Meet Minnie, "An Ordinary American"

By: Vicki Parfait

Minnie Kondo is cute as a mouse’s ear, and at 79, a delightful conversationalist. The retired RN lives in Beaumont now, but grew up in Orangefield. She never married. "I had a couple of chances," she chuckled, "But I was stupid in the way I handled it. I kind of regret not having a family, but I’ve had a good life!" Minnie was born September 15, 1919 to Sataro Kondo and his wife, Sumi Takahashi Kondo, who came here with their three eldest children from Niigapa Ken in Japan. The appelation "Ken" means something akin to "province", Minnie explained. There were five girls and four boys, Fuji 93, Paka 91, Fakichi deceased, Shohe deceased, Shunji 84 who is the only boy living and resides with Minnie, Mary 62 next month, Minnie, and the twins, Kihe and Kiyo both deceased. The family was part of the Kishi Colony, and Minnie is quick to point out that her father was one of the best and most successful farmers in the group. "If it came from the Kondo Farm, people knew it was the best quality!" she said proudly. My father raised vegetables, horses, cows, pigs and chickens. Even through the depression, it got bad, but we didn’t suffer!"

Her parents were garrulous about the "old country" according to Minnie. They told them about their ancestral home, family and the beauty of the place. "When we were small we were only allowed to speak Japanese in our home," she said. "My father didn’t want us to speak English, or use forks and knives. We used chopsticks. Dad wanted to teach us their ways, but we were just ordinary Americans! When we started school and met other kids and became apart of the group, he was overruled!" Minnie laughed, "There went the chopsticks!"‘ I liked baseball and volleyball. I was too slow for basketball," she grinned, "In May there were the Maypole dances and we made our own costumes out of crepe paper. One time I was an orange!" she laughed. For the Halloween carnival we made lots of popcorn balls and wrapped them in waxed paper and sold them for a nickel apiece.’ They grew up happy, loved, and working, she said. They worked at farming to pay for their higher education, and all made excellent grades. "If we let our grades slip, we wouldn’t be playing with the kids, we would be picking beans and strawberries!" she said, "We had to be good kids!"

During the depression, as happened to all the colonists, her family lost everything they owned. "I hate to go back there," she said solemnly, "It’s so sad to see that nothing is left there. My family worked so hard. We should not have lost our land, but that is business. The people Mr. Kishi trusted thought about business, not people." The family moved to Fannett and it was there that they found out about Pearl Harbor. "The next morning," Minnie related, " The FBI was there, knocking on our door. They made us get out of bed, it was very early in the morning, and turned our mattresses and everything else upside down. They found the guns my brothers and father used for hunting, and took them. They also took knives they had made from cowhorns and pieces of old sawtooth metal. Eventually they returned the guns but we never got the knives back. I suspect they kept them as souvenirs" "We were lucky," she said, "My Dad was not interned. They took Mr. Kishi for awhile. Most of the people who were kept in the camps were on the West Coast," she went on. "I believe it was probably for their own good. At first I know it was bad for them, but in the end, I believe if they hadn’t been, a lot of people would have been killed. There was a lot more prejudice on the West Coast than there was here. There was prejudice in Southeast Texas too, though, she admitted reluctantly. "We just didn’t know it until we found out later!" she laughed. "There were very strong leaders here. We found out that there were a couple of families who intended and planned to harm us, but the leaders of the community stopped them. Nothing was said about it until much later." The war was especially horrible for the Kondo family. The two eldest daughters were in Yokohama. Firebombs were being dropped and the girls were burned out. For awhile they went to their parent’s hometown, but there was no food. They told tales of going along the seashore, gleaning whatever grasses they could find to cook and eat. "They couldn’t get clothing, either," Minnie said, "I remember the "Care" packages we sent them, with rice, sugar, flour, and coffee. The staples," she explained, "And clothing for the kids. We worried about them, but we also had strong feelings for our country! Shunji went down to enlist in the American forces, but they said he was an alien. Her brother had to go into town to sell the vegetables and often came back hurt from jibes or disrespectful remarks about his lineage, "But for everyone who said something, there were two people who would stand up for him and be nice or help him," Minnie insisted. "There were good people here!" A cousin, Okuma, moved to Arizona after the war and came back saying he didn’t even know he was Japanese until he moved there. Then everybody told him, in unpleasant terms. But Minnie’s family needed a place to work and they moved to Arizona to grow lettuce and melons. "The twins were small, in the first grade," Minnie reported, "And classes there were segregated. They were put in classes with the Latin kids. It was a real eye-opener, and just too hard to live in that place. I was never so happy as when we came back home to Southeast Texas. " She and Mary went to Methodist Hospital University of Texas Nursing School and became RN’s. "I worked, I don't remember how many hundred years," she grinned, "At Baptist, Saint Elizabeth and Beaumont MASH hospitals, and then took early retirement. "When I started nursing school, I had been raised so protected I didn’t know how to use a phone. There was never a phone in our house. I got over it though!"

She lives in Beaumont, now, with her brother for company. She does what she likes and drives where she pleases. She is content with her life and memories. She is proud of her Southeast Texas heritage. "I especially love the French people, the Cajuns," Minnie grinned, "They were always nice. We went to their homes, and laughed and had good times together." The Acadian descendents knew what it was like to be outcasts in their adopted country. They didn’t point fingers or cast out those who had come to this country to make a new life. They had been there and had that done to them! "We were all just good friends and good neighbors, like it ought to be!

"Minnie said. "I wouldn’t ever want to live anywhere else. This is my home!"