Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Michiko Frances Chikahisa Interview
Narrator: Michiko Frances Chikahisa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Skokie, Illinois
Date: June 17, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-cmichiko-01-0012

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TI: Let me ask you this question, when growing up, before you started Maryknoll School, what language were you most comfortable with?

FC: Japanese.

TI: Okay. So this school was really tailored for the Japanese community because there're probably lots of students like you who spoke Japanese up until school.

FC: Exactly.

TI: So they could, in some ways, tailor the curriculum so that it would help you learn English but also keep your Japanese.

FC: Keep your Japanese, yes.

TI: So it really was an ideal situation in many ways.

FC: It was. Yeah. And at home my mother would not answer us if we spoke in English, and she said she wanted us to be able to speak Japanese and to speak it correctly, so she insisted that we talk to her in Japanese. And obviously she talked to the neighbors in English. We could've gotten by with English, but she refused. She said it was the only chance for us to learn Japanese, and I'm forever grateful for that 'cause I still do a lot of counseling in Japanese. And since I came here, people are amazed that I speak Japanese. The Niseis, most of them don't speak a word of Japanese, and they say, "Gee, how come you speak?" I think part of it was because I went to Japan and when I was in Japan we spoke Japanese all the time.

TI: And that, you mean that one summer? Then...

FC: And then speaking it at home.

TI: Home.

FC: And because in Japan when I learned to speak I learned to speak outside the family and was somehow able to get along, so I was happy to be able to speak Japanese.

TI: And tell me about at Maryknoll with Japanese. Who taught the Japanese and how good was the instruction at Maryknoll?

FC: The instruction was very good. Not, not very strict. We probably could've gone faster, but because a lot of the kids' families were not like mine, they spoke English at home and they understood the parents talking in Japanese, they answered back in some broken Japanese, but they, a lot of 'em didn't speak really fluent Japanese. So studying the reading and writing was a slow process, and so we didn't move along too fast. And there were, it was surprising that a lot of my classmates came, well, some of 'em came from broken homes. Maryknoll at that point ran a children's care, we called it sisters' home, and there were children whose parents either through sickness or death couldn't take care of their children, so there were a bunch of kids that came from broken homes. Some of 'em were hapa kids. There were kids whose mother was sick with tuberculosis and the father couldn't keep the kids at home.

TI: So was it kind of like an orphanage?

FC: Yeah. It was a childcare institution, and they, the sisters had a convent on Boyle Avenue right close to where Keiro is today, and so they converted part of that into this children's institution. So they, I don't know how many children they had, but they had quite a few. And a lot of those kids came from very disorganized families and they only, they didn't really speak much Japanese, and so that's why the instruction was good but it was not at a fast pace.

TI: And before the war, how large was the Maryknoll School?

FC: Gosh, I can't remember. My class had thirty-two. There was only a single class for every grade.

TI: And it went from, what, kindergarten?

FC: Kindergarten through the ninth grade.

TI: So that's nine, ten, so maybe three hundred students?

FC: Yeah, probably.

TI: Okay, so a good sized school. Now, how did people outside of Maryknoll perceive the Maryknoll kids? I mean, was there a sense that the Maryknoll School was different than, say, the public schools?

FC: Yeah, I think, well, the people who lived around Little Tokyo really spoke well of the school 'cause it really served them in almost a perfect arrangement in terms of school and education. So if they were merchants they would not badmouth the school at all. So I think, but they also felt that because the nuns were Catholics and it was a different religion, that we were kind of imbued with beliefs that were not very Japanese, and they probably, the kids that didn't, that went to public school looked upon us as being kind of snobbish.

TI: And so did you, like, wear uniforms?

FC: Yes, we did. Not at the beginning, but we did halfway through.

TI: And so that was probably not common in Little Tokyo for other students.

FC: Yeah, so you were pretty, you were obvious when you walked around Little Tokyo with the school uniform on.

TI: And what was the school uniform?

FC: Well, the boys wore salt and pepper corduroy pants with a white shirt, and the girls wore a maroon jumper, and of course no pants in those days. That was basically the uniform. And we had, the community, Japanese community got really upset because Maryknoll would have a picnic on Memorial Day, and they said this was a day to honor the dead and what kind of a strange religion that they would party on such a somber holiday, so they got a lot of flak over that and later on they had to move it some time in October.

TI: Now, how involved were your parents with the Maryknoll?

FC: My, both of my parents were quite involved. My mother was in some kind of a mothers' group, mothers' guild, like talking about raising money for the school. My father would donate the trucks whenever they had activities. So they participated quite a bit.

TI: So it sounds like they were pretty appreciative that you're, that their kids were there and liked that.

FC: They did. Yeah.

TI: Now do you remember if there was, how high the tuition was for students?

FC: Gosh, I don't remember. I don't remember.

TI: But was there a sense that perhaps the kids who went to Maryknoll were better off than others because there was a tuition?

FC: Yeah. But I think that the kids that came from the sisters' home, they were charity cases because a lot of 'em couldn't afford it, so there was kind of a sliding fee, tuition scale. But my parents never complained about the money part.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.