Voices of Chicago

The articles in this series were originally published in Voices of Chicago, the online journal of the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society, which has been a Discover Nikkei Participating Organization since December 2004.

Voices of Chicago is a collection of first-person narratives about the experiences of people of Japanese descent living in Chicago. The community is composed of three waves of immigration, and their descendants: The first, about 300 people, came to Chicago around the time of the Columbian Exposition in 1899. The second, and largest, group is descended from 30,000 who came to Chicago directly from the internment camps after World War II. Called the “ReSettlers,” they created a community built around social service organizations, Buddhist and Christian churches and small businesses. The third, more recent, group are Japanese nationals who came to Chicago, beginning in the 1980s, as artists and students and remained. A fourth, non-immigrant, group are Japanese business executives and their families who live in Chicago for extended periods, sometimes permanently.

Chicago has always been a place where people can re-create themselves, and where diverse ethnic communities live and work together. Voices of Chicago tells the stories of members of each of these four groups, and how they fit into the mosaic of a great city.

Visit the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society website >>


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Manzanar: A Son's Journey - Part 3

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Breathless and exhausted from the hot desert sun, jet lag and bus ride, I now believe that I was running only on fumes. At the ceremonies end, Pilgrims of all faiths gathered around the large white memorial stone obelisk. Quiet and somber, priests and pastors take their turns giving service, and then my memory is rocked by the unmistakable sound of a Buddhist Priest chanting and the scent of burning incense. I am thrown back into my childhood hearing the haunting drone from the priests. In my mind’s eye, I can see my mom, Buddhist …

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Manzanar: A Son's Journey - Part 2

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Fast forward. April 28, 6 a.m. In the darkness of the L.A. morning I walk to the bus staging area at St. Francis Xavier Church. Body tired from the flight and time change, I chastise my pitiful self and think of the L.A. Times photo from 1942, which depicts the very same parking lot jam-packed with families and luggage. Bewildered, they have no idea what is in store for them or their children as armed soldiers look on. Although I feel solemn, I am greeted by a cheerful mix of former internees, descendants and others. …

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Manzanar: A Son's Journey - Part 1

Please understand…I didn’t want to go to see Manzanar. I NEEDED to go there.

Over the years, whenever I had vacation days available, I would always think of visiting Manzanar, one of the ten concentration camps in the U.S. where nearly 120,000 people, mostly Americans of Japanese descent were racially profiled and imprisoned in 1942, but somehow, it just didn’t seem like a nice getaway from the stresses of everyday Chicago living. I’m pretty certain most descendants of ex-internees feel the same way. Understandable. On a personal level, Manzanar is where my mother Ruth was incarcerated at age 14. This …

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Welcome to the Writers Workshop

The Undeniables writers workshop was formed in 1999, inspired by a chapter from the novel VALLEY (Bend Press, 1998), by Mike Daily. Edren Sumagaysay and I had met the previous year in a touring theatre troupe based in Los Angeles, and got to talking about a mutual passion for writing while holed up between shows in a Maryland motel. We had both recently read Mike Daily’s then newly released novel, and wanted to host a writers workshop of our own. The first workshop was held in my apartment on 163rd Street in Gardena, CA, a two-day affair attended by Edren, …

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How Marrow Unites a Community: Chris Ishida’s Search & Discovery

For a majority of my life I have felt a little left out of the Japanese American community. This is despite the fact that my family incorporated both my mother’s American/Italian traditions and my father’s Japanese traditions. My dad was born and raised in Japan and moved to Chicago as a young man in 1971.

As a child, I watched Japanese tapes of An Pan Man, called grapes “budou” and even attended a Japanese Buddhist temple in downtown Chicago. However, growing up in the suburbs, the Japanese American community was sparse. Few related to Japanese culture with the exception of …

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bone marrow book camps chicago community Erik Matsunaga hapa health identity incarceration internment literature manzanar manzanar pilgrimage org:cjahs poetry Sue Kunitomi Embrey The Undeniables traci kato-kiriyama workshop World War II writers