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Japanese immigrants came to America beginning in the 1880s (Daniels, 2011). The first large-scale journey of Japanese immigrants from Japan began in Hawaii (Daniels, 2011). Many Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations (Daniels, 2011). These first Japanese immigrants were known as Issei, which is the Japanese term for “first generation” (Bryan, 2004). The Issei formed communities in many cities on the West Coast (Bryan, 2004). Later on, the West Coast became the primary hub for Japanese America, especially the state of California (Daniels, 2011). By 1920, 67 percent of Japanese Americans lived in California (Daniels, 2011). Over half of the Japanese males in the West Coast states worked in agriculture, forestry, and fishing (Daniels, 2011). Due to the large number of Japanese immigrants, Americans became afraid of losing jobs to the newcomers and passed laws outlawing Japanese immigration in 1924 (Bryan, 2004). Restrictions on Japanese immigrants in America did not stop there, however. Many states forbid Japanese people from owning land or becoming citizens of the U.S. (Bryan, 2004). Many Issei, however, had children in the U.S. who were born there and as such, were citizens and could own land (Bryan, 2004). The children of the Issei are known as Nisei, which is the Japanese term for “second generation” (Bryan, 2004).
The Effects of World War II
World War II had a very destructive effect on the Japanese American community. Following the events of Pearl Harbor, many Americans were afraid that the Japanese people living in the U.S. would be allies to Japan (Edelson, 2013). Despite the suspicions of many Americans, a large number of Japanese Americans enlisted in the U.S. military, highlighting the fact that the suspicions were based on unjustified fear (Edelson, 2013). Many Americans at the time saw any Japanese person as an enemy. Following the Executive Order 9066 on March 2, 1942, all Japanese people in areas of California, Oregon, Washington, and Arizona were relocated to internment camps (Edelson, 2013). Even though these internment camps were cruel, Japanese Americans still sought to join the U.S. military during World War II in hopes that their service would prove their loyalty and win back their rights (Bryan, 2004). This was somewhat successful, as many Japanese American soldiers set records for bravery and achievement (Bryan, 2004). Following the war, the Japanese people who were unlucky enough to be gathered in internment camps were allowed to leave and faced the task of rebuilding their lives (Bryan, 2004). In 1988, the U.S. Government formally apologized to Japanese Americans and agreed to compensate families affected by the internment camps (Bryan, 2004). In 1952, Japanese immigrants were finally allowed to become U.S. citizens (Bryan, 2004).
The Manzanar Relocation Center
According to the account of Helen Watanabe who was a child who was taken to the Manzanar Relocation Center in 1942, Japanese Americans taken to internment camps could only take what they are able to carry (Bailey, 2014). Some Japanese people were instead arrested and accused of being a threat to national defense and kept in prison for months before being sent to internment camps, as was the case of the father of a Japanese American soldier named Mas Yubu (Bailey, 2014). The U.S. military police gave the residents of these internment camps numbered tags that would serve as identification tags, with Helen’s family being identified as merely ‘35456’ (Bailey, 2014). While the staff described Manzanar as a miniature city, the internment center was surrounded by barbed wires and guarded by armed guards, making it resemble a prison (Bailey, 2014). The apartments in Manzanar were very small, about the size of a living room despite being shared between families, and did not have bathrooms which were instead located in another barracks (Bailey, 2014). According to Helen’s account, a riot in Manzanar resulted in two internees being killed by military police and ten being injured (Bailey, 2014). The riot began when a group of internees attacked a leader of the Japanese American Citizens League, which is a group that seeks to protect the rights of Japanese Americans (Bailey, 2014). When three of the internees involved in the attack were arrested, over 1,000 people gathered in front of the camp administration in protest (Bailey, 2014). Work in the internment camp did not pay very much for Japanese Americans. According to Grace Jones who worked as a teacher in Manzanar, Japanese American teachers were paid only $192 a year, while all other teachers in Manzanar made $2000 a year (Bailey, 2014).
Japanese Americans: Effects of WWII Internment Camps
The ethnic targeting of the incarceration of Japanese Americans in internment camps can be defined by cultural trauma theory, which describes cultural trauma as occurring when members of a group feel they have experienced a traumatic event leaving marks on their group consciousness, forever marking their memories and changing their identities (Nagata, Kim, & Nguyen, 2015). Although these events perfectly represent cultural trauma, the impacts on Japanese Americans were largely on an individual trauma level (Nagata et al., 2015). Many Nisei, who were teens and young adults at the time of their incarceration, fell into depression, blaming themselves for what their trusted government had done to them (Nagata et al., 2015). The Nisei’s sense of self-blame has been compared to the feelings of self-blame reported by rape victims (Nagata et al., 2015). To add to their trauma, many Nisei were not allowed to return to the states they called home and faced the anxiety of moving to new areas with unknown levels of anti-Japanese prejudice (Nagata et al., 2015). Many Nisei believed the answer to their struggles was to distance themselves from their Japanese roots and instead attempt to blend in with American culture, which psychologists describe as identification with the aggressor (Nagata et al., 2015). Being forced to leave everything behind, the loss of farmlands had severe negative economic impacts on Nisei and their Sansei children (Nagata et al., 2015). Japanese Americans were largely silent following their incarceration and focused mainly on proving themselves to be loyal Americans, which according to research may have had negative effects on their physical health (Nagata et al., 2015). In a survey of Sansei Japanese Americans, fathers who were incarcerated were twice as likely to die before the age of 60 (Nagata et al., 2015). Nisei parents were reluctant to talk about the internment camps which resulted in a gap in the Sansei generation’s personal history and identity development (Nagata et al., 2015). This reluctancy to talk about the events of their incarceration and avoidance of their Japanese culture led to the Sansei losing their connection with the Japanese languages and other cultural practices, effectively creating a weakened ethnic community (Nagata et al., 2015). A writer named David Mura states that the Sansei generation inherited a sense of shame, rather than their parents’ Japanese culture (Nagata et al., 2015). These effects led many Sansei to drug abuse, suicide, and gang activities (Nagata et al., 2015).
Japanese Americans: Academic Success
Second-generation Japanese Americans, or Nisei, were very successful in white collar and skilled trade jobs (Caudill & De Vos, 1956). In fact, white employers were very enthusiastic when praising them (Caudill & De Vos, 1956). On average, Japanese Americans had a very high level of education (Caudill & De Vos, 1956). Due to this, they achieved far more than other ethnic groups in their areas (Caudill & De Vos, 1956). It is hypothesized that the success of second-generation Japanese Americans is due to compatibility between values of Japanese culture and the values of American middle-class culture (Caudill & De Vos, 1956). That is, both cultures value politeness, authority, cleanliness, and personal achievements. As such, they were able to emulate the American middle-class and fit in within their neighborhoods.
Academic success among Japanese Americans has continued since the second generation (Byun & Park, 2012). This academic success can be traced back to Japan, where education is important in obtaining prestigious jobs (Byun & Park, 2012). This competitive nature is thought to have created a culture with a very high standard of education in many East Asian countries (Byun & Park, 2012). As such, Japanese culture plays a significant role in the continued academic success of Japanese Americans.
Japanese Americans: Today
Japanese people continue to journey to America even today. Japanese Americans play a big part in America’s culture and possess jobs in a large variety of fields, such as art, science, business, and politics (Bryan, 2004). Due to the Japanese American culture’s respect for education, the second and third generations of Japanese Americans, Nisei and Sansei, often work as highly educated professionals (Bryan, 2004). New Japanese immigrants also have success in the U.S., largely because high school graduates in Japan have six years of English education, so there is no language barrier (Bryan, 2004). While the traditional Japanese religion is Shinto and many Japanese people in Japan practice Buddhism, Japanese Americans are more likely to be Christians, although some still practice Buddhism and Shintoism (Bryan, 2004). When Japanese immigrants came to America, they also brought along aspects of their culture, including food. Japanese food is very popular in the United States, including sushi (Bryan, 2004).
Bailey, R. A. (2014). The Japanese Internment Camps : A History Perspectives Book. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Cherry Lake Publishing. Retrieved from http://bakerezproxy.palnet.info/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=990164&site=eds-live
Bryan, N. (2004). Japanese Americans. Edina, Minn: Abdo Publishing. Retrieved from http://bakerezproxy.palnet.info/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=140217&site=eds-live
Byun, S., & Park, H. (2012). The Academic Success of East Asian American Youth: The Role of Shadow Education. Sociology of Education, 85(1), 40–60. http://doi.org/10.1177/0038040711417009
Caudill, W., & De Vos, G. (1956). Achievement, Culture and Personality: The Case of the Japanese Americans. Retrieved from https://anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1525/aa.1956.58.6.02a00100
Daniels, R. (2011). Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States Since 1850. [N.p.]: University of Washington Press. Retrieved from http://bakerezproxy.palnet.info/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1109211&site=eds-live
Edelson, C. (2013). Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.bakerezproxy.palnet.info/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=657006&site=ehost-live&authtype=ip,url,uid
Nagata, D. K., Kim, J. H. J., & Nguyen, T. U. (2015). Processing Cultural Trauma: Intergenerational Effects of the Japanese American Incarceration. Journal of Social Issues, 71(2), 356–370. https://doi.org/10.1111/josi.12115
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