Densho Digital Archive
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Title: Michiko Frances Chikahisa Interview
Narrator: Michiko Frances Chikahisa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Skokie, Illinois
Date: June 17, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-cmichiko-01-0025

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TI: And earlier you talked about the Niseis in Los Angeles and how they were a tough group. I mean, they didn't really, unless there's a crisis, seek out help. How would you compare the Niseis that you knew in Los Angeles with what you found in Chicago?

FC: I was appalled, really, because there were no other, there were a few social workers, but most of them were already retired. There was one young man that was working with the teenagers, and they were not necessarily all Asian population, and I thought oh good, there's somebody that I could connect with, but he died suddenly of a heart attack and so that ended it. And the Japanese speaking clients that came were very, very difficult clients. They had, a lot of 'em were new immigrants, they didn't have a lot of resources, and because they didn't speak English there weren't too many resources I could provide them. So we did the best we could. We, they were folks with anxiety issues, what do you call it, eating disorders, spousal abuse. They were a younger, they were not the senior population. They were a younger population, but they were all Japanese speaking.

TI: So let me make sure I understand this, so, like whereas in Los Angeles there would be health professionals there to address the Japanese and Japanese American population, but what you found in Chicago was there was a lack of that.

FC: There was total lack. There were, for the longest time we, and still we do not have a Japanese speaking psychiatrist. The only psychiatrist we came up with is a woman who's a Brazilian Japanese, and she's a analyst. She's not only a psychiatrist, she's a psychoanalyst and she's here from Sao Paolo, has been, has a practice. She doesn't speak a word of Japanese. In spite of this huge population in Japan, in Sao Paolo, I said to her, "How come you never spoke?" She said, "I had no reason to associate with them." Now, the population in Sao Paolo is very large and it's very stratified, class stratification, and she obviously came from an upper class and she had no reason to go to any of the services. So she comes to Chicago and we look her up because she's Japanese, and she doesn't speak a word. Well, fortunately she's tried to learn to understand some of those real psychiatric problems.

TI: That's pretty hard.

FC: Yeah, and so she can, if somebody is in crisis she can dispense medication, but other, that's the only psychiatric person we have.

TI: And then, so tell me about the need for these, these mental health services in Chicago? Is it, I mean, you talked about in Los Angeles there being a need, is there that same need in Chicago?

FC: Well, I'm sure the need is present, but the community here really believes in taking care of themselves, even if it's detrimental to their mental health, so that there's no, nobody's knocking on our doors saying we need some help. If they do it's some very concrete help. So among the younger Niseis and Sanseis now, they're not asking for mental health help.

TI: So is that different than California? Because you said the Sanseis in California --

FC: Are coming.

TI: -- would come, but in Chicago you don't see that?

FC: I don't see it. I'm sure there are people who go, but they go to see non-Japanese therapists. And so, but working with the Sanseis, I know that you have to have somebody who really understands the culture, because a lot of their issues come from the Issei-Nisei heritage that nobody ever really described to them, and it's really frustrating because --

TI: Now why is there that reluctance, you think, in Chicago?

FC: I think it's because when they came from the camps they had no community to fall back on, and so the community that helped get them settled were these Caucasian relocation specialists who told them repeatedly, "Don't gather in communities that identify you. Assimilate. Get out there and mix with everybody. That you were persecuted on the West Coast because you lived in these ghettos and you shouldn't do that." And so the Niseis, having nobody else to look to, really believed it so that they are very conscious of not gathering attention to themselves. And the story I remember that I think is so heartbreaking is when the Buddhist temple started, when they got released, when the services ended they would stand at the door and let the people go out two by two so that they wouldn't attract attention to themselves.

TI: So this happened right after the war?

FC: This is like in the late '40s, early '50s.

TI: Wow, so years after the war they would still do that.

FC: Yeah, because they are, they said that when they started the Buddhist temple people in the neighborhood didn't know what Buddhists, what they would do. They were leery of having a temple in their neighborhood. And then on top of that they were told, "Don't gather together," and it, for a while, early on, like in the mid '40s, it was such a problem that lot of the young people got very depressed and suicide rates started to climb, and the community really had to take a look at trying to form some connection with each other.

TI: I'm sorry, and this is in Los Angeles or here?

FC: Here.

TI: Chicago.

FC: Yeah. So that's when the, did they call it the, Resettlement Committee was formed, and that's the predecessor of the Japanese American Service Committee, and it was out of desperation.

TI: Interesting. Okay. So, Frances, here we're out of time. We went two and a half hours straight.

FC: Wow.

TI: This was fabulous. Thank you so much for this interview. This was really a tremendous interview, so thank you for...

FC: You get me going and we can't stop. [Laughs]

TI: No, this was good.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.