In this episode of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, Adam Williams talks with entrepreneur and activist Kimi Uno.
Kimi shares about the influence of the Riot Grrrl movement on her life when she was coming up in the Pacific Northwest. She and Adam talk about female empowerment and feminism, multiculturalism and anti-racism, and her history of activism.
They also talk about the U.S. government’s internment of Japanese-Americans, including Kimi’s family, during World War II, and the lasting effects it’s had on generations of a family and community at large.
Kimi also shares her views on entrepreneurship and intentions behind the “Howl,” of Howl Mercantile & Coffee, her curated retail shop in Salida, Colo.
SHOW NOTES, LINKS, CREDITS & TRANSCRIPT
The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.
Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org.
Howl Mercantile & Coffee and Adventure Outpost
We Are Chaffee
Looking Upstream Host, Producer & Photographer: Adam Williams
Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray
We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin
We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby
Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom
Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service. Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.
[Intro music, guitar instrumental]
Adam Williams (00:13): Welcome to We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanness, community, and wellbeing based in Chaffee County, Colorado. I'm Adam Williams, and today I'm talking with Kimi Uno.
Kimi and I both happen to be kids of the '80s and '90s, but we grew up in different parts of the country and with notably different family stories, so I was really interested in hearing about her experiences.
One of the things that I really enjoy about getting to talk with people like Kimi on this podcast is that although I'm usually talking with guests who live locally here in Chaffee County, they bring stories and experiences from all over. It's a “local is universal” kind of thing.
So I think that locally we can take pride in the fact that we are a community of so many amazing people with so many enlightening stories, and it's a reminder that we never know what stories someone is walking around with, what they're carrying.
(01:02): When we start to learn about those, we find common ground and connection, the community gets closer, and I think that's pretty cool. So it's the case with Kimi. She grew up within reach of the rise of grunge music. I'm thinking about Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, which I still like to listen to from time to time.
I think even more importantly to Kimi, though, was or is her connection to the riot grrrl movement. That came up in Washington state in that same time period. More seriously, though, she also grew up knowing that members of her family had been taken from their homes by the United States government and placed in internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II. As you can imagine, that kind of experience ripples lasting effects through the generations of a family and a community.
(01:48): Kimi and I talk about that history. We talk about multiculturalism, anti-racism, and activism. We talk about feminism and female empowerment, and we talk about entrepreneurship and the meaning behind Howl, the name of her curated retail shop in Salida, Colorado. We talk about a lot of good things. So here we go. Right now, with Kimi Uno.
[Transition music, instrumental guitar]
Adam Williams: Hi Kimi.
Kimi Uno (02:21): Hi Adam.
Adam Williams (02:23): Super simple start today.
Kimi Uno (02:24): Okay.
Adam Williams (02:27):
I have a little secret here that I've not divulged yet. I have been aware of you and your work from afar for quite a while, and you're someone who I think I've gotten glimpses here and there that has made me really interested in talking with you, and I've kind of been holding onto that.
I'm not the sort of person who tends to go introduce myself and then try to have one of these conversations just on the street corner. So the podcast is the perfect vehicle for me.
Thank you for coming in and sharing this time and taking on this conversation and story journey with me.
Kimi Uno (02:58): Thank you for having me.
Adam Williams (03:00): I want to ask you to start off, I guess, about growing up in the Pacific Northwest. You and I are pretty much the same age, within a few months, I believe, because I saw you post something about your birthday recently.
Kimi Uno (03:14): Oh, yeah.
Adam Williams (03:16): I grew up in a very different place, so we have kind of same time, very different place. What was it like growing up in Washington state? Can you paint that picture for me of the vibe, whether that was social, cultural, family, just what was going on around you in your youth?
Kimi Uno (03:34): Well, I grew up in I'd say two parts of Spokane. My parents lived in what's called Spokane Valley, and we lived in an urban neighborhood. And then when I was in high school, my mom pulled me out of our school district and transferred me to East Valley High School, which is more of a rural environment.
So that high school, it was bigger than Salida, but I think it was pretty similar. The demographic of the kids was very similar. It was mostly working middle class, so you didn't really... I feel like class wasn't as much of an issue there. Everybody was... We kind of saw each other as the same.
However, I was one of maybe four non-white kids that went there. And growing up, it was pretty similar. There weren't a ton of kids of color all through school. And then the other part where I grew up was on my family's farm.
(04:45): And so after the Japanese internment, they moved to Spokane, and this was my great-grandparents moved to Spokane and got established as Japanese truck farmers. And the truck farms were agricultural. They grew vegetables for the most part on just these very intricate, beautiful rows of plants. And so when you saw them from afar, they looked beautiful.
They were like a work of art almost with the color. And they were very intentional about how they move the crops around. And they were pretty small, but they would supply grocery stores and restaurants with their vegetables.
(05:32): And there were three families. So there was my father's mother, her brother-in-law, and then her sister-in-law. So my grandfather passed away when my dad was 18, and he was the oldest. And my grandmother raised her kids as a single mom, but she had the support of the other two families. So that was, I guess, a dichotomy in how I grew up.
So I grew up with a very strong Japanese foundation of my family, but then where I went to school and where I actually had friends and spent the majority of school life was in this very white community. So I was... I think a lot of biracial kids have this feeling of your feet are in two different places, and you learn to kind of navigate those two scenarios at the same time.
Adam Williams (06:31): Okay. And you did say Japanese internment. That's a big area to go into, and I want to do that soon enough. But before we get there, let's sit in the fact that we're talking about the '90s, early '90s as teenagers going through high school and... Well, I had to look up where Spokane is. I think I have actually thought that it was closer to the area of Seattle and where I think of the different cities within Washington state that I know the names of. I didn't realize it's all the way out east nearly to the border with, what, that must be Montana?
Kimi Uno (07:07): Idaho.
Adam Williams (07:08): Idaho, okay.
Kimi Uno (07:09): Mm-hmm. It's the panhandle of Idaho.
Adam Williams (07:12): Okay. So yeah, that experience of early '90s, you're within reach and have family roots and connections of some kind back to the Seattle area, right?
Kimi Uno (07:24): Mm-hmm.
Adam Williams (07:26): When I think of the early '90s and one of the keystone sorts of cultural music, fashion type things, I'm thinking grunge, I'm thinking Nirvana, Kurt Cobain. Was that of any significance to you? Was that something that resonated with you at that age and time?
Kimi Uno (07:42): Well, I think that in high school I started getting into music, and it was grunge music, like Mudhoney, Nirvana, Pixies, things like that. But it wasn't really until I went away to college on the western side of the state that I started getting really active in punk music, and particularly female-driven punk music, which at that time it was coming from Olympia, Washington, the music scene. And it was called Riot Grrrl.
It was a female-based feminist movement, and it was about music, but it was about a lot more. We did campus protests, like Take Back the Night, where we were fighting for campus safety and sexual assault. I worked for a domestic violence shelter. So my music history was sort of founded and I grew up in my 20s in that scene. And feminism became a big part of my life. And I mean, it still is a big part of my life, especially as a parent of a daughter.
(09:00): But I was introduced to music through a group of friends. And when I was in high school, I had mostly male friends. And I had transferred into my high school and I didn't really know anybody. And I think this group of guys took me in and introduced me to music and we would hang out. Actually, it was right on the border of Idaho.
My boyfriend at the time, he lived, it's called Newman Lake, and it was probably 15 minutes to the border of Idaho. So that area is very rural, and it reminds me a lot of Salida, actually. There's farming and fields and a lot of kids come from areas where there's just a lot of property to roam around on. There's forests there, it's easy to get lost and go up in the woods and party and that kind of thing.
Adam Williams (09:53): I was just thinking, did you grow up partying on those farms and out in those spaces away from all the adults and authority?
Kimi Uno (09:59): Yeah. We partied up in the woods right outside of Newman Lake. You just would cross the street and then you'd be in the wilderness. So we had big parties spots that we would go to, similar to kids here in Salida.
Adam Williams (10:13): And where I grew up in the Midwest, in northern Missouri, it was farms. It was farm kids who had access to whatever number of acres, and maybe it was even a pond or a shelter or a barn or whatever. But we had places that we could go. So I think it's funny how universal that is and maybe was for that time period, too.
Kimi Uno (10:36): Yeah. And I think it's a little bit of a safety net that you've got this place that's fairly safe. I mean, there were kids definitely drunk driving and doing irresponsible things, but at the same time, you didn't have to. You could just be there. And it wasn't like we were going to be driving around in the city and the fear of taking someone's life by drunk driving and that kind of thing. So I think it seemed a little bit safer, I guess.
Adam Williams (11:10): Well, maybe you could camp and things like that, too.
Kimi Uno (11:12): Yeah, camping.
Adam Williams (11:12): And stay the night and have that. So riot grrrl, I'm not as familiar with that. The word movement, you said. That's something that I had read. Is that not a band? Are we actually talking about a movement? This encompassed a number of female-forward punk, the whole thing that you just described?
Kimi Uno (11:36): Yeah, I think that there was a female aspect of grunge music that was big at the time, like bands like L7, but riot grrrl was more based on bands like Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna, Heavens to Betsy, which became Sleater-Kinney. Carrie, that's in Portlandia, she was in those bands. And that's sort of where riot grrrl was coming from. And it was based in Olympia, Washington and Washington DC at the time.
And it was, I think, just more about female empowerment. I mean, men weren't allowed to be toward the front of the stage. They had to be toward the back. And there were just these specific rules that were there to empower women and girls. And that was another thing, educating girls on your rights as a woman and how can you combat sexual assault? How can you combat discrimination? And the '90s, it was an interesting time because I think there were a lot of men that were coming to the same conclusion.
(12:56): Like Kurt Cobain was very much influenced by riot grrrl, and he lived in Olympia for a while, and he was active in that scene and he was coming to some of these conclusions that women are equal, and he was a feminist. There were a lot of men that were feminists at that time. And so I think it was a great time for collaboration. And the queer community, too. I think that there was a music festival called Yoyo A Go Go, and it was heavily based queer in culture, and so it was really cool. It was a really great time.
Adam Williams (13:46): I would like to sit in this conversation for a bit, but I'm going to take us on to that Japanese internment piece of your family history because I really want to make sure we have time to allow for plenty of that story, because I'm shocked, I'm fascinated.
To be honest, where I grew up, I knew no one who had any sort of touch to that being in their family, to that being their experience, so I only learned about it in history classes as a kid. What is that story that touched your family so directly? What is it you know of it and maybe how did you learn it? Was it actively taught through your family? I could keep going, but just what you can share of that.
Kimi Uno (14:35): Well, it was always talked about in reference to things like, "In camp we did this or in camp we did that." So it was always something that I knew about, but I was curious. I was really curious about it. And Japanese American people, they don't tend to dwell on bad things. They had this experience and they would move past it. And I think that that's what gave them strength to move and keep going. So my grandmother didn't talk a ton about it.
It was really this one aunt that I had, Auntie Coz, and she was a feminist for sure, and she was the matriarch of our family for a long time. She was my grandfather's sister and she was in medical school at the time that the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and she was getting ready to graduate from the University of Washington. And then her professors came to her and said, "Look, we need to get you graduated because something bad has really happened and we don't know what your future is going to be."
(15:56): So they helped get her to finish school so that she was able to graduate before going to camp. When they went to camp, they first took my grandfather. They took a lot of the Japanese male elders away first, and he was involved in a community organization for business. He was a farmer, but he was pretty well regarded in his community. And they took a lot of those men first.
The FBI came to their house in the middle of the night and took him and didn't tell the family where they were taking him. And he was missing for quite a while. I think it was a few months that he was gone and they had no information on him and they were worried that he wasn't alive. And then eventually they came and took everybody, they loaded them up. They said, "You can take a suitcase and some personal belongings." And they put them on trains and they sent them to these holding centers first.
(17:04): And the first one that they went to was in Puyallup, Washington. And it was just barracks. It was like a stockyard where they would house horses and cows and things like that while they were building these massive camps. And the irony to me is that a lot of these camps are on native land, on reservation land, and that's one of those intersectional histories that's really fascinating to me. They've taken this land away from the first people and then they've housed...
Then they've put these barracks and these camps on these, a lot of them were Native American reservation land. So then they sent them by train to camps. And my grandmother, the Inoway side, they were in Heart Mountain in Wyoming. And then my grandfather, the Unos, they were in Minidoka in Idaho. And we could go on and on about that, but that's kind of what happened.
(18:11): So my auntie Coz, she was very honest about what it was like, but I think that what fascinated me is that she always saw the positive in things. So one of her things that she always talked about was the fact that she was able to practice medicine when she went to the camps. And she said that she got a lot more experience in camp as a woman and as a Japanese woman than she would've gotten just functioning in the white world.
And I thought that that was such a sign of her resilience and her strength to see the positive in that. And then she ended up moving to Michigan and going to actual medical school there to do her residency. And that's where she met my Uncle Lajar, and he's Turkish. And they were not allowed to get married in Michigan because Turkish people at the time were considered white and she was Japanese. I think they ended up going a little bit further west to actually get married. But just a little side history on her.
Adam Williams (19:28): The casual use throughout the family throughout time referring to in camp or the camp, it almost makes it sound like it's something we would've done as children. We went off to summer camp, we went to something that is not evil, mean, cruel. So that being the phrasing of it throughout the family history and the passing of that story is standing out to me.
Help me with some clarity on maybe timing for who in your family was involved. Are your parents old enough that... Were they children at the time? Were they babies? Were they born yet? Who all was affected in terms of the generations going through this?
Kimi Uno (20:18): So Japanese Americans in the US are named by their generation. So the first generation is the Issei, and that was the generation that came from Japan, and that would be my great-grandparents. And then it's Nisei. Those are American-born Japanese. And then Sansei is my dad's generation. I'm Yonsei, and my kids are Gosei.
So it was the Issei and the Nisei that were sent away to camp. One of my friends, her dad was born in camp. She's my age, but he's a little older. My dad was born in 1950, so he wasn't born in camp. I don't really think very many of my dad's cousins, I don't think any of them were born in camp.
But one of my great uncles, he went away to the war. He is a veteran and he went and served in Europe, and there was a special group of Japanese soldiers that went away and fought in Europe. And they're very decorated. I can't remember the name of the group right now, but-
Adam Williams (21:35): I know who you're talking about, and I can't either. But that's so wild to me that we have such extremes under this circumstance. It is World War II. We're going to imprison our own citizens, our own people who are here, and we're going to allow some people and send them off to fight for us and for the whole line of this is our freedom and democracy and all the thing.
Kimi Uno (22:03): And I think that there is a perception that the Japanese went willingly. And I think that this is used as an incendiary way of describing the model minority myth of Asian Americans, that they went away and they weren't fighting it and they didn't care and they weren't passionate about it. And that's completely untrue.
I think that in a lot of ways there were things that just were not within their control, but there were many, many people that were angry in camp about it. And there were uprisings and there was a group called the No-No Boys, and there were people that were trying to fight it as well as white people that were trying to fight it. And in fact, governor Carr of Colorado was... He was the only politician that was standing up and saying, "This isn't right." And they put a camp in Colorado, and he wanted it to be a place where people were treated like humans.
(23:08): And so he would let a lot of the Japanese go and work in the communities and in the fields and do agriculture out in the fields. But he lost his reelection bid because he was standing up to this and saying, "This isn't right." So there were people that were fighting it, and I think that when we look back at Japanese internment, mainstream society might say, "Oh, well, they just went and it was not a big deal," but it really was. My family's land that was taken away from them is where Boeing Field sits today in Seattle, and you can imagine how much that land is worth.
Adam Williams (23:52): I wanted to ask what happened to the properties, to whatever was left behind and what that might've looked like, because I don't know if they owned their homes at the time or not, owned farms, owned land. But then also just their simple daily possessions of... Were just kitchens still set up, clothes still in closets or what have you?
Kimi Uno (24:11): Yeah, they were. They were still there, and then they were taken and they were vandalized. Some people that maybe if you lived in Chinatown in Seattle and your neighbors were Chinese, maybe they would look after your property for you or maybe some white people felt compassion and would look after your things for you. But most of their things, their homes, their possessions were just taken, were stolen and taken.
Adam Williams (24:46): Did your family ever return to those places, to those things? Did they ever see them again?
Kimi Uno (24:51): No. No. My family, they moved to Spokane. The Japanese in Spokane were not interned. The people that lived there, they didn't live close enough to the coast. So there were Japanese people in Spokane during the whole war. And so my family, I think, I'm not sure if they immediately went back to Spokane, but they knew people there. And so they went there, and that's where they started the farm.
Adam Williams (25:22): Do you know why your family came over to the US? I think you have told me it was around 1915?
Kimi Uno (25:30): Mm-hmm.
Adam Williams (25:30): So this would've been just prior to the first World War, and in less than 30 years they're going through this internment experience. But do you know what led them to say, "We're leaving Japan, we're going to the US and set up a new life"?
Kimi Uno (25:46): I think it was an economic decision. I'm not exactly sure why my great-grandfather came, but he was very young. He was probably less than 18, I would guess. And he came to be a laborer. I think there were, at the time, a lot of Japanese people coming over.
They were coming to mainland US and Hawaii to have a better life for themselves. Maybe they had a really big family and they wanted to... As a male, he definitely wasn't the oldest son. And the oldest son inherited everything and kind of carried on the family name and that kind of thing. So I imagine he just came over to start his own life.
Adam Williams (26:32): Okay.
Kimi Uno (26:33): And then he brought my great-grandmother over, I'm not sure how many years later, but they had an arranged marriage, so she came over much later.
Adam Williams (26:46): Okay. Something else about the internment camps and this idea of... Because you've mentioned, "Well, I'm not sure if my father, if his cousins might've been born there." So now I'm thinking it's not even just in your family. You referred to... You've got grandparents, great-grandparents. Okay, it spills over to cousins. So we have what I think of as maybe the lateral reaches on the family tree.
You also mentioned a friend whose dad was older. This affects... It's not like one person goes off to prison because they've committed a crime. It's, “We are going to take your whole family, we're going to take them in generations. We're going to take your whole community.” And no one did anything wrong to be put there.
Kimi Uno (27:33): Well, I personally, and this is my opinion, see it as the decimation of our culture. They were not allowed to speak Japanese in camp. They were not allowed to bring any books. So it created this separation between the Issei and Nisei. And the time, this is in the '40s where assimilation was really important. If you were going to immigrate to the United States, then you better assimilate and you better become an American.
So that was their mindset, what they felt was really important, what they valued. And I think that a lot of the Issei valued that as well, maybe I can't do it for myself, but I'm sure as heck going to make my children assimilate into American culture. And my grandmother, the Inoways, her and her siblings all have names that Japanese people can't pronounce. Her name is Dorothy, which is like Doroti. Her uncle is Harold, which is like Harold. Her brother is Carl.
(28:48): All of these names their parents couldn't even pronounce. And so in their minds, that was what was really important. I need to make sure that my kids are American. So that was already happening. Then they got sent to camp, and then it just created this rift between the Issei and Nisei where Japanese culture was... It was pretty much destroyed.
There was no motivation to keep the Japanese language going. And then it even magnified further with my father's generation because he was born in the '50s. And so that idea of being American was so important that by the time my generation rolls around, we're like, "What do we do? How can we get our culture back, and what does it mean to be Japanese American?"
And I think that there was a lot happening in the '90s in terms of Asian Americans coming to terms. There was a lot of violence towards Asian Americans starting in the '80s and '90s because of the automotive industry. And Toyota was becoming a big deal. And so there were murders that were happening of Asian American people.
(30:11): So there's a lot of activism happening in the Asian American community at that time. And I think that's the generation that I grew up in, and so that's what motivated me to really learn about my culture. And it's different than Japanese culture where Asian American, Japanese American, I went to school with a ton of Japanese kids from Japan, and we would always talk about, "Oh, that's so interesting that you do that because that is very old-fashioned."
My friends would say, "You still do that? That's so weird." Because for me, my Japanese culture is kind of solidified in 1915. So a lot of the traditions and the things that we do are from that era of when my great-grandparents came over. And at the same time, Japan's been moving forward and advancing as a culture and we're sort of frozen in time over here. So I find that really interesting.
Adam Williams (31:06): It sounds like those in your family who went through that experience that they chose to stay eyes forward, stay resilient, accept the experience, because they had no choice, and keep moving forward. I wonder how you have felt about that, how that has influenced maybe your interest in being part of riot grrrl and punk and feminism and all these things, anti-racism, multiculturalism, things that I know that you've been engaged in, I think that you studied, is that right? When you went to college?
Kimi Uno (31:39): Mm-hmm. I went to Fairhaven College, which is a part of Western Washington University in Bellingham. And essentially it's create your own major. Everything is driven by you as the students. So you take your interests and what you want to do, and then you form your curriculum around all of that, and then you have a group of professors that are there to consult you and help you do that.
But I decided I wanted to major in Asian American women's studies, and I was able to get a lot of my women's studies taken care of when I lived in Bellingham and went to Western Washington University. But I moved to Boston in my junior year to take care of all of my Asian American studies. And that was really interesting because the Asian American community in Boston is pretty new. There's a lot of Southeast Asian immigrants.
(32:41): There's an older Chinese American community there. But where I went to school, my professors were from Cambodia and Southeast Asia. So I was around all these people my age that were pretty new to America and had these super fresh immigrant experiences. And when you live on the West Coast and you're Asian American, a lot of us have just been there so long that even Chinese American people share many of the same experiences of generation after generation were driven to be American and we're sort of losing pieces of our culture.
But when you're in a fresh community of new immigrants, that experience is so powerful because you get a glimpse of what it might've been like for your ancestors to come over and the motivations that they had to leave their country. And a lot of them, it was war.
(33:47): A lot of Southeast Asians came over because of the war, but Filipino Americans came over for economic reasons, too. And I think that those... That really motivated me to get involved in Asian American studies. And then I worked for a hate violence prevention project in Chinatown when I lived in Boston. And all of my mentors were Asian Americans. So to be immersed in that community, it was definitely what shaped my mindset, what shaped my life, and helped me get to where I am now.
Adam Williams (34:24): Do you know how your parents felt about what you were studying, the activities you were involved in, the way you were cultivating and using your voice to speak against things like oppression and racism and so on?
Kimi Uno (34:39): Well, my parents, they're super mellow. I think that they just wanted me to be happy and to support what I wanted. They were never the parents that were like, "You need to go to medical school. You need to have this type of job when you grow up." They just were supportive of what I wanted to do. But I think they were sad that I moved so far away and definitely spent a lot of time independent from them.
But it's interesting. I grew up pretty Christian because they were involved in the church, in the Nazarene church, actually. And I think that that's been an evolution that I've seen in my parents over the years. And recently, within the last three years, we've started talking more about their experiences with racism as a biracial couple.
My mom is white, my dad's Japanese American, and I think that my education and schooling has influenced their thinking and their mindset from being pretty conservative to now, I would say they're very progressive in their mindset and think about things pretty intentionally.
Adam Williams (36:04): Were they concerned with that question of, “How are you going to get a job, make a living, have a life when this is what you're studying, this is what you're participating in?” Instead of whether it was that medical degree or a business degree or whatever, that they might think more marketable.
Kimi Uno (36:20): No, I was the first generation to go to college. I don't think they had any expectations. I don't think there was pressure necessarily on what I was doing for schooling. And they were supportive of me pursuing this sort of very out there college experience. Fairhaven College and Evergreen State College, there's maybe two other universities that have this format, and that's not typical.
But I don't think that they ever thought of me as a typical person. I was somebody that kind of marched to my own beat and was very... They raised me to be extremely independent. So I don't think there was pressure on the schooling aspect, maybe the people I was hanging out with. Yeah.
Adam Williams (37:13): Okay. We're going to jump ahead here a bit to speaking of marketability and those things. I feel like the humanities and just focusing on any of what are sometimes called the softer skills, the softer awareness of the fact that we are humans with feelings instead of simply economical viability of a degree or a career path. And you did go on and have a career. You had nearly 20 years with Urban Outfitters in corporate leadership.
But I want to jump ahead to where you are now, and have been for several years, as an entrepreneur, as a business owner with Howl being... I'm going to call it a flagship store. You have a second location. I don't know how you describe it. You can go ahead and correct me if you don't like how I did that, but I'm curious to know about what all of this and the Urban Outfitters experience, how that wraps into what it is you do now as a community, I'll say leader, as a business owner and voice here in Chaffee County.
Kimi Uno (38:20): Right. So “Howl” is a reference to Ginsburg's poem Howl.
Adam Williams (38:25): I was going to ask! Okay, great.
Kimi Uno (38:26): And if you've read the poem, you know that this is a cry against oppression, against subjugation. It's a cry for, I think, equality and speaking out against injustices and saying, "I am a free person. I can live my life the way that I want to live it." That to me is sort of the essence of the poem. And if you go a little deeper, it was the first... What is the word? What is that word?
Adam Williams (39:08): I know what you're getting at, and I'm blank on it as well, but it was when his poem was in the Supreme Court because they thought it was–
Kimi Uno (39:15): Because it was inappropriate. But there's a word for it.
Adam Williams (39:18): I feel like we're playing a game show and now we're trying to give each other hints. And I know what you're saying, though. Yeah, they thought it was salacious. They thought it was something completely inappropriate for, I assume also, especially the younger, to the youth of the nation to get inspired by the wrong values.
Kimi Uno (39:35): Yes. And then it won the Supreme Court case for that. And my husband was very influenced by the Beat poets. And when we moved to Denver, he took me to Larimer Square and he showed me where Jack Kerouac and Ginsberg would hang out and that kind of thing. And then I had ACL surgery in '07, and I actually read three Kerouac books and Carolyn Cassidy's book Off the Road, and I loved those books.
I saw a Jack Kerouac play where this man was acting as if he were Jack Kerouac when I was in college. And it didn't really jive with me. I was like, "This is, I don't know, maybe not my thing." But then when I read the books, I really got into their lifestyle and how they were just living free and being who they wanted to be. So that's what Howl is named after, is the poem.
(40:47): But to me, it's also a place where I think a lot of the brands and the people that we bring into the store have a similar background to me, in that we have lived and worked in a corporate environment. And then the daily grind got to us and we really felt like, "I'm not living my true self. I'm not living what I'm passionate about. How can I make a living doing what I'm passionate about?"
And you interviewed Brink recently, and he's a good friend of mine, and I think that he's, as a Salida example, somebody that is doing that. He's living his art, he's making his art, and he's trying to make a living off of it. And that's what a lot of the brands that we carry, they are makers, they're artists, and I seek out those people and then we create a marketplace for them.
(41:45): And for me, too, growing up in a corporate company, Urban Outfitters, which if you do a little digging on the company, you'll realize that, yes, it's a corporation, but entrepreneurship is a huge piece of that company. And when I worked there, it's not like this anymore, but when I worked there, every store was run by a store manager that was given a lot of skills and a lot of empowerment to run their business, including understanding the sales reports, really digging deep into numbers and understanding what's selling, how do you use merchandising to drive sales? And that, for me, is what Howl is, too.
(42:27): I'm extremely passionate about merchandising, curating this environment. And also, with Urban Outfitters, when I left the company, we were starting to get into multidisciplinary environments because everyone was talking about the death of retail, how the internet is killing brick and mortar businesses. And so for me, I knew that it needed to be something multidisciplinary.
So we have coffee, and coffee's addictive, and it brings people back into the store. And while you're waiting for your drink, hopefully you'll take the time to look around the store and be inspired by what you see and drive sales from there. And then we also have a apartment behind Howl that's an Airbnb, and so people can come and stay and drink our coffee and make it a whole experience.
Adam Williams (43:28): Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
Kimi Uno (43:31): Mm-hmm.
Adam Williams (43:31): That's a word that fits?
Kimi Uno (43:32): Absolutely.
Adam Williams (43:33): Does the word activist or does activism apply to you?
Kimi Uno (43:37): Yeah.
Adam Williams (43:38): Do you see those going together in what you're doing by, again, the representation of Howl, the meaning of what that refers to, but then also the way you are trying to or have established a business model that takes care of people, like Brinkley Messick, who you referred to, and others who are artists and artisans and people who are maybe their own small businesses that you're looking to curate and I guess cultivate a community and connection that is different than big box, it's different than that notion, I guess, of what retail has been of, sort of, lifeless?
Kimi Uno (44:22): Well, I think that retail needs to have an emotional connection. And for Howl, activism and having this store, this community place, they go together. I think that it draws a type of person that feels intentional about how they live their lives and how they think about things that maybe critical thinking is really important.
We think about things. We're not going to just move on with our lives and have no intention. So I think that intention comes in a lot of aspects of the store. It comes in the people that we hire that I feel very strongly about taking care of people, taking care of my employees, how it's merchandised, the products that we bring in, the drinks that we make for people, the service that we provide, those emotional connections that you have with the employees that work there.
(45:29): Every employee that has a day shift there will have regulars. And it's interesting how they change and they shift through different people. Like Greg is the store manager, and he has this full set of regulars that I never had when I worked there, I had a whole different set of regulars. And so I think it's that emotional connection that draws people in, keeps people coming back, and hopefully they can feel that I care about the place, I care about people being able to live their lives the way that they want to live their lives and to follow their passions.
Adam Williams (46:07): In a lot of what's being said right here, I hear the word community. Does that word have a particular resonance with you? Is that something that you think a lot about your place with Howl downtown in this town that draws people from globally, I don't know, certainly nationally, and what that means for your role and how you are sharing yourself, sharing your voice, the business and these emotional connections, community in whatever sense that means?
Kimi Uno (46:41): Absolutely. Salida is a special place, and it's a small community, and I think within our community, we find community, the emotional community, and there will be people that are drawn to that place of Howl, but find their community, find their people there. And that's different for each person that works there. It's different for me, it's different for Greg, but I have an employee, she just started, she is a transplant from Seattle, and so we already had that connection, and she works for a marketing firm and she remote works here in Salida.
And she said to me, "I just want to work here because I need community. I need to find my people. It's very isolating working at home by myself. And if I had a couple shifts here, then I think that I could find my people." And I think that that is the experience of every employee that works there, and a lot of them are transplants from other places, and they find their community in working there.
Adam Williams (47:59): A few years ago you came to work and there was a note on your door. I hope this was, and as far as I know, is an anomaly in your experience. When we're talking about community and what those connections are and the relationships, there were local articles about this. So it's public, people probably already know about it if they're local. But the message was essentially, it seemed in response to you having put forward a Black Lives Matter, what, poster?
Kimi Uno (48:31): Mm-hmm.
Adam Williams (48:32): Showing your allyship with that expression, that movement, it was asking you if you were part of Antifa, which to me is a strange concept, because I would like to think that we all are opposed to fascism, and pro-freedom and rights. It was espousing all lives matter as the truth and claiming that you're a racist and suggesting you should go back to Seattle.
I'm curious, in the midst of this community and these connections and what you're talking about, the impact of that one... By the way, it was anonymous. I don't think I mentioned that. And I think that says a lot about who was behind it and what their intentions, and they knew that they weren't in the right, but they meant to cause hurt, and I assume did.
Kimi Uno (49:27): I think what really struck a chord with me in that message was go back to where you came from, which is something that every immigrant has heard that has come to this country. And touching on racism, we don't have to go very deep into that, but racism is a perspective of dominant culture and marginalized communities. So it's kind of not possible to be racist when you're fighting for the rights of marginalized people.
So that's just kind of the semantics of it. All of the isms, sexism, racism, ageism. We need to look at what is the dominant, who holds power, who is the dominant culture, and how is that power being projected on and marginalizing other people? So yeah, that's not really a thing to be racist when you're fighting for marginalized people's rights. So I just wanted to put that out there.
Adam Williams (50:46): I think that the nuance of all of that is lost on someone who will anonymously, and I would attribute cowardice to that, post such a message. I don't think they're getting into the nuance of human experience and understanding, and where they are themselves coming from and what the impact of that might be on yourself.
I'm curious, as our time wanes here, the reason I bring this experience up is because of that history in your family and because of that experience that I think so many, certainly not myself, I've not experienced that, I've not experienced the stories in my family history like you've shared with us here today with the internment camps, and I've not experienced a note like you did on your door.
So I think it's important to keep connecting these dots that this stuff in various forms continues to happen. And I'm curious, surely in your mind, you're connected to the fact, "Yes, I'm going through it, too. My great-grandparents, my grandparents, my parents, me, and as a parent, where's this going to go? What's the experience of my children going to be?"
Kimi Uno (52:04): Yeah. I think that I recognize in myself that I hold on to generational trauma. I know what my ancestors have gone through, and I do continue to see it happening to my son, going to school here. We can call them microaggressions or just making references to being Asian or eating dogs or all of these things. It's extremely hurtful, and I think that people in our community need to be aware that these things are still continuing to happen.
And yes, Salida is getting more progressive. There are more people moving here that are open to empowering people to live the lives that they want to live, but all of these little things, they do grate on you. And that sign was not... Obviously, it was somebody that was incredibly ignorant. They felt very triggered by the Black Lives Matter and all of the propaganda that's been going out about that Antifa and the movement and all of that.
(53:32): But taking the time to recognize where we are as a society, and it feels like we're moving backwards in some ways, but I can't say that. I am only of this generation. I don't really know firsthand, but those kinds of things are still happening. They're happening to people that I love that I know in this community. And as a community, I think it's really important that we collectively stand up and do something about it.
Say something, be active, and be awake to all of the messages that are coming out and say, "That's not right." And I think that we were there a couple years ago, people were pretty awake to what was happening, but we've kind of crawled in our holes, myself included a little bit. But it is important to stand up and to say something and to fight for what's right.
Adam Williams (54:35): I think it's important to have said the things that you just did so that we do connect these dots and let people know this is not an abstract, distant, "Oh, it's happening somewhere, but never where I am." We are all, no matter where we are in this country and in the world, we're part of these issues. And without us recognizing them and using our voices and hearts to stand in the right place, I don't think we're going to continue in the progress that we want to have as humans.
Thank you very much, Kimi, for everything that you've shared here. And like I said at the very beginning of this, I've been wanting to talk with you for a long time, and this podcast just gave me the excuse to invite you in to share all of these deeper things for an hour. Thank you very much.
Kimi Uno (55:24): Thank you, Adam. It's great to be here. This was fun.
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Adam Williams (55:33): All right. That was Kimi Uno. If our conversation here today sparked curiosity for you, you can learn more in this episode's show notes wearechaffee.org. If you have comments or know someone in Chaffee County, Colorado who I should consider talking with on the podcast, you can email us at email@example.com.
We invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or whatever platform you use with that functionality. We also invite you to tell others about The Looking Upstream podcast. Help us to keep growing community and connection through conversation.
(56:06): Once again, I'm Adam Williams, host, producer, and photographer. John Pray is engineer and producer. Thank you to KHEN 106.9 FM, our community radio partner in Salida, Colorado, to Heather Gorby for graphic and web design, to Andrea Carlstrom, director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Lisa Martin, Community Advocacy Coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Storytelling Initiative.
Again, the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and it's supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities.
You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearechaffee.org and on Instagram and Facebook at We Are Chaffee. Lastly, thank you for listening. And remember, as we say here at We Are Chaffee, share stories, make change.
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