Japanese-American Internment

Describe Japanese-American “internment” (March 1942–1946) as described by Valerie Matsumoto in Farming the Home Place.  What were the effects on the internees, and on Japanese cultural continuity?

The Internment of Japanese-Americans

              The United States is among a growing list of countries with a well-documented history of racial prejudice. Perhaps the most renowned of such instances is the internment of Japanese-Americans (February, 1942 – March 20, 1946) soon after Imperial Japan’s 1945 aerial raid on Pearl Harbor.  The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) promptly responded to Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, proceeding to forcibly remove and confine persons of Japanese ancestry residing along the Pacific coast. According to Burgan (2017), roughly 127,000 Japanese-Americans were interred in concentration camps after the unanticipated bombing of Pearl Harbor (37). Included in this number are Issei (first-generation Japanese-Americans), Nisei (second-generation Japanese-Americans) and Sansei (third-generation Japanese-Americans) who had all acquired legal status United States’ citizens. This single event has long been the subject of literary discourse among leading authors such as Valier Matsumato. In Farming the Home Place: A Japanese Community in California, Matsumatoprovides a poignant account of the Japanese-American experience during the Second World War, the effects of internment on internees, and its impact on Japanese cultural continuity.

Read also Farming the Home Place – Book Review

            Matsumato’s description of the internment of Japanese-Americans is an attempt to paint an elaborate picture of the vicissitudes of a marginalized community struggling to enter mainstream society despite extreme tension.  The author does this by providing an in-depth narrative revolving around members of Japanese-American community residing in San Joachin Valley in California. In it, Matsumato describes the diligence of Japanese-Americans who immersed themselves in farm work while striving to realize their American Dream at the Cortez planed agricultural commune (Matsumoto). This well-researched account is informed by over ninety interviews which bolster research into the sensitive subject of the internment of Japanese-Americans. Furthermore, Matsumato provides a comprehensive probe of the contribution of Japanese farmwomen in the Midwest and the emerging challenges that many had to grapple with after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The book further describes the resilience of Japanese-Americans living in the Cortez colony who strived to integrate into mainstream American society notwithstanding their harrowing experiences during confinement.  One of the main themes explored in the book was the discriminatory nature of land ownership laws in the United States during the mid-19th century.  Japanese immigrants had initially attempted to sidestep such barriers by registering land in the names of the U.S-born children, only for them to be interned in concentration camps accompanied by property seizure.

            The internment of Japanese-Americans also had far-reaching consequences for internees and cultural continuity. They were compulsorily ejected from so-called “prescribed military areas” and transported en masse to concentrations strewn across the desolate American Midwest.  It is also worth noting that the internment occurred all the same given the fact that Japanese-Americans were legal citizens of the United States and displayed their loyalty on numerous occasions. Nevertheless, the declaration of war by Imperial Japan against the United States caused panic and wartime hysteria which eventually resulted in the mass incarceration of all persons of Japanese ancestry. Apart from the shock of losing property, Japanese-Americans were also traumatized by the experience of being interned in concentration camps by the US government. Many struggled to internalize this new reality characterized by the ubiquitous presence of armed guards and confinement in uninhabited areas in camps surrounded by barbed wire. This experience had an immense psychological impact on Japanese-Americans and is responsible for the intergenerational mistrusts of the government witnessed among a section of community members (Chew). Additionally, Japanese cultural continuity was also affected by the internment. The separation of community members primarily meant that traditional customs and ceremonies such as the tea ceremony could not be practiced openly since they were expected to abide by new stipulations.            

In conclusion, the internment of Japanese-Americans (February, 1942 – March 20, 1946) is a prime example of historical racial prejudice. In Farming the Home Place: A Japanese Community in California byValier Matsumato, the author describes the tormenting experience of Japanese-Americans after internment.  Internees were essentially traumatized and Japanese cultural continuity hindered, which is primarily why it serves as one of the best examples of the damaging effects of discrimination.

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