Despite facing extreme race-based scrutiny and suspicion, Japanese Americans served in the U.S. military during WWII in disproportionate numbers—even as many of their families were stuck in government-run concentration camps. Most served in the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team and its predecessor, the 100th Infantry Battalion, but many others served as translators and interpreters in the Military Intelligence Service, and nearly 500 Nisei women served as nurses, Women’s Auxiliary Corps members, and MIS translators and teachers. This Veteran’s Day, we honor those who served by sharing some gems from collections recently added to the Densho archives.
The rescue of the “Lost Battalion” holds a near-mythical place in Japanese American history. Over the years, dozens (if not hundreds) of films, novels, memoirs, history texts, exhibitions, and even children’s books have told some variation of the story. The impressive record of the 100th Infantry Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team—and this famous battle in particular—is widely credited with improving public perception of Japanese Americans in the years following World War II. As President Truman told members of the 442nd at the White House in July 1946, “You fought the enemy abroad and prejudice at home and you won.”
Guest post by Miya Sommers
On December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, Tatsuro Matsuda commissioned and installed the famous “I AM AN AMERICAN” sign on his family business in Oakland, California. But despite these attempts to reinforce their “Americanness,” the Matsudas were forced to close Wanto Co. just a few months later, when they were incarcerated along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans following Executive Order 9066. The now iconic Dorothea Lange photograph of that sign is a painful reminder of the systemic racism Japanese Americans experienced, even as many tried so hard to prove they were “American”—so I’m baffled to see some Asian Americans “reclaiming” Matsuda’s plea for survival as a #GetOutTheVote slogan today.
Historical accounts of Japanese American incarceration often pay far more attention to the beginning than the end. But the scenes of camp officials hustling bewildered inmates onto trains in late 1945 bear a striking resemblance to the forced removal from the West Coast just three years earlier. Michi Weglyn colorfully described this time as “an incredible mass evacuation in reverse.” Minidoka, Densho’s “home camp,” closed on October 23, 1945. The story of those final days is as ironic as it is tragic, and was typical of what took place in each of the remaining WRA concentration camps.
T. K. Pharmacy was one of few Japanese American businesses that remained open during World War II. Operating out of Denver—outside the so-called “exclusion zone”—it offered a lifeline to Japanese Americans in Topaz, Heart Mountain, Gila River, and other camps by fulfilling requests for hard-to-come-by items like arts supplies and medicine. But the fact that this collection was preserved at all was a lucky accident.
Our history shows that in moments of turmoil, our connections to one another matter more than ever. While we can’t come together in person, we can still be in community with each other to collectively remember our past and affirm our commitment to action. Join Densho for an inspiring evening of community, remembrance and solidarity. Together we can transform this challenging time into a moment for powerful social change. Join us for a one-of-a-kind virtual event on Saturday, October 24th.
Not all fences are of the white picket sort. Many, in fact, represent a reality that goes against everything America imagines itself to be. In this episode of Campu, we’re going to talk about the barbed-wire fences of WWII concentration camps—what they meant to the people behind them, and to those they kept out.
The Densho Dinner @ Home experience wouldn’t be complete without sushi and sake! Our friends in the Seattle area can now order sushi kits from area restaurants — Sushi Kashiba, Ten Sushi, and I Love Sushi — that you can enjoy at home while watching the Densho Dinner on October 24th. Try pairing your sushi with sake recommendations from the Sake School of America.
Japanese American incarceration, like all of American history, took place on occupied Indigenous land. These threads of displacement, confinement and forced assimilation are rooted in a much larger history of white supremacy and settler-colonial violence that we must see fully in order to dismantle fully. In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, here are a some recent highlights of intersections between Japanese American and Indigenous history.
- Winter Events Calendar
- Photo Essay: Japanese American Military Service during WWII
- How We Remember the Rescue of the Lost Battalion
- This Election Day, Asian Americans must refuse assimilation and loudly dream of a world that serves us all
- The Final “Confusing, Cumbersome” Days in Minidoka Concentration Camp
- after camp
- book review
- camp life
- current events
- Densho statement
- film review
- guest post
- hidden histories
- In memoriam
- open letter
- oral history
- Pacific Northwest
- photo essay
- popular culture