Posted: March 18th, 2023
Racial Ethnic Groups, Richard T. Schaefer, Thirteenth Edition. The term paper required a minimum 5 pages, double spaced, size 12 font, computer generated.
This year marked the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that supports equal rights and liberties for everyone, regardless of race, gender, language, religion, nationality, etc. Nothing as atrocious as the two wars has ever happened since the declaration was adopted in 1948. Nevertheless, what it stands for is, as the title suggests, universally valid. Moreover, when contemporary societies address the importance of interrelation between nations as perhaps never before, members of different groups more so need to relate to one another nonjudgemental. Unfortunately, America has a long history of discrimination on account of either race or ethnicity. As much as we would try to persuade ourselves no such issues are nowadays regular, we might discover different. However, this paper deals not so much with current state of affairs in matters of discrimination but indeed is to take the course of action further back in the past when the dust over Pearl Harbor had not yet settled, nor the memory of the attack had faded away. This is a story about a Japanese-American citizen who, along with tens of thousands others, faced incarceration during World War II in camps throughout America. However, the man in question passed away years ago and so, the author of this paper acknowledges that the present facts have been passed on to her by the deceased’s son. Nevertheless, we do not believe that it makes the information distributed within these pages less viable. Indeed, we were made aware that memories and stories are well preserved in this particular family and, because we truly wanted to uncover the story, we decided to go along. Furthermore, because the effects reflected upon the family as well, we thought this would further substantiate our analysis of the topic. We will not reproduce the story here as question and answer mainly because the interview was conducted naturally, allowing the interviewee to express ideas within a cursive flow. We merely pointed to some questions which were relevant for our understanding and context. The version here is one that has been reviewed and arranged but not altered in matters of accuracy.
Today, 78% of Japan’s population is urban. But, at the end of the second war, half of the Japanese people was still concentrated in rural areas. Akira Himura’s parents, his son reveals, came from the Ch-goku region in Japan and were Issei, meaning they were among the first generation of Japanese to immigrate. That made Akira a Nissei, a child born in the new country and his son [our interviewee] a Sansei, a child of the third generation, our storyteller continues. Akira’s parents descended from a family of farmers, like so many other Japanese people. They came to America in 1917 to work on the Hawaiian plantations thinking they would eventually return home but they never did. Akira was born in 1919 and his parents decided to settle in the States thereon. Eventually, the family moved to the U.S. mainland, despite rumors of Japanese being treated differently in other parts of the country than in Hawaii. The parents were ambitious and wanted to see their only child succeed in this ?misteriously modern environment. They worked harder and often extra hours to increase their income and eventually went on to become competitive entrepreneurs. But, in those days, our interviewee states, as passed on by his father, the Americans had already started to develop general contempt for the Japanese. They sought the latter took what belonged, by ?common law, to the American people. It had been all right when Japanese were paid less than Americans and were required more when buying farms, but once it became obvious that many were able to work their way up successfully, things started to change. The family left Hawaii for Idaho when Akira was six years old and remained there as part of the ever-growing Japanese population for a while. Because rejection of Japanese people had increased, and the Idaho Legislature restricted their rights to property, Akira’s parents struggled to raise their child and their hopes to do so in a harmonious environment shook off. Japanese culture, our interviewee relates, was very much part of his father’s childhood years. Later on, we are told, as he became more estranged from the place he knew as his rightful country, Akira more so cherished his legacy as taught by his parents. His son remembers Akira saying that some Japonese people were reluctant at engaging with Americans, not necessarily because of the discriminations, but because they were unsure of themselves, almost timid. They had been taught differently about life, and some found it difficult and frightening to mingle with Americans, as though they would lose a part of themselves if they did so. But not Akira’s parents. They were fairly young, open minded, and enthusiastic enough to explore this new world. In fairness, they had met like minded Americans whom they befriended and, for a while, they thought they could make do with life in Idaho. But both life and business prospects were endangered by continuous hardship for the Japanese, and the family relocated once more, this time settling in Oregon where Akira’s father was promised a business opportunity by a family member who had recently relocated himself there. Akira was 18 years old, our interviewee cautions us, as if to emphasize a coming of age that had already happened and we missed it. In the 1930’s, prejudice against Japonese did not ameliorate and the Americans struck back more powerful. Fearing their lands were taken away by people of other race and nationality, local communities acted conformingly and refused contact with Japonese people. Moreover, their indifference was rough and Akira witnessed his mother becoming more depressed by the situation. She had been forced to move from a place where the family at least had friends they could rely on but this new environment prevented any such contact with Americans. There was increased violence and legal discrimination that made everything worse. It was difficult to see my mother suffer, more difficult than having to deal with discrimination against myself, our interviewee recounts his father’s words.
My mother had been a nonconformist long before she met her future husband. In fact, she said she was born that way, Akira’s son remembers. A white, ?to the bones? American young woman, she met Akira and married him because of his culture. She loved him as much as she appreciated Japan for its intrinsic value and that was all that mattered for the two of them to plunge together into a lifelong journey of commitment. There were objections from both families but each reluctantly accepted the situation. As Akira told his son, exclusion was applied by the society because, ?if there was anything worse than Japonese Americans, it was miscegenation. Intermarriage with whites being prohibited in Oregon ever since 1866, the couple traveled to Washington to be recognized as husband and wife. It was difficult having to fight in order to make a living, Akira later told his son. Because the Issei fostered their traditions and taught them to their children, the ones born in the new country were intrinsically linked to both Japan and America. But there was also the desire to share cultural traditions to Americans and events were organized in this respect, with people allowing themselves to discover mutual similarities. Akira undertook his parents’ ambitions and joined the other Nisei who thrived to fulfill their parents dreams. But World War II tool a toll on the Japanese people and a history of racial discrimination culminated with many of them, Issei and Nisei alike, being imprisoned. There already had been investigations of Japanese-American communities before the attack on Pearl Harbor but, starting the morning of December 7, rights violations entrenched. Women and men alike were allocated to various assembly centers throughout America before being relocated to camps. Akira told his son about the camps they were forced to live in, the barbed wire that surrounded them and about the people behind the fences, the ones holding guns and the anxious Japanese-Americans. He spoke to his son about the awful conditions they were living in, with poor sanitation, hunger but most of all, he shared to his son that guards at camps had been told that the Japonese were not human beings and could be killed at any time. And everything happened because of America’s fear of espionage and sabotage.
Akira’s son shared with us that he had been born a year before the internment and spent the first few years of his childhood in camp. He was too little to understand anything, but his father shared his memories numerous times and Akira acknowledged to his son that he felt ostracized by his country to the point where he was no longer able to recognise it as home. Indeed, Jane H. Yamashiro acknowledged that ?before, during, and after World War II, Nisei were confronted with racist doubts about their national loyalties. (985) This is of course a natural reaction to an injust situation. Internment was different from cases of false accusations upon which an individual is legally punished because it was directed against masses of people (different in race) on no substantial evidence whatsoever. Akira felt unable to inspire love for the country to his son because he felt crushed by the system that was supposed to be his home, his refuge. He sought relief in Japanese culture and taught his son to respect the legacy of his ancestors to counteract the feeling of shame associated with being Japonese that had been induced in camps. Although Akira and his wife lost their jobs and their home like most of the incarcerees, they nevertheless managed to reconstruct their lives. But the stress they endured during internment changed their relationship and although they stayed together, much of the husband and wife connection was lost. This further affected Akira’s son who saw his parents becoming estranged from each other. Researchers believe that the Nisei who were in their twenties at the time of the incarceration were more affected because ?their developmental stage as emerging adults in combination with their U.S. citizenship made them especially vulnerable to psychological effects. (Nagata, Densho Encyclopedia) Akira’s son remembered his mother saying that he had been a completely different person before the internment. The former was forced to engage in anger management programs to salvage his marriage. It remains a disconcerting fact that, even with the Declaration being signed in 1948, discrimination persisted.
Nagata, Donna K. Psychological Effects of Camp. Densho Encyclopedia, 19 March 2013. Web. 28 Jul 2013.
Yamashiro, Jane H. Nisei. Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society. 2008. Print.
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