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-01-0014

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TI: Well, let's ask you, same date, December 7, 1941, do you remember that day?

FC: Yeah. I was at mass at Maryknoll, and I remember Father Lavery, who was the pastor, said, "We're gonna say mass real quickly," because he just heard on the radio that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. So we all got real quiet, cleaned up, and took the bus and went home.

TI: During mass did he say anything about the war, about Japan in terms of what the Japanese should expect?

FC: No. He didn't say anything about that. I don't think he even thought about it affecting us.

TI: Okay. So let's talk about the next day, when you go to school. Any differences at school?

FC: Yeah, well, there was a lot of tension about, then, about what might happen, but we were encouraged to just continue school until things, whatever would transpire would, we would be notified.

TI: So do you recall anything that the priests or the sisters said to the students about what was going on?

FC: Nothing that I recall in terms of that. When the talk began to surface about evacuating us, I know that Father Lavery wanted to somehow keep the Maryknoll community together, and he was looking into moving the whole community inland and he was looking at some property, I think, in Missouri, thinking that if he could establish the church and the school we could all move there. But it was, it was, realistically it was not that easy because a lot of the children had other relatives that were not going to Maryknoll School so they would not want to follow that kind of a plan. So he talked it up for quite a while, but he, but he had to give it up as not practical. And so then he allowed the Japanese to put their belongings in the auditorium as a storage area, so he did a lot of things to try to help. And then the early guys that went to Manzanar to help set up the camp, a lot of them were the older Maryknoll men, and so he was, he was supportive of trying to get something closer to Los Angeles, and Manzanar was the closest at that particular time.

TI: Okay, so we'll get to that in a little bit. Well, let me finish that, so did Father Lavery go to Manzanar? Was he one of the...

FC: Yeah, he went to a lot of the camps. He didn't, he didn't stay in Manzanar.

TI: Okay. But he would travel because his, in some ways his congregation was scattered to different places.

FC: Scattered. So when the war started in December, Papa said they're gonna put a freeze on metal. He says, "I have to have a good car to keep my business going," so he went out and bought himself a Chrysler Imperial.

TI: So this is after the war? After the war started, I mean.

FC: Yeah, it's like mid December. He goes out and buys himself a brand new car and he paid cash for it, 'cause he says, I need it, never thinking that he wasn't gonna be around. So here we are in January, talk about us having to move, and he's got this beautiful brand new car, which he's not about to sell to anybody 'cause he knows he'd get nothing for it. And so he, I remember he's shaking his head that he never dreamed that there'd be talk of moving us. Then he said he thought that Isseis maybe would be picked on to move, but he had never thought that it would affect the Niseis. He says, "You're American citizens. He just couldn't imagine the government considering American born Japanese as potential traitors. So anyway, as it got, evacuation came along, he didn't panic. He didn't sell things. 'Cause he had a Mexican fellow that worked for him, so when the date came for us to evacuate he had this Mexican family move into our house, so we stored our belongings either in the cellar or one of the bedrooms and he came and stayed. We had a grand piano and some artifacts, katanas and things like that, and he asked some Caucasian bankers that were his friends to take care of those kinds of things. He didn't want to leave those in the house, so he parceled it out to people that he trusted.

TI: And the car, what happened to the car?

FC: And so he gave the car to Father Lavery.

TI: Oh my.

FC: And he said, "You keep it and do what you want," and so Father Lavery put on close to a hundred thousand miles going to all the camps driving this car.

TI: Oh, good story. So that's, yeah, so he was able to go to camps in style. [Laughs]

FC: And he went to those federal camps in Missoula.

TI: Missoula and Santa Fe.

FC: Santa Fe and, you know where that, the federal, the men were. And he worked hard to get them released to go back to their homes.

TI: And probably having this car helped a lot.

FC: Yes, that's what he said. He said that he couldn't imagine being able to travel all those miles without a car that serviced him as well as this car did. [Laughs]

TI: That's a nice piece of history right there. That's a good story. Interesting.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.