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-01-0027

<Begin Segment 27>

AK: Well, it was very interesting at Laurelhurst, because some of my greatest critics became my strongest advocates.

ME: You were going to tell us what one teacher had said.

AK: Uh-huh, oh, but when I first went there, one teacher came and said, "What are you?" And I said, "What do you mean, what am I?" And she says, "Well, who are you?" And I said, "I'm Aki Kurose." And she said, "Well, what are you?" And I said, "I'm a teacher." And she said, "Where'd you come from?" And I said, "From Madrona." And she was getting furious with me, and she said, "No. You know what I mean, where did you come from?" So I said, "Oh, Martin Luther King School." And she said, "I'm asking you where you came from." So I said, "Are you trying to ask my ethnicity?" I said, "I told you I'm from Madrona, I told you I'm from Martin Luther King School, and you're still asking me where I came from." And she said, "Oh." And I said, "Are you wondering whether I'm Japanese, or Chinese, or Vietnamese, or whatever?" And she said, "Well, what are you?" And so I said, "Well, I'm Japanese American." And she said, "Oh." And she walked away.

Then things were going on okay, and then came it to the Christmastime and there was a Christmas party going on, and one of the teachers came and said, "Is your husband coming to the Christmas party?" And I said, "Well I thought this was... aren't husbands invited?" And she said, "Oh, yes." But she said, and there were three teachers there, "Well, our husbands were in the service, and so they won't feel comfortable if your husband comes." I said, "My husband was in the service, too." And they said, "No, we mean the American army." And I said, "My husband was also in the American army." But they couldn't quite understand that. And when I told my husband, he said, "Thank goodness. I don't want to go to a teacher's party anyway." [Laughs] But those are subtle prejudices that people don't realize. And I'm sure they were well-meaning. They didn't want my husband to be uncomfortable. This is why they didn't want him to be there, that I should be forewarned.

ME: And what year was this, Aki?

AK: In '76 or '75 or so. And then my niece's daughter, who was black, came to the school. And the comment in the teacher's room, "Your sister must have been devastated." And I said, "Why?" They said, "Your niece married a black." And then they said, "Gee, but Kiyomi is very smart." Like she's not supposed to be? And then, after she left, my, when my son died, the teachers came to his funeral. And a couple of the teachers said, "We want to see Kiyomi, we want to see Kiyomi." So I said, "Oh, Kiyomi, some of those teachers would like to see you." And she went, and then after we got back to the school they said, "Gee, isn't it too bad that she looks more black than Asian now." And I'm going, "Thank you, you came to my son's funeral and you're talking about what my niece looks like?" So, there's those kinds of undertones that occur, but this is from faculty.

ME: And it still comes out today.

AK: Uh-huh. And one of the... and I have to be real careful because I don't want this... she's a school board member, maybe I shouldn't even say that much, and she's... when I went there, her son was assigned to my classroom. And he came in and says, "I'm not supposed to have a Jap for a teacher." And I said, "Aaron, I, that's not a very nice term." I said, "I'm Japanese American." And he said, "Well, my Mom says I'm not supposed to be in this class. I'm supposed to be in Miss Ireland's class." And I said, "Well, we'll see about it." I said, you know, "I'll have to speak to the principal about it." Because I said, "You were assigned here and I can't do anything about it, but I'll see what I can do about it." So I went to the principal and I said, "Aaron is just making all this fuss, 'I'm not supposed to be in this class, I'm in the wrong class, I shouldn't be here.'" And she said... Japanese and all this... and so the principal called this woman, and she said, "Oh, he wasn't supposed to say that out of school, out of home." But, she says, "I really don't want him in her class." She withdrew him from my classroom.

And later on, her other son, who was just a holy terror, was not wanted by any of the teachers. And so, I read the roster three years later, and here is Elliot; and I said, "I'm not supposed to have this child in here." So I went to the principal, "Here, this child is in my classroom." And I said, "You know his mother didn't want me for a teacher." He said, "Oh no, this time she requested you. And he's really difficult to work with." And so when she came in, I said, "Are you sure you want your son in my classroom?" And she said, "Oh, yes," she says, "he is so difficult, and I'm sure he could fit into your room because, you know, you're real nice to kids." Well, he just needed the special kind of attention, and he turned out very nicely. He was no trouble for me, because I gave him respect and, you know, I didn't restrict him. And so now she was the one that spoke so highly of me at the dedication, and so highly of me at the, my retirement, and I went, "Oh my goodness." And she's always praising me... [Laughs] And I think, oh my goodness. So you learn or whatever, but you know... she could not even have him in my room a half day more. She pulled him out to go to the other class. And so, these are the subtleties of racism that occur constantly, and even in the teaching profession.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.