It is impossible to overstate the impact the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II had on the community. In February 1942, shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized and ordered the relocation and incarceration of nearly 120,000 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry – two-thirds of whom were U.S. citizens. In addition to loss of Constitutional Rights, property and liberty, the incarceration process split up whole communities and families, the results of which are still being felt today.
After two years of frustration, aimlessness and anxiety, many were allowed to leave the concentration camps, only if they could find housing and employment. However, they were still banned from returning to their homes on the West Coast. Limited to what they could carry and a $25 stipend, about 20,000 Japanese Americans traveled from the deserts, mountains and swamps of the West to Chicago to begin another life from scratch.
For those who emigrated to America before the war, it was another experience of starting life all over again; for those born in America, their experiences included frustration, a sense of betrayal and anger. One of their few consolations was that the City of Chicago seemed accepting of them without undue prejudice, hatred and suspicion.
The Japanese American Service Committee, now JASC, was organized in 1946 as the Chicago Resettlers Committee, formed to literally “re-settle” those Japanese Americans coming to Chicago. The Resettlers Committee activities included referring people to professional services such as banks, attorneys, doctors and real estate agents; supplying them with practical information about retailers and restaurants; helping locate appropriate Buddhist or Christian churches; and coordinating recreational activities and making personal contacts.
The history of the JASC can be divided into four periods.
Unification – 1946-1960
JASC became a focal point among Japanese Americans in the Chicago area for the purpose of information and referral and to obtain necessary services such as employment, housing, counseling and mass naturalization classes. Also significant during this period was the counseling and other assistance given to war brides from Japan to adjust to a new culture and new lifestyle. By the late 1950s JASC was encouraged by the Welfare Council of Chicago, a financial supporter of JASC and coordinator for social services in Chicago, to reassess its mission because the original mission to help former internees relocate to Chicago no longer applied.
Program Establishment – 1960 – 1980
The agency established the program priority to serve the elderly in the Japanese American community during this period. As the first generation of Japanese Americans was retiring, the second generation Board members decided to develop services for their aging parents. Many programs were implemented for the elderly including workshops, home delivered meal services, social programs, chore and housekeeping services, adult day care, and translation and interpreting services. It was during this time that the agency began coordinating community-wide programs and cultural events such as arts & music programs, lectures, festivals and special celebrations.
During this time, the agency’s budget reached over $1 million. This was quite an increase from the initial modest budget of $9,000 funded by the War Relocation Authority. JASC became the most comprehensive and largest Japanese American social service agency in the country.
As the influx of immigrants from other Asian countries increased due to liberalization of immigration quotas for those countries, Asian communities began to form their own community-based social service agencies. JASC was and still is the model agency they patterned their own social service agencies upon and JASC has continued to provide consultative services for them.
Major Institutional Planning – 1970 – Present
As the first generation advanced in age and began to show their increasing frailty, housing became a pressing need. Japanese Americans know and understand the concept of extended family. However, the American lifestyle of individualism, mobility of life and frequent severance of family ties since the wartime concentration camp life have caused an alteration of this age-old traditional lifestyle. Japanese American families are still bound closely psychologically to each other, but very few literally practice the extended family life. The first generation’s strong pioneer spirit and desire to be independent as long as possible has been respected by their second generation children. After the first 30 years, JASC began to shift from coordinating programs and services to taking a leadership role.
In early 1970, JASC began to sense a need of a housing project for the elderly who wished to be independent but were not really capable of living alone. A 200-unit congregate housing for the elderly was completed in 1980 with a $6.3 million loan from HUD, and named Heiwa (Peace) Terrace.
JASC staff had been aware of inadequate nursing home care for ethnic elderly for years. The nursing homes in the Chicago area were not capable of providing care and services which would meet the cultural needs of the Japanese American elderly. In 1984 the JASC Nursing Home committee was formed and a site was purchased in 1988. The construction of a 180-bed, skilled care nursing home was completed in April 1993, and an operating license was issued in September of that same year. However, unforeseen prolonged construction delays and a lack of financial reserve for initial operation forced the agency to sell the Keiro Extended Care Center facility to a private provider.
Living Our Legacy – the Present on into the Future
Where is JASC going from here after achieving so many accomplishments? There has been a minimum influx of the Japanese to America unlike other Asian groups, and the ethnic characteristics and needs of the community will continue to change as older generations diminish and younger generations become the majority. The third and fourth generation of Japanese Americans are far more acculturated than their parent generations, and it may be doubtful that the need of ethnic social services as would be defined in the past continue.
However, JASC is no less relevant than it was over 70 years ago. JASC continues to serve the Japanese American community through a variety of social services, and also reaches a much wider audience into the Uptown neighborhood and beyond. As the community continues to grow and change culturally, ethnically, socioeconomically and geographically, JASC has an everlasting duty to adapt and change to better serve and improve the well-being of those being served. JASC embraces the opportunities inherent in change and is confident in its ability to help shape the future.
The newest area of JASC’s focus is the expansion of our Cultural and Community programs. JASC is committed to bringing quality cultural programming, classes and events that not only preserve the legacy of Japanese Americans, but also keeps them living, developing and relevant in our contemporary cultural milieu. JASC has done this, in part, by fostering, partnering and collaborating with special individuals in our artists-in-residence programs, providing them with a platform to showcase their skills, talents and knowledge to those of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds.
One of the newest and most significant of our programs is the JASC Legacy Center, an archival collection of national importance that paints a powerful and complex portrait of the Japanese American community in Chicago. The diverse holdings in this collection include books, personal journals, oral histories, artifacts, photographs and films and other items that make up what is arguably the most significant collection of its kind outside of the West Coast. The Legacy Center is open not only to scholars and researchers, but to the general public as well.