During one of our nation’s darkest acts in history, most Americans of Japanese descent were forced by the US Government to leave their homes, businesses and belongings and they were incarcerated in one of several desert internment camps. Their parents lost all that they had worked for. Both children and their parents were allowed to leave the internment camps toward the end of the war if they would relocate in the midwest. As a result, many Japanese Americans ended up in Chicago.
Urban renewel pretty much destroyed what was a Japanese American enclave during the 1950′s and 1960′s, and with a lack of much immigration of Japanese to the US once citizenship was finally allowable, this segment of the population, which used to be a large percent of the Asian American population, is now quite small. While larger in California and Hawaii, it is certainly much smaller in Chicago. As a result, there is a dearth of information regarding what used to be the Japanese Americans community, and their history and experiences here in Chicago.
While not specifically a Chicago story, I came across this article via my cousin in Los Angeles, and thought it noteworthy to share. It is a reminder that when people of color are discriminated against, the victims are not the only ones who hurt. Decent, conscious people of all color also have their souls bruised by the injustices dealt when they witness such acts and have compassion in their hearts. This is one such story.
In the fall of 1942, Ruth Mix began volunteering on weekends as a Nurse’s Aid at Butte Camp Hospital at Gila River Japanese Internment Camp in Arizona. During the summer months she volunteered full time and lived on site in a barrack with her mother. Ruth’s mother, Frida Mix, was employed as a school teacher for the Japanese American children. Frida was incensed by this horrific act of a nation, and gave up a teaching position in Washington to be a part of the many who helped to make a more bearable life at Gila River. “We must make right a terrible wrong,” Frida told Ruth, as they rode the military bus into the prison camp for Ruth’s first day at the hospital.
Ruth was the only white Nurse’s Aid amongst a staff comprised entirely of Japanese American internees. She learned the Japanese language in order to communicate with her Issei patients (first generation)… Despite the rule that caucasians were forbidden to fraternize with any of the Japanese, Ruth secretly made many friends. What makes Ruth’s story so unique, is not so much the smuggling or the forming of secret meetings and gathering monetary contributions despite the threat of being caught by the military and jailed. She was only 15 years old at the time.
Before the war ended, Ruth was sent away from Gila against her will. Because of the very dusty environment, she suffered a dangerous lung infection which almost took her life. Frida Mix continued their work and stayed until the last Japanese American was freed. Claire Mix has written a compelling screenplay about her Mother’s experience, entitled, “The Girl with Hair like the Sun.”
Claire, (Ruth’s daughter), was unaware of her mother’s experience until the early 1970s. Together, they attended an eloquent lecture by actor George Takei. Mr. Takei and his family were interned at Rohwer, Arkansas. At first Claire was under the impression that her mother was taking her to meet her favorite actor who played Mr. Sulu on Star Trek. But she quickly learned that this was no science-fiction convention. After the lecture, Mr. Takei and Ruth spoke privately for quite some time about the Japanese American incarceration. It was that private talk that released Ruth’s memories of Gila; memories she had blocked out because of her guilt that she could not do more. Ruth had asked that Claire not write about her experiences until, in 2005, Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time. Ruth has now asked Claire to try to find people who were at Gila River Internment Camp that might remember her and her mother Frida Mix.
If you were an internee, or knew one who was at Gila River, or are the relative of any of the teachers in the school, who knew Frida or Ruth, please contact Claire Mix at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can visit her website at http://ruthmix.clairemix.com/ This is an important documentary effort, as it is told for once not by the victims, but by the witnesses who tried to make life better for the innocent.