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Chiyoko Swartz

Description

Chiyoko was born in Yonabaru-shi, Kinawa-ken, Japan on February 17, 1940. She and her mother lived in Minami Daito, Okinawa (400 miles SE of Okinawa) during World War II. Chiyoke married an American soldier, Charles Swartz, who was stationed in Okinawa. They moved to the U.S. because of better job opportunities and because they thought they would have an easier time as a mixed race family in the U.S. She, Charles, and their daughter Julia arrived in the United States in January 1966, first living in Minnesota and then California. Chiyoko brought little with her to the US: some clothes that she made (a couple suits), kimono's, a couple photographs, and a Japanese parenting and family medical reference book, Katei Igaku Zensho. This book was a source of comfort and support, eased anxiety and was a teacher in raising children. Chiyoko was a stay-at-home mother until she died of cancer in 2010 at age 70.

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Transcription

Chiyoko Toguchi Swartz
Written and Produced by Ben Hartmann
From an interview with Charles E. Swartz

Immigrant Story Script: There Isn’t a Book on That
In life there are decisions that completely change our path. For Chiyoko Toguchi this was her marriage to a U.S. marine. Chiyoko was born on February 17, 1940 in Okinawa. As the U.S. military attacks on Okinawa during intensified, she and her mother escaped to Minami Daito, a tiny tropical island only 3 miles long, leaving behind her siblings and father. Despite this, she recalled as a child hiding in caves as bombs exploded outside. At the age of 16 she returned to Okinawa for high school. Over the next couple years she would meet an American soldier, Charles Swartz, stationed in Okinawa, whom she would eventually fall in love with and marry. This marriage sparked conflicts among both families and the surrounding communities, as interracial marriage wasn’t accepted and Okinawan hostility towards U.S. soldiers was high.
In January of 1966, as her husband earned a job, Chiyoko packed her bags for America with a 4-year-old daughter and another child coming. With only a few kimonos, photographs, hand-sewn clothes, and Katei Igaku Zensho, a Japanese medical and parenting reference book, she traveled to the U.S. She bought this book just days before leaving, hoping to help herself manage her pregnancy and growing family in an unfamiliar culture. As she left life she knew for America, feelings of fear and anxiety overcame her. She would not only leave behind her life for a land where everything seemed different, but also her family and support systems. This book served as her support, a source of both information and confidence as she faced new motherhood on her own, providing her information in her own language on how to care for her growing family.
They arrived at a port of entry in Hawaii and after a few days they left for their new home: La Crescent, Minnesota. Getting off the plane she was not sure if she wanted to stay. With no winter clothes, the new family walked onto the tarmac into Minnesota winter, quite a change from the island of Okinawa. The mixed-race family was viewed as an oddity by some and met with hostility by others, as anti-Japanese sentiment was still alive. As the only Japanese, she could hardly communicate with anyone. But no matter how she felt, with the assurance of her book, she was able to care for her family in an unfamiliar world.
After a few months, the family resettled in the Los Angeles area. Her family continued to grow, three more children by 1969. With no support network she was anxious about how to take care of her growing family in this new place. However, there were more Japanese and Okinawans in Southern California and through new friendships made in English language classes, a Japanese-American church, and an Okinawan club, she gradually built a support system, and became comfortable in America. Her book remained an important resource, one she used throughout her life, not just for information, but reassurance and confidence.