Grace Morimoto

B7F24-Women Morimoto1 B7F24-Women Morimoto2 B7F24-Women Morimoto3 B7F24-Women Morimoto4 B7F24-Women Morimoto5 B7F24-Women Morimoto7 B7F24-Women Morimoto8 B7F24-Women Morimoto6

Insoo Chang

Primary Document Analysis Assignment

AAS 2130

The Grace of the Japanese Interment Camps

            Whether the problems of assimilation for Asian Americans were their ethnicity, culture or their physical characteristics, Asian American immigrants were never fully assimilated in the United States. Often, they were referred as different, exotic, and even disloyal and unpatriotic. This view of the Asian Americans became apparent during World War II. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States was filled with panic. Because of the way the United States as a whole viewed Asian immigrants, Japanese-Americans were stereotyped and discriminated against. Although Japanese attacked the United States and not Japanese-“Americans,” Japanese Americans were resented and disliked by whites. Thus, hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps in order to certify that they would not betray United States for Japan. Each citizen or alien was expected to fully accept and obey what the government demanded of the Japanese Americans do. And, without any resistance, most of them did. They knew internment based on race was immoral, deceitful, and even unjustified; however, the Japanese Americans realized that the only way to earn the trust and respect of the government was to follow every duty as an American, which meant obeying internment.[1] However, obeying interment was one thing but accepting was another. Thus, the Japanese American internment camps had profound impact on not only the physical health but also the psychology of Japanese Americans. Although there were negative impacts because of the internment, there were also a lot of positive experiences and effects, especially for Japanese American females. As seen from Grace Morimoto’s diary dated from June 19th to June 23rd of 1943, the internment camps reveal two important impacts from the internment camps: the new experiences and passions that Japanese girls encountered, and the postwar change in the gender relations in the household.

Grace Morimoto was a “normal” Japanese girl born in California. Grace was placed in internment in her adolescent years and was forced to live the harsh realities of the Japanese internment. She was like every other American girl; she enjoyed hanging out with her friends, had feelings for other boys, and sometimes felt unnecessary teenage angst.[2] However, although she was completely normal, she was a bit different than other Japanese American girls. Grace was more retrospective and self-evaluating. Even in a tough environment and in times of stress, she would write in her diary everyday to reflect on what happened as well as reflect on her emotions. Thus, this diary archive stands out because anyone can easily grasp the perspective of a Japanese girl in the interment camp because she is so open. Although it is only a week entry of Grace’ diary, one can fully see the complete perspective of the interment camp.

Generally, although most Japanese complied, most felt cheated and many Japanese Americans endured heavy mental stress during this time. This can be seen in Grace Morimoto’s diary. Because it was during her adolescent years, the internment had an interesting effect on her. She would often get nightmares and second-guess herself. “Last night I dreamt I was in trouble, being a very mischievous brat.”[3] As well, she would sometimes wake up early at 5:00 AM because she was “restless” and “worried.” [4] However, at the same time, although mentally, Grace was in some distraught, she was never in any physical pain or never fully furious at what happened to her. She just accepted it for what it was and would just live her life as a routine. She would wake up at 7 AM, go to school, meet her friends, attend meetings, eat dinner, and start all over again.[5] Although she endured dehumanizing conditions, including poor housing and food, a lack of privacy, inadequate medical care, and substandard education, at one point, she even enjoyed her stay at the internment because of all the friends she had and all the activities she could do with them.[6] One can see that although the setting of the interment was not optimal, Grace Morimoto made the best out of the situation, making friends, learning new activities such as dancing, and even understanding her own self. For instance, Grace would “attend a fashion show, went to softball practice, and went to student body dances.”[7] In other words, Grace was able to try new experiences and be able to become more passionate in her life. Before the wartime, Japanese American girls were limited in their opportunities to try new experiences. For instance, they were even sometimes refrained from going to church because of old Japanese customs and were never allowed to stay out late. However, because of the internment camps, Grace and many other Japanese American girls were able to hang out and socialize more with friends with similar lifestyles. As well, they were allowed to try new things and try to truly find where their talents and passion resides. Although there were many negative outcomes because of the internment camps, Japanese American girls such as Grace was able to try new experiences and become in a sense, not “confined” but liberated.[8]

Another interesting point to get from these diary entries is the gender relations of the internment camps. Prior to interment, women’s ideal roles were shaped by two sets of ideologies: the Victorian cult of domesticity ideology and the traditional Japanese Confucian-based ideology.[9] Men were ideally expected to serve as leader of the household, to earn an income and provide for the family. The women were expected to tend the home and raise the children. However, the imprisonment of the Japanese American community altered customary gender roles. Now, that the primary gatherer for the family was a no longer male, Japanese woman began depending on themselves and would no longer see men as the head of the family but rather as more of an equal. For example, Grace Morimoto would often go out at night during the week to go to dance activities, cooking activities, etc.[10] This would not have been acceptable if it the old Cult of domesticity ideals held strong. Grace was no longer dependent on becoming a good wife or a good mother since there was a change in the gender relations of the Japanese American households: everyone became equally adept and capable of trying new experiences and to provide for themselves.[11] Another example of the change in gender relations in Japanese American households was from Valerie Matsumoto in her book, City Girls. Matsumoto states that the interment camp actually acted as a gateway to new intellectual and professional horizons. Because of the war, “many colleges preferred Nisei women to men, owing to assumptions that they were less likely to be perceived as threatening; this bias may have made available more opportunities to women.”[12] Girls, for example, took advantage of loosening family bonds to make inroads into higher education and careers that they likely would not have explored before internment.

In conclusion, Japanese interment was unjustified and immoral; however, the way the Japanese Americans coped with the situation was very interesting. In particular, for Grace Morimoto and many of other Japanese interns, the feeling of interment was not one of anger and vengefulness, but of compliance and acceptance. They just perceived the situation as it is and just made the best situation out of it. Thus, the Japanese females were able to garner new experiences and new passions because of the internment camps. As well, because of the internment, gender relations completely changed. Males were no longer the main concentration of the house anymore. Japanese women did not have to depend on males for money and for them to provide anymore.



[1] Chrissy Lau, “Word War II” (Speech, Ithaca, NY)

[2] “Diary of Grace Morimoto,” Japanese-American Relocation centers Records, Box #7 folder 24. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[3] “Diary of Grace Morimoto,” Japanese-American Relocation centers Records, Box #7 folder 24. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[4] “Diary of Grace Morimoto,” Japanese-American Relocation centers Records, Box #7 folder 24. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[5] “Diary of Grace Morimoto,” Japanese-American Relocation centers Records, Box #7 folder 24. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[6] “Diary of Grace Morimoto,” Japanese-American Relocation centers Records, Box #7 folder 24. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[7] “Diary of Grace Morimoto,” Japanese-American Relocation centers Records, Box #7 folder 24. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[8] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls (Oxford University Press, 2014, 12)

[9] Chrissy Lau, “Second Generation” (speech, Ithaca, NY, September 23, 2014).

[10] “Diary of Grace Morimoto,” Japanese-American Relocation centers Records, Box #7 folder 24. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[11] “Diary of Grace Morimoto,” Japanese-American Relocation centers Records, Box #7 folder 24. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[12] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls (Oxford University Press, 2014, 39)

 

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