Once a taboo topic, the impacts of WWII incarceration on Japanese Americans who lived through it are well-documented and widely acknowledged today. Donna K. Nagata, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan and the daughter of camp survivors, started studying these impacts in the early 1990s, focusing first on the intergenerational effects felt by the Sansei and then expanding to look at the lived experiences of Nisei like her parents. Her research has provided vital insight into the lasting legacy of WWII incarceration — and how it continues to reverberate in the Japanese American community decades later.
1921 likely marked the peak year of Nisei births in the continental US. So with the arrival of 2021, there are a whole host of Nisei artists, activists, performers, civil servants, and more born whose 100th birthdays are well worth commemorating. We’re kicking off the new year with a look back at some of these Nisei notables.
In this episode, we talk about everything you never wanted to know about latrines in WWII Japanese American concentration camps. Our research may have gone down the toilet, but we promise this story isn’t all about poop. We’ll look at how incarcerees adapted to extremely adverse conditions and the unique challenges women incarcerees faced, including sexual violence and harassment.
Pictures allow us to peer into the past, but those images are often far more complicated than what initially meets the eye. Photographs (and the people who took them) portrayed Japanese Americans as menacing threats, as hapless victims, as model Americans. But there were also covert acts of resistance playing out on both sides of the camera. In this episode, we talk about the visual record of WWII incarceration and the stories that unfolded behind the lens. About what you see — and what you don’t.
On December 27, 1969, an intergenerational group of Issei, Nisei, Sansei, and a few Yonsei made the 220-mile trek from Los Angeles to Manzanar. It was the first organized pilgrimage to one of the former concentration camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during WWII. But it wouldn’t be the last. That first Manzanar Pilgrimage sparked a long-standing tradition that spread to other WWII incarceration sites and helped start a campaign to preserve Manzanar as a site of national historical significance.
Last week, Louisiana congressman Clay Higgins upped the ante on GOP claims that the recent presidential election was “stolen” by voter fraud, going so far as to compare it to Japanese American incarceration during WWII. “They were 120 thousand. We are 75 million,” he wrote on Facebook, before going on to promise—or, depending on your vantage point, threaten, “We, the People… will not concede. We will not take a knee to oppression.”
Many of the “iconic” photos of Japanese American incarceration that we are most familiar with today were taken by white photographers who worked as outsiders looking in. But, as the family collections in the Densho Digital Repository attest, there were also many Japanese Americans who documented their own experiences from within the camps. One of these incarceree photographers was Yoshio Okumoto in Heart Mountain.
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.”
- A Tribute to Fred Shiosaki’s Remarkable Legacy
- In Conversation: Artists Lauren Iida and Erin Shigaki
- Grilled Rattlesnake, Missing Toilets, and Other Things You Might Not Know about Jerome
- Anti-Asian Violence Isn’t Un-American. It’s a Racist Tradition That Goes Back Over 150 Years.
- At 90 years old, Chizu Omori is still fighting for justice
- 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