by Tim Brady
When Gabriella Sliwinska first came to the Immigration History Research Center with an assignment to “write a paper on any subject I wanted to, dealing with women’s legal history,” she had a special topic in mind.
Both of her parents migrated to the U.S. in the early 1980s from Poland. They lived in Chicago until Gabriella was ten years old, when they bought “a mom and pop motel” in Grand Marais. It was here on the North Shore that Gabriella spent the rest of her youth.
Sliwinska, a U of M graduating senior who is now on her way to law school at Louisiana State University, had traveled to Poland several times with her mother, and her family maintains strong ties to the immigrant Polish community in Chicago. All of which suggested an initial topic for her paper. “At first I wanted to research something about Polish women immigrants,” she says. “But I had trouble finding the sort of individual story that I was hoping to tell.”
At the IHRC archives, she found herself looking through the papers of the International Institute of San Francisco, collected at the center. This was an immigrant aid association formed to help newcomers to the U.S. lead a more integrated life. There Sliwinska came across a five-page case file detailing the life of Hideko Wyman, a Japanese war bride who had married a U.S. serviceman after World War II and soon found herself abused and abandoned in San Francisco.
“I found her story immediately fascinating,” says Sliwinska. “Here was this war bride who met her husband in Japan in the shoe store that her mother owned. They fell in love, and he wanted to bring her back to this country. At first she was reluctant and said, no, and he actually went back to the U.S. Then he kept sending her letters, pleading with her to reconsider.”
Finally, Hideko agreed to marry him. They were wed in Japan and had a child there. Then Hideko moved with him and their baby to San Francisco. Soon enough, however, the marriage turned sour and Hideko found herself at the International Institute, looking for help. “There were a series of horrible things,” says Sliwinska. “The husband was abusive and at one point abandoned her. Hideko sought help from the Institute, but in the end the case worker found that she had returned to live with him.”
Sliwinska says that the IHRC was a great help in locating the materials for her story. She’d never worked in a research library before and found the idea of putting in a request and having a librarian head off to find the materials in the archives “a little daunting”; but by the time she’d finished her paper, she was ready for more. Sliwinska took Donna Gabaccia’s seminar on immigration history the next semester and loved it.