Seinen Kai Meeting at Block 37 (1/2/1943) – Observation of GY

Primary Document - Page 1

Primary Document – Page 1

Primary Document - Page 2

Primary Document – Page 2

Eric Kim

Primary Document Analysis

Professor Lau

November 29, 2014

 

Box 8, Folder 18; Seinen Kai Meeting At Block 37 1/2/1943; Observation of GY

The November 1942 Poston Strike, was one of the most notable events that occurred at the Poston relocation center.  Poston was a War Relocation Authority concentration camp in Arizona and was one of the biggest camps.  The Poston Strike erupted mainly due to the difference between the two Japanese group, Issei and Nisei, as the Issei, who were born and raised in Japan had radically different views that the Nisei (Second generation Japanese Americans).  The main difference between the two cultures was that the Issei were very stubborn on the changes that the Americans wanted from them, while the pro-American Nisei would do anything to prove loyalty to the US.  Other factors that encouraged this strike was due to the physical and mental environment that the Japanese/ Japanese Americans had to endure in the Poston relocation center and because of how they felt like they were being treated unfairly by the administration. The strike outburst when two Kibei’s were held without trial and the community was informed that only Nisei can serve on the temporary councils, and this is how the unsanctioned “Issei Advisory Board” formed.  The “few” recreational programs that were offered Japanese internment camps were created to help the Japanese adjust to American culture that they were forcefully exposed to and help with the culture differences between the Issei and Nisei, but the programs were often bias leading to more problems within the community.

In one of the main events that led up to the dangerous riots and strikes, an “alleged informer in Camp I was beaten and seriously injured.”[1] The camp administration immediately held two Kibei (Japanese born in US, but studied in Japan) men without charges until the FBI could investigate, and the Issei immediately took action.  Issei believed that the Kibei wouldn’t receive fair trial due to the fact that they studied in Japan and many of them had views supporting Japan.  Even though the Kibei were technically a subgroup of Nisei, they typically followed views of the Issei, and were often distrusted by the WRA.  After the strikes began on November 15, 1942, both the Nisei Community Council and Issei Advisory board in camp I resigned and they formed a new body of government with both Issei and Nisei leaders.  Eventually the two Kibei that were detained were released, and after the stike ended 9 days later on November 23, 1942, the Nisei played a more powerful role in their community.  This power change within the community also made the administration of the internment camp to be more biased towards the Nisei, and the Nisei received more benefits than the Issei, including recreation.

During the Japanese Incarceration, there were a lot of changes that occurred, especially with race relations.  The Japanese Americans saw the Issei and Nisei as completely different cultures or “races”.  The Issei initially had greater power in the camps, but the Nisei being “second-generation” and culturally different, fought back as soon as they saw injustice.  The Issei looked down on the Nisei because of their strong loyalty to America and its culture, but this gave Nisei an advantage within these camps.

 

The Nisei playing a more powerful role than Issei was very obvious especially after the Poston Strike because of the bigger involvement they had in the community.  Because pro-American Nisei showed loyalty to the US, the administration favored them more and often gave them benefits.  For example, even in big recreational programs such as the YWCA, “ties were predominately with the Nisei, the US-born second generation, not the immigrant Issei.”[2]  The YWCA was supposed to be an organization committed to “integrat[e] all sects of faiths, Christian and non-Christian into an American way of life based on Christian ideals”, but the Issei did not always share this “ecumenical view”.  Most Issei refused to change into an American way of life, so programs like the YWCA didn’t appeal to them.

Because these large programs were mainly filled with the Nisei, there were also groups such as “such as Girl Reserves, Business and Professional clubs, Matrons groups, and in some camps such as Granada, dedicated groups for Issei Women, were established in the camp”[3].  These separate groups were needed due to the obvious favoritism that the Nissei were receiving.  Programs like the YWCA tried to unite everyone together through health and recreation, but the tension between the Issei and Nisei were still so strong that the Issei immediately had negative views on programs that forced change and gave benefits to the Nisei.

Issei and Nisei also had a very different approach about adjusting to culture within the camps.  The Issei were stubborn because they were educated in Japan.  The Nisei on the other hand grew up in America, so many of them “stylized their look as much possible in accordance with mainstream aesthetic norms in order to present an image of themselves as fully American citizens and to claim an identity currently withheld from them.”[4]  There were newspapers, which often contained racist imagery, within these camps that promoted “pro-American identity” and even promoted “Nisei-created role models such as Lil’ Neebo and Miss Manzanar”.  Even though the newspapers were pretty much mocking the Japanese, the pro-American Nisei didn’t seem to care because they were willing to do anything to fit into American society.  Just the involvement and participation of the Nisei in these programs made it evident that they were willing to change and prove that they are loyal to America.

The youth of Nisei were often involved in minstrel shows and ran newspaper editorials and argued that the Japanese Americans posed little threat to the United States, while “African Americans- the nation’s historic racial other- should be watched with greater suspicion.”[5]  Participating in minstrel shows was another big factor that showed how the Nisei tried to change using into a more American culture using recreation because minstrel shows are American entertainment usually performed by white Americans, but during this period the Japanese Americans were performing this. The Issei weren’t involved in programs like this because they did not want to show Americans that they are going to change and were not willing to participate.  The Issei were very cold, opinionated, and quickly judgemental towards everyone, especially towards the Nisei because of “power issues”, and the girl who attended the Senien Kai organization is a direct example of this.

This Seinen Kai organization was the only organization in the camp to create a “harmonious feeling between the Isseis and the Niseis.”[6]  The girl who attended the Seinen Kai meeting immediately makes judgments about this organization based on who was mostly attending this meeting.  She clearly mentions that there were only a few Isseis who mostly weren’t too old, but the “vast majority of the people attending were Kibei-Niseis.”  She also mentions how the board of this organization were all either Kibei or Kibei-Niseis.  Even though this was an organization that was supposed to bring the Niseis and Isseis together, the core of the organization were clearly Kibei-Nisei.  This made the young adult who mistakenly attended feel uncomfortable and her judgment was “not so good”. Most of the time, it was religious groups in the Japanese community that would try to harmonize the relationships between the Issei and Nisei, but since the organization in Block 37 was not a religious organization and was obviously biased towards the Kibei, the effort of harmonizing seemed phony to her.

The president of the organization also started the inauguration off with “we, the Kibei” which made it clear that Issei’s were the minority.  The leader of this Seinen Kai meeting concluded that if the Poston Strike didn’t occur in Post, this organization wouldn’t have been formed.  Why couldn’t organizations try to unite the two cultures before the Strike?  Why is this organization promoting unity, but filled with mostly Nisei?  Unanswered questions like the one above shows that the relationship between the different races inside the Japanese community was still inconsistent and prejudice.  The Issei and Nisei had a difficult time trusting each other because of the different views that they had, making it almost impossible to come together as one.

Poston was one of the biggest camps until Tule Lake, so the fact that it was obvious to the Nisei that the Issei had a larger role in determining the condition they lived in made Poston Strike “one of the most successful acts of resistance to the WRA.” The negotiation at the end of the strike was what most inmates demanded, so after the Issei gained power within the community, the Nisei had no choice but to try to make better relations with them.  After the Poston Strike, the race relations overall in camp I became better (not naturally), and the Issei and Nisei still had trouble trusting one another.  American culture was spreading throughout the concentration camps, making this strike was the turning point of the relations of the two Japanese “races.”  The programs and recreation that the camps offered were supposed to unite all cultures by spreading American culture.  Recreation was successful in the fact that American culture was spread, but the cultures failed to unite as one because of the conflicting opinions of the Nisei and Issei remained, while none of them were able to gain trust for one another.

 



Box 8, Folder 18; Seinen Kai Meeting At Block 37 1/2/1943; Observation of GY

[2] Box 8, Folder 18; Seinen Kai Meeting At Block 37 1/2/1943; Observation of GY

[3] McAndrew, Malia. “Japanese American Beauty Pageants and Minstrel Shows: The Performance of Gender and Race by Nisei Youth during World War II.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 7, no. 1 (2014): 49.

 

[4] McAndrew, Malia. “Japanese American Beauty Pageants and Minstrel Shows: The Performance of Gender and Race by Nisei Youth during World War II.” The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth 7, no. 1 (2014): 44.

 

[5] Box 8, Folder 18; Seinen Kai Meeting At Block 37 1/2/1943; Observation of GY

 

[6] Park, Yoosun. “The Role of the YWCA in the World War II Internment of Japanese Americans: A Cautionary Tale for Social Work.” Social Service Review 87, no. 3 (2013): 510

 

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