takezawa - Children of Inmates The Effects of the Redress...

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Unformatted text preview: Children of Inmates The Effects of the Redress Movement among Third~Genemti0n Japanese Americans Yasuko I . Takezawa During the 19505, it was predicted that Japanese American communities would eventually disappear. American society praised their “success story”;1 and their social and economic mobility, as well as their assimilation into the mainstream of society proceeded remarkably. The ethnic boundary of Japanese Americans appeared to have become blurred after World War 11. Over the past decade, however, an ethnic identity has been reconfirmed and a sense of community has been revived, amongst Japanese Americans. Such a reaffirmation of ethnic identity seems to be derived largely from the reconceptualization of their wartime internment brought about by the redress movement and its recent success in forcing the United States Government to acknowledge its own misconduct. It is now no longer a secret in American history that by Executive Order 9066 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were uprooted from their homes to live in internment camps surrounded by barbed wire during the Second World War. Over 110,000 people of Japanese descent, including American citizens who consti- tuted nearly twovthirds of all the victims, were deprived of their constitutional rights and subjected to this evacuation and internment merely because of their Japanese ancestry. Not only did the short—notice evacuation order cause their total economic ruin, but a maximum of three and a half years of imprisonment left deep psycholog— ical scars among the internees, which subsequently kept them silent for decades after the war. It was only after the redress campaign began in the early 19703 that former internees broke their silence to start talking about their experiences. After nearly two decades of long, difficult struggle, Japanese Americans finally won the redress legis- lation in August 1988 and the guarantee of individual payments by the Entitlement Program2 enacted in November 1989. Letters of apology signed by President Bush, together with monetary compensation, began to be distributed to senior former internees in October 1990. Most of the recipients of redress are the Nisei (the second generation Japanese Americans), since a majority of the Issei (the first generation) have already died and only a handful of the Sansei (the third generation) experienced internment. 299 300 YASUKO I. TAKEZAWA It has been pointed out that their imprisonment during the Second World War has had psychological effects on the Nisei (Morishima 1973; Kashima 1980; Mass 1986) and even on the Sansei (Nagata 1989). Internment decisively gave a psycholog- ical blow to Japanese Americans, but another major turning point came with the redress movement. Through the movement, Japanese Americans have come to rec— ognize the unique reality of being Japanese Americans. I have discussed elsewhere the transformation of ethnicity among Japanese Americans (Takezawa 198%) and the impact of interment and redress upon the Nisei (Takezawa 1989b). How, then, has the wartime internment and the subsequent redress movement affected children of inmates, the Sansei? This chapter will examine, from an anthropological viewpoint, the social and psychological effects of the internment and the subsequent redress movement upon the ethnic identity of the third generation Japanese Americans. Before developing my thesis in detail, however, I will briefly review the current theoretical concerns on ethnicity in cultural anthropology. \ Recent years have witnessed remarkable advances in the study of ethnicity as ethnic tensions and ethnic identity have become more prominent in complex socie— ties. While the dichotomy between the primordialists (e.g., Geertz 1963; Isaacs 1975) and the instrumentalists (e.g., Despres 1967; Cohen 1969) has dominated the theoret- ical issues of ethnicity within anthropology, attention amongst anthropologists has moved slowly towards the question of whether ethnicity is mutable and nonperma- nent, and if so, of how ethnic identity is constituted and maintained. Some students of ethnicity place special importance on the historical continuity of an ethnic group as a factor in explaining the persistence of an ethnic identity (e.g., Spicer 1971; De Vos 1975). These scholars are concerned with a sense of shared history and the symbolic interpretations of that history. George De Vos (1975:17) contends that “Ethnicity. . . is in its narrowest sense a feeling of continuity with the past, a feeling that is maintained as an essential part of one’s self-definition,” stressing additionally the individual’s needs for “collective continuity” and survival as the essence of ethnicity at the deepest psychological level: “If one’s group survives, one is assured of survival, even if not in a personal sense.” Charles Keyes, developing this notion, suggests that an intense suffering experience of the ancestors of a people provides the experimental foundation for ethnic identity (198129—10). In line with this View emphasizing the interpretation of historical experience amongst members of an ethnic group, this chapter will argue that the ethnicity of the Sansei today is constructed not merely from racial and cultural markers of prewar days but from a sense of suffering of their forebears who experienced internment. In the process, I will argue that the more recent reaffirmation of ethnic identity and sense of community among the Sansei, in spite of acculturation and a high degree of interracial marriage, is a cultural product of their reconceptualization of their fore~ bears’ suffering and the subsequent victory in acknowledgement of this from the Government. The chapter is based primarily on participant observation, in-depth personal interviews,3 and archive research,4 which was carried out in the Japanese American community in Seattle, Washington, during a period of fieldwork undertaken between 1986 and 1989.5 The Sansei subjects were not interned.6 The selection of subjects was H—H‘HH. 71-4 al sc tl‘. at th pa u (‘i [‘6] Or not random. However, a great effort was made to assemble a wide range of individ~ uals with varying experiences of acculturation. For example, some were actively involved in community organizations, others were entirely uninterested. Again, some had strong ethnic ties, others’ were much looser. Childhood and Adolescence of the Sansei The majority of the Sansei were born between the late 19405 and the early 19605, and the social environment of their childhood and adolescence differed sharply form that of the Nisei in prewar years. In general, the Sansei enjoyed affluence, high educational opportunities, and the reputation of being a “model minority.” Moreover, due to the lack of a segregated geographical community, the ethnic solidarity of the kind possessed by the Nisei did not develop among the Sansei. Instead, the Sansei had more open social associations than their parents’ generation with other ethnic groups, such as White, Black, Chinese, and Filipino Americans, encountered very largely by racially mixed schools and neighborhood environments. Consequently, the Sansei came to adopt American values and mores to a much greater extent than the Nisei. Maykovich (1972159) points out the Nisei’s aspiration for Americanization, stating, “Anything that identified him as Japanese became taboo to the Nisei, simply because it was detrimental to his attempts to establish himself as an American.” In fact, many Nisei suffered from shame due to the imprisonment, which occurred on the basis of their ethic origin. The Sansei characterize the Nisei as Maykovich does, saying that the Nisei Neisi tried to Americanize 200 percent at the expense of their Japanese heritage. Carol Namiki, an older Sansei, expresses her View of the Nisei’s assimilation: If you had any ties with Japan it was considered negative so that there was this—~in some Niseis there was this thing to be accepted by the White community. If you were accepted by the White community, that erased the discrimination of the war and so then they felt good. And so there were a lot of families who tended to bring up their children so they would be accepted in the mainstream. (Carol Namiki)7 Thus, unlike their Issei parents, the Nisei did not teach Japanese to their children. Nor did they emphasize many of the cultural values or being of Japanese descent, although some behavioral patterns were passed on to the Sansei without verbal socialization. The Sansei’s experience as ethnic Japanese resulted in an ethnic identity that was not as strong or exclusive as that of the Nisei. During the 1950s and 19605, the Nisei report, they were busy raising their children and working hard, and they did not have time to look back to their past. Many of the Nisei also acknowledge that they evaded discussion of “camp,” an issue too painful for them to discuss. The Sansei who overheard parents’ conversation about “camp” in their early childhood, although small in percentage, thought that it referred to a summer camp. Many Sansei, however, often learned about internment, or realized the true meaning of “camp,” from books, films, or Asian American courses in college. Being middle class and, in most cases, being a socially accepted 3,0’7 YASUKO I. TAKEZAWA minority by the time they reached adolescence, the Sansei felt anger and shock upon learning about the internment. Kathy Hashimoto recalls her anger at having not been informed earlier about camp when she first learned about the history of internment:8 I was about 15, I was at a friend’s house, looking at his parents’ library. I found a book. It was called “Citizen 13660” . . . I remember coming home very angry about it, angry because what happened, but also with my parents for never telling me. . . . I said to my mother, “How could you have just allow 120,000 of you to just go into these camps? Why didn’t you tell me before?” She said because she thought I couldn’t understand what it was like because the time has changed and it wasn’t easy. (Kathy Hashimoto) One of the questions common among the Sansei is why the Nisei obeyed the evacuation order in the first place. Some Sansei directed their anger not only at the Government but also at their parents for not resisting the evacuation order." It puzzled the Sansei, whose values and behavior pattern are more acculturated than those of the Nisei and whose experience as a minority differs sharply from them. Since I was born here, I would have at least tried to protest. I would not have become violent, but I would have at least tried to say, “Hey, there’s a book of rules here in the Constitution.” I would have tried to be a little bit more active, rather than submitting without any effort... .1 believe that they should have acted differently, but knowing what I know now, I can understand how they acted. (Steve Kondo) To the Nisei, on the other hand, the Sansei’s questioning of such matters itself appears to demonstrate their lack of understanding of the Nisei’s position in the context of the evacuation. The Nisei retort, “What can you do when you have soldiers with guns behind your back?” Today, exposed to more information about the time of the evacuation, many Sansei understand the historical circumstances surrounding the N isei and their limited options available in 1942. One example of the failure in mutual understanding between the two generations is how the Sansei perceive the Nisei camp experience. The Nisei often complain that the Sansei have little or no interest in camp, saying, “T hey don’t ask questions (about camp).” The Sansei, however, did not feel free to ask their parents such sensitive issues: I think, on one level, I was pretty upset because I felt like they owed it to me to tell me what that experience was, so I could understand them and understand myself better. But I also realized that it was very painful to them. So, while I did ask a question, I really didn’t press very hard because I didn’t think it was my right, I guess. (Dan Hayashi) As mentioned earlier, the Nisei experienced feelings of shame deriving from their imprisonment during the war. To some extent, the shame has been passed on to some Sansei as well. To them, such as Gary Tanaka, the internment has been a stigma attached to their entire ethnic community, including his own generation, children of inmates: ; g i i g i flue“... W.W,.,., , “slam”, . “a...” “mum—m, swim”, Lwfii'ww; . .MMMaameMWM ...~...«.»~v . aw...» “MM” “WWWMWWMW. , a... w"... It’s an embarrassing blotch on the community. It s also true tor banbc‘l. vvnne mneir cans would say, “Were your parents in camp?” Then they ask questions, “How was it?" I start feeling this is kind of personal, I don‘t want to talk about it. Parents being thrown into a prison ~~it is almost as bad as saying “My parents were in jail: one was for robbery and the other one was for murder.” It’s the same type of process you have to go through in explaining why your parents and relatives had to go to camp. It is the same kind of stigma. What makes this magnified is, it wasn’t only your parents, but your grandparents, uncles, aunts, your friends, everybody was there. And it wasn’t just a day or two, but it was for years. (Gary Tanaka) While the feeling of shame described above was shared among some Sansei, to the majority of the Sansei such a feeling is remote. Instead, they feel more anger than embarrassmentmanger at the injustice of the U.S., Government and at the racial discrimination prevalent within American society. Other Sansei, show only a limited interest in camp and redress. In Bruce Akimoto’s case, his discussion with his father about internment calmed his anger. Their attitude about camp was that it happened and there’s not much that I, my generation, can do about it. It’s just something that happened in history, and . . . they wanted me to concentrate on my life, rather than worry about what happened to them. (Bruce Akimoto) The Akimoto family represents one type of family in the community which attached weak emotional feelings to the internment and a minimum interest in redress. While admitting a significant difference from the prewar discrimination experi- enced by their parents, most of the Sansei have memories of occasional racial discrimination or prejudice directed against themselves in their childhood, especially around the critical anniversary date: Pearl Harbor Day. Many recall verbal and, in some cases, physical attacks. I remember year after year hating to go to school because of December 7th. That was real horrible. But I think that’s typical for almost all Japanese. T hat‘s a real bad time of the year to go out of the house. I think the first time that I noticed was one day walking to grammar school and getting rocks thrown at me and people chasing me and calling me, “Jap, Jap, Jap.” (Jenni Miyagawa) Some Sansei, however, assert that they have never experienced any discrimination based on their ethnicity at an individual level. Still, they acknowledge existing dis— crimination and prejudice against other Japanese Americans, Asian Americans, and other ethnic minorities. During the late 19605 and the early 19703, the repercussions of the nationwide Asian American movement stimulated the Sansei as well as other Asian Americans in Seattle. Following African Americans’ examination of slavery and the effects of other African American experience to redefine their own identity, young Japanese Americans became increasingly conscious of discrimination against Asian Americans generally. In this movement, Sansei‘s ethnic awareness of and interest in their cultural heritage and history grew, resulting in the subsequent rise in ethnic consciousness on 304 YASUKO I. TAKEZAWA the part of Japanese American communities across the nation. The Seattle Japanese American community was not an exception. The Redress Movement and Its Efi‘ects on the Sansei In 1970, Edison Uno (real name) of San Francisco introduced a resolution at the national convention of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in Chicago, calling for redress for internment to be adopted as an official policy of the League (cf. Tateishi 1986:191). At that time, Uno offered no specific plan, however.10 In Seattle in 1972, without knowledge of Uno’s resolution, Henry Miyatake (real name), a Nisei, started research on the possibility of reparations for Japanese Americans. He soon joined the Seattle chapter of the JACL, when the chapter was looking for volunteers to look into reparations. With several other Nisei and Issei, Miyatake’s group, representing the Seattle chapter of the JACL, advanced the idea of redress with a concrete individual payment plan at the national level. During the early and mid-19705, nonetheless, the redress campaign made little progress, mostly because of ideological differences amongst national Japanese American political leaders and the resistance of many Nisei to the idea. Recollection of internment reopens old wounds, and since the Nisei were attempting to reestablish themselves through hard work, the idea of monetary redress gained little support. “Don’t rock the boat” was a typical reaction among the Nisei at that time. A breakthrough came in 1978, when the nation’s first Day of Remembrance was held at the Puyallup fairgrounds in Western Washington, a former temporary camp (“assembly center”) where the internees in the Seattle area spent three months before being transferred to a more permanent camp in Minidoka. Since the purpose of the event was to commemorate the evacuation and internment, the evacuation process was dramatically recreated in this program, with people forming a car caravan and wearing replicas of numbered name tags and with former internees giving speeches. A part of the flyer distributed prior to the event read “Remember the Concentration Camps,” apparently countering “Remember Pearl Harbor.” This program was soon followed by other major Japanese American communities and became a nationwide event in Japanese America. The program had been organ— ized by a Chinese American playwright and several Sansei, who approached the redress leaders in Seattle showing a keen interest in camp and redress. Joe Fukiai, one of the key Sansei involved in this program, recalls the time of organizing this first Day of Remembrance event: HeJthe Chinese American playwright] pitched me and said, “There would be no Japa— nese American art if we don‘t say about Japanese American history. If we lose redress, we lose history. If these people in Seattle fail to win some kind of recognition for the injustice in the camps and to get some token payment for it as a symbol of the recognition that it was wrong, then the myth that camps were justified, that Nisei willingly cooperated with them, would stand. Then, no artist can create plays, books, or stories from the truth, because no one would believe them.” Then I thought, “Gee! This is much bigger than me. I have to devote my entire soul to this." (Joe Fukiai) a was“. w, “a... . H ‘ w “i The event turned out to be a large success. Uver 2,000 Japanese Americans wuii UlCll friends participated in the program. The Issei and the Nisei recaptured their past experiences with vivid memories of three and a half decades before. The participants included a large number of the Sansei as well, and the whole event provided them with the first opportunity to grasp visually the idea of evacua» tion and the condition of the camps through experiencing the recreated evacuation process and observing the exhibition with their parents and other Japanese Ameri- C8115. When it really hit me was at the Puyallup fairgrounds, they had some kind of— it was some display, and they actually showed the living modules. They had set up models, living areas, and stuff like that. And the space that a family had to live in was just like—— I couldn’t comprehend that: it’s like a small, small living area. To hear people talk about ...
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