By Patrick Nagatani
It’s 1954. I’m nine years old and living with my younger brother, mom and dad in the back of radio station WHFC in Chicago. The radio station is located on Kedzie Blvd. in an industrial section on the south side with one of Chicago’s canals to one side and a few railroad tracks on the other. A huge grassy area behind the station extends to the top of a hill to a tall radio tower. The city industrial dump forms the rest of my “backyard” from the radio tower on.
There are no neighborhood families or kids to play with, only lots of industrial trucks and round the clock radio station employees working in the front. My brother and I go to a Polish Catholic School, St. Joseph and St. Anne, a few miles away. We are the only Asian kids in the school and I wear coke bottle glasses to try and correct my crossing eyes as a result of an early carriage accident. Some say my mind was affected as well, for the better. We are in our own little alone world. Within a year we would all move to California where both my parents came from. How did I end up in a Polish Polka radio station on the south side of Chicago?
At the beginning of World War II, my father’s family was removed from their farm in Central California and incarcerated to the Jerome, Arkansas Japanese American Concentration Camp. My mother’s family was removed from Los Angeles and incarcerated at the infamous Manzanar, California camp. As young twenty year olds they both adventurously left their families in 1944 and made their way to Chicago which was inland and part of a government early release program mainly sponsored by Quakers. My parents met on a blind date and got married. Dirt poor, my father had two jobs and worked with my mother as caretakers of the radio station, cleaning inside the station and maintaining the grounds and hilltop grass.
I was mostly isolated to make my own toys and live in a fantasy world. I started building airplane models out of junk and that Christmas I got a real model airplane kit and some glue. It was a Messerschmitt Bf-109. The German fighter aircraft flown in the Battle of Britain of World War II. I beautifully built my first of many model aircraft to come.
Whenever I could, early in the morning, I would “takeoff” from the back of the radio station and imagine me in the cockpit and fly up the grassy hill past the radio tower and into the city dumps where I had built several secret landing strips. I would land and wander about the dumps collecting things. This was my fantasy world.
Fast forward to 2016. I have made a career as an artist using photography in the “Directorial Mode.” I have made sets and often models to be photographed. I have created in my fantasy world’s the constructed narrative that support the subject issues I have been interested in.
I have spent the last six years working on a novel about fifteen international women pilots flying in a race from Tokyo to San Francisco. Oddly, the reconditioned aircraft are British Spitfires made into modern floatplanes by the Mitsubishi Corporation. The Spitfire’s history is that they basically won the Battle of Britain against the German Bf-109s. I built Spitfire models and photographed them for the chapters in my novel. My life in fantasy and magic keeps me going today in my battle with Stage 4 Metastatic