Amy Konishi says when her obituary is written it’ll read, “All she knew was work.”
It’ll be a fitting tribute given the 87-year-old’s work ethic. As a young girl she toiled in her family’s onion and cantaloupe and dry bean fields outside Rocky Ford, Colo. Then she moved to selling produce at her husband’s roadside shed along the highway. In the 1950s she opened her own hair salon and she’s been putting in hours ever since.
Her tenacious work ethic was instilled in her and her siblings by her mother, a Japanese immigrant who arrived in Rocky Ford in 1910 and married Konishi’s father soon after. He had immigrated to the United States around the turn of the century for a job as a railroad worker. From sunrise to sunset, Konishi and her family members tended the fields.
“[My mother] made us strong because she was so strict. If you felt like you were sick, you didn’t get sick too long because she gave you castor oil and you got out in the field,” Konishi recalled. “For a long time I couldn’t drink orange juice because it reminded me of the castor oil.”
While sitting in her salon, Chic Paree, I couldn’t help but think of the changes Amy Konishi has seen throughout her life in this small town. Her family farmed this region during the height of the Dust Bowl era.
“The weather was bad. The wind blew and dust came through like it’s doing here now,” Konishi said, pointing to the dusty conditions just outside the salon window. Much of Colorado’s Arkansas River basin resembles the Dust Bowl today. Irrigation water is hard to come by and dust storms kick up with increasing frequency.
When news of the Pearl Harbor bombing reached the mainland, the country’s Japanese population suddenly became suspect, even in the rural farming communities of the American West. Konishi’s husband, Hank, had grown up in California. Following the December 1941 bombing, he was forced to flee, arriving in Colorado with his mother and sisters just a few miles away from the Japanese internment camp in Granada, Colo.
Then there’s the economic turmoil this area has endured. Back when the first crops came up from the ground of her family’s farm, Rocky Ford, and many towns along the Arkansas River, were bustling economic hubs. Now, vacant buildings and lots line many streets in Rocky Ford.
“I don’t know why I stay here, but it’s been my home forever,” Konishi said.
With the area’s shrinking population, it’s tough to run a business she says. She doesn’t have any plans to close her salon, though. And Konishi says she will keep working, just like she always has.