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Building the Timeline ... Re-connecting to Community

Growing up as a Sansei in Chicago, I didn’t hear much about the internment camps and the postwar resettlement from the Issei and Nisei in my family. It seemed they never wanted to talk about it. They were more interested in getting on with their lives, never looking back. Once in awhile, Dad would reminisce about growing up in Fresno, California, about Italian bakeries, Redwood forests, and the taste of fruit fresh off the trees, which of course, are much better than anything you can find in the Midwest. But not a word about Pearl Harbor, the evacuation, the internment camp in Jerome where his family was sent, or his service in the Army in France. Frankly, as a teenager, I wasn’t interested in ancient history, anyway.

Later, when my daughter was in sixth grade, she did a term project on the history of Japanese Americans in Chicago. My mother and I were intrigued by the story she uncovered and presented on her poster board, the flow of history from the West Coast through the camps to Chicago, the indignities and hardships of the war years, and the excitement of resettling in Chicago and building the community I grew up in. My father had passed away recently, but I’m sure he would have been happy to see his granddaughter’s interest in our heritage.

With my interest piqued, I joined the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society. I volunteered to work on building a historical timeline documenting the story of the Japanese American community in Chicago from World War Two to the present on our website. Jean Mishima, the Society president, and I started visiting local Japanese American organizations to view their archives. The Midwest Buddhist Temple, the Japanese American Citizens League, the Japanese American Service Committee, and the Chicago Shimpo were some of the groups who shared their material with us. But more interesting was the time we spent visiting with older Nisei and hearing about their experiences.

Photo by the Midwest Buddhist Temple of Chicago

The photos we gathered show a story of pride and strength in the face of adversity. One of my personal favorites was a snapshot of three glamorous Nisei women standing on a city street in the late 1940s, smartly dressed with hats and gloves, looking like they were ready to conquer the world. Alas, this one didn’t make it to the timeline, but I’ve included it here. There were so many to choose from! So many photos recording the tumultuous journey!

Chris Ike, our webmaster, took our photos and the captions we wrote and put together a very accessible and well-designed series on our website, http://www.cjahs.org/timeline/timeline_flash.html. Visit the site. We are happy to show you this slice of Japanese American history.

*This article is a contribution of the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society, a Discover Nikkei Participating Organization.


© 2007 Chicago Japanese American Historical Society