Documenting the untold stories of Nikkei (Japanese American) Chicago シカゴにおける日系人に関する記事のサイト
By ELLEN WU
Like just about everything else these days, history has gone high tech. Which is great news for those looking to know more about Chicago’s Japanese Americans, particularly during the post-internment/early-resettlement era (1940s-1950s). Several exciting digital resources have opened up in recent months—the equivalent of hitting archival gold! All of them are invaluable for both serious researchers and lay investigators and definitely worth the look.
There is nothing quite like being able to peruse what historians call “primary sources”—written, visual, audio, and material traces created by people (“actors”) during the period of interest. But primary sources are often rare, unpublished materials that are difficult to access. They might not deposited in formal, unrestricted archives, for instance. And even if they are, it takes time and money to travel to and spend time working with collections. For various reasons, persons with disabilities might also find them difficult or impossible to use. Digitizing archives opens up their accessibility to the general public and increases the odds that the sources will be utilized to tell untold stories about our collective past.
The following resources are suggested digital starting points for exploring the history of Nikkei Chicago. Happy hunting!
Japanese American Service Committee (JASC) Legacy Center, Library and Manuscript Collections
The JASC was established in 1945 as the Chicago Resettlers’ Committee, which assisted new arrivals to the city from the camps. Its library and archives hold the largest collection of primary historical sources pertaining to Nikkei Chicago. Holdings include published sources (books, newspapers, magazines), personal, family, and institutional papers, and artifacts. The Chicago Resettlers Committee records are a particularly rich source of information about the challenges faced by Japanese American resettlers in the 1940s and 50s. The holdings also include materials from more recent decades (1960s-2000s).
Finding aids (research guides) to the JASC Legacy Center collection are now available here:
A link to the searchable JASC Legacy Center database is located here:
The sources themselves are not yet digitized, but the finding aids and the database are helpful to get a more detailed sense of the materials available at the JASC, located on Chicago’s Northside (4427 North Clark Street).
University of California, Berkeley Bancroft Library, Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study Records (JERS)
JERS is an unparalleled collection of primary materials pertaining to Japanese Americans during World War II; some 100,000 items are newly available on-line. While most researchers who have used the JERS records have focused on internment, they also contain a wealth of material on resettlement, particularly in the Chicago context. In the 1940s, JERS staff members (anthropologists and sociologists) conducted extensive fieldwork among individuals who resettled in Chicago as well as numerous organizations that worked with resettlers. See especially the Charles Kikuchi interviews—breathtaking, heartbreaking verbatim transcripts and notes of interviews that he conducted with Nisei during the war.
The finding aid to JERS is available through the Online Archive of California:
Browse the JERS collection here:
Japanese American Relocation Digital Archive (JARDA)
JARDA (launched in 2000) is subset of Calisphere, the free digital portal to the vast archival holdings of the University of California and various other cultural heritage institutions throughout the Golden State. Many of the most heavily used primary sources documenting internment and resettlement are available here, including personal diaries, correspondence artwork, camp newsletters, oral histories, and War Relocation Authority records. The JARDA website notes that the collection “continues to grow.”
Visual sources are a particular strength of JARDA. The database contains more than 7000 of the War Relocation Authority’s official photographs (many with captions), including dozens from Chicago. Federal authorities intended these images to serve as public relations vehicles by depicting Nikkei as loyal citizens willing and ready to assimilate into mainstream society once released from the camps. The photographs should therefore be “read” with a grain of salt, so to speak, with attention to the conditions of production and circulation.
Browse JARDA here:
About the US government’s photography of internment and resettlement:
Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project, Nisei Vue and Scene Magazines
Densho is an incredible digital database of primary source materials pertaining to the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. The archives include numerous oral interviews of former prisoners and over 12,000 historic photos, documents, and periodicals, including entire runs of the newspapers published by each of the camps. In partnership with Los Angeles’s Japanese American National Museum, Densho now contains approximately 70 issues of two landmark journals produced in Chicago during the early resettlement years: Nisei Vue (1948-1950) and Scene (1949-1955).
The form and contents of Nisei Vue and Scene were nearly identical. The duo followed the format of popular pictorials of the day such as Life and Look: lighthearted, lifestyle-oriented, and feature-focused. As Densho editor Brian Niiya notes, “Both highlighted ‘successful’ Nisei and ideal Nisei life, mixing in articles about Japan and Japanese culture. Both usually featured attractive Nisei women on the cover and neither was above the occasional cheesecake feature.” Nisei Vue, however, was much shorter-lived, lasting only from Spring 1948 to March 1950, while Scene ran from May 1949 to September 1955. Coverage in both spanned a range of orientations: local, national, trans-Pacific, and hemispheric (i.e. Japanese Brazilians). Weighty concerns such as children of unwed Nisei mothers, immigration reform, and US-Japan relations contrasted with playful and aspirational narratives (“Chicago girls, girls, girls”; “Young Hawaiians Start Surf Club”; “War Bride Becomes an American Housewife”). Together, Nisei Vue and Scene offer a rare glimpse into the postwar world of Japanese America: one that continued to grapple with the traumas of incarceration even as it was determined to move onward and upward.
Scene and Nisei Vue Collection:
Densho Digital Repository: Scene and Nisei Vue Collection
About Nisei Vue:
The Pacific Citizen began life in 1929 as the newsletter for the Japanese American Citizens League; during World War II it became the pre-eminent newspaper for Japanese in the United States. Although the Pacific Citizen was (and continues to be) the official publication of the JACL, editors Larry and Guyo Tajiri operated relatively autonomously during their reign (1942-1952). The PC’s coverage thus expanded far beyond JACL-specific issues and included reporting about Nikkei in Chicago. See, for instance, the recurring column “Chicago Corner” by Smoky Sakurada.
Digitized issues from 1929 through 1955 are now available through a searchable database on Pacific Citizen’s website: http://www.pacificcitizen.org/digital-archives
About Pacific Citizen: