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.

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identity en ja es pt

Learning to Fall

Like returning home after a long journey, stepping onto the tatami at the dojo is one of the most relaxing moments I look forward to after a long day of work. A wave of excitement builds as I change into my gi, enter the dojo, slip off my zori (flip flops), step onto the mat, and bow as I enter. At this moment, it’s as if all the troubles of the day disappear and what is left is a mind that is clear, calm, and ready to learn.

As we begin warm ups, a surge of energy pulses through ...

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Kibei

Kibei (from the Japanese ki = return, bei = America) refers to an American of Japanese ancestry, who is raised in Japan, but returns to America. She is a perpetual outsider, an American while in Japan, and Japanese when she returns.

My Japanese American story began with my grandmother, who left Japan, one of only two women on a ship bound for America. She landed in Hawaii, where my father, Shinishi Nishimoto, was born, and eventually settled in Fresno, California, where I was born. We were not part of a Japanese American community, which is part of a pattern throughout my life ...

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Growing Up Sansei in Chicago

Normally, I am a fearless writer, but this commission from the Chicago Japanese American Historical Society (CJAHS) has created endless procrastination, writer’s block and even fear for this author. For months, I could not figure out why- but today, it hit me. My generation is hard to define. We’re not supposed to be “too open,” show our emotions or attract attention- all cultural remnants from being racially profiled in America during WWII. We Sansei (Third Generation Japanese American) are furthering the transition that our parents (Nisei) and grandparents (Issei) pioneered, yet we remain largely invisible. Our assimilation is ...

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December 7, 1941

December 7, 1941

Kakaako,
Honolulu, Hawaii.

Sunday

It is very early in the morning. I look out and it is still night. 4 a.m. I usually don’t get up until 6:30 or 7 a.m. I’m still sleepy, but I quickly snap to and brush my teeth. There is always a not unpleasant rush of tightness or adrenaline just under my breastbone when I anticipate doing or going to an event. I have this feeling of excitement this morning as I get dressed and get my bicycle out.

My brother, sister and mother are still asleep ...

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Japanese American Redress: A View from the Midwest

Introduction

I joined the staff of the JACL as its Midwest Director in October 1978 and I knew immediately that I wanted to be part of the effort to seek a remedy for the injustice of the Japanese American internment. The JACL had just passed a resolution at its national convention in Salt Lake City declaring that the organization would undertake a campaign to seek redress for those who suffered injustices by action of the government during World War II.

Shortly after I started working for the JACL, I attended a staff meeting in San Francisco where I met John ...

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