Paul Kusuda’s column
The years go by so fast for me
PART 1 OF 2
By Paul H. Kusuda
It’s January again. When I was young, time moved slowly often, especially when I looked forward
to school vacation. With age, my perspective changed, and time seems to have moved quickly
when I think back to what used to be. I wouldn’t want to live those early days over again; I wouldn’t
if I could, not even if I knew then what I know now. Despite age-related and other minus factors, I’
m satisfied with now. But memories do have a way of cropping up from time to time; some are
nice, others not. Still others are just so, so—not good, not bad, or even blah.
Years ago when I graduated from high school, I knew I had to go on to post-high school education.
I knew I’d have to work to pay for tuition, books, etc.; there was no question about that. Some who
graduated with me decided to find work while others had the same thought as I; it was almost
a given, probably more of a parental hope rather than a societal influence. Anyway, I was a February 1940 graduate of the
Los Angeles High School in a class of a few more than 400, about ten percent being Nisei (Japanese Americans).
Throughout my educational experiences, elementary school through graduate education, I never felt the need of having an
Asian role model. I knew that racial discrimination abounded not only among faculties but also among fellow students;
however, I figured that was the way things were and I had to deal with it. I never felt any need to see Asians as faculty
members or school administrators. Actually, if there were such, that wouldn’t have had any impact on me or the way I acted
or thought. To me a teacher was a teacher, a professor was a professor. My parents told me to do the best I could, in fact
they expected me not to do less. If I didn’t do too well, I just had to do better. They always sided with the school system; if I
was slow in any coursework, it was my fault, not anyone else’s. I’m glad they had that attitude and that they encouraged me
to continue doing my best, even though others did better than I.
1940 was not a time when employment boomed. In fact, jobs were scarce. A couple of my fellow graduates went into CCC
(Civilian Conservation Corps) camps to work in California’s many forests and public campgrounds. They learned about
conservation methods and even techniques involved in fire fighting. They later told me the work was hard and dirty at times
but satisfying at the same time because the end-goal was to preserve the land for future generations. CCC was one of the
alphabetical programs created by the federal government that enabled employment geared to help not only the workers but
also to develop by-products for all. Examples include water sheds, dams, works of art, highways, bridges, buildings, and
written works. One of the young men who went to CCC work later became an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department.
In my senior and junior years at LA High, I worked weekends in various fruit and vegetable sections of large grocery stores,
parts of a chain called Von’s Markets. It was called day labor; youth and men assembled at a warehouse downtown and
were chosen by a man in charge of hiring. If he didn’t like the way you looked or knew you were a poor employee, he chose
someone else. It was called “the meat market.” Some were regularly chosen; probably because word got back that they
were reliable workers. Sometimes, when I was chosen, I felt badly because who were left behind were older men who
probably had families to feed. Those of us who looked for work included older teenagers like me, and we were White,
Black, Hispanic, and Asian. Selection appeared to be on a color-blind basis and based on work capability. I remember
one Hispanic who stood out in my mind because he would yell, “Watch-a-le, watch-a-le!” when he pushed a cart or skid full
of fruit or vegetables from one part of the warehouse to another,
Both my father and older brother had regular jobs after going through short stints in the “meat market.” They were in
different locations and had regular weekly paychecks. Those of us temporary workers were paid in cash at the end of each
workday. After taxes and FICA were deducted, we got $3.00 for a ten-hour day. The fruit-and-vegetable company was Three
Star Produce, and it had permanent locations in
Von’s Markets in Los Angeles and nearby cities.
The “meat market” was used to fill positions
temporarily vacant because of illness or vacation.
When new stores were opened, the “meat market”
was especially busy. Many good workers went on
from their “meat market” status to permanent hires.
They were the lucky ones who therefore had steady
The 1930s and 1941-42 were lean years insofar as
employment went. Then, U.S. became visibly
involved in World War II, the economy began to
boom, and the Great Depression came to an end.
Lots of social changes occurred in the late 1930s
and early 1940s. They came on so quickly that
most of us were not fully aware of the changes
while they were happening. Later, we realized what
a tremendous impact World War II had on all of us
and our social institutions.
Next month, I’ll give a few details of my work with
Three Star Produce.