After the Saturday morning cooking class, an adventure in Japanese cuisine, Kiyo Yoshimura travels back in time, back to when she was 17 years old, back 73 years ago.
It’s a journey she has taken often these last few years, a journey she especially wants others to hear about because of what happened to Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast during World War II.
A painful journey, but she feels compelled to take it.
Her eyes are almost shut as she talks.
Her deep voice fills in the room at the Japanese American Service Committee in Chicago’s Uptown.
We are visiting the organization as part of the regular tours of Chicago’s ethnic museums and community centers by the Chicago Cultural Alliance. They will be providing these tours all summer as part of their Experience Chicago effort.
We listen. She talks without pause. She tell us:
Along with over 110,00 Japanese living on the West Coast, her family was sent to an internment camp in 1942. She was 17 years old.
There were four blocks of barracks and armed guards at the camp in Topaz, Utah. She thought she was in a concentration camp.
She didn’t know what would come next. Nobody knew what would come next.
She didn’t realize at the time that she would have to start a new life.
When the camp residents were allowed to leave, they were told they couldn’t immediately go back to their West Coast homes. But they were also told they could not create new Japan towns in the new places where they were resettled.
Among those who chose to be resettled, several thousand came to Chicago and her family was one of them. Chicago was one of the most popular places for the new arrivals, many of whom had never lived in a large city before.
In Chicago they found less hostility than in the places where they had called home.
Ans so, she made a new life, studied social work and spent a life-time career as a hospital social worker in Chicago.
The Japanese American Service Committee evolved from the Chicago Resettlement Committee, the organization created in 1946 to help the new arrivals in Chicago. Before the war, only a handful of Japanese had lived in Chicago.
And on the wall at the entrance to the center that now helps young and old, and provides music and cooking classes, there’s a poster that had previously been on display at the Illinois Holocaust Museum.
It’s about the art of Gaman, the art that was produced in the Japanese-American internment camps in the US during World War II.
Gaman is the Japanese word for bearing with patience and strength the unbearable.
This too is a legacy of the many who make Chicago their home.
for more information about Kiyo and the resettlement: