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-01-0022

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TI: Okay, so you graduate USC, you now have your Master's, you've had five years of work at Catholic Social Services, so what do you do after you finish your degree?

FC: When I finished I stayed out in Pomona 'cause my placement was at Pacific State Hospital. It's a hospital for the mentally retarded. And I decided it was time for me to separate myself from my, to emancipate, so I decided to work and stayed, but Pomona was not my idea of where I wanted to stay. I stayed for a year. I worked and then came back to the city and went back to work for Catholic Social Service 'cause they opened up a sub-office in the Valley, and so I could stay and be disconnected from the downtown office where, downtown office was largely working with poor people who were asking for financial help, and I was more interested in doing more therapeutic work. And working in the Valley you had a middle class population, so I liked that and I worked there for a few years. That's where, actually, my path crossed with Paul.

TI: Okay, talk about this. So this is your husband, Paul.

FC: Yeah. So he was working for Vista Del Mar, which is a children's agency in West L.A., in Mar Vista, and they were sending him out to interview prospective, I think -- oh, he was working with the children in foster placement, so he was seeing the child and the parents out in the Van Nuys office and I was there, so we met there. And then also at that point there were Niseis who wanted to do some community work, and the gangs, the Sansei gangs were beginning to develop. They had the West Side gang and the Boyle Heights gang, and they were shooting each other and killing each other, so we thought that maybe we should have social workers see if we could do some intervention. So a bunch of us got together and that's when, Paul was there, several other Nisei social workers were there, and we, but we didn't have any clout. We didn't know where to go. We just sort of talked about it and couldn't get much going. But, and then out of it, I think, came this agency called Special Services to Groups, and it was headed by George Nishinaka, who was a social worker, one of the first Nisei administrators.

TI: But going back to this issue with Sanseis forming gangs and shootings, were there specific issues about Sanseis and the impact of camp on their parents, or probably on their parents, that caused perhaps some of this behavior?

FC: Behavior, yeah, I think... the sense the we had was that the parents were so busy reestablishing themselves after camp and that the kids sort of were left to their own devices, and the kids were responding, I guess, with anger to what happened to their parents. Nobody was talking, and so the kids got really, they found support from each other and then they'd find petty reasons to argue with the people from across town. They'd get into, largely at social functions, these, Japanese still had these public dances, and these gangs would come and they'd invariably end up in a fight over some guy looking at the girls from the other guy's property supposedly. And they would have all these fights, and of course there was drugs and drinking involved too and all of that. So it was shortly after that that Harry Kitano, who was a professor at UCLA, did this study about these adolescents that were so angry, and Paul did some interviewing with those families, so there was some sense of just family life being so disrupted, and I think the parents, these fathers that were adolescents in camp, their family life was so torn apart. And so we had a lot of that, but no real leaders because people were so busy trying to get themselves reestablished.

TI: But then Paul, so this agency, Special Services to Groups, was formed, and so did Paul run his group?

FC: Well, George ran the organization. It was largely, at the beginning, helping groups, not necessarily Japanese American, but gang groups, but then it began to move towards helping communities establish services for needs, social needs that were unmet. Now Paul stayed at Vista Del Mar for fifteen years, but he couldn't, he wasn't a real clinician. He understood it, but he didn't enjoy clinical work, and so out of this, developing this Special Services to Groups came this Asian American Mental Health Training Center. And they got a federal grant to work with the universities, and they started to administer the scholarships and select the students for the Master's programs, and so he was, he liked that idea, so that's how he got over to the Asian American Mental Health Training Center. And he and Royal Morales, a Filipino fellow who was a classmate of mine at USC, ran that program.

TI: And this was a way to really encourage Asian Americans to go into the mental health, social work field.

FC: Yeah. And they were looking specifically for folks who wanted to do community work. This is when private practices were beginning to develop, but they wanted, they wanted commitment from people that they would not just want to develop their own practice.

TI: Now, was it hard? Because during this time there's also this myth, this model minority myth, that the Japanese community didn't need help. I mean, they were able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and do well, so this would be a contradiction to that, the sense of mental health.

FC: Yeah.

TI: So tell me about that.

FC: Well, there were, there was this belief that we were able to take care of ourselves. Those of us who were working with people in the community knew that there were a lot of problems with drugs, drop out from school, families that were broken up. There were also some newer Japanese immigrant families that had come back after the war, and those kids were really in trouble because their parents were too busy, they were like Issei parents, they worked all the time, they didn't know what the kids were doing. The kids were running wild. And so there were enough of us social workers at that point that knew that there's this undercurrent, that the model minority was a myth, that there're all these kids that were really troubled. And so we tried to find ways of serving them, and so AADAP, Asian American Drug Abuse Program, was developed, and there was a Filipino group -- I can't remember the name of that -- that was also developed. It was also the time when there was great ethnic pride, and so you had the Yellow Brotherhood group and so it gathered these malcontents, kids that couldn't find a place for themselves, and they, and so they were able to develop programs that they could maybe attend.

TI: That's fascinating. So you were there at a time when lots --

FC: He was. I was doing my own thing in Torrance. [Laughs]

TI: Your own practice?

FC: Yeah, I was doing my practice.

TI: And also, so you married Paul in 1960.

FC: Yeah.

TI: And then you had two children.

FC: And I didn't work when the kids were real young, so I was kind of out of it and I didn't go back to work until my younger daughter started kindergarten, my younger child.

TI: So this is like early '70s?

FC: Yeah, late '60s, early '70s.

TI: Late '60s, early '70s, and then...

FC: So I went to work part time at Catholic Social Service, but I really, and then at that point we were able to be licensed and act as full time practitioners. And so I said I'm gonna take that route, so I opened up my own office in Torrance. Just at that point, the Torrance Police Department had some money from the state to develop a juvenile diversion program, so I got involved with that and counseled a lot of these teenagers. And there were a lot of Asians in that group, so I was able to work with them. And Paul's doing his own thing over there.

TI: Now did, your private practice, did you ever deal with any Japanese Americans who had issues, again, from maybe the camp experience, the war years? Did those issues ever come up in your practice?

FC: Not directly. Most of the kids, the ones I talked to, were children of parents who came out of camp and who had very poor relationships. The families were not willing to talk about whatever happened. Some of them, well, some of them were so busy trying to make money. The general impetus after we came out of camp was everybody was determined to catch up economically and make a lot of money and prove that they were "true Americans," and so families did not encourage talking about problems.

TI: And so their children really were affected by that.

FC: Definitely. You know, not only did the parents not talk about how they felt about the camp experience, they were so hell bent on proving that they were successful Americans that they were pursuing the good life and making money and thinking that, if they got situated in the suburbs with the nice house and family, that it would compensate for that.

TI: So again, it was kind of a, almost a facade, that they looked like they were living the American Dream, but internally they may be having major issues with their children and they may be suffering.

FC: Exactly. Yeah.

TI: And there's a frustration because the parents not understanding their children and wanting them to be a certain way, and the rebellion and discipline.

FC: Yeah, there was a lot of struggles that way, and a lot of times the parents were really successful and they were, would remark about how these kids, there'd be a twenty dollar bill on the kitchen counter saying, "We can't come home 'til late tonight, go get your own dinner." And so the parents threw money at the children and so they really didn't have any idea. And it wasn't saying that the kids were such a, were in such trouble as much as they were disconnected emotionally from their children.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.