. What was your father doing as far as employment at the farm?

EK: Just about everything. I think he was in the... what is that called? A conveyor belt where they have to very quickly throw away all the junky veggies and keep the good ones and do those kind of things. Or carry crates from one place to another, all types, all kinds of work. Whatever was there, he would do it.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 15>

KN: So how long did you folks live in Seabrook?

EK: I would say about two years, two and a half years, maybe. But, see, when my father realized that he could not save, and the children were growing, I was already, you know, at that growth stage where you really needed clothes, in one month you grow so many... so he said his friend, his bachelor friend, a Mr. Takeshita, had gone to Chicago. And he wrote to my father saying, "There's lots of job in Chicago. You can work two jobs, maybe even three. You stay at my place, when I work nights, you work day, and when you work, vice versa, so you always have a place free." And so that's what he did. But see, the "illegal entry" stamped also prevented him from just taking off. He had go to the immigration office every month to say, "We are here," and sign the paper. To go someplace further than, I don't know, an hour away, you had to go and ask permission to say, "I'm going to Chicago, and I won't be back for probably so many weeks or months," and all those kind of things. And it wasn't easy. No one had cars, you had to take the bus, which was expensive for us, had to go to, sometimes to Philadelphia to do this. And so it was a trying time for the adults. It was not easy for the children either, of those of us who had many in the family, 'cause I have friends who also were doing -- males, young classmates -- who had to do the dishes in the communal place, or help the parents with the children, those kind of situation.

KN: So there were a number of Japanese families who had experienced this same thing, they had moved with you.

EK: Uh-huh.

KN: So your father heard about jobs in Chicago, to somewhere that he's never been to.

EK: Never been there.

KN: And does he go first or does he bring everyone?

EK: Oh, no, no. We didn't have any money. So he saved enough to -- on the cheapest coach, the type that you just sit up, and I don't think they have those kind of trains anymore but in those days I think they did. And so he went to Chicago, worked several jobs and spent very little. And in the meantime, when he worked nights, he would look around the city to see if it was viable for him to bring his family. And then he realized, too, if he was going to do that, we children needed coats, 'cause Chicago is so much colder than southern Jersey. And so when he came back, he had a coat for my mother, a coat for me, a green coat, and my sister and my brother. And those that belonged to us from Peru went to the younger ones, we had grown so much. And so that's how we got to Chicago later. February of 1949.

KN: So it was still freezing cold.

EK: Well, yeah. He said, "It's very cold in Chicago." When we got there, it was like freezing cold, as you say, and it was a place in the ghetto where the music was blasting away day and night with, "Do the Hucklebug." [Laughs] You folks don't that. Do you know that? No? Well, it was very jazzy.

KN: So were you in an African American neighborhood?

EK: Yes. But it was a mixed neighborhood. Ours was just a short block that had everything in it. Italian American, Japanese American, Puerto Rican, Mexicans, blacks. That's about... Southerners from way south who were the scariest when the father got drunk. It was like that.

KN: So you were dropped into American culture and different ethnicities and picking up English and...

EK: And trying not to say the swear words which came, every other word were swear words, but we tried to close our ears. [Laughs] So to this day I cannot say it. Even I tried it with my adult children, I said, "I'm going to swear just to see how it feels like," and they all laughed at me. They said, "You don't sound like you're swearing," you know, 'cause you just train yourself not to say those words, 'cause you know they're bad. You don't know exactly what they mean at that time, but you know they're bad.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 17>

KN: But you folks actually, your husband and you, actually knew each other before college.

EK: Oh, yeah. It's like camp is a small neighborhood, so was Seabrook. Everybody knows who you are, but you don't really know, I mean, you're not really friends. "Oh, yeah, that's the Nakamura girl, oh, yeah, that's the Watanabe boy," or that so and so. But you're not really, I mean... and he was a little older so he doesn't pay any attention. Either was I too young, but later, in college, then when he came back from the army and he said he noticed I had grown up. [Laughs]

KN: Because you folks had the same experiences in Peru.

EK: Yes, similar.

KN: Very similar.

EK: Not exactly the same. 'Cause they were more elite than my parents were.

KN: And then interestingly enough, you then saw each other again at Seabrook, but again he did pay attention.

EK: We were too little.

KN: Then he went off to war.

EK: Yeah, to the army.

KN: So how did he remember you and how did you folks --

EK: Oh, well, it's just by chance, life is a chance. And at that time, Mr. Kurotobi's son, my parents owe a lot to Mr. Kurotobi because he was like a second father to my mother in Peru. But Mr. Kurotobi was a contract worker who ran away 'cause life was so hard. I mean, if he stayed, maybe he'd die already, it was so primitive and so terrible. And so when he ran away from that plantation, my grandfather, who was liked by his plantation owner, he helped him escape. He ran away without shoes. I cannot imagine that atmosphere. But anyway, so he helped him. And so there's a lot of those kind of connections. So Mr. Kurotobi was always very, he treated my mother like a daughter. So before getting married, my mother was, my dad wanted her to take business courses, but it wasn't done in those days. They all said, "No, she needs to be a homemaker, so she has to take sewing and cooking."

KN: Home ec.

EK: Yeah, home ec. And so she stayed at Mr. Kurotobi's house in Lima and went to those kind of classes. And so his son had returned to Japan, and he was coming through on his way to South America. He wanted to see the Kudo family and my parents. And so my mother said -- oh, and he wanted to go to an American baseball. Now, don't ask me which one, I have to ask my husband. But so the boys from the Kudo side said, "Okay, we'll take him to the baseball game." And Grandpa -- my father-in-law -- Grandpa Kudo was an avid fan of any sports, especially baseball. So they all went to see the baseball game. And in the meantime, my mother and I cooked dinner for them. So by the time the game was over and they drove from Milwaukee, I think, to Chicago, we ate dinner together. And that was our first adult meeting. And when he asked me about Illinois, I said, "Oh, it is so hard." [Laughs] So he said, "Boy, you thought I couldn't make it." I said, "No, I wasn't talking about, I was struggling." Because we went to a very low-standard school, so I had all these bright kids from all these, you know, American homes, they knew everything, and I knew nothing. And so I said, it's a miracle that I even passed. And it was tough. Every week they have all these tests, every week I said, "Oh, I'm going to flunk." But somehow I made it. Education. There weren't too many chances in those days, this is the '50s. So either you become a nurse -- or at first you get married. Half of my classmates married already. So then you become a secretary, a nurse, and a teacher, that's it. Not much choices.

KN: And so you graduated with an education, and your husband was, because he had been in the army, was actually a few years behind you.

EK: Oh, yeah, many years behind. But he had the GI Bill, and because he had the military, he was able to become an American citizen and not have to pay those foreign tuition.

KN: Oh, and you still had, of course, had to.

EK: No, I didn't, because by that time that I went to Illinois, I already was okay. I had the green card, so it's okay. I wasn't a citizen until junior, but I had the green card.

KN: So were you working as a teacher?

EK: Yes, I did. In a sense, my husband was going to school so I went to teach in Champaign, Illinois, for two years, and Chicago one year. And then we started our family and then we had a lot of movement, like going to Japan and living there for three years and things like that.

KN: And as you were growing and creating your family, your father and the rest of your siblings were still in Chicago.

EK: Yes.

KN: So your husband because of his business was moving and you were moving to different areas and places.

EK: Well, actually, now, my husband's story is also very interesting because he went into the accounting, and he was with another Caucasian lady, young woman, one of the top in their classes, but neither of them had any offers. One because of gender, and the other because he's a minority. No one offered him a job in the big eight. And he really wanted to work for the big eights to get this big experience, but no one would hire him. So that the professors were really very kind and said, "Well, maybe... you're not going to get an offer, you know, so why don't you go for your PhD and become a professor?" So he said, "Wow, I guess I have to." So then by that time it was rather late in getting his application, but Penn State offered him a terrific, everything paid, a job for your wife, housing, etcetera, etcetera. And they were so nice that he was just about ready to accept it when this offer came from one of the big eights. See, life is very strange. Very, very strange. And so he thought he better take this because he could always go back into teaching if he had to. And besides, he needed money. And at that time, my teaching position was so cheap. It was before the union.

KN: It still is.

EK: Oh, it is, but it's much better. When I started, it was only like three thousand for a year.

KN: Right now it's about three thousand per class.

EK: Per class? Well, mine is elementary teaching, but it's for year-round. That's all you got. So we, when we were first married, we made a budget and we stuck to it. So it's hard for us to understand how young people now don't have a budget. It was before credit cards, too, so everything was cash or checks. And so we had like groceries, eleven dollars per week and those kind of things. Our recreation was beer for him and his buddies who were all GIs. And then the women, twenty-nine cent pizza mix that we all made our own way. That was it. But it was fun and we didn't think we lacked anything. We went to the university movies, that was twenty-five cents. But we only went when it was Japanese movie that was classic, like that.

KN: And so this was in Illinois, still?

EK: Yes, Illinois. Champaign-Urbana.

KN: So how long did you folks live there?

EK: Two years -- no, actually... well, two years. 'Cause he went two years in the Navy Pier, which was Illinois then, University of Illinois.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

KN: So describe, how would you describe your life as you started to have a family, how did you -- and I understand because of your husband's business, then lived in Japan, but how would you come here to Hawaii?

EK: Oh, that was my husband's idea. I said, you know, because to go to Japan we stopped, the company said, "You must stop in with two little ones." My second one was only, less than four months old. So they said, "You stop in Hawaii, rest, and then go to Tokyo." So we did, and we loved it, but after we came back from that tour, back to Chicago, and then when he said, "Let's move to Hawaii," this was many years later, I said, "But Hawaii is a place for vacation, not to live." He said, "Well, I have a purpose. I think..." because he had no connection with the bigger society, so to speak. For him to open an office and succeed would have been very difficult. And so he said, "You have your degree, but you may not be able to teach." Because at that time they were closing schools. And so he said, "You may have to help me by even working as a waitress. Will you be willing to do that?" I said, "If this is what you really want," and my husband is not the kind of person who will decide, he really thinks it over and then does it. Otherwise he won't do it. So I said, "He must really want this." So I said, "Okay, I've done waitressing work when I was in college, I could do it again." And so that's how we came to Hawaii.

KN: And this is with two young children with you?

EK: Yes.

KN: And so your husband had an idea for a business.

EK: Yes. He wanted to open his own and he had left us to do this. And so I had my in-laws living with us already. [Laughs] And so they felt like, "What?" They couldn't understand this. "Why would you want to move there when you have a," by then we had purchased a lovely house in the suburb of Chicago. And I went there, Highland Park, because I did student teaching, and I knew the schools were good. And I said, "For the children's sake, we've got to move to Highland Park." And I liked the area, they had a train and all that, all the necessities in a small area. And so that's how we got to Hawaii later.

KN: But I can just, you know, I was just talking before with our accounting man about, a lot of families were moved up to the mainland. They usually do not come here.

EK: I know.

KN: They do not come back.

EK: I think my husband had found so much prejudice in his work, and later he learned that for every company that he went, even after he was hired by one of the big eights, they first had to ask permission, "Can a Japanese person come and audit your work?" And some said no, some said yes.

KN: So this was during the 1960s and '70s?

EK: Yes, yes. It was still very closed. But for gender, as a woman, that gal who was so sharp and attractive, too, physically, she couldn't get a job. So she ended up teaching bookkeeping in a little town in southern Illinois. That's how it was. And so my husband, being the first, I think, I tell him, "I think you're a pioneer." Because there was another Japanese-born but American citizen guy who was hired, but he immediately was shipped to Japan. So not counting that, my husband was the first minority to be hired, we believe, as a CPA.

KN: By a big accounting firm?

EK: A big accounting firm. Incredible. And then a woman came later. Now they're begging for women, because they work hard, they're reliable, smart. So now all the companies have so many women and many partners. You never found a partner before as a woman, but now there are so many, including in Japan, they have partners who are women. So I'm so happy for that, being a woman. [Laughs]

KN: It's very interesting to hear about people's motivations moving to different areas and why they would come to somewhere like Hawaii.

EK: I know. Oh, yeah, I started to say, because he found so much of.. when we first came to Hawaii, it was so good to see like Nakamura car dealer, or someplace on King Street, there was a Nakamura automobile repair shop or something. And so many Japanese names. We said, "Oh my gosh, this is home." [Laughs]

KN: Was it a culture shock?

EK: It was a culture shock. It was a culture shock that we liked. 'Cause when I went to, I transferred to northern Illinois for my education my last two years, everybody looked at me. This is in Illinois, but outside of Chicago ninety miles. And they looked at me as though I were not exactly human. Because they didn't see too many, or hardly ever.

KN: We sent my father up to Chicago a few years ago, a person stopped him on the subway and said, of course, loudly, "Do you speak English?" And I was like, "What are you talking about?"

EK: [Laughs] Oh, yeah.

KN: So times have changed, people are more aware.

EK: But, yeah, in our days it was even worse.

KN: So I'm just imagining being a minority and then coming to a place where you are in the majority.

EK: I know, yes. So that's what he loved about Hawaii, that he said, "I'm not a minority here. I don't feel, I feel like I am a part of this place."

KN: Do you think he had better business prospects because of...

EK: He thought he did, and he did try to open his own office. But again, we didn't know anybody. You have to know people, you know, to get clients. And it's a slow thing and we're not exactly wealthy. We had mortgage on our head and Grandma and Grandpa living with us and they depended on us. So it was difficult, but in the meantime, he had offers to come and work for them. So he accepted one because they said, "We want for you to go to Japan." So he asked me, "What do you think?" I said, "Well, if we're going to go to Japan again," which I loved anyway, I said, "It's a good time because the children are still young enough they're not going to put up a big fight." A little bit older, they wouldn't want to go because they have their own set of friends and so forth. So that's when we went to Japan for the second time and loved it.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

KN: And how long did you stay there?

EK: The second time was two years.

KN: Then you came back.

EK: Uh-huh.

KN: And you were with his parents.

EK: His parents, and we told them, I said, "Until his work thing is settled or become more stable, please stay with the daughter." And I guess they didn't feel quite... so within a few months they said, "We want to come to Hawaii." [Laughs] So then we had this other problem, but it worked out okay.

KN: So his family was with you.

EK: Yes.

KN: And interesting, your family started to come to Hawaii, too.

EK: Well, actually, it was my father and mother first.

KN: Can you explain that story?

EK: Oh, well, my brother had served in Germany for a few years, and he said, "Well, I'm a bachelor, I could go anywhere." And he had just finished his college in Chicago, so he came to Hawaii. And he told my parents who were thinking of retiring, he said, "Why don't you come to Hawaii and see? You stay with me, my little condo." And so they did. And my dad was not exactly convinced because he really wanted to live in Japan, the Izu peninsula, which is very lovely. An then the yen and dollar exchange was in his favor. So he thought, "Yeah, that would be good." But while he was walking on Waikiki he met some haole people and the gentleman had traveled everywhere in this world, everywhere, and knew so many things. And he said, "If I were you, with your background, Hawaii is the better place for you. Because it's still the United States, but it's still very Japanese in many ways. And if you went back, if you go to Japan, you'll be separated from your whole family. Yes, they come and visit, but it would be foreign to your wife." All those kind of stories. So he thought about it and he decided, "Yeah, I guess Hawaii is the place," so he stayed.

KN: So it's very interesting that you're with your husband's family and your family comes to Hawaii.

EK: Yeah.

KN: And then your brothers and sisters start to join you.

EK: Yes, yes.

KN: So how many... so you have an extended family here.

EK: Not anymore. Yeah. Well, then my sisters wanted to come, two sisters and their families, so they came. And then my brother, my bachelor brother came then, but then he left later, someplace else. And then my, let's see, my other brother who had first come here, Arthur, who is in that picture, he married a local girl, but he died, gee, how long ago? Almost ten years ago. So he was the first one to go. So now we only have... oh, and then my second sister who's in that picture, came after their retirement. So they've been here about ten years.

KN: Are your children here?

EK: No. I wish they were, I miss them so much. I have two daughters, but one is in New Jersey and the other in California. So I'm always flying.

KN: Just like my family. My brother lives in New Jersey and my other brother's in California.

EK: Oh, my gosh.

KN: So it's very different.

EK: Yes. So we have to fly, because they have their children and they're going to school, so it's hard for them. But this December we met in Lima because my daughter Eimi, who's a registered nurse in New Jersey said, "You know, we really need Papa to explain his roots," because he's from Lima. And so we did. We went to the Bunka Kaikan, the cultural center where Grandpa Rokuchi Kudo's picture hangs, 'cause he was one of the leaders. And went to see the Manco Capac, Inca ruler, the first Inca ruler, which the Japanese donated to the city, yes. And few people know this, and it's not a dinky little statue, it's a huge statue which we couldn't go in, but there was an opening, because they're fixing the whole area. So some of my children, grandchildren went and took pictures and was chased out by the guards saying, "You can't come in here." And so, but we did do those kind of things. Went to see the house where he was born, but everything is already gone. 1995 it was still there so we thought it might still be there, but it's all gone. The store is gone, but we were able to, he was able to show them the location.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

KN: Do you ever think of your experiences there and just think that sometimes of your home? Where is your home, because you've lived so many places?

EK: Yeah. I think my home is where my family is. So Hawaii is my home now, but I wish that my children were here with me. And I think they do, too, but they can't. They have their own lives. But we see each other often enough, so we're very lucky. But we did have a wonderful time in Lima, and my husband and I did not go to Machu Picchu because we had done that in our younger days, and we don't want to go through the altitude sickness and all that. [Laughs] But they did, and they had a fabulous time. But they did get a little sick, queasy. But my husband and I just stayed in Lima, just took it easy and had a grand time meeting a few old friends who are still there. And my friend Miyoko who had gone through camp and Seabrook, but they were the few who left to return.

KN: And so when you returned and you're immersed in the culture and the food, is this new for your children to see you in a different light in that environment?

EK: Peru was new, but they've come to Japan when we're there. They've met all the relatives, they met one cousin and her extended family, and they met my friend Miyoko and her family. So that was nice, that was special.

KN: Are they lucky enough to also speak Spanish and Japanese?

EK: Yes, yes. At least not everyone, but one cousin's wife spoke three languages very well. Spanish, of course, then Japanese, excellent Japanese and English. And most of them know English. Not perfectly, but enough that we communicate. The grandchildren communicated with their kind of little Spanish and English. They had fun.

KN: You've had such a remarkable life and story, is there anything that you could share at this point? I mean, I've been asking you all these questions. Would you like to share anything about anything that you feel like you want to impart to the next generation?

EK: Well, oh, gosh. I think what you are doing is a great thing for the future. I really don't want to do this, 'cause I hate to be in these bright lights and show my wrinkles. [Laughs] No, but the fact that you're leaving something for the generations to come -- and I hope that they will learn from whatever all these people that you have already interviewed, each one has his story, and I think each one has his special story. Each one is a special story. So I think that's a wonderful thing you folks are doing, really. So I'm very privileged and honored to be asked to do this.

KN: It's a privilege to have you share your story. That's what I wanted to say.

EK: I know, sometimes people ask me, "Tell me about your background." I say, "How many hours do you have?" because we've had so many changes. We've had so many different changes.

KN: I think it's remarkable that you lived in so many different areas and been into so many different cultures and experiences.

EK: Yeah. I think, well, right now I'm writing because my children asked me to do this, and I'm not a writer. So it's very difficult for me, but I did do an article for the Seabrook Cultural Center, 'cause when my son-in-law took us there, there was nothing on the Peruvian Japanese. [Interruption] And there are still a few families who served in the military, and one, my classmate died in Vietnam. And I said, "Gee, they should be acknowledged." And so I did write an article about Seabrook, living in Seabrook, how it was, how the housing was and all that, about the chamber pot and all this. So now I'm moving on to Chicago.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

Brian Niiya: So maybe just starting with the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, how...

EK: You know, that was, you know, just one of those... I didn't even know what things were. I mean, I don't know why they even chose me. I'm just a housewife, I know nothing. [Laughs] [Interruption] And successful businesspeople, and I just felt so out of it. But they were so nice.

BN: Who's "they"?

EK: Pardon?

BN: Who's the "they"?

EK: The members, yeah. Like Dale (Minami), of course, was the leader, he was a wonderful, the most, I would say the most outstanding person who could do everything. He didn't really need anybody, but he's so gracious that he allowed me to be part of the group. Right now I can't even think of the other names, but Mr. Goto of Denver, Kelly Kuwayama, the hero of World War II, whose corner at the Smithsonian, I think it's still there. It was there when I went a few years back. And they were all so kind. But when I first went to the first meeting, I mean, all these people. I probably was not the only one, but I felt like I was the only one. They're all talking in acronyms. I didn't know what they stood for, all these various acronyms. And so it was an eye-opener. But...

BN: Did you know any of them?

EK: I didn't know anybody. I was a total stranger. I really feel that I'm almost embarrassed to have been there, because I didn't have the qualifications, I thought.

BN: Do you know how they got your name?

EK: Someone must have put my name in there. It might have been maybe the Campaign for Justice people. But the fact that it remained there was a miracle for me, but I thought, well, at least I could maybe give the practical side of things, being a housewife, I'm very practical. So I did give a little suggestion on practical side. But these people are so sharp, I mean, I'm so glad we have such top people, being the leaders of our Japanese American society, because they are just so wonderful people. They're so giving, they do so much pro bono work, and they're forever helping somebody else. So I was privileged to have come in contact with those kind of people that I would have never met. So I feel that I received so much more than I was able to ever give back.

BN: How many times did you...

EK: Oh, several times a year. A lot, actually. So I was flying into --

BN: Different places?

EK: Mostly Washington, (D.C.) or San Francisco.

BN: So you had to travel?

EK: Yeah, so I said, "Why don't we meet in Hawaii sometime?" And they said, "Because it's how people look at Hawaii. They think we'll just be playing." I said, but nobody played, I mean, we worked from the minute we arrived, there were so many things to do and people to hire and study about the funds and what kind of funding, it was like hard work. And it was, everything was new to me.

BN: Did your group actually, were you the ones actually reviewing the applications or were you mostly setting policy and hiring staff?

EK: Yeah, setting policy, but also we did go over all the applications, too, we did. But of course we hired people who knew more about funding to help us out. So they were very helpful. But these people were so neat. It was, to me, just a sheer honor, a privilege.

(Narr. Note: It has been about fifteen years since the CLPEF board ceased to be. Except for Father Drinan, we were a most diverse group of Americans of Japanese descent. It was a group full of energy and experiences, diverse in age, education, occupations, personalities, and backgrounds. We arrived to the meetings from homes in the east coast to the most western state, Hawaii. I think that I may have been the only "internee" who also was born in Peru, South America.

The board consisted of Father Robert Drinan (Law Professor), Leo Goto (businessman/restauranteur), Susan Hayase (Engr & Activist; our Vice chair), Elsa Kudo (Housewife, publisher of 1st edition Adios to Tears, real estate), Yeichi Kelly Kuwayama (businessman, WWII hero), Dale Minami (Esq & Activist; our Chair), Peggy Nagae (Esq & Activist), Don Nakanishi (Ph.D., UCLA, Amerasia Journal), Dale Shimasaki (Ph.D & our Exec Director), Martha Watanabe (our Deputy Exec Director).

It was a group so committed to accomplish the most with what little time and money we were allotted that everyone put aside personal feelings to get the job done most effectively and efficiently. I believe that we all wished there had been more funds to help more people. I believe that the reprinting of the "Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians-PERSONAL JUSTICE DENIED" has been and will continue to be one of the highlights as it has the "power" to reach people all over the globe for generations to come. In the short two years and busy personal lives, this board worked so well. I am very proud to have been a member.)

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

BN: I guess the last thing would be about Campaign for Justice, how you...

(Narr. note: The Campaign for Justice, I believe, continues to seek an apology and equitable redress payment to those who were neglected for various reasons: those born in Camp after the official closing date of the Camp; those whose green cards were stamped after 1944, including those who married Americans and re-entered to hasten their becoming USA citizens; those who refused and those who accepted the $5000 from the *1998 Mochizuki v USA settlement. (Many here in the US were so insulted they refused it saying they receive more from minor car accidents.)

There are other reasons that the Campaign continues to work hard but I will just mention another that I remember. It seeks also to get the supplemental funding for the Civil Liberties Public Educational Fund.

*I asked the question: "But if they accepted the settlement as small as the $5000 was, how would they qualify?" The answer was that it is included in the agreement that any subsequent legislative act could still qualify them.)

The Campaign had to work very hard with time restraints to inform, explain and get the decisions of the former internees not only in the USA but also in Peru and Japan. I believe that most of those living abroad, including my late auntie Fumi in Kysushu, decided to accept as they were already of senior ages.

The Campaign was most grateful for Representative Becerra of California and Senator Inouye when they got aboard and introduced legislation. Though it seems to be in a dormant stage at present, there is still hope that somehow a positive end will come.

EK: Oh, the Campaign for Justice was started in San Francisco by a group of people who's been headed mostly I would say by Grace Shimizu, who is really a Nisei because her parents are Issei. They're both gone now. That group has been working so tirelessly, and of course they asked for help. So I have gone on my own to Washington, and until... I knew they worked hard, but I didn't realize how hard. From the minute they go there, they're doing all the paperwork, they're setting up appointments to see all the people in Congress. If they don't get to see the top guy they'll see the, of course, the assistants. And so, and they continue, because it's still not resolved. And finally we have Senator Inouye on the agenda, but something always takes precedence so it seems to be pushed aside. So who knows? But I admire the fact that they just keep plugging away anyway. And it's very costly because you have to stay in a hotel. No matter how cheap, it's still every day for how many days. And the plane ticket and so forth, no matter how cheap you could get one, it's still expensive, nowadays even more so. So I have tried to help I think one time by giving my miles, since we travel so much. But they're just, they're so admirable, those people. They just keep plugging away.

And I don't know, I was hoping that all this would be cleared before too long, but it's still continuing. And people forget, so each time you go back to Washington you have to re-teach these new people, that takes time and money and space. And so it's just horrendous. I cannot praise them enough. And of course there's a need for a lot of donation, but that's getting kind of forgotten because there's other things that take over. So who knows whether this will really come through or not in our economic environment. There's always something. But at least it's lesson to know that there are people like Campaign for Justice, like all those like Bill Hohri's group, who fought in spite of everything. Everything was negative, but they kept doing it. And so I thank these leaders, Michi Weglyn, whom I met, I met her in New York in her apartment, and my children and grandchildren had the privilege of meeting her, and she was even more beautiful in person, inside and out, than just her pictures that I had seen.


And she was so generous, as was Bill Hohri. He's the one that pushed me to give an index. I didn't have an index. And I said, "Why would I need an index? This is my dad's story." He said, "Because it's the only book of that kind." And I had to search -- that's my other learning experience doing something I knew nothing about, nothing about publishing. So I had to go look for an indexer. There are people who make a living doing indexing, which I didn't know. You do that? I wish I had known. I had to go to Illinois, and that gal was booked, so she sent me to her student who was in Indiana. So my thing had to go through those people, and finally it got done. But now I'm so glad I did it because I said, "But Bill, why?" He said, "Because, Elsa, scholars will be looking at this, and they don't want to go through page by page. They'll just want to look quickly." And I said, "Oh, okay." I didn't want to do it 'cause that was more money needed, and I didn't know anything. And I went to U of H, they said, "We don't have one, we got to Illinois." That's how I went to Illinois and then to Indiana and finally got it done.

So I learned so much by doing this. So everything I've done, I think I did learn this. When you do something for someone out of your heart, you receive more than you give, and that's what I learned from life. And with my dad I really wanted him to have this book, really, before he passed on. And I've received so many letters, fan letters, that I never knew anyone would write to me. And then before long I had sold everything, but people were still calling to say, "Do you have another copy?" And so then I went for the second publication. And at first University of Washington Press actually turned me down. But because of the people I met, I think, and the little work that I did -- I hardly did anything -- but Professor Gardiner and Professor Masterson, they both wrote to University of Washington Press saying, "You've got to do this." That's the only reason why it was done. And they both wanted to do the foreword. So I said, "Well, it's such an honor, could we have two forewords?" [Laughs] And they said, "No, you have to choose one." So I had to choose Professor Gardiner, 'cause he spoke at the hearings. And with his help, our story got told. It gave weight, 'cause he's a professor, we're nothing.

Just my father who spoke, and I think maybe he's the only one that spoke in Japanese. Oh, maybe there was another one, Mr. Murono. But he spoke in Japanese, and when he spoke in Japanese, that whole huge auditorium, I think it was Eastern University in Illinois, was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop, because he spoke with such emotion. And then my husband translated it, and then we were such big news, we got through all the newspapers, TV, radio, including the Latino radio and newspapers in Chicago. So it got to be known a little bit.

BN: You're talking about the Commission.

EK: The commission hearing. Yeah, we had to go all the way to Chicago, and because I called California, they were booked solid, which would have been closer to us. Was there one here? I think... I think there was one here. There might have... I don't remember, but anyway, so then my brother who lives in suburb of Chicago said, "You know, they have some opening, so why don't you get in touch with Ms. Tomihiro?" And she was in the committee. So she said, "Good, we'll wait for you." And so because of them, we got in at the last minute. My husband had to write his speech on the plane getting to Chicago, and then get up early in the morning because it was so far to travel, and the rush hour. But we did do it.


So yeah, so we've done very little compared to all these people, attorneys like Dale and all these others who do pro bono work and continue to help people, we do very little. But I think because of the hearings, we were able to put our story on the map, so to speak. And that's why we were included in the appendix of the commission (...). Otherwise, nobody would know about us. So I guess you do have to be a little active to get things known.

BN: Your book, I think, is quite a big role.

EK: Yeah, much more than I ever dreamed.

BN: Because it is the only one.

EK: Yeah, so far. And then all the Isseis, there's no Issei left as far as I know. Because Mrs. Yamasato, Maurice's mother was the last one, and she's gone. Now my mother, who's ninety-five, is the last Nisei of her generation. So I suppose it may be the only one, so I'm so glad he did it. So I'm so glad he did, and I'm so glad for people like Bill and Michi Weglyn and Aiko Herzig, but especially Bill was the first one to say, "Elsa, you have to do an index." I said, "Oh, no, I'm ready to have it published, printed." He said, "No, you've got to do it," and he made me do it. And so then Michi called, and she said, "Elsa, you must do it." I said, "But Michi, I don't know how to do that." She said, "It's not so hard." I said, "Maybe for you," because she did hers. And I said, "I don't know where to begin." So she tried to help me, saying, "It's really not that hard, Elsa." I said, "Well, it is for me. I don't even know what I'm doing." But she helped me a lot too. She was so generous. So those two in particular, but later, people who bought tons of books -- she's another one, and Bill, and Mr. Tomita, my husband's Japanese founder of his company who just passed away last year, but he bought like a whole box to pass out. And so people are always there to help you, that's what I've learned in life, that people are there to help you. You just accept it and be thankful.

BN: Thank you.

EK: Oh, you're very welcome.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.