The Immigrant Sounds of Argyle Street


Bustling three-block street of Argyle

With the rumbling noise and vibration of a CTA train passing through the viaduct

Accompanied by the cacophonic sounds of the Vietnamese language heard

As it enters and exits out of the local grocery stores on a busy weekend day

The rapid chopping sounds of a knife slaying into the lifeless, barbecue-drenched duck on the stain-covered white table as the remaining pig carcass hung by its hook on public display to entice carnivorous customers to consume its remains at one of the local Chinese bbq digs.

The sounds of tongs clasping the body of a lone blue crab as it is pried away from its inmates and into the brown bag. The unforgettable sounds of machinery sawing through the frozen meat in the butcher section.

The sounds of coins shaking from a homeless man muttering for a few more as Vietnamese shoppers obliviously walk by

At Chu Quon bakery, the sound of a cash register impatiently printing out tiny receipts with faded blue ink and concluding with the slamming of the register door as customers take home their desserts filled with rice cakes, flaky wintermelon cakes, and moon cakes.

The slurping sounds from folks basking in the broth of freshly-made Pho at the Pho 777, Pho 888, and Tank Noodle (presumably the missing Pho 999).

The sounds of drivers angrily honking at the intersection of Argyle and Broadway as pedestrians unwittingly mistime their crossing.

The water hose being turned on to feed the mini Japanese bonsai plants outside on display in front of an antique store where walking inside is the sight of bamboo plants, Buddha statues in various poses, and incense used to awaken the spirits of ancestors past ready to be sold.

Walking by the mural, I see this street’s history.

The art depicting the welcoming arrival of my folks who came here to survive after having lost their community during the war, recreating a piece of Vietnam on that very street,and to be built on a place that didn’t carry the sounds of bombs and machine guns.

I step away, and hear the sound of relief.

 

Disenfranchised Souls

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“Have you ever heard of Dunning?”, I posed this question to a few of my friends in their fifties and above. All of them answered with a resounding “Yes!”. Dunning, to them, represented as sort of a mythological folklore that their parents told to them as kids.

“If you were bad,” they warned, “you get sent to Dunning.” It became associated with those that are permanently labeled as “criminally insane” or “mentally unfit” or “too poor and sick” for society.  That ominous threat from parents was a reality for many folks who once inhabited the Dunning area, located on the Chicago Portage Park neighborhood in the Northwest Side. It served as the site of one of the most prominent mental asylums in Illinois (Chicago Read Mental Health Center currently exists), and strategically located away from the heavily populace of downtown Chicago. Through the years, that area has undergone a transformation with major housing and retail development as the stories about Dunning have largely gone untold and forgotten by many. It wasn’t until a recent story a few years back on Chicago’s WBEZ site that ignited renewed interest about Dunning’s dark past, and the current national dialogue concerning mental health. It would also reveal that 25 years ago, a large number of bodies in unmarked graves were discovered in the midst of developing land for housing, retail, and Wilbur Wright College.

Dunning was originally built as a farmhouse for the poor who were unable to obtain a job in the city. As Chicago’s population grew during the massive migration wave towards the turn of the 20th century, the city faced overcrowding, fewer job opportunities, and heavy poverty. The farmhouse would take in many more poor folks, and eventually bring in those with mild to severe mental health issues. This would eventually lead to the formation of the Chicago State Hospital which covered a vast 300+ acres.

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Mental health treatment in those times were often neglected and barbaric as dangerous medical experimental procedures were often performed on patients. The facilities were overcrowded, the living conditions were horrid and unsanitary, and the lack of attention and care from the medical staff made it impossible for residents to get the treatment they badly needed. Like many mental asylums, Dunning was a permanent prison for these residents with almost no hope of being released. Mental hospitals were not seen as treatment, but as a place to ensure that those who were seen as misfits or outcasts from society would be kept away from them permanently. These patients would soon be discarded and forgotten, and live out the rest of their lives in isolation and confinement. 20160402_131718.jpg

Many of the Dunning patients had little to no family support. When they had passed on. there was no financial assistance for a proper burial. Instead, they were buried with other corpses in unmarked graves with no public knowledge that there was even a graveyard on the facility grounds. It is told that there could be an estimated 38,000 human bodies buried there which included unidentified / unclaimed victims of the Chicago Fire of 1871. With incomplete and vague record-keeping of patients who lived and died in these grounds, the full narratives of these lives will remain an eternal mystery. Recently, there’s been renewed interest in improving the awareness and honoring those buried in Dunning such as this Facebook page.

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VISITING DUNNING

On April Fool’s weekend, I decided to pay a visit to the Dunning site. After reading the article on WBEZ (posted earlier on this page), I became drawn to learning more of the place that housed so much suffering, and the patients that were rejected by society when they were living, and in death. I thought about our nationwide struggles in understanding mental health issues, and most certainly, in Illinois where it has ranked last in mental health funding. I still wonder about the well-being of people that I had once been connected to that have struggled with mental issues. Perhaps, visiting the memorial would give me a more intimate reflection towards the lives that were left abandoned into eternity.

The memorial park, located on Belle Plaine Avenue by Wilbur Wright College, is surrounded by middle-class suburbia. There were no street markers leading up to the memorial. In the background is a view of the bleak industrial buildings. This small land, about half the size of a little league baseball field, stands vacant and devoid of human interaction. Slightly overgrown grass, less than half a dozen damaged gravestones, a few round concrete grounds (that resembles a satanic circle) with memorial plaques commemorating those buried in these grounds, a park bench, a tiny narrow gravel path around the park, a tall naked tree, and a garbage can that stood by the entrance are all that is present at Dunning Memorial.

Five minutes into my visit, the calming winds soon turned blusterous. Snow flakes furiously pelted across my face as the winds resisted my advances to move forward. It’s as if these souls were telling me to leave them alone. I acquiesced , and left the park in the midsts of an unusual April winter storm. As I drove, there was a street sign called “Bittersweet Place,” a symbolic irony that for years, Dunning was a place for those considered to be misfits and outcasts of society, and now, it’s a bustling middle-class neighborhood with a senior residence building and community college in its presence. Though the park lacks the proper honor and dignity for those lives, there is something to be said that those souls lying in those grounds are now sharing their space with their living neighbors. I can only imagine that they are finally back in a community that they have long been rejected from, and perhaps, there is some kind of solace that comes with that.

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All Rights Reserved by Randy Kim

Dad, Stop Running

 

I need you to stop running. I am out of breath.

Don’t fear, for I am here

Because you are who I have left.

I used to wake up whenever I heard you scream

Only to realize you are imprisoned in this eternally, haunting dream.

You told me stories of how you walked past the remains of flesh and bones

As you heard the distant echoes of ghostly moans.

Phnom Penh, the home you once knew

Now became a sight of bloody carnage taking place in its view.

The small grain of rice you held in your hand,

Along with the guiding stars at night helped you get to Thailand.

You wanted to end the Khmer nightmare, and tried to make the American Dream,

So you created my brothers and me

But the images of death, fear, and guilt are experiences that you still can’t unsee.

You tried to see your father who lived in Vietnam. For when it was time to reunite,

Your father died just before you were to take that flight.

It could have been a reunion of 20 years…

Instead, for the first time at the age of 9, I saw your only tears.

During the day, in our old home, when I sat in my bed,

I hear your random yells in the kitchen, saying how much you want all those American, Vietnamese, Khmer soldiers dead.

At your best, you were a loving, caring dad

But deep inside, your lifelong traumas that have confined you

Have now driven you mad.

As I remain silent from you,

I never stopped wishing that your liberation from darkness will one day come true.

You don’t ever need to run

Because standing right next to you is your son.

 

 

All Rights Reserved by Randy Kim 2015

Liquid Healing Space of Chicago

I have taken a series of photos along the scenic Chicago lakefront over the past 2.5 years when I first moved into Rogers Park. Going back to my globe trotting times from several years ago, I have found peaceful refuge being in the near presence of water. It is a form of therapy for me. Drinking, bathing, feeling, and breathing the vapors of h20 is what settles me in times of angst and anxiety. As I walk through the lakefront stretching from as far as Evanston to Montrose, I have made it my own sanctuary, my escape, and as a place to inhale the freshness and exhale the negative toxins that tend to plague me. Everyday, I am thankful that I can live in a place where I can experience such beauty, calmness, and serenity.

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All Photos Taken By Randy Kim

All Rights Reserved © Randy Kim 2015

2001 Randy Edition

Preface:

Earlier this year, I participated in a writer’s circle at Sage Community Health Collective, and volunteered to co-facilitate with a partner. Inspired by a fellow writer and good friend, Stephanie, I wanted to take on the topic of being able to “Thank Our Past Self.”  It came at a time when I was already burned out with writing. My previous blog with my former partner / friend ended badly. Writing has represented a significant part of my life, and has served as my go-to-outlet for my own personal expression. However, it also became toxic and emotionally triggering to me as I was writing about certain parts of my life that I was starting to acknowledge for the first time and still in the process of recovering from. I needed to regain my confidence in using writing as not just for my own “emotional purging”, but as a way to acknowledge, and celebrate the positivity and growth in my life. For this writer circle, I chose to reflect on a specific turning point in my life at the end of my senior year in high school. 

Dear Randy of 2001,

High school is about to end for you. You are almost at the finish line. I know you’re eager to race on out of there. You spent the last 13 years of being misunderstood, ignored, and bullied by many of the same classmates in the small community of Westmont.  Your peers had 13 years to know you, and yet made you feel as if your existence is invalid. You couldn’t remain anonymous in a class of 93 with a total of 400 students in our high school. Your fights with our parents are going nowhere; dad is demanding that you study to become an engineer or lawyer. He is becoming agitated that you’re defying him, and on the verge of losing his parental control over you. You’re going to turn 18 a few days after graduation, and unsure if you can succeed in college. Yeah, sounds like you got a few things going on, I get it.

Randy, I haven’t made a visit to you in quite awhile. I spent my college years working to undo the image of the “quiet Asian kid” that stuck with me throughout my childhood, and I might have overdone it with a few crazy escapades of my own in the good ole Chicago night scene.

Now, I come back to finally acknowledge and thank you for finally breaking out of your shell. It was long overdue, but looking back, you got the ball rolling for me. Towards the end of senior year, you showed our old classmates that they were wrong about you for all those years as they painted you as this silent, awkward Asian kid who would sometimes cry when being threatened. Instead, you showed off those wild dance moves at prom night much to everyone’s surprise, and forgetting about your girlfriend at the time. Oops..don’t worry, she’s not going to be in the picture very long anyways (just a heads up there). You successfully managed to grab the attention of everyone in the entire banquet hall, and turned it into your own private show. For the first time as I recall, you didn’t give a hoot about what your peers thought, and you were on the driver’s seat, in control of how much fun you were having. You were eventually named “Best Dancer” by those same peers because of that night.  That moment was your official “liberation.” I owe it to you for that prom night. You gave me the confidence I needed to be in front of my peers, and I can assure you that there will be plenty of those kind of nights in the future.

You stood up to dad when he tried to dictate your future. You managed to start pursuing your academic goals and your circle of friends without his approval. You avoided succumbing to the temptations of drugs and ended friendships that were becoming problematic for you. While you may not have had the best of times in those 4 years of high school, you are certainly making those last few months count.

In my current self, I look to you for inspiration when you took on the people you were most afraid of then. Also, I want to let you know that you aren’t a bad looking person despite what anyone thinks, and I wish I still have some of that crazy Gemini energy you were running around with. If you can do me a favor when you go to college, I want you to do me a favor, and take it easy on the Wendy’s and Taco Bell.

Getting ready to go to Prom

Getting ready to go to Prom