self-identify ourselves as needy. We knew we didn’t have lots of money and that things were tight, money-wise. However, we never considered
ourselves “poverty stricken.” At least, that’s how I remember how it was in the Los Angeles area in the mid-1930s.
Since my parents had a small neighborhood grocery store, my brother, sister, and I didn’t feel the direct results of the Great Depression. My
parents did, of course. They had plenty of worries, but they dealt with their problems in such a way that the negative impact on us children was
minimal. Our weekly allowances continued throughout the period — my older brother got 50 cents, I got 25 cents, and my younger sister, 10
cents. Actually, that was quite a bit considering that a quarter-pound candy bar like Baby Ruth, Butterfinger, Hershey’s, or Three Musketeers
cost a nickel apiece and a movie ticket cost only 10 cents.
A haircut cost 25 cents. The barber across the street from our grocery store cut my hair for free once a month as long as I swept the sidewalk in
front of his shop frequently, that is, more than once a week. I think his daughter liked my brother, who was four years older than I. Getting a
haircut may seem to have been an extravagance, but for me, it was not. My mother cut our hair (as did most parents those days), and the
clippers too often pulled out hairs that got caught somewhere. Ouch, ouch!
Every Saturday, a man came by to pick up a bag my father filled with fruit and vegetables. No money changed hands, and no entry was made in
a credit notebook my father kept. Others who were short of money charged their purchases. Most paid up, but many didn’t. About that time, my
father decided he had to close up his grocery store because competition with the nearby chain store, Safeway, was a losing battle. I went to a
few apartments to try my luck as a bill collector. Unsuccessful. As it turned out, most of the non-payers were deadbeats. My father was
disappointed because he believed each was sincere when he or she said, “I’ll pay when I can.”
My father believed that all debts should be paid. So, even though it took months, he paid all wholesalers and others whom he owed since they
provided the cartons of canned goods and other products he sold in his store. Giving up the store was not easy, but it was necessary.
We had to move to a skid-row rooming house in Downtown L.A. (More about that next month.) That also was not easy. My father found work as
a houseman; what responsibilities he had I never asked, but it was a part-time job that ended in the early afternoon. He also got a job as a
hotel nightclerk. Taking public transportation into consideration, he must have spent at least 14 hours a day working or riding streetcars to and
from his places of work and the rooming house where we lived.
My mother found work as a seamstress and also in a laundry where she had to handle a mangle — a large, heated roller device to iron freshly
washed sheets and pillow cases. The work was hard, the hours were long, and the pay was not good. My brother worked in the fruit-and-
vegetable section of a large supermarket. The company he worked for — Three Star Produce, had markets in many supermarkets in and about
L.A. It was non-union labor. I also worked for Three Star but only on weekends while attending L.A High School and later Los Angeles City
My sister didn’t like living in the rooming house, and I certainly couldn’t blame her for leaving our family to work as a “school girl”
(while going to high school) for some “rich folks.” For helping out with household duties and baby-sitting, she had a place, with her own room,
to eat and sleep. She also was paid a small amount of money. I’m sure it wasn’t much fun, but it beat living in the rooming house in Downtown
L.A. where the neighborhood was not at all like the area where we used to live.
Life changes to the worse are always hard to take, and during the hard times of the Great Depression, we met all kinds of challenges. But we
survived. And some of us grew faster than we would have if economic conditions had not plummeted. My parents faced adversity, worked hard,
maintained their pride, and accepted life as it was. Their attitude was “Shikata ganai.” “It can’t be helped.”
“Gambare.” “Endure it” or “Stand firm.”
The two concepts of “Shikata ganai” and “Gambare” were held by most persons of Japanese ancestry. They were tested mightily when people
were forcibly removed by the federal government from three West Coast states and then-Territory of Hawaii (later, our 50th state) to Relocation
Centers solely because they were of Japanese ancestry. Nowadays, I think protests and disturbances would result from similar governmental
action antithetical to our U.S. Constitutional rights. Generational changes are interesting to observe.
Editor's Note: As a continuing tribute to our beloved late columnist, Paul Kusuda, who passed November 2017, we are
re-posting his past columns, which are timeless, informative, and very educational. We will always miss Paul, our number
one supporter and adviser. Through his columns, we know that our readers would learn plenty about contemporary issues,
as well part of American history relating to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and his personal
In the 1930s, the Great Depression was felt by too many. People looking for work after losing their
jobs were found all over seeking almost any kind of employment, but opportunities were few and far
between. Parents worried about paying shelter costs; most people my parents knew were worried about
paying their rent, not about keeping up with mortgages. Most children were largely unaware of the Great
Depression, but many were hungry. Others felt deprived of what they wanted — clothes, toys, bikes, etc.
Most of our parents’ friends and relatives faced their financial worries doing the best they could. When
possible, both parents worked while grandparents or older children took care of those who needed
attention. The government definition of “poverty” was neither in vogue nor used as any measure of
financial need to meet requirements for public aid. Most of us children (and probably our parents) did not
Column of October 2009
Life in L.A., 1930s-The Great Depression