Meeting of the Oranization Committee for Permanent Self-Government (10/9/1942)

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HIST 2130

Professor Lau

Zoey Tang

Meeting of the Organization Committee for Permanent Self-Government

            On February 19,1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued executive order 9066 to relocate Japanese residents away from the Pacific Coast to the central area of the country because the U.S. Government questioned Japanese Americans’ loyalty and suspected their residence in the West Coast would impose danger to the Pacific War. After packing their bags and selling their houses, 110,000 to 120,000 Japanese Americans moved to the incarceration camps.  As they began their new lives, they wanted to found the self-government to represent and serve the community. This primary document transcribed the council meeting held in the concentration camp and recorded the process of creating the self-government. Through this document, we can get a glimpse of how Japanese Americans tried to establish their government by modeling American democracy, the transition of power from Issei to Nisei, and unequal political involvement between different genders.

The meeting minutes, which recorded details about the constitution and election process, implied how Japanese American tried to establish an independent government following the American democratic ideology. The meeting began with the election of the councilman, which mimicked the U.S. presidential election process as it began with nomination of candidates from the committee and used “secret ballot” instead of “show of hands” to select the councilman from two possible candidates.[1]  Besides the election process, the constitution and the composition of the council both conveyed Japanese Americans’ determination to adhere to American Culture of democracy by incorporating all opinions from three camps. The constitution, drafted by “Civic Planning Board”[2], was based on charters of some small cities in California and the community council, including intellectuals with liberal ideology, resembled the Continental Congress. Additionally, the supervision of the U.S. Government pressured the community to adopt American system in order to show their loyalty. During the meeting, a reporter from the Press Bulletin and several white project managers were present and a white administrator Mr. Head gave a speech stating that U.S. government “as members of democracy believe that the government exists for the people”.[3]  Thus, Japanese American feared that expressing their true opinions would lead to serious consequences such as imprisonment so Mr. Evans showed hesitation during the discussion, “ No, I won’t say anything”. [4]  His intention to suggest revision for the constitution and possibility to adopt other political system was dismissed. Therefore, the control of U.S. government exerted over Japanese Community led meeting participants to hide part of their true thoughts and assured the community to adopt American political system.

As the community gradually building the future self-government, it experienced switch of power from the first generation Issei to the second generation Nisei.  Prior to the War, Issei exerted control over the community through the foundation of Japanese Associations, “the most influential and widespread Issei organizations”.[5]  These powerful organizations “dealt with a wide range of issue” and were prevalent “in all Japanese communities of any size”.[6] As Japan-U.S. relations deteriorated during the World War II, Issei men were emasculated and showed more hesitation while “Nisei became the community leaders with goal was to prove loyalty”.[7]   The attendees of the meeting included middle class Nisei working as doctors, lawyers and others. Saburo Kido was an older Nisei working as a lawyer; Isamu Noguchi was also a very famous Nisei working as internationally celebrated sculptor.[8] Isamu Noguchi was a representative figure of Nisei Generation as he voluntarily joined the internment camp at Poston[9]. His obedience and voluntary decision represented Nisei’s hope to show their “advocated hyper patriotism”.[10] The council elected Dr. Ishimaru as the councilman for the permanent government; this result represented Nisei elite taking over to lead the community. The change of leadership within the Japanese Community was due to Nisei’s mixing cultural background and appreciation of the U.S. as homeland. Therefore, they showed more understanding toward relocation and desired to establish the self-government to prove their patriotism.

The primary document also revealed the community’s lack of women’s participation in the political system. The domination of men within the incarceration camp was a result of middle class belief of separate spheres prior to the war. Through the entire meeting, the majority of members of the council were men with only one women presented as the secretary. Even though the committee strived to build a democratic council with all groups and opinions represented, the committee never mentioned or emphasized the importance of women’s involvement. This reflected that women in the camp were relegated to other domestic spheres, like leisure. In the internment camp, they took more leisure and gained skills as they participated in the activity of flower arrangement, sewing, painting, calligraphy and woodcarving. They also seized to “create morale-boosting entertainment amid bleak surroundings”. [11] Women were absent from the meeting not only because they took leisure but also because they were expected to take on domestic roles instead of political positions. With the Gentlemen’s Agreement, Japanese American Women came to the U.S. as picture brides or reunited with their husbands; they “worked as domestics” and “unceasingly toiled both inside and outside the home”.[12] Furthermore, they were less involved in political issue because they were considered less threatening and dangerous. They didn’t have to face the 1943 loyalty questionnaire or the danger to be considered disloyal or imprisoned.  They later also left the camps earlier as they worked in plantations or for college. Additionally, due to the living condition at the camp, women were separated from men because “family unity deteriorated in the crude communal facilities and cramped barracks” [13]. While they lived with children and “fathers live with other men”[14], it left them less chance to participate in discussion and engage in conversation with men.  Therefore, all of these reasons forbade Japanese American women from participating in the election and establishing the self-government.

The primary document of meeting minutes at Poston Camp revealed the life of Japanese Americans during internment.   Forced to leave their homes and lived in a harsh environment with limited freedom, Japanese American attempted to establish their community government following U.S. democracy to show their loyalty and adaptation to American Culture. The community also experienced transition of power from Issei to Nisei due to second-generation’s background of both Japanese and American culture. Women in the camp took more domestic role in the community for they were not given chances to involve in politics. Life in the internment camp changed the relationship within generations and genders of the Japanese Community and had long lasting effects. This time period symbolized the rise of Nisei for they took on leadership role and strived to bring welfare to the whole community.

 


[1] Meeting Of the Organization Committee for Permanent Self-Government”, Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, 4

[2] “Meeting Of the Organization Committee for Permanent Self-Government”, Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, 10

[3] Ibid, 2

[4] “Meeting Of the Organization Committee for Permanent Self-Government”, Japanese-American Relocation Centers Records, #3830. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library, 10

[5] Altered Lives

[6] Fugita, Stephen, and Marilyn Fernandez. “The Pre-World War II Community.” In Altered Lives, Enduring Community: Japanese Americans Remember Their World War II Incarceration. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004, 24

[7] Chrissy Lau, “World War II” (speech, Ithaca, NY,)

[8] Biography.” Home. Accessed December 2, 2014. http://www.noguchi.org/noguchi/biography.

[9] Ibid

[10] Fugita, Stephen, and Marilyn Fernandez. “The Pre-World War II Community.” In Altered Lives, Enduring Community: Japanese Americans Remember Their World War II Incarceration. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004, 34

[11] Chrissy Lau, “World War II” (speech, Ithaca, NY,)

[12] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies Vol. 8, no. No. 1 (1984) (1984): 6-14. Accessed August 20, 2013. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3346082, 7

[13] Ibid, 8

[14] Ibid

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