Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Akiko Kurose Interview I
Narrator: Akiko Kurose
Interviewer: Matt Emery
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 17, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-kakiko-01-0026

<Begin Segment 26>

ME: When I spoke to your son, Guy, he, he described you as a non-traditional Nisei woman. Has it been tough at times to stand up for what you believe in?

AK: Yes and no. You know what I mean? I felt like, "Come on... you don't understand," because I was labeled as a Communist and people would criticize me, but it wasn't a hardship because I felt like I knew what I was doing was right. It was just kind of sad that that wasn't being communicated to them, and for them feeling that I was doing something unpatriotic or wrong. And that also the prejudice and racism that many Niseis harbored was very uncomfortable. My niece married a black, and people would say, "Gee it's too bad." And I'm going, "Why?" But it's because she's black -- he was black. And so that's what happens.

And I feel that if I didn't have the commitment to peace and the peace testimony, my teaching at Laurelhurst would have been very difficult, too. When I taught at Martin Luther King School, which was mostly, predominately black and low income, and the H.E. -- in 1970, I don't know, '75 or thereabouts, this H.E.W. mandate came out. You know the Department of Health, Education and Welfare mandate came out that no minority teacher could teach in a minority impacted school. And also, they were desegregating the schools and it came to the attention of the school board that the staff was not desegregated. And so I was sent out to Laurelhurst as the token, desegregate... or whatever you want to call it. And the school community freaked out. I was replacing this very good teacher. This teacher was born in Laurelhurst, her father was a doctor. And he... she went to Laurelhurst school as a student and then after she got her education degree, teacher's certificate, she taught at Laurelhurst school; was an excellent teacher. And she was being shipped out to the central area to teach in a minority impacted school as a white teacher, and I was being shipped out to Laurelhurst as a minority teacher in a predominately white school. The community was very upset because I was replacing one of the best teachers. So they had a meeting in the community, the principal called me in the middle of August and said, "The community wants to speak to you." And I said, "Well, what about?" And he said that, "They're concerned about you being a teacher here at Laurelhurst school."

And so they had a summer meeting in this beautiful home, Dr. Peter Mansfield's home on the lake, with squash court, indoor swimming pool, beautiful home. And the principal asked me to meet at school and he would drive me down there, and I went down there. There were over forty parents in the downstairs living room. And they wanted to know what kind of education I had. What kind of philosophy I had. What, you know... and whether their students would pick up the Japanese accent. And they were wondering if I would be able to deal with their gifted children. And so, I was being really on trial. And they said that, "This is our school and it's our right to come visit the classroom." And I said, "Well, you're most welcome to." And so two parents came every day to check me out, and finally I passed the test. But it wasn't easy. There was one parent that came and said, "You know, the only reason you have this job is because you're a minority." And she says, "I don't think you're a good teacher at all." And she says, "The only reason you have this job is you're a minority, and you've displaced and replaced one of the best teachers in the district." She was very angry.

ME: How did you react to that?

AK: And I said, "Well, I'm sorry." What can you say? She was in a beautiful tennis outfit and she just... so it wasn't everything positive at that time. And in fact, one of the parents that was in that group, is now my very good friend. She worked on the peace garden committee, and she says she's still trying to live it down that she was one of those parents. But you know, they were highly educated parents that wanted the best for their children, and here was this unknown Asian teacher coming to their building. They didn't know what to expect.

ME: If I may place my own commentary in this archive...

AK: Uh-huh.

ME: ...they did get the best.

AK: [Laughs]

ME: If I may do that for the Densho archive, they did get the best. So they are lucky.

AK: But, you know it was very interesting, because one of them said, "Well, if you want to bring your chopsticks and rice bowl, it's okay." [Laughs] And this is in the 1970s.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.