Emma Saito Lincoln (EL): Today is May 19th, 2021 and this oral history is beingrecorded at the Japanese American Service Committee building at 4427 N Clark St in Chicago, IL. The interviewer is Emma Saito Lincoln, and the interviewee is Cori Lin. This interview is being recorded by the JASC Legacy Center in order to document the experiences of Japanese Americans in the Chicago area. Welcome, to begin with I have just some background questions for you, so please state your full name.
Cori Lin (CL): Hi, my name is Cori Nakamura Lin.
EL: And what is your year of birth?
CL: I was born in the year of the water monkey, 1992.
EL: And where were you born?
CL: I was born in a suburban, Chicago hospital.
EL: And is the Chicago area also where you grew up?
CL: Yes, I grew up in the northwest suburbs in Rolling Meadows area, um yeah.00:01:00
EL: And were your parents and grandparents also born and raised in the Chicago area?
CL: So my mother was born in the Chicago area, who is on my Japanese side. Myfather moved from Taipei when he was around 13, and then eventually moved to the Chicago area. And then my grandparents on both sides were born all over, and then migrated to the Chicago area.
EL: So on the Japanese side, approximately when did your family first come tothe United States?
CL: Yes, so I am a little fuzzy on exact dates, but I know that, so my Japanesefamily is also mixed. My Okinawan family, which is my maternal grandmother, came from Okinawa around the turn of the century, so in the early 1900s, late 1800s to Hawaii at that time. And my great-grandfather, and my grandma, and her family all lived there until the, after the war. I think in the ni--late 60s my 00:02:00grandmother then moved to Indiana to go to college. My maternal grandfather's side are Japanese and from Hiroshima area and they came to California with my grandfather's dad. And I'm not exactly sure what the dates were, but it was probably a little bit in the early 1910s. And my grandfather grew up in Yuba City, and then was incarcerated in Amache, and then eventually after traveling around after the war time, eventually moved to Chicago.
EL: Okay, thank you. So when people ask you what generation you are, how do you answer?
CL: So I say that I am yonsei, because my, yeah, both the isseis of my familywere in California and Hawaii, but then both of my grandparents are nisei. Even though like their siblings, some of them are half-gen, but both my grandparents were born in Hawaii, and then California. So, my mom is a sansei and I'm a yonsei. 00:03:00
EL: Okay, so what can you tell me about the immigration history on the otherside of your family?
CL: Yes, so my other side is Taiwanese American. My Taiwanese family had been inTaiwan since I think the early, early 18th century? So they had been there for like a really long time don't quote me on that, the number, but I know that the Lins had been in Taiwan for a long time. The--my ah-gong's family, my paternal grandfather, was a part of like a pretty big established like, family. And then my grandmother married into it and there was a lot of Taiwanese war stuff there also with World War II, and Japan and China, but in the, I think in the 70s, after the Chinese Exclusion Act ended, then my maternal grandmother decided to move the family to America.
EL: Okay, thank you. So now we're going to shift a little bit and talk about you?
EL: --and your direct experiences, and you touched a little bit on where exactly00:04:00you grew up, but if you could just state again respective to Chicago, the city, where did you grow up?
CL: Yeah so I grew up in the northwest suburbs, which is kind of like a firstri--maybe actually second ring suburb of the area. I grew up in Rolling Meadows, which is a small suburb nearby Palatine, Arlington Heights. I usually tell people who live in Chicago that I'm out by the IKEA, I tell Japanese Americans that I'm out by the Mitsuwa. Yeah, I grew up there after my, my mom and dad had lived in Chicago for a little while when they first got married, but then eventually bought a house and moved to the suburbs where they raised me and my sisters.
EL: And how would you characterize that community?
CL: The northwest suburbs of Chicago I--are, they're very diverse, but the onesthat I grew up were very upper middle class to middle class and majorily white. I went to Fremd, William Fremd High School, which is like a pretty like, high 00:05:00sought after school and school district, so a lot of the Asian folks that are in the area are first- and second- generation Chinese and Korean Americans. I grew up knowing a lot of Asian folks and having lots of East Asian and South Asian folks around, but not many Japanese Americans in the suburb that I was in, and not many folks who had like a longer immigration legacy, like being yonsei.
EL: So if you weren't living near or going to school with a lot of otherJapanese American people, did you have opportunities to engage with the Japanese American community outside of your hometown or outside of your school setting?
CL: Yeah, so well first of all, I was homeschooled up until like 8th grade so I,I wasn't really socializing with anyone like regardless of if they were Japanese or not in a school setting. But my grandparents, when they moved to Chicago and 00:06:00met there, started attending a Japanese American church called Church of Christ Presbyterian, and that's kind of where my mom grew up as her home church in another, in a Japanese American Christian Church environment. And eventually when my father was going to medical school, he joined that church as well, as a Taiwanese American friend, and that's where they met, and they got married. So I grew up also going to that church, is that we would drive into the city to the north park neighborhood every Sunday from the northwest suburbs. And would, yeah, go to church there, where there were a lot of mixed Japanese American families. Like the church was historically JA, but by the time I was around, most of the people there were either half Japanese American, and we would join up with a few other of the Japanese American, historically Japanese American churches, lakeside, and at one point Church of Christ Presbyterian to do church 00:07:00camp every summer, so that was kind of like my social experience.
EL: So during your formative years, were you particularly aware of your identityas Japanese American, or as Asian American?
CL: Mhmm, so I, I laugh a little bit just because this is a theme that I thinkabout a lot, which is that I ha--was not at all aware of my identity growing up almost even through college. That I have had kind of like two distinct phases that my little sister likes to make fun of me, and calls my Asian puberty, or second Asian puberty, now becoming a third Asian puberty. But because I grew up in an environment where there was a lot of, I would say Asian immigrants but not a lot of Asian Americans I grew up having a very conflated sense of like what it meant to be Asian from a white American lens. Because I was mixed as well, I 00:08:00always had a lot of like contention between being Taiwanese versus being Japanese, and kind of as a kid it turned into this like pan-Asian identity that wasn't really rooted in anything besides just kind of a pride within my immediate family and a sense of being different. So I think I didn't really learn a lot about the history of my family on either sides until college, and then after college. And also thinking about what it means to be an Asian person, and how I've been racialized took me a really long time to understand.
EL: Did you ever have uncomfortable moments in, in your Taiwanese family worldwith regard to your--the Japanese piece of your identity or vice versa in your Japanese world, Japanese American world, with regard to your, your Taiwanese identity.
CL: So it's a interesting question because I think for people who know about the00:09:00history of Taiwan, are oftentimes very surprised that my, my family exists, and that both sides of the family get along well together. But knowing, and that also kind of confused me too, the more I learned about Taiwan and the Japanese colonization of it. But then, I learned a little bit about my ah-ma's family so my paternal grandmother, and the role that her father took in kind of like af--before and after World War II, where they were a pretty prestigious family. And he was able to learn Japanese, and like my grandmother was born during Japanese occupation so she speaks Japanese? Like when, now even that like lots of my Japanese relatives have forgotten Japanese, my Taiwanese ah-ma is still fluent, and she speaks to my niece in Japanese and stuff. So when my parents got married, that was like the f--one of the first times, and actually I don't know if this is a real story or just a story that I've been told but this is one of the first times that the families met each other, the Taiwanese side and the 00:10:00Japanese side, and my grandfather's family were kind of like all there, and my grandma's siblings and they were kind of like didn't know how to approach their in-laws now. But then one of my dad's family members was kind of like "...hey" and started speaking in Japanese to them, and then like the whole family was like, "Oh my God, we all speak Japanese!" And then they all started chatting together and, and felt very comfortable. So I think the specific place in time and the position of kind of like pres--prestige that they were able to hold their identities as Taiwanese people on my Taiwanese side, kind of helped them get along with the Japanese family. They also don't really know anything about--or like the Japanese conflict, they didn't know anything about internment, but just ethnically, they got along well. And now, now that I do know all of these histories, I feel like it's more of me kind of like weighing how I feel like my family has reacted to them o--over time. 00:11:00
EL: So on that topic of, of learning about these histories that you weren'taware of when you were younger, when did that start to happen and how did you go about learning?
CL: So I've always been interested in culture, and that was something that Iremember that I had one class in high school that was called like, "Facets of Identity" or like, and I just remember we we read "A Mirror for Humanity" which was like a history book that just kind of like covered different ethnic identities. And I just remember that was like the only time, it-this was like an elective course that I took with Mr. Zacharia, a teacher I really liked, who was a person of color, he was South Asian. And he was the first one who kind of started to talk to me about history from, yeah just like a not white perspective. I had like U.S. history, I had like world history that were all prepped for AP tests and that taught me nothing. So that really peaked my 00:12:00interest, and I was always interested in art and he let me do a lot of art projects to kind of process that history. And that like, now that I think about the artwork that I do like it all kind of starts from that point, where I just had one teacher who is teaching me history from a not white perspective. And so then when I went to school I studied anthropology and studio art, and that was also at a liberal arts school I went to Lawrence University in Wisconsin. And their program was anthropology, where I loved learning about different cultures, and how cultures were formed, and how to kind of like study and research them from a social science perspective. But they didn't give me an understanding of--like it was still from a white lens, this idea that you would go out into another culture and kind of learn about them, and I was always really interested in studying the culture that I was in, and kind of analyzing how that was connecting with other things. So I was able to study my like, ethnicity as a, as 00:13:00a concept through my anthropology program and I remember my senior project was about measuring ethnic, like trying to create a quantification that would measure ethnic identity. Kind of coming from this experience I had in high school where I felt that ethnicity was really fluid and it didn't have to do with, yeah, like it wasn't race, but it was something that was like self-elected. And so that was something that I was given the space to study but even when I look back at that paper, I had focused on Japanese Americans but just like the way that I was trying to quantify it seems so funny to me now 'cause it was all, it was also missing this lens of assimilation, and how Japanese folks had been kind of forced to give up their cultural identity. So I, I hadn't included kind of that factor in my study. So I think that the last step of my kind of coming to my Japanese-ness is when I moved to Minneapolis, 00:14:00Minnesota right after school, I was working in a lot of different nonprofits, meeting a lot of people, and the Asian community there really opened their arms to me and accepted me even though I wasn't a part--like I was Japanese and Taiwanese which there aren't a ton of in the Twin Cities. There is a ton of Southeast Asians, lots of Hmong folk, lots of Vietnamese and Cambodian people, and they all kind of accepted me. And through kind of learning from them how they had been fighting for black lives, it really showed me what a kind of like pan-Asian solidarity could really feel like knowing that we all had really different cultures, but that together we do have an identity that we can build on and bring people together and unite with. During the time that I was in the Twin Cities both Jamar Clark and Philando Castile were killed. And so they were murdered by the Minneapolis police, and well Brooklyn Park police too, and so 00:15:00I--or Falcon Heights I guess. But it was really easy to kind of feel a community mourn and grieve and to come together across differences, and I felt really a part of a pan-Asian community there, but then it wasn't until then I finally moved back to Chicago in 2019 that I was able to kind of start, with those tools, start building a community back in Chicago. That we're kind of emulating those same things of building a community across difference, knowing that we have lots of histories and experiences but kind of pushing it towards a shared goal.
EL: So if we could maybe, with that in mind, rewind a little bit your highschool years and, and maybe what was missing during those years, that looking back you wish you had had in terms of community. How do you, how do you look back on those years now? How do you feel about that?
CL: I think about this a lot and I think about it both of what did I need but00:16:00also what can I build for future generations? Because I think a lot of the things that I need, or that I would have needed like there are things I could have had back then like more curriculum, more discussions about what race and being racialized is. I think less quantifying conversations about blood--like blood quantum in Asian community is also a thing. So I think all of those things would have helped me kind of grow into myself as a child, but basically--when I think about future generations it's like they have so many more opportunities of what they can't have. Because the conversations that we were having about race when I was growing up in the 2000s and the 90s, was nowhere close to what I can even find in like one TikTok right now. So I think there's a lot more possibilities of what we could create, like I think it wouldn't have been really 00:17:00possible for me to have a--a squad of young femmes and gender expansive people who come together and talk about like their different heritages and their cultures and how they use that power. But there's a couple of spaces that I'm in now that are for young people, like I think about Radical Monarchs, which is like a "Girl Scout Troop" but with a social justice lens. And I think about some of the women of color or young girls of color spaces that I've been a part of and those I feel like have a lot of, so much more potential than what I could have had as a, as a young person.
EL: So I also want to touch on what you said about the work you did in collegean--and what was missing from that paper about the assimilation element of things. And looking at your own family, at a piece of your own family so your, let's see, your maternal grandfather who was incarcerated, do you see in your 00:18:00own family things that were done or decisions that were made that you would qualify as assimilation?
CL: Yes. So that is a question that I have been unpacking I think over the pastfew years, that when I grew up and I think even when I was in my post-college years in the Twin Cities, I did feel like there was something missing. And sometimes it felt like a disconnection, sometimes it felt like inadequacy. Like why don't I know Japanese? Or--it wasn't even that question it was just like, I don't know Japanese. And as a kid it was always very defensive, that it would be white folks who were trying to connect to me about anime, or it would be other Asian folks who were first or second gen and wanted to connect with me about Asian stuff, or it would be people who are, who like or japanophiles, and who are interested in that. Being like, oh like either they were excited to speak to 00:19:00me in Japanese, or asking me about that, and then I wouldn't know and then that kind of created this dissonance inside of me, between there's this one thing which being Asian is and I am not that. And so it was, it was less of a sense of something missing and more of a sense of being divided and as a, as a young person and as I learned about that history I've been able to figure out where those come, that divide comes from. Things like talking to my mom very slowly about how her experiences of being Japanese and Asian growing up in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and how she was oftentimes, yeah also felt that way. But in the 60s and 70s when there weren't a lot of other Asian Americans from different backgrounds to kind of trade experiences with or build off of, she often, she told me that going to Hawaii was the only time that she felt normal. And that was something that kind of made sense to me because I never had a place that I 00:20:00felt like normal besides maybe like amongst other mixed JAs. But just knowing that she had that sadness and that kind of isolation made sense to me later in my life. And then of course going back to the history of how my grandfather in that generation came to Chicago and what, how they had to exit camp, and reading the surveys and reading the materials that they were given. Telling them like, "Will you not speak Japanese? Will you try to blend into hakujin spaces? Will you not band together, and not have social groups based off of culture together?" That made a lot of sense to me and my family how we have both celebrated American-ness and to some degree, white-ness, we conflate those two often times. And then how Japanese-ness is kind of something that belongs in the past. That's kind of how I feel like assimilation was really kind of like, woven 00:21:00into, into my family. But the other thing that I've been thinking, and this is like a really new thought that's happened in the past year or so since I've been thinking, trying to learn more about the history even behind incarceration, of Japanese colonialism and imperialism. And this kind of like, knowing how Japanese culture and nationalism kind of created this idea that Japanese folks were better, and then seeing how that traveled through incarceration and that kind of blended into this idea that even though we suffer we're still the best. That's something that is also deep in me both from Taiwanese and my Japanese side and I don't really know how to process through that yet.
EL: In your life where you've been made to feel not Japanese enough or not00:22:00Taiwanese enough?
CL: So there's many spaces, and I talked to a lot of mixed Japanese folks nowwho didn't have that same kind of like church experience and I did, and something that I realized is like, wow that was a true blessing that I had a community of mixed folks who were both Japanese and something else, Filipino, Taiwanese, Chinese, white, and we were all friends and we grew up together. And that really, really changed I think my experience as much as I have always felt like I wasn't totally Taiwanese, again, don't speak Mandarin, many more Taiwanese folks are first or second generation. But I've always felt very comfortable being a mixed Japanese person because of that exposure, and so I think there's a lot of superpowers in being mixed, and one of them is sitting at the margins of and the intersections of multiple identities. And I'm really excited to think about how Japanese-ness and our values and ethnicity can travel 00:23:00without blood, or with--yeah like it, it doesn't need an amount for it to be real. And so that's something that I feel like being mixed is, is teaching me.
EL: Could you talk a little bit more about those experiences within the church,and you've mentioned church camp.
EL: And what was that like, what kinds of activities did you do?
CL: So there's th--the part of, I talk about church and I do this publicly a lotbut it is very personal to me, that I, there's a p--a lot about the church experience that I really cherish. Which was, being mixed, having like, I mean three generations of my family have gone to the same church and even now when I'm trying to get involved in Japanese activism, a lot of the times I'm finding either historical documents or things that like root back to, to that church. So it--it is a network and it's a hub for me, and I still cherish it as that. At the same time, I've left the Christian religion and so that is also something 00:24:00that was obviously a huge part of it that I have a little bit more burden with, or I carry a little bit more baggage with. But I have such like fond memories of just being a child and being able to go to sleepaway camp, my cousins would come in from California and they're also mixed Japanese folks and we would all go to camp together. It was a sleepaway camp, play games, do Bible stuff. But you're in a cabin with like four to five other people who are your age and so like, I'm still friends with a lot of the people that I went to camp with.
EL: So bringing us into more of the present,
EL: So you went, you went away but stayed in the Midwestern region--
EL: for college and then you were in the Twin Cities, and you came back toChicago. And I, I was hoping maybe you could talk a little bit about what brought you back to Chicago, and how you feel about having returned to where you started. 00:25:00
CL: Yes. So I came to Chicago, or returned back for a couple of reasons that areboth generational. And I think that that's a theme that I really have been almost like swimming in--I feel like being in Chicago is swimming in the river of time, and I keep using that analogy. So my father was sick all growing up, but his cancer became like deadly in the last, in like 2018-2019. So I was going back and forth a lot and my sister and her husband Aaron got pregnant. So around 2019, both they had my nibling Charlotte and my father passed away. So for those two reasons I was like, just called to be closer with family both to take--yeah be closer to my mom and to be a part of my niece's life. And since then like I 00:26:00had never been a part of a Japanese community and I wasn't anymore a part of the church, so I had kind of been like oh like I'm not going to be--like I don't have anything Japanese anymore. Like I remember this like feeling of loss of being like oh like that was a nice thing that I once had and now like what, what do I have now? But then of course like met a few people who were also into like arts and activism stuff. Met some people from JACL and JASC, Lisa Doi and JJ Ueunten and like we were just all visioning the same things. And so we like JJ and Anne Watanabe kind of like pulled together a group of a lot of people who were interested in activism and like yeah really rooting into being Japanese American folks together, and created Nikkei Uprising as it is today. So that's kind of my community now. There's a lot of things that kind of connect to the 00:27:00river of time. Since I've been in Chicago I've like worked with the JASC oral history project, I'm working with Kat Nagasawa on another project about Japanese American resettlement and then another one that's about redress that Emma is also doing. So besides being involved in kind of these historical pieces, and working on advocacy as a group of Japanese Americans, and then also in my own family really trying to capture stories from my grandfather and my ah-ma on my Taiwanese side bef--as they are getting at the ends of their lives. It feels a lot like sitting in the river of time. I feel like I can see really clear connections between the past and where I am now because of the oral history pieces and the resettlement and redress history and knowing how much it happened 00:28:00here in Chicago. Like in the same spaces and like with the same people that my grandfather knew. And then thinking about like my new gosei nibling Charlotte, and even sitting here doing this history I am imagining just, yeah the future generations who will be able to see it maybe pull the same kind of information that I did from the oral histories that I had listened to from the--yeah people talking about their lives in the ear--like 20s and 30s even. So yeah, river of time!
EL: So let's talk about that a little bit more. Your, your involvement in someof these recent projects, and what specifically was your role in the oral history project?
CL: So I was acting as an illustrator. I'm a visual artist, right now I have thehuge privilege of being a full time artist and illustrator, mostly working with community organizations, nonprofits, and doing my own personal work. One with my sister who just got a book who's going to be publishing a series of essays using 00:29:00yokai, so--sorry! That's just to give background to what I'm doing. But yeah, one of my big projects is working with Kat Nagasawa, illustrating kind of the history of resettlement and redress. So kind of the--a lot of the history that we have especially from the Japanese American like movement to Chicago is in bits and pieces, and those are really really great for us to dig into but it's hard for people to access the story. So we've kind of been, I almost feel like historical translators, like picking up the pieces--well, Kat mostly picking up the pieces, figuring out what can really weave together a narrative that's not the whole narrative but gives people an idea of what the full tapestry was. And then it's my--kind of my role to make that exciting and to come alive and make people want to engage with it. 00:30:00
EL: How has that work made you feel?
CL: I mean it makes me cry like every day. Like so so often I feel extremelylike privileged to be in this role as like a storyteller. Yeah I--with the book that my sister is doing too it's, it's going to be pub--my sister, my older sister Jami is a writer and I'm an illustrator and we've been telling stories like to each other and in zines like our whole lives. But recently, I've been thinking a lot about kind of just all the work that my grandparent's generation and the sansei generation and even like shin-nikkei, everyone have done to lead Japanese Americans to this point where we are extremely, as a whole, stable. 00:31:00I--I've been reading a lot about my grandparents' experiences, a migrant farmer, about people who moved to the South side of the Chicago and were living in Cabrini-Green before they were able to work in factories, and then moved to the north side. And thinking about how they were doing a lot of, a lot of these histories align with different immigrant groups to the US too. Like my grandfather was working alongside Mexican American migrant farmers. And when there was a Japanese community on the South side they were living with black Americans too. But a lot of things, like structural things, allowed them to go to school get the GI bill, they weren't redlined, and allowed them to kind of get education, and led me to be in a place where I grew up in the suburbs, my parents were both college educated and they were able to pay for my college experience so I don't have loans. So all of that feels like a huge, a huge privilege and that's built on generations of, of work. So I think that the 00:32:00reason that I get so emotional about this is because I feel like I've been like I have a certain skill set, like I went to a really good school district and was able to like develop art skills. And to now u--be able to use that energy and time to kind of shift what I would consider the Japanese American story to be a little bit more expansive of what we consider to be our community, like that feels extremely powerful in this moment. And for me it feels extremely meaningful to feel like the role that I want to have in society and in my community is that of being a storyteller, so I feel like yeah redress the stor--yeah the yokai book, redress, resettlement all of that it--it feels like I get to do that. Like if I was in an olden times, I would really want to be like 00:33:00a traveling bard, and I feel like this is--it's a similar feeling--but just on Instagram. [smiles]
EL: Let's talk a little bit more about, about the power of art and, and yourinvolvement with activism, an--and beyond the Japanese American community, you have had the opportunity to use your art in powerful ways, right? So could you describe what some of those experiences are?
CL: Yeah, the first few times that I felt like I was able to make art incommunity and felt like it was making a difference is when I was in the Twin Cities and mostly in South Minneapolis, working in a neighborhood, and that led me to be able to support a lot of housing efforts. So, through like just volunteering and showing up to meetings, and then eventually working with my boss to get an arts grant, I was able to make a lot of art for that movement. Both like doing interviews to interview renters about their experiences with 00:34:00like slumlords and discriminatory housing practices, and then paint their portraits and share those stories in that way. And then also make a mural that is like on the Greenway in South Minneapolis that featured renter stories and then showed some like facts about the housing crisis in Minneapolis. And that was something where making the art wasn't for me, it was for the people that I was interviewing, like I gave them the portraits when they were done, so there was a lot of consultation. In making the mural, I had to talk to hundreds of people with my fellow co-organizer Tori Hong, and that was like my first time of realizing that like art can be a tool, that art is not a product, art is a tool that can shape cities, it can shape hearts and minds, and it can shape a conversation. Like oftentimes people were just kind of stopping by while I was painting, being like "What's this about?" and I was like "Let me tell you about the housing crisis in Minneapolis!" But we were able to look at the, the mural 00:35:00while it happened. So that was one of the first things that felt really--that it was, art doesn't belong in a separate space, art is from the community and just belongs within it and that's kind of been what's guided me ever since.
EL: Here in Chicago what kinds of activism have you been able to get engaged with?
CL: So I've been in Chicago for, I think I've almost--one and a half yearsnow...Yes? Yes. I don't know math. And the quarantine has made time seem fully like an illusion. But I first tried to get involved in both pan-Asian organizing and then Japanese American organizing specifically. But Japanese organizing only existed once, once I came here. So I was first starting getting involved with A Just Chi which is a part of Asian Americans Advancing Justice which is a huge 00:36:00Asian American advocacy organization here in Chicago that has networks and hubs all over the country. And that was really great way of getting involved in like local politics and understanding just like how corrupt Chicago is. But then because JJ and Anne pulled this group together, eventually we were working as--first we thought we were Tsuru for Solidarity Chicago, a local branch of the national Tsuru for Solidarity network which also popped up in the last few years as a network of Japanese Americans to support trying to call for the end of the camps at the border that are, you know, separating families. But then eventually it turned into Nikkei Uprising Chicago. So that's just like a small group of us. There's like 15 to 20 people as of right now, and I feel like that is very powerful for me and that's what I would consider like my home, my political 00:37:00home. Because we're not just working on you know, advocacy, we're also working on like building a community and unpacking stuff within ourselves. Something we were able to do was like we've been showing up to Cook County jail at least a couple of people, one or two members every week, for the past year to support Cassandra Greer-Lee, whose husband Nickolas Lee was one of the inmates who first passed away in Cook County jail after the coronavirus pandemic in 2019 and--or 2020. And so we've been doing like local stuff like that trying to join that anti-incarceration, down with the prison industrial complex fight. But then also working personally, so we were able to host three sessions that were on Zoom and were able to share them with people across the country, but unpacking Japanese colonialism in Okinawa and US military colonialism, the Japanese colonialism of 00:38:00Hawaii, and then Japanese imperialism as a whole and kind of that, that framework. So those things like that's kind of been helping me figure out more about this assimilation history my family has--my family experienced. And then also kind of like what were these mindsets that we've adapted even as we were being incarcerated ourselves. Like how this mentality of like, we just need to like put our heads down and fight. Like that is a survival technique, but that's also coming from--that's a trauma response as well. And that's trauma from, I don't know I mean everything, incarceration in the US, but then also from the Japanese government, and how they made their citizens feel about, about themselves as individuals.
EL: Do you see reflections of that within your own family? Sort of the00:39:00intergenerational passing on of trauma?
CL: Yes, I--I don't--I feel like the trauma is almost like latent, and like it'shard, it's almost easier for me to talk about these things in, in historical ways than in my own family 'cause it's so intangible. I don't see us passing on trauma as strongly as I see us not passing on healing. I think things like--me and my sisters right now we're trying to learn Japanese. And as an adult that comes with a lot of shame, like I have a lot of shame about being bad, bad at the language. But I--I feel like that's the process of me trying to unlearn this, this trauma. And so even if I don't have full language to pass on to the next generation, I will have this kind of like settled-ness within myself that like I'm not a bad person for not knowing this. And that's kind of what I consider like passing on a piece of healing. And I, I don't see that--I see that 00:40:00happening now within me in my mother but within my grandfather, I love him and cherish his stories, but some of his lessons I--are harder for me to process in this day and age. I feel like a lot of the way that my grandfather decided to--or had to survive incarceration was by celebrating America and the American government. And deciding that he--and he's told me this even recently, just about how he respects you know all the leaders of the country and doesn't feel like we should oppose presidential decisions or even presidents or, because they are you know for my grandfather ordained by God, like decided being a part of his plan, but then also just like as you know they are the moral authority and they are the authority and that's something that we should follow. And that is not something that, that I believe o-or share. And so I think the idea that what 00:41:00the U-United States did was not just wrong and not just a mistake that they had to apologize for, but also is a--the incarceration of the JAs was just a pattern of how the United States works as a settler colonial project. That they, I mean the United States is built on stolen land and when they incarcerated the Japanese Americans my grandfather was put on the stolen land of indigenous people who had been already forcibly removed. So I think that's kind of the pattern of healing that we ne--we, I would like my family to address that more of being like this was not just a mistake, this was kind of how America works. And that it can't be healed by an apology, it can't be healed by Americ--or by 00:42:00Japanese people becoming Americans. I think that's something that I see being passed on, is that if we're accepted, then we'll be good, and then we'll be healed, and I, I don't think so.
EL: How do you, how do you find that very delicate balance between loving yourgrandfather and respecting him, and, and respecting what he's been through in his life, but also holding these very different and, and valid views on, on how our country works and how the world works? Is that difficult sometimes when you're having conversations with him?
CL: It's difficult in, in conversations. Cognitive dissonance is a miracleworker in letting me hold multiple of these, these ideas together. I think also 00:43:00too, there's something about when I'm with my grandparents and my family all together, like I do become a child. Like when I sit here I can feel like I'm like yes, like I'm 28 like I have solid ideas. But you know when you're back there I just fall into old patterns and it's easy just to listen and be like, "Yup, you're never going to change your mind about some things." Which I think is fine and healthy, 'cause I can't change people, but I can change what I do and how I feel like I should shape you know, the river of time that I'm sitting in. And doing things like this, like I didn't really want to be recorded because it didn't feel like I was historical. But then after participating in my grandfather's too I was like "Yeah, like I do want to share." I think what I see is needed for the future or what I would like our incarceration story to be because I think it is really powerful. But I feel like I'm one--I'm two stepping stones further in the river of time than my grandfather is so I have a totally different perspective. But I think that that, again, the river of time helps me 00:44:00understand that like everything that he did and even his positions that I disagree with are influencing me to be who I am today.
EL: When you were talking about Nikkei Uprising, you mentioned that it's notjust the activism work that matters but also what you as a community are forming for yourselves. And I'd love to hear more about that, and also I'm wondering does that help you grapple with the intense frustration that it--that you must feel sometimes if you're engaged in activism in the United States in 2021.
CL: Yes, so I feel like the personal work is more important than the activismwork. And I feel like they have to go hand in hand because there is urgent stuff happening right now that we need to do for sure. But I guess I--because of 00:45:00seeing how much change has happened between the last few generations and now, I feel really really confident that it's not just the big stuff that we do, it's the generational change that can make lasting lasting impact. Because I--and yeah I'm still in awe of the fact that growing up in the early 2000s the idea that there could be a movement of Japanese Americans who are willing to say something like the government is doing things that are not great, or that the police shouldn't be killing people on the street. Like that seems incomprehensible to me that, that we could have a movement of Japanese Americans who are coming together for abolition right now. Like the New York Day of Remembrance, Nikkei Uprising, and Tsuru for Solidarity coordinated a national 00:46:00nikkei abolition study group and there's over 100 people who came to their first session. So that feels like amazing. But this study group in of itself is it's like we're moving people towards action, but it is towards unpacking all this stuff. Like all this stuff I've been talking about like the language, shame, guilt, feeling like I need acceptance but not knowing from where it is, that's the kind of stuff that I really want to heal in our community. And I feel like art can help do that, having community connections can do that, but really just conversations and like one-on-one connections. Like every time I talk to a mixed person who feels like they're not Japanese enough and I tell them "No! We are Japanese like we can be Japanese and you can claim things. You can be--you don't have to do any of these things to be who you are." I feel like that is powerful work that will--can resonate into the future. I just feel like the-there's so many small things that I see, that I'm finding in historical documents where I'm 00:47:00like "Wow I never knew that this thing happened but I can feel it, because of the way that it shifted the community."
EL: On that concept of reclaiming, and you've talked already about language andtrying to learn Japanese now as an adult. Are there other, other aspects of Japanese culture that you've made efforts to reclaim?
CL: There's a few so one is like, I think ancestor honoring is one of those,like my father passed and without Christianity I was kind of struggling with how do I grieve? And how do I keep his memory alive? And so I now have a little altar. I kind of tried to model it off of my Buddhist altar where she's like not totally practicing Buddhist but she just you know has an altar. And so that's one thing. I'm trying to learn about aspects of Shintoism. Shintoism without the 00:48:00burden of Japanese nationalism behind it, to think about kind of the connection to earth and getting to know the land, and how people in Japan and Okinawa did know the land. Just history is a huge part too. I think just learning more about like what Japanese did to Okinawa really helps me kind of understand the culture, both of Japan and of Okinawa more. And holidays! Like things like I was really involved in the--my Christian church but we didn't participate in a ton of other Japanese American community stuff. Like we would go to obon sometimes at Mitsuwa, but now like I helped work on the anniversary T-shirts for the Midwest Buddhist Temple's Ginza holiday and they've been doing that for 70--65 years so I--my family had never gone before, but after the pandemic we're hoping to start going to those. And yeah just things like being in community with other 00:49:00Japanese people was not an intention that I had in my life. I think I, sometimes I was like I want to be an artist, and then at certain points I was like I want to be Asian, and at some points I was like I want to know people who are not white, but this is the first few years where I was like I'm really looking for intentional Japanese American community, and that in itself is a reclamation.
EL: What would you like to see all of us doing in the Chicago Japanese Americancommunity to achieve that goal?
CL: I really like this question. And I have a lot of dreams for us, I do. Iwould like Japanese Americans to, to take it slow. I feel like if we can commit not just to, I think there's a lot of pushes right now for--to how to act in solidarity, how to act in solidarity with black lives, how to act in solidarity 00:50:00internationally with these things. And I think those are really, really important and I'm listening and practicing them, but I think I would also like us to think about the, yeah kind of like the inner feelings. The shame, the guilt, the needing of acceptance that I feel like have really been passed down through incarcera--like that's what I feel like the legacy of incarceration is now. And feeling like we don't align with other Asian communities that might have either newer immigration histories, or don't have incarceration histories. And I feel like if we can work through those things generationally, like that's what I want for us in Chicago. The other thing that I have that's a recent plot plan is I would love, and I don't have to lead this, anyone in the future you can also take this on, is I would love for us to have a new camp. And I've been 00:51:00thinking about this as someone who loved church camp but is no longer in the church. I would really love for us to have a Japanese American camp that has a mixed identity lens, that has a social justice community-centered lens, that could bring people together from the coasts and from the Midwest. And it could be in you know, the southwest-like area so it could be like literally in the same areas that ancestors were held. But like shin-nikkei and everyone could come too, and for Japanese American people to have a chance to have that normalized mixed experience to have a little bit of history, and ceremony, and practice doing together but just really be in community together. I think that the thing that I see my cousins who are mixed on the coast have is a sense of normalcy. But I see the thing that me and my sisters have which, who are very Midwest and also mixed, is that we have a sense of urgency and community and 00:52:00necessity. Like th-th-the idea of keeping Japanese-ness alive is very much more important to us because it feels more fleeting. And I think that those two things coming together would be really powerful for us to have a sense of normalcy and a sense of the need to conne--connect our communities together. And then in the future when the gosei and the rokusei say that they went to camp, it would mean something different than what the nisei and the issei meant. So, that's my grand proposal, if I have time when I'm 50, I'm going to try to start this camp. [laughs]
EL: And do you view that camp as being more like your summer camp and for, forchildren and teens or as an intergenerational 'for everyone' kind of experience?
CL: I think the thing that was special about the camp, Chi-KO and Teen Camp,that I went to was that it was for the kids, but it was intergenerational. The high school students went to Teen Camp, the college and young adults were the counselors, the adults had you know other way--like were also counselors or 00:53:00Bible leaders or whatever leadership stuff and then the families were like bringing children. So it really became something, like it was focused on the youth but all generations were a part of it. And I feel like that is something that I love about small communities, church communities, faith communities that I would like non-faith communities to build and have as well. Oh, and also that the camp, like I would love for this one to be that like you can learn anything. Like I think that that's something, like I have, you know JA friends who are scientists and engineers who want to teach stuff like my friends are like artists, and like writers and creatives and like t--and also people who have practical skills around you know, how to organize in your schools, how to build community and start a club, all that kind of stuff I think I would like young people to have.
EL: That's a beautiful concept. I'm curious, because you mentioned you know, one00:54:00possibility could be, could be in the southwest or could be on a site that had been used for incarceration have you yourself or has anyone in your family been on a pilgrimage?
CL: So my little sister did the Kansha project through the Japanese AmericanCitizens League, so she went on a, like did I think it was like a weekend of like community building and then they traveled and did a pilgrimage to Manzanar where they laid cranes, and then went to Little Tokyo in Japantown, or no in LA. So that was kind of like the, with another group of Japanese Americans, and I really love that 'cause it helped my little sister get really like grounded in the history and build community as well. I was too old to go on that program, but my family I think in 2018 did go on our own little trip, where we went to Granada, Colorado to visit the Amache incarceration site which is not as preserved as Manzanar but still has you know, the bunk and the guard tower and 00:55:00everything. So we brought my nibling there and my brother-in-law and we--like as a family just like drove around the site, and we like tried to walk to the site where my grandfather's like barrack would have been, and it's like all grown over now in the desert. But it's it-it was powerful in just being like, they were really just out here in nowhere. And like they tell me about growing s-- like trying to grow stuff and like having food and like I don't know everything being dusty. It w-- just seeing it, and it really makes me feel like yeah, they were really surviving in the desert even though they weren't being you know, brutalized with violence, yeah everything was taken away.
EL: What kinds of expectations did you have as you were embarking on that trip,and did it live up to those expectations?
CL: I don't know what my expectations were, I think it was powerful to do it00:56:00with family, like with my mother and my-my sisters and our, you know the next generation, my Charlotte, my nibling. I feel like it's, if anything, going there helps build a memory for me. Like I don't think I got a good idea of-- besides like the natural environment, what grandfather lived through, like I feel like that's more of like history and reading the--listening to the oral histories. But it's something that I, a memory that I have from when I was like 27, so that now in the future, when my memories are less good or maybe when I have forgotten, like I can definitely still remember standing there. And I can remember seeing the guard tower, and I have the photo of me and my family there. So I think if anything, the pilgrimage is like a way to kind of bring these stories one step into the future. 00:57:00
EL: I'm wondering, you've talked a lot about healing and of course that's anongoing process, but what for you personally have been some of the most effective sources of healing?
CL: Mmm, I think, I have two sisters, my older sister is three years older thanme and my younger sister is three years younger than me, and we're-- now as adults very close. And I think that our sister chat is one of the most healing things that, that I have because it's just like a processing space. And I know that other people don't always have people who are-- have-- who share such similar histories as we do, but it's someplace that I can go to be like here's what I'm learning from history overall, here's what I'm learning from my family's history, here's what I'm feeling and living in my everyday life, and like here's what I feel like is emotionally blocking me. Like my therapy stuff. 00:58:00And all of those four together I can talk about. And I feel like that's really where I've been finding a good site of healing. And so it's not just the sister chat it's also with Nikkei Uprising folks, it's also with just friends, it's also with other folks from different Asian diasporas. But where I can talk about the personal and the political together, and how that's like mixing in my body, that feels like where I'm finding the most amount of healing.
EL: And, what gives you hope?
CL: I heard a quote recently and I'm going to have to remember-- I feel-- Idon't remember who the poet is but it's a Chicago poet, I'll look it up and then we could add it to the notes later. But the quote said, "Children are the world's ability to begin again and again." And that has been sitting with me very powerfully as I see my nibling Charlotte being raised. She's like a 00:59:00generation where, like, she's even more mixed that I am, like her, her father is like Jewish-German heritage, and then also Okinawan-Japanese-and-Taiwanese. But my mother is babysitting her a lot, and they're-- she's speaking to her almost like entirely in Japanese at this point, so Charlotte's being raised with like a lot of Japanese language, and she can read and she's excited. And she can talk to my ah-ma now a little bit and they speak to each other in their little baby Japanese. And I'm just thinking about how powerful it is that she's growing up after we've kind of processed all this incarceration trauma. Like my sister is telling her these things as a 2-year-old now whereas like I-- was like-- I don't know, we didn't even talk about camp until I was like in high school! So I feel 01:00:00like, that is giving me a lot of hope that like, yes it's really hard because the world is very traumatic and fu-- like on top of so many bad things to heal through that. But like, Charlotte hasn't experienced any of those bad things, and if we can like give it to her and like explain to her without building more personal trauma for her, that's so powerful! Like, a young person who doesn't have the years of assimilation trauma? Tha-- like I don't even know who I would be if I didn't have that now.
EL: As we wrap this up, I'd like for you to-- you've touched on it already butI'd like for you to, to address again your motivations for participating in this oral history project,
CL: Yeah [nodding]
EL: an-- and maybe if you could connect it to the experience of sitting in onyour grandfather's interview 01:01:00
CL: Oh yeah [nodding]
EL: as well, and your experience assisting with transcriptions of otherinterviews 'cause it's a-- I think it's all tied together.
CL: Yeah, okay I might need more prompting on that question, but I think thefi-- the, my motivations for this, for participating are that I would now like to contribute to the river of time. When, I think even last year I had thought about the oral histories as remembering something from the past, and I kind of forgot that the present is the past of the future. And so I feel like even though I'm not historically significant, I feel like I'm participating really actively in the present. And so that is kind of what I want to, to pass on. It too, like I do feel like it's really historical what Nikkei Uprising, Nikkei Resistors, JAs for Justice, Tsuru for Solidarity, New York Day of Remembrance, 01:02:00all of these national nikkei orgs who are now connected, the fact that we are connected, the fact that we're doing stuff, like that feels a little bit historical for me so I wanted to get that on the record.
EL: And then, the experience of sitting in on your grandfather's interview an--and how that connects to doing-- deciding to do your own?
CL: Yes, I really appreciated sitting on my grandfather's interview and I thinkit helped me see the-- yeah maybe the significance of my family's story. Like it doesn't, it doesn't feel particularly like power-- like I don't feel like there's any particular lessons to pull from it. But I think that I, I guess I saw how his life has been woven into the Chicago JA history, pretty like, yeah like integratedly. And it helped me pull together other pieces of the network. That is--the other thing that besides the river of time, the other analogy that 01:03:00I am focused on is like the mycelium network, like the idea that like mushrooms all have these like tiny roots that go underneath the, the ground and it's just one cell at a time that is creating this connected network that fuels the whole forest. And that's really how I feel like the JA community works right now, or it works over time, is that it's just one person talking to one person and then they pass along the information, or they pass along a call to action, or they pass along food to give to someone's cousin. Like that's how the JA community taught me how to take care of community, and I think through the oral histories you can kind of see that happening even if you can't experience it.
EL: Thank you, is there anything else that you would like to have on the recordfor future generations to hear? 01:04:00
CL: I think the, the last thing that I think I would just want to say is thatour concept of what it means to be Japanese has shifted so drastically from the time that we came as formerly Japanese people or people who lived in the country of Japan to where I am right now. And the concept of being Asian is already changing throughout my lifetime, and so I see a lot of potential in that, and I hope that people are actively shaping what that means in the future. To be actively shaping what it means to be Japanese American. I think before, when I was growing up, there was really a concept of being similar to what is in Japan, carrying the cultures and traditions that had been in Japan, and having the blood, like your parental genealogy. Those were all what it meant to be 01:05:00Japanese. And now I'm seeing those all as being--especially the, the blood quantum idea, I would like us to move away from. Like, I've stopped saying that I am half-Japanese and half-Taiwanese and I've started saying that I'm just mixed. And, yeah, I feel like there is a lot more potential in that, and I don't think race is real, so cool. [laughs]
EL: I think maybe we can end on that note. Thank you so much for participating.
CL: Thank you!