Chicagos Historic Japanese Neighborhood And Why It Disappeared


Hey. Curiousity. Intern Dominic here. Well we're entering another week of curiosity Scavenger Hunt, and hopefully you've been locking lots of clues and seeing a new side of the city. You've probably noticed that Chicago community areas have a deep history and many have changed a lot over the years. So for the duration of the scavenger hunt, we're going to rerun some of our favorite neighborhood specific episodes. If you listen to last week's episode about foods that started in Chicago you heard Monica mentioned a restaurant in Lakeview that serves something called the Tagawa. It's an Omelette Lake dish with hamburger patty green pepper onion, and bean sprouts, and it developed and Lakeview when it was home to a working class Japanese neighborhood. But when was that and what happened to that community? Reporter Catherine Nagasawa has more. When Irene Browne was a kid in the nineties her family used to take trips to Chicago's Japan town at least that's what her mom used to call it. It was a cluster of Japanese restaurants and businesses on the north side in the Lakeview neighborhood near Bellmont and Clark streets. Now, Irene's family isn't Japanese but her family to drive in from the suburbs to shop for ingredients for the Japanese recipes they like to try out if you wanted to buy rice noodles. You couldn't just go and tiny store and order it on Amazon. You have to actually go to the Japanese neighborhood the shops and restaurants Irene remembers were actually the remnants of a small but thriving japanese-american neighborhood at its peak in the seventies there were around hundred and fifty Japanese American owned establishments in the area and right in the middle was the Nissan Bar near Clark Sheffield it was named after the niece or second generation Japanese Americans who lived in the neighborhood. My Dad. It'd be sitting there watching the cubs gays and. It'd be all japanese-americans niece as here at the time that's Paul Yamaguchi who has a kid would work in his dad's restaurant the hamburger king it was next door to the Nikkei Lounge. My pay was a bowl of Chili fries. And there was a door here that connected the knee say lounge. Lounge still there but Irene says nearly all of the other Japanese shops and restaurants she remembers gone. Degree mercantile where she went shop for pottery and chopsticks is now an Improv Comedy Theater Clark Street is now full of sports, bars and chain stores. It's made her wonder. Chicago has so many ethnic enclaves has greektown has chinatown what happened to that Japanese community and where did they go? The reason the Lakeview neighborhood disappeared is complicated and part of it has to do with how Japanese Americans got to Chicago. In the first place, they didn't come by choice the US government forcibly relocated twenty thousand Japanese Americans to Chicago during World War Two. And that group was pressured to shed their ethnic identity, their language and their culture in order to survive. That story doesn't start in Chicago. It starts on the West Coast in the nineteen forties. December seventh nineteen, forty one. No American will ever forget this Sunday morning and Hawaii. I overhead JAP raiders are on the loose without warning they circle Pearl Harbor and the city of Honolulu. Surprise attack warning in the beginning of World War. Two. Approximately one hundred and twenty thousand Japanese Americans were living in what were called Japan towns on the West. coast. These rare sensually Japanese neighborhoods similar to other immigrant neighborhoods around the country. But with the threat of an invasion from Japan, the US government was worried about the loyalty of the highly concentrated West Coast Japanese-americans. So incarcerated them what were later called internment camps around the country We are protecting ourselves off violating the principles of Christians Easton's. One hundred and twenty thousand people locked up was expensive and the country needed workers. So after a couple of years, the government changed its focus to reintroducing Japanese-americans to society. Researcher Lori Fujikawa says the government didn't want Japanese Americans to return to the Japan towns they left on the west coast they wanted them to spread out and assembly the government told them that part of the reason you ended up in these camps was because you hung out with your own kind, they were basically saying your to Japanese. So when the government allowed japanese-americans to leave the camps, they set specific conditions one, the close the West Coast to Japanese for. The duration of the war and to they force them to answer a series of questions about loyalty before they were allowed out of the question said, you have to promise that you're not going to hang out with other Japanese Americans. They also told them to avoid speaking Japanese and to develop quote American Customs. So the government says we'll let you go as long as you stop acting what we think of as Japanese and as long as you integrate into the society. So, how do we get from the camps to? Lakeview. Well in nineteen forty, three the government show. Chicago as the first city to pilot their vision for Japanese assimilation. They believed Chicago would be more tolerant to Japanese-americans unlike the West Coast Chicago didn't have the same prewar racial prejudice towards the Japanese. Since there were so few of them living in the city at the time. And when they first arrived japanese-americans found, it was easy to find jobs in Chicago's light industries like garment manufacturing bookbinding and candy factories. So you get a job ID McClure's you can get a job at Curtis Candy, get a job baby ruth all these places wanted me say because they're good workers that's Rosser although he was born in a camp and just a couple years old when his family arrived in Chicago along with a wave of twenty thousand other Japanese Americans. Hirano says his family along with many others received housing assistance from the government and other local agencies to encourage assimilation. The government made sure to settle people in different neighborhoods on the south and north sides. So there wasn't any clustering it was sort of a understood what you had the do you had to basically be unseen, but once the government stopped paying attention japanese-americans did begin to cluster together moving out of the South and north sides by the nineteen sixties. The biggest cluster was in lakeview between Belmont and Addison streets. Like be was thought of as safe affordable. And it was close to white middle class neighborhoods, which was in line with the government's directive to assimilate into the dominant American culture. To understand what it was like to grow up in Lakeview and why the neighbor disappeared. I met a group of people who grew up in the area. We went to the same place. You heard about earlier the Nikkei lounge bar one of the last establishments still left from that era. There from generation that was shaped by the government's efforts to force assimilation you can see traces of it in the first names their parents gave them ten phone, Amora Elaine con of Shiro Mike Higa, and Tracy and Linda. Oishi. But his kids they weren't really aware of everything. Their parents had gone through to get to Chicago in Lakeview they just knew it was nice place to grow up we get out of school at two thirty there, and basically what we would do, we'd go right over Wrigley Field because they would open up. thinning they're all the churches used to host dances not too far from here at. All. And so in during my high school years that was my social life. Our parents would go out and play. So we would go out to Lemoyne school where I went to grammar school at did they would flood the? The playground lot there, and we go out ice skate there. There's nothing particularly Japanese about these memories. They could be anybody in Chicago. But looking back the group said they now see that they're very American childhoods came at a cost for their parents who had been traumatized by the war resettlement. Here's Linda. We she and my Kika. I mean my dad was like you know you guys are one hundred percent American. Don't ever forget it. We were also striving to break away from the stigma of the war subliminally. My father-in-law actually went so far as to tell his children, you are not going to learn Japanese and they wanted to simulate so badly. That, they actually went to that extreme and they've probably lost a little bit history doing that. I mean that that we were blaming ourselves are feeling responsible is like we were totally identified as being enemy. Other ethnic groups were not identified like the German Americans or the Talian Americans they were not identified as being the enemy. It was because of our faces so you can't get away from that. You can't run away from that. but there was a way to try to get away from it and that was to do with the government wanted the Japanese to do in the first place achieved white middle-class markers of success and I think that that was also a part of. What happened to this generation as far as we move on and get out of the stereotype to go into professions. That required higher education doctors lawyers I mean, that was really going to be revered. Nearly, every Japanese American family in Lakeview in the seventies could trace their roots back to World War Two and the camps. And the pressure to assimilate that started in the camps meant the children of the detainees, the kids that grew up in Lakeview. They didn't sit around. Here's Tracy. Oishi. So as they took higher education, they left. To follow careers and you know and moved. When you look at that postwar generation that grew up in Lakeview, you find professionals dispersed throughout the city and suburbs a group that a recent study found have the highest level of intermarriage too whites of any Asian ethnic group. I wanted to know what was the cost of this. I asked everybody how their experiences might have been different had there been less pressured assimilate, and if there was still a neighborhood to anchor the community Linda we she feels like in that case, she might have felt like she didn't have to make a choice between being Japanese or being American would we have to decide? Are We American I? We Japanese I am what are we push? Do we push our culture which is Japanese language dancing music I mean we have all these wonderful art things, powdery Kimono, making all the stuff that is just being lost through the third and fourth generations. I don't want that to die I wanted to be part of my kids and my grandkids but how do you do that? Without strong ties to Japanese culture or neighborhood like the one that used to exist in Lakeview it's harder to do that. But he leaned connoisseurs says it's possible. It just requires effort. As she's gotten older and reflected more about what her family lost during the war and in the camps she says, it's been more important for her to seek out. As Americans even if there's no neighborhood. I am still part of Japanese community here in Chicago and. In that setting I am very comfortable. There is still even though we don't see each other a lot. There's a commonality there. There's a connection there that Is Important to me so I think there's a community maybe it's not geographic. Sure enough. A couple of weeks after I spoke with the group at the lounge I saw lean Khanna Shiro at an event there. No actually. It was a fundraiser for a local project that sends young Japanese. On a pilgrimage to one of the incarceration camps in California way of reconnecting to that history. For a few hours, the lounges filled with Japanese Americans across generations third-generation Sawn as drinking old style here with Fourth Generation Yawn says. They live all across Chicago and in the suburbs. But when it came time for the scattered community to choose a place to meet and think about history and heritage, they chose the Nikkei lounge right at the center of the old neighborhood and Lakeview. Reporting the story came from me Catherine. Support Curiousity comes from the CONAN Family Foundation. He. Curiousity editor Alexandra. Solomon. It's August and normally this time of year, my kids start to get that nervous butterflies in your stomach feeling of excitement as the beginning of school approaches. This year they say, they don't have those seem butterflies because they'll be learning at home when school starts in September that means a total disruption of our normal family routine and WBZ has already started to hear from other families who are worried about how their kids will be affected. Now the team at curious city wants to hear from you what have you been hearing from the students in your life leave us a voicemail and eight, seven, eight, nine, seven, seven, five, two, that's eight, eight, eight, seven, eight, nine, seven, seven, five, two, and your story might get featured in an upcoming episode of the show.

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