Early Days of the Japanese American Service Committee: The Chicago Resettlers Committee
In 1944, a small group of Japanese Americans in Chicago volunteered to assist the War Relocation Authority (WRA) with the resettlement of former internees to the city. The WRA, the very agency that handled the evacuation and incarceration of Japanese Americans in remote camps, toward the end of the war urged internees to resettle away from the West coast. Chicago was chosen for its economic opportunities and relative tolerance toward Asian Americans and was the largest resettlement point east of the Rockies.
In September 1945, The Chicago Resettlers Committee (CRC) held their first formal organizational meeting, and when the WRA closed its offices in June 1946, the CRC assumed the responsibility for helping some 20,000 resettlers adjust to their new homes in the city.
In the beginning, the primary goal of the CRC (later the Japanese American Service Committee) was to help resettlers with basic needs, such as housing and employment. Funded by modest membership dues and grants from several church groups, the CRC provided referral and counseling services for the former internees, sometimes assisting more than 300 residents in a single month. The CRC also promoted assimilation in the community, while maintaining Japanese culture.
As time passed, the CRC worked with Japanese Americans on either end of the age spectrum. The Issei, who were aging and did not have relevant language or job skills, needed support; and the Nisei, who were often living independently without family or friends, also needed help to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Aside from the referral services first offered, the CRC developed language and citizenship classes, economic opportunities, and social gatherings for the Issei; and for the Nisei, they supported clubs, Japanese American culture, athletics, and other social events. According to the 1949 annual report of the CRC, the agency supported 67 Nisei groups and 21 Issei groups in 503 meetings.
As needs have changed, so has the organization now known as the Japanese American Service Committee. Today the organization promotes cultural programs, preserves the history of the Japanese American community in Chicago, and supports senior citizens through day care, home support, and other services.