Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Akiko Kurose Interview II
Narrator: Akiko Kurose
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 2 & 3, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-kakiko-02

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Then as I mentioned, I wanted to take you way back, Aki, and ask you just to think back to when you were a very young child, what are some of your earliest memories?

AK: Well, I always, my parents were very positive, and so I always had a zest for living. I mean, I just felt like life was always nice and happy and that everybody was so nice. I just, I just had a good... I don't recall any real awful, awful things happening.

AI: You have mainly happy, positive memories of your childhood.

AK: Yes, positive memories, and my childhood days with the family was lots of fun. My mom was, had lots of, both my parents had a good sense of humor, and they were very gregarious people. So we always had people around. And the emphasis of always helping people was there in our family. And sharing was just part of our life, that we'd share with each other. My dad loved to cook, he loved to bake. So on the weekends, you know, we lived in the apartment and my dad would bake, he loved to bake jellyrolls. And we'd all gather, Isseis and Niseis, all of us, got together, and just ate. We were, we communicated with food a lot. [Laughs]

AI: Well it sounds like sharing and generosity and being with other people was very important in your family. What other values do you remember your parents passing on to you at an early age?

AK: And do you know, now, and as I reflect back, my folks did not display any racial prejudices, discrimination. So, and when I went into camp and found out that there were a lot of those kind of biases among the community, I was very surprised. Because black kids could come to my house as well as white kids.

AI: I think you mentioned in the earlier interview that you lived in a very diverse neighborhood, and that there were Jewish and a Chinese family and a black family, what neighborhood was that?

AK: And that was on Eighteenth and, between Fir and Yesler. The Elnor Apartments.

AI: Oh, the Elnor Apartments. And let's see now how --

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AK: -- but the people would have of my dad was, "Mr. Kato tells everyone where the mushrooms are." And my dad says, "It belongs to everybody, it doesn't matter." So my mom and dad said, "Oh, let's go there." So many times people want to keep it a secret, "That's our secret place." It's a strange thing, that mushroom thing was... people would not like to tell you where they got it. [Laughs]

AI: Well, did you go out mushroom hunting with your dad?

AK: But I didn't, because I could not stand the smell of mushrooms. I said, "I'm not going to eat mushrooms all the time." And now I love it. [Laughs] That's like miso shiru. I couldn't stand miso shiru, we had to drink it all the time, so healthy. Then when I got married I had to be a good daughter-in-law and drink miso shiru. [Laughs] Now I like it.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: Well, let me take you back again. In fact, let me back up a little further and ask, when were you born? What year was that?

AK: 1925.

AI: 1925.

AK: Seventy-two years ago.

AI: And so you really grew up in the Elnor Apartments, from a very young age. That's where your family lived, and that was your neighborhood. And tell me more about, you were just starting to explain about how, really everyone was welcome at your house, you were in a very diverse neighborhood...

AK: And you know, I still get together with my girlfriends that I grew up with on Eighteenth Avenue. This, the Jewish girl just called me yesterday, Rita Hirschberg, and we went to grade school and all the way up together. And we've kept in touch.

AI: That's wonderful.

AK: Yeah. And Charlena Sefus, she's a black girl, and we've gotten together and we were just talking -- she calls me Akiko -- "Akiko, we've been together for over sixty-five years." And I said, "That's true." [Laughs] But we never differentiated groups of people or anything. We just got together and did all kinds of things together.

AI: Well, that makes me curious. Can you tell me more about, did your parents, your mother or father, did they ever emphasize any particular values as being Japanese values, that you should be like this or act a certain way?

AK: Not as much. In fact I felt cheated, not cheated so much as I would say, "Gee, my folks never told me about things like that." I never heard about eta being, as a negative person. And I never was told you can't play with people because they're of a different group. And my dad was a real union person, I know that. So he believed in unions and organizations, co-ops, he was a real co-op person. But other than that, he didn't emphasize that we should belong to any set, particular group. And I know some of the Nisei girls were in these clubs, like Taiyo Club, or they, I guess they went to meetings every month and saved money, so that they were gonna go on a trip to Japan as a group and things like that. But we never got involved in it. Because my folks didn't seem to... and a couple of times I thought, "How come I don't get to join it?" And I asked Mom and she said, "Well if you want to..." But, it didn't...

AI: It just wasn't an emphasis.

AK: Emphasis, no.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Did they emphasize any values that, for example, emphasize any values about being American, or stress anything about acting in an American way?

AK: No. It was... when the war broke out is when my dad said, "You know" -- to my brother, he was the oldest in the family and he was in college already -- he says, "You know, Haru, you may have to take care of the family because your mom and I are not citizens and we may be taken away." With no thought of us being incarcerated or anything like that. They just thought it's a given that, okay, the war broke out, they're Japanese aliens, that they'll be suspect or something.

AI: And when was this, was this soon after Pearl Harbor was bombed? Or was it sometime after?

AK: Uh-huh. Well then, all the rumors started coming around. Then my dad...

AI: In fact, let me ask you if you remember before Pearl Harbor, now that year was 1941, and you would have been sixteen? What grade were you in?

AK: Senior.

AI: An senior in high school. So you were, that fall you were beginning your senior year in high school? And then that fall in high school, do you remember anything leading up to the war? Some families said they --

AK: Not really. I was in the band, and I was in the dramatic club. And I was just having a good time. And, but I do remember we were in Girl, Girl Reserves and it was a Nisei group.

AI: An all-Nisei Girl Reserves?

AK: Uh-huh.

AI: What kinds of things did the Reserves do?

AK: Just went to the Y and just did crafts or something. But it wasn't any emphasis on being a -- maybe it wasn't all-Nisei, now I can't quite remember, but we just went and did activities like that. But I never felt that it was any exclusive thing. And, I was a kind of a joiner, so I joined the Girl Scouts -- and the Girl Reserves, and...

AI: But you don't remember your parents talking about the possibility of war with Japan, or anything like that?

AK: No. In fact, my parents didn't... I know some of the people were saving tinfoil and things, for the Japanese army or for Japan and things. And so I kind of joined in a couple times, I guess, to give my friends... we used to save the foil from the Hershey kisses, that was the big thing, and see who could make the biggest ball or something. But it really wasn't a big emphasis. So it didn't...

AI: So really it didn't really enter your mind very much until Pearl Harbor was actually bombed.

AK: Right. And I was not sophisticated enough to think of it in terms of a political thing. It's a... I really didn't know anything about politics. I didn't know where Pearl Harbor was, and didn't care at the time. You know what I mean, I hadn't a clue.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: What was your reaction when you first heard that news?

AK: And I was shocked, but still the impact wasn't 'til I got to school the next day, when my, one of my teachers said, "You people bombed Pearl Harbor." I'm going, "Me, my people?" Then I realized that, now I'm being considered, not an American citizen like everybody else, but due to my racial features I was being considered an enemy.

AI: And do you recall what else was going through your mind when you faced that reaction?

AK: Well, I was kind of upset and angry when this teacher said that to me. And then it seemed like there was just rumblings all the way around. But still it didn't seem to affect me to that point. I wasn't thinking, "Why did this war occur, why is this happening?" None of those things. And I wasn't that much of a history person, that I could even analyze or evaluate what was going on.

AI: So, afterwards you were pretty much yourself, conducting your daily life in school, your typical last year, senior in high school. And what were the reactions of some of your friends after, after Pearl Harbor?

AK: It was a very mixed kind of a reaction. Some of them, I know a couple of my girlfriends said, "Oh, I wish we weren't born Japs." And things like that. And...

AI: Did you ever have that feeling yourself?

AK: You know, it's hard to say. Because when you start recalling, then pretty soon you're thinking about violation of human rights... I'm sure I never thought of it in that depth. And so, I really don't know. I may have. But I was still having lots of fun, seeing who was the cutest boy down the street, that kind of thing. [Laughs]

AI: Right, right, your normal, everyday life.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: And when, when did you first started, start finding out about evacuation? Do you remember how you heard that you were going to have to leave?

AK: I think there were signs on the telephone poles. I don't know. I'm really not too sure. But a lot of this came to the forefront, for us, is because Mr. Kimura lived across the street and I think he had some connection with the Japanese consulate so the FBI was using our place to spy on him or, well, spy or whatever, to check on him. And so we saw that kind of activity going around.

AI: So the FBI came to the apartment building and set up there?

AK: Uh-huh. And then also, my dad was not a suspect, he was a jolly old man that didn't become a suspect. And many of the Issei men were taken away, but my dad wasn't.

AI: Now in your earlier interview, I think you mentioned that you were conscious that your 'Japaneseness' was more prominent to you and that it was scary. Do you remember what it was that you were afraid of?

AK: I don't know. Well, that we're very visible. And that became more -- what would you say -- I became more aware of that with kinds of things that started to happen to me. When people would make comments about my 'Japaneseness.' Like my sister and I were walking down the street, they looked and they said... what did one sailor say, something like, "Bow-legged, cross-eyed..." something. "They're Japs all right." [Laughs] So we both looked at each other and... things like that. But I certainly wasn't sitting there thinking, "I'm going to be evacuated and they're going to, my human rights were going to be violated."

AI: So you really didn't have that in mind, and yet then there came the time where you did have to prepare and you knew that you were going to be...

AK: And it was mainly, "How inconvenient, we're going to have to uproot ourselves and go to..." And by then we were going to... in camp.

AI: I think I remember, from your other interview, that you were describing some of that, thought, so I won't ask you again about that question.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: But I would like to ask you to see if you can think back to that actual day that you left Seattle, and what you did that day, and what you were thinking of at that time.

AK: Well, you saw my little suitcase. [Laughs] That little suitcase. Well, I knew that... it certainly didn't hold very much. And how am I going to survive, with all my... without all my possessions? But I guess it didn't really matter that much. And I think we just kind of... we boarded that bus.

AI: And do you remember having conversations on the bus? That's quite a long bus ride down to Puyallup; do you remember having any conversations...

AK: Well, we were told we had to keep the shades down.

AI: On the bus?

AK: Uh-huh. So people couldn't see us. And so we're not -- we weren't supposed to look out and see people, or wave to people or anything like that. And it just felt different. You just knew that it wasn't the same. All of a sudden you're being carted away, but it's not with a kind of a free-spirited, happy kind of thing. And then, that we were sad because we had to be away from our friends. We were taken to the camp in groups of your... and we were placed in the camp in different areas by... from, from where we were evacuated from. We were from Eighteenth Avenue, and so we were sent to Area B. And people that I went to school with that lived down more near Japanese Baptist Church, went to area D. You know, things like that, so we were kind of saying, "Hey, what area are you going to be in?" And this and that, and...

AI: Right, and so, at Puyallup, the camp there, or assembly center, was divided up into these different areas. And what was your first impression when you first got there?

AK: It was awful. Because we unloaded and here these were, there were these barracks with big knotholes in it and everything. And then they said we have to get our mattresses, and fill your own mattresses with hay. [Laughs] And it's just the whole concept of going to live out of, live in the barracks, the whole family there, no privacy, just one big room for the whole family. These were cots and no running water, no nothing.

AI: So do you recall, during your time at Puyallup, any kinds of conversations with some of your friends that you then ran into, or people your own age? At this time, you would have been in your senior year and a time when you had a certain amount of civics and learning about U.S. history and so forth -- did you recall having any kind of conversation with friends or family members?

AK: No, I really don't, I really don't.

AI: It was more of a day-to-day...

AK: Uh-huh. I do remember feeling, "Wow, this is awful, it's unfair," that kind of thing, but not beyond that. I didn't sit down and say, "Okay, here we're all citizens, we're supposed to be having the same kind of rights," and whatever. And I don't think I went to that depth of thinking.

AI: Right, not at that point.

AK: Not at that point. And it's easier now to say, oh yeah, this and that. Because we've learned a lot more, and then it makes sense to feel... you know what I mean. [Laughs] But at that time...

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: You knew it was going to be temporary, isn't that right? That the assembly center at Puyallup was temporary, and then do you recall when you found out that you would be going to a permanent camp, and what you were told?

AK: You know, from the beginning I just knew we were going to be placed elsewhere and... I don't know if I thought much beyond that.

AI: Uh-huh. And you were at Puyallup from springtime to about fall. And then, the time came for you to move to Minidoka. So I wanted to ask you to think back to that time and about when that was.


AI: So, when we took the break we were just talking about the time that you were going to Minidoka. And, when you got there, again, did you recall any particular feelings or first impressions?

AK: Well, we had to go on these dirty old trains. And they must have pulled them out of... I don't know. I was shocked that they were even still in use, or, well, I guess they became in use because of our evacuation. The kind of fear that they showed was insulting and kind of, I thought, that at the time, I was thinking, "This isn't right." It seemed like they, at that time I thought, "My goodness, they seem to have gotten the worst things out for us." Worst equipment and whatever, just to transport us. And what did that have to do with us, our being shipped? It didn't seem a necessary kind of thing to do. It seemed to me that we could have been moved with a little bit more dignity. And I felt sorry for those soldiers, with guns. It must have been an awful feeling for them with all of us, and then they have to... I'm sure it wasn't very comfortable for them as well as for us, to be put in that role.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: I remember you were saying earlier that your parents didn't think that you and their other children would have to go. Did they say anything to you at this time?

AK: No. It's just that, well, we'll just have to go and see what was in store for us. And that was, and I think I was real fortunate that, and maybe... I don't know. That they didn't, they weren't getting all upset and making all negative remarks. So that it made our moving and going along with this whole thing much easier for us as well as for them. We didn't have that kind of family dissension that some of the families were having, the blaming and the anger that was being placed on each other like, "Because we're Japanese we're being sent, and I'm Japanese because you're Japanese," that kind of thing. But I did hear that amongst some of my friends.

AI: So then you, here you are in Minidoka and you described a little bit about that before, so I won't ask you about that. But I did want to ask you, you had mentioned -- and again in your speech at the Peace Garden dedication -- you mentioned how you did start having some feelings of anger and confusion while you were in camp. Can you tell me about that, and then about your parents' response?

AK: Well, it became more and more inconvenient. And then, I think, as we were in camp, I started to realize, "Hey, wait a minute. This isn't really the normal kind of thing that should be happening to people." And that we were being incarcerated just because of race and that it wasn't fair. I did feel that. And then, so I'd be grumbling around. And mainly because of the personal inconveniences, I think, more than thinking in terms of, more of the... and then my folks said to, and my dad, my mother was saying, "You know, it isn't good to get angry. This is what happens in wartime. And war is the enemy, and so we must work for peace, we must not just sit here and be angry about it." And it was a good... and I think that was one of the best things that happened to me. Because from then on I felt, well, that I don't have to be thwarting my anger at... you try to, "Okay, come on, let's get on with it, let's have fun, let's do this, let's go on to school, let's..."

AI: Was there, can you tell me about your parents' thoughts? Do you think that was related to any religious upbringing of theirs?

AK: I don't think so. I don't know. They didn't overtly show any real strong religious... they were both readers...

AI: I'm sorry, they were both...?

AK: Readers. And, but I didn't see them sitting there and reading the Bible and scriptures. So, we didn't have that kind of influence, although they told us we could go to any church we wanted to, and we did. And then, we lived on Main Street before we moved to Eighteenth as a youngster -- so I was maybe six or seven -- and the Congregational church was across the street and then the Buddhist church was up the street. And I know I did go to Buddhist church to get some free manju. [Laughs]

AI: [Laughs] That sounds like something a kid would do.

AK: With no, any religious...

AI: So that really wasn't a part of, probably not a part of overtly...

AK: No, and our family didn't go to church as a family.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: Well, now at that time then, then it sounds like they were counseling you and giving you this good advice that stayed with you. And at the same time, then school must have started up again in camp, and can you tell me what -- then in your senior year -- and how that was?

AK: Then we were given a graduation. We didn't have to complete that senior year. And so...

AI: When was that? Do you remember?

AK: That was in, so that was in the spring in camp, in Puyallup. Before we went on to Idaho.

AI: So, before camp?

AK: So the seniors were given an opportunity to just get our diplomas.

AI: I see, so in 1942, by the time you got to Minidoka you had already gotten your diploma at Puyallup. And when you were in Minidoka, then you were no longer in high school.

AK: No, no I wasn't.

AI: What were you thinking of as far as the future? Did you have any...

AK: Well, I thought I was going to go to college. That was just a given, I thought. And then, after I got to camp, I was still looking at catalogues and... and then Floyd Schmoe had this student relocation program going on, and so he started recruiting people. And... so I...

AI: How did you first hear about that program? Do you remember?

AK: They just came into camp and started talking to different people. And then the Niseis that were already students at the U, kinda helped.

AI: And did you meet Floyd at that time? Was he actually coming around to recruit?

AK: Yes, and I applied to go to school, and I applied to Salt Lake City. And my folks had left for, left camp to work in Salt Lake City, because my -- oh, in Ogden, Utah because my sister was so sick with asthma.


AI: Or what year that was...

AK: It was after I had left. Because my sister, my older sister and I left...

AI: In what year was that, that you left?

AK: Not too long after we were in Idaho.

AI: So maybe 1943?

AK: Uh-huh.

AI: It might have been the very next year.

AK: Right.

AI: Because you arrived in fall of '42, you weren't there very long, and you applied to go to Salt Lake.

AK: Uh-huh, yes.

AI: And it was through the Student Relocation Program then? Then I think, in the other interview you told about some of your experience there, so I won't ask you to repeat that. It sounded like it was very trying and difficult.

AK: Yes. [Laughs]

AI: But then you told about how your brother was very concerned for you about the situation, that he didn't want you to stay. Can you tell about that time then?

AK: So he said, "You don't have to take this nonsense. You don't have to stay there." He said, "We'll move you out, we'll find you someplace else." So I did move out of the home to another house.

AI: But you stayed in Salt Lake City.

AK: In Salt Lake City, yes.

AI: And then were you able to continue going to school?

AK: [Nods] So I finished business college instead. And then the, and we had applied to return to Seattle because of my sister's health... and at that time many people were starting to apply. And we were given the release to return to Seattle, we were the first family to return to Seattle.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: Where did you first go?

AK: But we had the apartment.

AI: So you were able to...

AK: Able to come back to the apartment.

AI: Go back to the apartment as soon as you got back. And what did you find, what was the apartment like?

AK: Well, most of the things were gone. But there was enough, you know, furniture and things... and this fellow that was my brother's friend in college, stayed at the apartment. And so, we were able to come back there to stay. And then, then we kind of made a, like a hostel. So people could come and stay in the apartment as they came back.

AI: That must have been a very hectic time.

AK: Uh-huh, but, you know, it was a real strong sense of community. So when people came we all pooled our resources and ate together. And people started looking for housing, jobs, whatever.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: Yes, and what was your father doing then when he came back?

AK: He was a porter for the Union Station.

AI: Now, I think I remember you mentioning in your other interview that he helped organize a porter's union, and that you were the secretary for the union. When was this? Was this right --

AK: And right after the war when we returned, there was, naturally, this situation where one group was being pitted against the other.

AI: You mean racial groups?

AK: Yeah, well, the black porters are saying, "Hey, now the Japanese are here, they're going to take our jobs away." And then the railroad's saying, "Okay, we'll give the jobs back to the Japanese." And so it was kind of a tense situation. And my dad said, "You know, we're just being pitted against each other. We need to pull ourselves together and form a union, and we'll both benefit from it."

AI: And do you recall if this was right after you got back? Was this about 1945? You would have been twenty years old.

AK: Uh-huh.

AI: What can you tell me about those early days of organizing and when you were the secretary?

AK: I was surprised. It was very easy. And I don't know how my dad got these very efficient, sophisticated people. Because they just worked together and talked together, and formed the union and started the union dues, and it worked out fine. And so it became a very amenable situation where you weren't saying, "They came and took our jobs away and we're taking their jobs back." So that was...

AI: That must have been one of the very first multiracial unions.

AK: Uh-huh. And I got involved with CORE right away.

AI: Can you explain what CORE was? I think a lot of people don't know.

AK: Congress of Racial Equality.

AI: And what was the, what were some of the main goals?

AK: It was just a, you know, [inaudible], all those people, it was just to get along with each other and understand each other, and it was just...

AI: Working for better understanding.

AK: Understanding. And it wasn't difficult. And it just kind of seemed like a natural thing to do, and just kind of worked, you know. I think -- and there again, it wasn't that I thought that deeply, and analyzed everything, that this was the right thing, sociologically correct, blah, blah, blah, any of those kinds of things. It just happened.

AI: Uh-huh. It was part of the activities that you got involved in.

AK: Uh-huh. And the people, you know, were just...

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AI: Now then, a couple of years later, I think in 1948, you said that that's when you got married.

AK: Uh-huh.

AI: And you told a little bit about your husband. And that you...

AK: [Laughs] He was my brother's best friend, and, and older than me. And I was his sister's good friend. And so it was nothing romantic, or, I mean, like, you know. [Laughs] I couldn't tell him all these fancy things about me. I was a brat, He used to say, "You're so spoiled, you used to sit there and have these temper tantrums." [Laughs]

AI: So he knew all about you and you knew all about him. And you decided that...

AK: Uh-huh. And I was spoiled, I was very spoiled. My folks were very... it was easy to act spoiled because they let me act spoiled. And I got my own way, in many ways.

AI: And he knew that ahead of time.

AK: Uh-huh. [Laughs] And, and he always says, "And your sister and mom were such good housekeepers, I just knew you would be. And it didn't turn out that way." [Laughs] So, but, so it was just one of those things.

AI: And I think you mentioned that you moved to Chicago for awhile. Now, can you tell me about your children?

AK: So, Hugo was born in Chicago. He was the oldest son and he was born in Chicago. And my husband loved the Northwest, anyway, and he said, "I am not going to raise a child in Chicago." So then he decided to... just one day he came home at lunchtime, he says, "We're moving." And I said, "What do you mean we're moving?" He says, "We're going to move to Seattle." I said, "Oh." [Laughs] We didn't discuss it, we just decided we're gonna move.

AI: And so when was that? When did you move back to Seattle?

AK: And so that was in 19... let's see, Hugo was born in 1950, and we moved in -- I think Hugo was like, six months old.

AI: So you had a six-month-old, 1950, you moved back to Seattle.

AK: Drove all the way back. But... and I'm easygoing, as you know. [Laughs] So it wasn't anything stressful or anything.

AI: And where did you live when you moved back to Seattle?

AK: Oh, then we came back and stayed with my folks.

AI: And what was your husband doing at that time?

AK: And then he went to Boeing, to... he was a machinist, an electrician, and they didn't hire Japanese in the electrical union in Seattle. And so then he went to work as a machinist at Boeing and stayed there for thirty-some years.

AI: So tell me then, after Hugo came...

AK: Then Ruthann, and then, boom, boom, boom, boom...[Laughs]

AI: So it was Ruthann, then...

AK: Ruthann, and then Guy, and Rollie, and Paul, and Marie.

AI: So you were very busy with all your kids.

AK: I loved kids and I wanted a lotta kids. And Junx says, "Yeah, we'll have lots of kids." But after six, he said, "We're not having any more!" [Laughs]

AI: So was that pretty much your full-time work, was being a mom? Taking care of your kids.

AK: Yeah. And it wasn't hard. I enjoyed every bit of it. 'Course, I didn't work, either.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AI: I think I remember someone telling me that around that time in the '50s as you were raising your kids, you also got involved with the open housing effort. Can you tell me a little bit about that? How did you get involved?

AK: Yes. Well, you know, well, when we were looking for housing, and we found all these barriers. And we found out that we had restrictive housing.

AI: You mean, barriers like discrimination?

AK: Discrimination, where you can live, and this and that. And that, so, I just... and I don't know if you would say I was a joiner, I guess possibly. I just knew that was the right thing to do, so I just got involved in, with the group.

AI: What were some of your main activities for open housing?

AK: Protesting, and identifying different real estate companies and areas where discrimination existed. And mainly identifying the groups that were actually practicing this discrimination.

AI: Was this -- I'm not familiar with this -- so can you tell me, was this a multiracial effort here in Seattle?

AK: Yes. And the Quakers had a lot to do with it.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: Tell me, had you gotten involved with the Quakers already, at that point? When did you get involved with the Quakers?

AK: I went to a Quaker college before I got married.

AI: So that was you first exposure.

AK: Uh-huh.

AI: And then when you came back to Seattle, you continued with the Friends.

AK: Yes.

AI: So then also, the Friends were also involved in the open housing movement.

AK: Right. Uh-huh.

AI: I see. So part of this is a connection through your work with the Quakers.

AK: Yes. So I think I would say that my whole life has been influenced with the Friends' activities.

AI: Can you tell me when, when you remember the Friends' approach, and values, first starting to have a major impact on your thinking?

AK: Well, I felt, in camp, when the fellows were being recruited for the service, I felt it was wrong. And then I felt like, there must be some other way. So I was anti-conscription anyway as far as people participating in the war effort. And I started to get lots of literature from the Fellowship of Reconciliation, or whatever, about the, you know, serving in the military. And I just knew that, that I could not fully participate or support a real military kind of a situation. I must have been awful. [Laughs] I even sent literatures to many of my G.I. friends saying, "Hey, you're doing the wrong thing." [Laughs]

AI: What kind of response did you get?

AK: Well, it didn't seem to bother them. You know, I don't think they were seriously looking... "Oh, Aki's sending us some more junk," you know. [Laughs]

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: So during the war, you were developing your pacifist ideas.

AK: Yes, definitely. And then my father had talked about Kanagawa, who was a Japanese pacifist, religious man, real strong Japanese pacifist. So pacifism was constantly being, kind of discussed, and I was exposed to it through different areas. And I was just very fortunate because I got so many good friends in that movement.

AI: And now you work with Floyd Schmoe so closely.


AI: Yesterday we left off, we were just about to talk about Floyd Schmoe, and also I wanted to go back and ask you to start a little closer to the beginning of when you were really getting serious about the pacifist principles and values. And I think you said that really happened during World War II. You were in camp and at the same time you were in camp, that's when you met Floyd. Can you tell me a little bit about that time and when you first were thinking about those values?

AK: Okay. I was, you know, thinking of peace and the alternatives to war, to fighting. And so I did a lot of reading and my father would tell me about Kanagawa, who was a Japanese pacifist. And he told me about people that had, you know, escaped conscription by coming to this country and things, which I had never known about. We just thought about Isseis coming here to make a living, and mainly to do farm work or whatever. And it really interested me because all I could -- all I knew of Japan also was the kind of furor that went on about the patriotism to Japan. And people were singing those military songs and the Isseis were right into it, you know.

AI: So your father really showed you this other part of Japanese culture, which included pacifists and some of the Issei who came to the U.S., too, so they wouldn't be conscripted into the Japanese army.

AK: Right. And that was very interesting for me. Also, I think there was a part of the rebel in me, that, I thought, "Hmm, I like this when people can speak up and oppose something." Almost to the point where I thought, "Hey, it's pretty fashionable to be able to..." [Laughs] So that I'm not sure I was that clearly, you know, what would you say... it wasn't perhaps an idealism that was that honorable. [Laughs] I think there were more, other aspects to it. I thought, "Hey, this is a cool thing to do," you know, that kind of... also, it just seemed right to me. That I loved nature, and my folks loved nature and they loved the outdoors. They loved the beauty of the garden, they loved to go to the mountains. It was just that there is so much beauty and peace around us that I couldn't see the point of destroying things. Also my folks from the time we were little, always taught us about the goodness of people. And I remember -- I lived on 18th, on Main Street at that time, so I must have been five or six years old -- and this young man who was one of my brother's friends came and stole a pen from my house. And it was a Waterman pen, and at that time I guess it was a pretty nice pen. And there was a little bit of discussion about it, and my mother discovered who had stolen it. And they didn't go at it in a real accusatory way, but then she made it very easy for this young man to bring the pen back. And my mother praised him and thanked him for being honest to bring it back. And I was very impressed, because they didn't go around saying, "'So and so' stole the pen from us." And it made me feel very proud of my parents. And they were always looking for the goodness in people and animals, whatever it -- my dad was a great one to bring home stray dogs to our house, and stray people.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: So you had, already, this whole background of values and concerns for nature, for people, and the belief in the goodness and beauty of all things.

AK: And Reverend Andrews of the Japanese Baptist Church was a good friend of ours and would come by and visit us and he'd be doing all these good things, doing the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts at the church, and we were, we participated. We weren't a good church family, so to speak. You know, we didn't belong like a lot of the other people. But we were a very loose-knit family as far as that goes, with lots of freedom that, I realize even now, how much more freedom we had than a lot of other Nisei kids. They didn't have... my older sister thought I was very spoiled, I was. Because I got to do anything I wanted because my folks just trusted us and let us do anything we wanted to.

AI: Encouraged you in your interests?

AK: Uh-huh. And, in fact, my younger sister says, "You always asked for things and you always got what you wanted." [Laughs] And she said, "Gee, Aki." And I said, "Well, you lost out because you didn't ask for it." [Laughs] I'd come home and say, "Hey, I wanna take some dancing lessons. Can I take some dancing lessons?" And I had just started taking piano lessons, I decided I don't want to take piano lessons, you know. But my folks allowed me to have that kind of change and...

AI: So from a young age, you were used to getting interested in things, pursuing them, looking into them, and by the time that you were in camp and war was going on. I think you mentioned yesterday, that you were then getting correspondence from the Fellowship of Reconciliation and you were in contact, also with, you knew that Floyd was coming into the camp to recruit for the student relocation program.

AK: Uh-huh. Because I had known about the Quakers. My father had told me about Quakers.

AI: What did you father tell you about the Quakers?

AK: And he said there was this group of people that didn't believe in war and did good things as an alternative. And I think the message he was giving us was that, it's, you don't just say something's good, you work at it. It doesn't... you can talk about it but if you don't act, then it's just as bad as not believing in it.

AI: So then, when did you first meet Floyd and what was...

AK: In camp. And mainly, it was after I came back to Seattle, is when I really... I went to work for him at the Service Committee.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AI: Can you tell me how that happened? Because you were in Utah, and you said, then your family got the permission to go back to Seattle, so you came back to Seattle and then how did you start working?

AK: And Reverend Andrews and Floyd Schmoe met us at the train station, we were the first family back. And asked if they could help us and took us to our apartment and then... and so we kept in touch that way. They would ask how they could be of any assistance to us. And then they said -- I said, "Well, I'm looking for a job." And they said, "Well, the Service Committee is looking for a secretary."

AI: American Friends Service Committee?

AK: American Friends Service Committee. And so I went, and Floyd was the one that was looking for a secretary, and so he hired me. [Laughs] And it was wonderful, because it wasn't the typical secretarial position where you sit and take dictation, but you just learn so much. And I learned a lot about what the Service Committee was doing and had done all over the world, you know, as a peace organization. And it just fit right in with a lot of my beliefs. And then when I wanted to continue my education -- and so I was going to the U.W. -- and Floyd said, "How would you like to go to a Quaker college?" And I said, "I'd love to." So I applied for Friends University, and Floyd's wife's family, the Pickerings, lived in Wichita, Kansas, and Ruth's sister was the Dean of Women at the Friends University. So they shipped me over there and I moved in with Ruth's family 'til I moved into the dormitory. So I had that transition period where they really made me feel welcome. And her mother was still living and was really nice.

AI: When was it that you went to Friends University?

AK: That was 1945. After, after I'd worked for him as a secretary, and then I wanted to go to school. So then I went there.

AI: Because you had always wanted to go to college in the first place.

AK: Uh-huh, yes. And it just was a thing, that, I'm going to go eventually. And, and, I'm going to go.

AI: Do you remember any particular highlights of your time at Friends University?

AK: Oh, I just loved it. Everybody was so friendly. And, you know, I'm a very gregarious person, so I just got in there and did all the mischief that all the other girls did, you know. [Laughs] And it was a very conservative school and...

AI: What was the focus of your studies there?

AK: And I always wanted to be a social worker, so I majored in Sociology there. And then I moved back to Seattle. And when I moved back, I went to the U.W., and then I got married.

AI: And that was in 1948, I think you said.

AK: Uh-huh. And all of us got married about the same time, my sister-in-law, my girlfriends, all of us. It seemed like we were getting married one week after another. [Laughs] In fact, Tom Ikeda's aunt and I got married the same year, too. All of us ran around together.

AI: That was a very busy and happy time for all of you.

AK: Yeah. And I'm wondering, "Gee, did we do this just because everybody else was?" [Laughs] But, I was always a happy person. And I've always been fortunate because I've had association with happy people also. People who have a... and it's not to say that I didn't understand some of the ills that were going on in the world.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AI: That certainly came up when you were talking about after you went to Chicago and then you moved back here to Seattle, and in the '50s you did mention that as far as social ills, you were facing the housing discrimination. And you mentioned that the Quakers were involved in open housing. In what way were the Quakers involved?

AK: Well, they were, I think they were very instrumental in identifying the fact that there is this discrimination going on in housing; and they tried to encourage as much mobility of people of different ethnic groups to go in, encouraging them to move into areas that were so-called white areas. And also, trying to make it comfortable for them, so they would go and check things out. And they'd have many youth organizations, and so it was a good gathering place, being with the Service Committee, they had a little hostel there.

AI: So they brought together a lot of different people, and they helped support some of the protests and marches that you were involved in.

AK: And especially, you know, supportive of all the current issues that were going on. And I think that was really the highlight of my activities. They acted, they didn't just talk. And it was fun.


AI: So I wanted to then continue, and ask you about some of the actions, especially around the peace issues? Because wasn't it around the early '60s that you were also becoming more and more active in taking action? What was happening at that time?

AK: Well, you know, we were having civil rights marches, and anti-war marches, and I felt real excited about participating in, in the movement. I was especially thrilled because the first march, my husband said, "Don't tell me all of you are going out there?" And he was just kind of grumbling. And I said, "Sure, don't you want to join us?" And he says, "Don't be silly." And when he came home, he noticed that all of us were gone. [Laughs] So he decided to go check out the parade, the march. And he said, there he, he went down, looked, and there was Hugo, and then there was Ruthann, there was Guy, and there was Rollie, and then, and Guy was holding little Marie's hand. And Paul said, "Well, I might as well join them," and he joined us. And that was really exciting.

AI: So you were there as a whole family, in the first march.

AK: Uh-huh. And so he didn't come out and campaign, he didn't come out and say things, I mean he didn't go out and protest and hold banners and stuff, but he was very encouraging and supportive. And when the young kids got involved, he supported them. And I remember somebody called and criticized that Hugo was organizing this march, you know. And Junx says, "That's great." And he says, "Well, if the kids want to come over and have hot dogs and stuff after, they're welcome to come." And so, that was... I felt real, real fortunate that he always gave me the respect to do what I wanted to do although he may not agree. And he was a vet, but he really respected my pacifist, you know, standings.

AI: And it seems like you also raised your children, all of your children, right in the movement for civil rights and for peace. I think someone had mentioned to me that, I think Ruthann had mentioned to me about Freedom School. Can you tell me about the Freedom School?

AK: And I think Sharon was involved in that, too -- Maeda. Anyway, I just felt that, that was just a kind of natural thing to get involved in, and so...

AI: Excuse me, what was it? I think that a lot of people don't know what it was.

AK: And people... well, they went and... were advocating, you know... I'm losing my thoughts. It was a civil rights issue, and...


AI: Well, when we left off, we were just talking about the Freedom School, and that you had sent your children there. And I was wondering, what did you feel your children got out of that?

AK: Well, I felt that they had to realize that, you know, education involves more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic, that they have to know about our society and about justice. And so I thought it was very important they go to... and I think it was George Howser of the National CORE, Congress of Racial Equality, that was promoting Freedom School in various areas, and it was being held at Madrona Presbyterian Church. So I told the kids that they should go there instead of going to the regular school. And it was Jerry Ware, and... who else was it, Carol Richman, in the neighborhood, and they were taught about civil rights issues and race relations and whatever. And I thought that was very important. And I felt like, I was hoping that something like that would catch in the schools, and everybody would get opportunity to learn about those things. Because that's what education should be all about. And I always felt education was, in the public schools, or schools in general, were so abstract as far as really connecting with real people and real issues.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AI: Well, now when did you start getting interested in teaching yourself?

AK: You know, I was a Girl Scout leader, I was a den mother with Cub Scouts, and I was always interested in working with children. And I would get so excited, because I wasn't teaching them, they were teaching me. And all the excitement and discoveries that they would make made me feel that they were the facilitators helping me learn. And then, it was Ralph Hayes -- who's a Garfield High School teacher now, high school teacher at Franklin and later on in Bellevue, Newport Hills -- who said to me, "You know Aki, you're so interested in kids and I really think you ought to go into teaching. Why don't you consider that?" Well, I had gone back to school when my children were growing up. Well, I loved school so I was taking classes all the time anyway. And I was taking anything that interested me. And when I started having children, I thought, "I don't know anything about early childhood education. I know nothing about raising a child." And everybody gets prepared to do their job. I mean, they're going into training to work at a job. But here, one of the most important jobs of life and of a parent is working with their own child and here I didn't know anything about, anything about child development. I said, "I'd better find out something so I'll know how to at least work with kids." And the more I took those classes, the more fascinated and excited I got, because of the wealth and knowledge that these kids were bringing into the world and how they were responding to nature and things around. I thought, you know, actually, if we would respect what's happening to these kids, the interaction of the nature and the things all around us, learning could be fun and take place. Real learning could take place.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AI: So then, when did you start deciding to formally...

AK: Oh, and then, our community got very much involved in the Head Start program. We were very concerned that there were a lot of kids that were just like, being ignored or... what would you say? Not being cared for properly. And so a group of us parents in this neighborhood, we're the ones that started Head Start, said, let's start a little school where the kids, we could start a preschool for these kids so they could learn to be with each other and have fun. And so we started recruiting, well, not recruiting, we started gathering all the kids in the neighborhood, and we had a couple portables that we got from the school district and we started our own school.

AI: When was that, when did that start?

AK: This was, golly, what year was that... I don't know. And then, Carol Richman -- who's a very bright woman, lives in the neighborhood -- wrote a grant and that was the first grant we got for operating Head Start.

AI: In maybe, the early '70s?

AK: Yes, if not... early '70s, late '60s. Yeah, late '60s. Yeah.

AI: So you were actually already involved in setting up the Head Start preschool, you were...

AK: And I was a volunteer driver, food person, you know, everything. We did everything. It was fun, you know. And then, Dorothy Hollingsworth... then we got established as a regular Head Start school. We got the school district to buy into it. There was a lot of debates going on about Birider & Englemann and the Wykirk's cognitive curriculum and what kind of curriculum should we use with students. So there was the Distar program, which was kind of like the pressure cooker type of drilling of students. So then, I was continuing to take all those classes and I realized the cognitive curriculum was so much more exciting, it was hands-on discovery rather that this rote learning. Now, studies have shown that Birider & Englemann kind of Distar program, does make gains for especially the lower income kids. But they don't retain those gains. So I felt like it's... and it's not as exciting. I think we insult them when we're trying to tell them, "What is this? This is a cup..." It doesn't matter how it's said, better that you interact and find things and work with science and whatever. So that was the area I went into, that I, I chose the cognitive curriculum with Dave Wykirk. He's from Ipsilanti, Michigan. And he got grants and things to work with some of the Head Start programs. And so...

AI: So, did you get a chance to work with him directly? You did?

AK: Yes. And so then I was hired as one of his consultants and so I went back to Ipsilanti, Michigan to do the workshops, come back. It was really exciting.

AI: So eventually you began consulting to other schools that were starting up their Head Start programs.

AK: Well, then I just worked with the Seattle Public Schools. So I did, I studied and did research on the different types of programs.

AI: What were some of your main goals in working with the Seattle public schools at that point?

AK: Well, I... it was just kind of a transition from being a volunteer and working with the Head Start and then getting into the public school system.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

AI: And then, when was it that you decided to go into the classroom yourself and become a teacher?

AK: It was in about the '70s, early '70s I decided to go in as a regular classroom teacher.

AI: And what was your first classroom, what was your first school?

AK: And it was kindergarten. And it was overwhelming because we had like, thirty in the morning, thirty kids in the morning, thirty in the afternoon.

AI: Oh, my.

AK: Uh-huh. I still have that feeling where you really need to get in with the families and whatever. And when I first went to work with the district they were still having this riffing all the time, because, riffing -- reduction in force is what they were calling it, unless you have seniority you were bumped every year and things like that. But I still wanted to stay in the early childhood area. And then I still kept taking classes. [Laughs] And I took all those physics classes from Chris McDermott on how to teach science, the hands-on approach.

AI: So when did you, now I think you mentioned in your other interview, that you were teaching at Martin Luther King Elementary. Was that your first school that you taught at?

AK: Yes.

AI: And how long were you there?

AK: And I was only there a year, because of this riffing, so I would go... uh-huh. And then I got transferred over the Laurelhurst. And that was the HEW mandate, where no minority teacher could teach in a minority-impacted school. And so I was shipped out to Laurelhurst to teach in a all-white school, well, the staff was all-white also.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

AI: So you were the first person of color to desegregate the staff of the Laurelhurst Elementary School?

AK: Well, the first Asian; there was a black teacher. And there was something like, there was a quota of one and a half minority teachers. Really.

AI: So you were the half? [Laughs]

AK: Yeah. [Laughs] And then I became the whole. And then our computer teacher -- who was Japanese -- became the half. Anyway, it just, they played the numbers game for quite a while. But it was a cultural shock for Laurelhurst as well as for me to be in that situation. And then, Ken Seno -- who became the principal at Laurelhurst, and he was an excellent principal -- set the stage there for some really good learning to go on. Of course, the PTA is very strong, so, you know. But I realized right away, the inequities that go on. Because Laurelhurst is like an academy, you know, like a private school, with all the support from the parents and the community. And they could raise, like, you know, $46,000 over the weekend at an auction. And whereas a school like Dearborn Park, or whatever talking about, "Wow, they made $200," you know. And so the services to the students are, again, much less, because of, it's a monies game as far as I feel the school district is concerned. Because every school does not have, offer the same kind of education, although they're part of the public school system. And I have problems with their staff training and I've complained a lot about how they really aren't teaching the teachers or exposing them or sharing them the beauty of a multicultural, you know, aspect of education. And so I really like to emphasize that, peace and cultural pluralism and things, should be right, integrated into the whole curriculum. You're not getting a true education unless those things are considered.

AI: Can you tell me a little bit about how you incorporate that in the curriculum? Because I think people would be interested to know, because you work with young children who are in the first grade. And if you could, for example, describe when it's the fall and your class is starting up for the first time and you have a whole new class of young first graders, what are some typical things that you do to encourage the multiculturalism?

AK: Well, first of all, I have a big map on my floor, a world map on my floor at school, and so that the people get the perspective of their place on planet Earth. That, you know, usually we think of the United States, and we're pretty egocentric so we're only considering our area, and even as far as being just in the Puget Sound area, so kids don't even know where they are on planet Earth. And so I felt like it's important that we have a big world map on the floor and so that they know that Earth is a great big place and we're just a little spot on the map. And so I worked hard, I blew up, well, I made templates of the world map and then I had them blown up so that I'd have a pattern. And I had the world map painted on my floor. And so the first thing when the kids come into my classroom, they sit on the floor and they sit on the world map, and then we identify the different continents and the countries. We sing greeting songs of all the different countries and so that they could identify those countries by the song and the map that they have, and also that their background is represented in the classroom. So we sing in all different languages.

And so that's their introduction when they come to school in my classroom. And I talk about peace, that this is a peace class. It's very important that we learn about peace in this classroom. So we talk about how we feel about peace. And you know, it's so beautiful because once they lose their inhibitions and they're able to come out and say, "Oh, peace is having Mommy hold me," or something like that, and then people aren't laughing at them. And I think early in the game kids start to realize that there's a judgment call. When people, when they say something, if that person isn't really thinking in terms of that child, they'll laugh or make some remark that'll make the child feel uncomfortable, and not be able to come out and say how they really feel. So then, I noticed already in the first grade when they come to the classroom, they're wondering if they're going to give the right answer or not. Then when I put them at ease and say, "It's okay." Like, I'll say, "You know, when I was in first grade, what made me feel best was to have my mommy hug me and that was peace." And then they catch on, and then we talk about how important peace is.

And so that's our first, I have -- and then, of course, when they first come in I have little science experiments around the classroom. I have, I always say, "We want to make sure school is egg-citing." [Laughs] I have these eggs, boiled eggs, on little bottles and then I say, "I want this boiled egg to go into this bottle but it won't go in, what can I do about it?" And we were pushing it and doing all kinds of things and then I'll immerse one in real hot water and plump, it goes in, or then I'll light a match in one of the bottles and plump, the other goes in, you know. And so they see all these things and they get all excited and then we discuss why it happened, or how it happened, and can you get it out, and things like that. So that the whole day is spent experimenting and things like that.

We go outside and do exercises. And as we do exercises we count by ones and twos and fives and tens. So, and also we talk about peace, and so, "Let's make ourselves feel peaceful. So let's throw all our anger out." So we physically demonstrate how we're taking our anger out and throwing it out. And so every morning we go and throw our frustrations out, throw all our sadness out. Throw it into outer space. And I said, "We're not polluting outer space, because all of this disintegrates up in the air." [Laughs] So it becomes a kind of a ritual-like thing.

Then we observe the sky, we look for the, look at the clouds and we look at the moon and they're so excited when we're, in talking about the moon and how we're going to study the moon. And lo and behold, they're looking up in the sky and there's, you know, the moon. And people don't... and it's amazing how many parents are saying, "Well, we can't see the moon, we can't..." When I, at the parent meeting I'll say astronomy is one of my strongest fields, and we'll be talking about the phases of the moon, the position of the sun, and they're saying, "We don't want our kids to stay up that late." [Laughs]

But all this is stuff that's all around us, and we haven't spent any money on big textbooks, but then we're connecting with each other, and respecting each other. And I think that's what's the most important. And then, when we sing in all the different languages they're realizing that different languages are beautiful and not funny and something to laugh at. And especially up at Laurelhurst we have a bilingual center so we have children from all different countries and groups. And so sometimes people laugh at different languages. And I, when I was growing up, I noticed that many times when people weren't familiar with your culture they laughed at it and made fun of it. And I think that was just to put themselves in a comfort level, too. But, and so I want them all to feel that way. This is my main emphasis, that education is fun, should be fun, learning is fun. And also, learning can't take place unless a child feels very comfortable and peaceful with him or herself. And so, I just don't feel you need to get real expensive computers and expensive equipment to run a school. Have the children write their own stories, write their journals and share them.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

AI: So even at the age and level of first grade, you're encouraging the students to write and have journals?

AK: Oh, yes, I have a journal for... I'm a great bargain hunter just like my son Paul, and so we'd go to all the K-Marts and Targets and we get these three-ringed binders which sell for, like nineteen cents during the summertime. And so, Paul and I always go and we buy hundreds of notebooks and I pass one out to each child and they could have as many notebooks as they want, as long as they fill it. And so they start a journal from day one. And they can write in it and illustrate in it. But we spend at least a half an hour every day on a journal. And it's amazing what good writers they become. And they're able to sort out things and then write 'em down. We never make fun of their writing or their spelling or whatever. It's inventive spelling because this is writing time and we're not gonna be sitting there criticizing their handwriting or their penmanship or their punctuation or their spelling. It's just... you know. And, I think that's how the classroom should be taught. I just feel that.

And your math becomes a part of your everyday activities, so that it isn't a rote kind of learning, it just becomes a natural kind of thing that fits in with your science, math, reading, writing, all of it becomes integrated. And so some people have problems with that kind of teaching. Which is fine because some people just feel that it has to be more structured. And what I say, is I have lots of structure, but it's within. And the kids develop that structure within, so that when they do their work they can do it smoothly and spontaneously without that kind of restriction. I don't limit the kind of knowledge and spelling that should go on in the classroom. So I don't have a first grade list of spelling, second grade list of spelling. My students learn to spell "metamorphosis," and "photosynthesis" and "anadromous" and all these terms, because they experience it so they know. And if you can spell 'and,' why not be able to spell "anadromous"? We just, it's an extension I see. And so the kids love it, they all know how to spell "waxing," "waning," "gibbous" and "crescent." Because they've observed the moon all along.

AI: So it becomes a natural learning for them.

AK: Uh-huh. And then it's exciting because the parents get involved, too. And they say, "Gee we didn't know... my kids are talking about 'gibbous,'" or whatever. And like, one of my students says, "My parent still thinks 'gibbous' is some kind of ape or monkey. [Laughs] It makes learning fun. And I enjoy right along with the students. There isn't a day that I haven't learned something from the kids, the discoveries that they make. And I think if we could have that kind of excitement among all the teachers in the schools, kids'll benefit. And I think the whole aspect of being positive is very important. And I don't like the punitive kinds of things that go on. Because kids don't have to be put down, nobody has to be put down. Nobody feels good in being put down. You don't make that many gains if you're putting people down, you're gonna get much more, and so almost selfishly I didn't want to put anybody down because you don't make those gains. [Laughs]

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

AI: Well, I thank you so much for sharing so much of your thoughts and describing how your philosophy of peace and justice comes alive in your classroom and your explanation of various experiences in your life that led up to that philosophy. Do you have anything else that you'd like to say? I know you've given many messages.

AK: Well, I just would like to say that I want this message of peace to really catch on in the schools, every school should have a peace garden. Peace should be emphasized strongly in education. It would be so helpful, so positive. And learning will be much more fun. We've got to show, show everybody, we've got to recognize that learning is fun, science is fun, peace is fun. It's okay to feel good about everything.

AI: Well, thank you very much for this time. I appreciate it very much.

AK: [Laughs] I kind of ramble.

AI: No, I really enjoyed it. I really wanted to hear about how you put your concepts into play in the classroom.

AK: It's so much fun, you know. Teaching is so much fun. And the letters I get from kids of how peace has empowered them. And I say, it takes so little, and if we do this maybe we could have a better world.

AI: I'm curious, when kids write back to you and say, "This is how peace empowered me," what are some of the things they say?

AK: Well, oh, I should share those letters with you, they're so neat. There was this one girl who said that she got hit by another person -- I'm just gonna', I betcha' it's in one of the albums there -- where she didn't hit back because of her experience in first grade where she, that she learned that you don't hit back, you let peace empower you. And she said she felt so good after that and she wanted to thank me. Because she said, you know -- she wrote it beautifully. And so I wrote back to her and said, "It isn't what I did, it was peace which empowered you and I'm so happy." But, you know, it helped her. And all these years, and they were playing soccer -- she played soccer for Roosevelt -- and she was on the team, and the other team was pretty aggressive. And this, one girl came and socked her real hard and she felt really badly because they weren't even in play and her first reaction was a lot of anger, and then she said, but she remembered, no, she can't hit back, that wasn't the right thing to do. And then, how it made her feel -- after all this was going on -- she said she realized how good it made her feel and how strong it made her feel because she didn't hit back. And she said, "I wanted to thank you for teaching her about non-violence." And so I said it wasn't what I had done, that she had really let peace empower her and that was the empowerment of peace.

So, that was exciting. And then I get these letters, they're saying, "We feel so good about going to the peace garden, I feel at peace at myself." And, it's a buy-in, if, if you want -- what do you say -- if you want to be profitable, invest in peace. [Laughs] The rewards are much, much more than... I think that's what's so exciting, you're not thinking of the material gains, but what it does to you inside and how you feel.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

AI: Aki, you were about to tell us about what you do around the winter solstice and the holidays...

AK: Yes. I feel that our society does not recognize the cultural pluralism of our society. And we kind of emphasize the Christian part of Christmas, and whatever. And I feel it's not fair to a lot of the Jews, the Buddhists, or whatever, because the schools emphasize Christmas as a holiday. So I felt, I need to do something where people of all cultures feel comfortable about winter's holidays. So I decided to really emphasize the winter solstice and celebrate the winter solstice. And so we'd make a big science project out of it and also that I feel that this is a good way to emphasize peace. So I tell my students that we'll all draw a peace picture and I'm going to make a quilt for them. And so every year I have them draw a peace... they take a little panel, we discuss it, so that it's not just something they draw, but something that's meaningful to them that means peace for them. And so for my, for twenty years I've been making a peace quilt for my class. Also, winter solstice time, I feel like, okay I want to give these kids gifts that make it meaningful, and that it isn't part of a so-called "commercialized Christmas." So I thought I'd make a pillow for them, which is called a winter solstice pillow, which is warm, fuzzy and feeling. And the kids love it. So I've been making pillows for them every year. And then we say, "Happy winter solstice." And the kids also do happy winter solstice to the parents, you know, make a card, and we do the phases of the moon and show that, there's a emphasis on that. And on Valentine I make them a little Valentine pillow, made out of a heart, so that they feel good about each other. And that's their little peace pillow.

AI: That's wonderful.

AK: And you know, it goes a long way. The students are saying, "We still have that pillow you gave us, it makes us feel good." And I say, "That's what it all about, to feel good about yourselves and feel good about others."

AI: Thank you.

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