Thursday, May 28, 2009

Nikkei of the Future

The question of racial, cultural, and generational identity has been a constant at Densho. The makeup of our staff over the years has consisted of Sansei and Yonsei from Seattle's Nikkei community, half-Japanese Sansei and Yonsei from further east, and marriage partners of Japanese Americans from Seattle and beyond. What's more, we are building relationships with Shin-Issei and Japanese leaders. From our various audiences, we hear comments and questions about the future of the Nikkei community. Our Nisei supporters wonder if the high rate of intermarriage means the loss of Japanese American culture. Our Yonsei and Gosei students and volunteers tell us they consider themselves Japanese American while not rejecting a second or even third family heritage.

Densho surveyed our eNews readers to ask their opinion of what it will mean to be Nikkei after the World War II generation gives way to an increasingly multicultural Rokusei generation. We share some of the responses here. (Illustration is by Roger Shimomura, from "An American Diary" series.)

What components of Japanese American culture are important to preserve?

I think anything that tries to link the present to the past is important for our future generation, because if we do not know of our past, our current privileged generation will never appreciate what we have today. I also think learning Japanese and visiting Japanese ancestral homes are important, because that is something many our parents and grandparents never had a chance to do. If the family ties are really slim, we can become the superglue that recreate that bond that was gone for so long. For this to happen, we need to learn our language, and sum up our courage to do so, because it is up to my generation and future generations to define our future as a Japanese-American and define what it means to be Japanese-American.

How Japanese does a Japanese American need to be? Do you consider hapa or quarter Japanese people to be full members of the Japanese American community?

I don't think it's blood that makes some one Japanese, but rather it's the way of thinking. The Japanese mind of discipline, humility, and pride I think is what makes someone "Japanese." If somebody with even 1/16 Japanese blood chooses to identify as a Japanese-American, they should be able to, because that choice to identify with a culture is the most important key in becoming a "member" of any community.

What does the future Nikkei community look like?

The War changed JAs perspective of and relationship to Japan; we are not as tied to Japan as others in the diaspora (Mexicans, Peruvians, Brazilians, Cubans). It is best summed up in a question of a son to a mother on Pearl Harbor Day 1941: "What has your country done to mine?" We are Americans; regardless of what the American populous thinks; we have to work not for acceptance but for 100% inclusion of all Americans at every level; this should be our community legacy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Q&A with a Law Professor

A lawyer friend of Densho, Eric Muller, answered online questions from Washington Post readers about Ashcroft v. Iqbal, a case the Supreme Court declined to hear on May 18. The Washington Post reports, "The Supreme Court ruled...that former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III may not be sued by a Pakistani man who was seized in the United States after the 2001 terrorist attacks and who alleged harsh treatment because of his religion and ethnicity."

A reader in Fairfax, VA, asked: "If one could show that Mueller and Ashcroft specifically sought to round up American citizens only because of their religion (Muslim) and for no other reason, but did not specifically encourage or turn a blind eye to mistreatment of these people, would they still get off scot-free? Why is this not equivalent to the Japanese-American internment camps, or are those still considered to have been constitutional?"

Eric replied: "Suffice it to say that while there are major differences between the conditions in which Japanese Americans were held from '42 to '45 and the abuse that Iqbal and others allege they endured, there is a common core to the two scenarios -- the identification and detention of an internal 'enemy,' in whole or in part, on the basis of race ... a sad reminiscence of the Supreme Court's eagerness in 1944 to put the best possible face on the evacuation orders against Japanese Americans."

Eric is a professor at University of North Carolina School of Law and the author of American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II.

Friday, May 8, 2009

New Content in the Densho Archive

We recently added 33 visual history interviews and 4 photo and document collections to the Densho Digital Archive. The archive now contains over 700 hours of video and over 10,000 photos and documents!

The Densho Digital Archive is password-protected, and registration is free of charge. To view the archive and/or register, please visit

Visual Histories:
Densho Visual History Collection:
Kay Aiko Abe
Sumie Suguro Akizuki
George Fujimoto
Mary Hamano
James Hirabayashi
Lucius Horiuchi Interview II
Maynard Horiuchi
Kiyoko Morey Kaneko
Eugene Tatsuru Kimura
Tad Kuniyuki
Toyoko Okumura
Carolyn Takeshita

Manzanar National Historic Site Collection:
Bob Fuchigami
Ayako Nishi Fujimoto - Kyoko Nishi Tanaka - Nancy Nishi
Art Imagire
Dorothy Ikkanda
Tom Ikkanda
Taeko Joanne Iritani
Shig Kaseguma
George Kikuta
Tommy T. Kushi
Eddie Owada
Fumie I. Shimada
Mary Blocher Smeltzer
Sumiye Takeno
Yoshimi Hasui Watada
Alley Watada
Fusako Yamamoto

Watsonville-Santa Cruz JACL Collection:
Shoichi Kobara
Eiko Nishihara - Yoshiko Nishihara
Fred Oda

Japanese American National Museum Collection:
Daniel Inouye
John Tateishi

Photo and Document Collections:
Amache Co-op Collection
Colorado Times Collection
Rocky Shimpo Collection
Ted Nagata Collection

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Asian names are so difficult!

A recent news item from Texas is getting lots of attention from Asian Americans. In a hearing on voter registration legislation, Republican state representative Betty Brown asked Ramey Ko of the Organization of Chinese Americans if it wouldn't "behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?”

You can view the full exchange on YouTube. I'm surprised Ko answered so calmly. I'd have had a hard time not pointing out that while Brown may see Asian Americans as "you" compared to her idea of "we" (presumably white folks), in fact both are Americans. I mean, we're talking about voter registration, aren't we? Brown asks the Chinese American about "your citizens." Whose citizens would those be if not U.S. citizens? Brown at first refused to apologize, as her spokesperson stated that "Democrats want this to just be about race.” Eventually she issued a tepid apology under pressure.

The story reminded us of Densho's latest "From the Archive" article, which happens to be about how Caucasians frequently gave "American" names to Nisei because they just couldn't pronounce those crazy Japanese names. Read "Hatsuji Becomes Harry: Names and Nisei Identity" here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Summer Interview Trips

I am excited about the interview trips we have planned for this summer. We are going to at least five areas where we haven’t yet done any interviews. Whenever we do these trips we get to see new places and make new friends!

In early June we visit Honolulu where the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Hawaii will help us identify individuals to interview. We then return to the mainland to go to Minneapolis, where we are partnering with the Twin Cities Chapter of the JACL. In July we travel to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles to interview Nisei women, and then a couple of weeks later we go to Walnut Grove and Isleton to preserve stories about their pre-war Japantowns in partnership with Preserving California’s Japantowns.

We could not do these trips without funding support. The Hawaii interviews are supported by the Tateuchi Foundation. In Minneapolis the Twin Cities JACL is holding community fundraising activities like garage sales and bake sales to help fund interviews. The California interviews are supported by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.