Group: Amy Morrison, Michelle Shin, and Eunice Yoon
Watercolor Painting: “Acts of Violence on Mr. Kido” by Gene Sogioka
In this painting by Gene Sogioka, the growing tensions between various Japanese American subgroups finally come to a head at the Poston War Relocation Center. In January of 1943, Saburo Kido, a Nisei and leader of the JACL, was brutally beaten by a group of Kibei. His wife looks on in horror as at least one of the men uses a club to beat her husband while others restrain him. The Kibei’s frustrations can be felt as they release this anger onto the almost lifeless body of Mr. Kido, and his wife has no more power to intervene than the internees have to stop the civil rights assault they are facing.
Primary Document: “Some Causes of Unrest at Relocation Centers” by John Embree
Anthropologist John Embree served as the head of the Community Analysis Section of the War Relocation Authority (WRA) in 1943. He performed fieldwork amidst the Japanese American community in Japan and Hawai’i and played a key role in placing professional social scientists in each WRA- administered Japanese American internment camps. “Some Causes of Unrest at Relocation Centers” is one of his WRA reports that was published in 1943. In this report, Embree identifies the potential causes of unrest amongst the interned Japanese at the Poston and Manzanar War Relocation Centers. He first lists factors that are “inherent in the situation,” factors that are those outside of the WRA’s control and arise from the context of the war and Japanese internment. The document also describes factors related to the camp’s administration. These factors explain some of the underlying administrative problems behind increasing dissatisfaction amongst the interned Japanese. Finally, Embree lists the signs of trouble and advises administrators to take precautionary measures to prevent the progression of the problem. Embree emphasizes that the objective of this report is to educate the camp administrators of such factors in order to help them prevent, identify, or properly deal with arising conflicts amongst the interned Japanese community.
Keyword: Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)
The Japanese American Citizens League, also known as JACL, is an organization originally formed in 1929 as an umbrella organization made up of pre-existing Nisei organizations in California and Washington. The two initial goals of the JACl included lobbying for the amendment of the Cable Act of 1922 and to secure citizenship of veterans of World War I. The Nye-Lea Act passed in 1953 granted citizenship to Issei veterans.
Membership was only granted to citizens, essentially only Nisei and naturalized Issei veterans. In light of the impending threat of war between the United States and Japan, JACL President Saburo Kido and Executive Secretary Mike Masaoka aggressively promoted to portray Nisei as loyal, patriotic American citizens. During World War II, the JACL worked with the FBI to identify potentially disloyal Issei. They hoped that this act would prove the Nisei’s patriotism and distance themselves from the Issei in order to circumvent accusations of divided loyalty. The JACL leadership also called for the American government to restore the Japanese Americans’ “rights” to serve in the military, which was another opportunity for the Nisei to prove their loyalty. The JACL’s disassociation with the Issei, public support of the draft, and criticism of “dissenters” caused much conflict and criticisms, even resulting in the physical assaults of Saburo Kido in Poston and Fred Tayama in Manzanar.
The League worked to ease the resettlement process during and after the war by setting up credit unions to provide loans and offices to help relocate Japanese Americans to other parts of the country. After the war, the JACL lobbied against laws banning interracial marriage, segregation, naturalization laws, and alien land laws. Some of the important laws passed through the influence of JACL include the end of alien land laws in California, the Evacuation Claims Act, and the McCarran-Walter Act.
The JACL’s most important contribution post-war was influencing society’s perception of the Nisei and the incarceration of the Japanese Americans. They glorified the Nisei veterans who volunteered for combat and condemned the no-no boys, who refused to swear loyalty and serve in the war. Through the public opinion of the League, the model minority was only strengthened. In the 1970s, the issue of monetary reparation for those who were incarcerated during the war caused a divide within the organization and resulted in groups splitting from the League. Even with this divide, the JACL’s efforts allowed the passing of the Civil Liberty Act of 1988.
After many years of debate, JACL recognized the Nisei draft resisters as “resisters of conscience” and apologized for the condemnation of draft resisters in a public ceremony held in 2002.
Today, the Japanese American Citizens League’s mission is to “secure and maintain the civil rights of Japanese Americans and all others who are victimized by injustice and bigotry” (JACL homepage).
The War Within the Internment Camps
When Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the world did not know what to expect. Japanese Americans, in particular, did not foresee their internment‒especially not the tensions that would develop amongst themselves. Soon after the bombing, Japanese Americans were forced to relocate to one of the sixteen assembly centers then to one of the ten internment camps scattered across the West, from California to Colorado (Yang 313). Although the Japanese initially attempted to remain optimistic and establish a new, peaceful community, tensions inevitably developed among the Japanese groups (the Issei, Kibei, and the Nisei) with different backgrounds and agendas. While the Issei (first-generation Japanese) and Kibei (second-generation Japanese who were culturally and academically educated in Japan) worked to retain their Japanese ties and culture, the Nisei (second-generation Japanese) desired to prove their Americanness and demonstrate their allegiance throughout the war. Their conflicting mindsets and their growing mistrust especially with the Nisei’s formation of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) ultimately led to violence and chaos. Heated arguments and physical beatings were not uncommon within the camps. The internment camps located in Poston, Arizona and Manzanar, California were the most notorious for the unrest among the interned Japanese. Although there were other administrative factors that intensified their dissatisfaction, recognizing the growing tensions among the Issei, Nisei, and Kibei is essential to understanding the conflicts among the internees and the war’s consequences that persist even today.
Internal conflicts among the Japanese immigrants were not born out of internment; existing issues between classes and generations were just exacerbated in the pressure cooker-esque atmosphere of the camps. Until the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907, tens of thousands of Japanese men immigrated to America as laborers, farmers, and servants (Dresner). From the beginning, there were class conflicts between the unskilled laborers, the students, and the merchants (Lau, “Second Generation…”). Japanese Associations of America (JAA), tied to the Meiji Government with the goal of advancing Japanese American immigrant interests, focused on uplifting the common laborers in an attempt to be seen more favorably by whites (Lau, “Japanese Immigration and Labor”). This meant changing their behaviors such as deterring gambling and encouraging Western ideals of cleanliness (Lau, “Second Generation…”). Ultimately, their efforts to gain land access and naturalization were largely unsuccessful, and the merchant class continued to blame the racism they faced on the lower class laborers.
Unlike other Asian immigrant groups, a substantial number of Japanese women immigrated as well, as picture brides, until the Ladies Agreement of 1921. This allowed the Japanese American community to grow even after essentially all immigration was stopped with the 1924 Immigration Act. By World War II, Nisei greatly outnumbered Issei in California (Yoo 3). The emerging Nisei generation was distinct both from the first generation and from their non-Asian counterparts, often speaking both languages (primarily English) and serving as a bridge between Japanese and American cultures. Their American citizenship also afforded them many benefits, although they still faced fierce discrimination and were ultimately denied their Constitutional rights and interned along with the foreign nationals. These two groups experienced life very differently in America, with different worldviews which would come into play later in their views on internment.
Complicating relations was the emergence of a subgroup known as the Kibei- United States’ citizens by birth who were educated in Japan (Schieber). Because of their experience in Japan, they were viewed with great suspicion by the U.S. government following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Although technically second-generation Americans, they were distanced from other Nisei due to their direct relationship with Japan, which they shared in common with Issei.
Although the Issei hoped for the Nisei to serve as “cultural bridges,” the two generations often experienced conflicts due to the difference in worldviews. While these disparities were apparent even within the family unit, the JACL was notorious for intentionally creating a public policy of division between the Issei and the Nisei. Originally established in 1929, the JACL was formed as an umbrella organization of pre-existing Nisei organizations based mainly in California and Washington (Lyon). Although the JACL helped to bring about the passing of the Nye-Lee Act to grant citizenship to Issei veterans, the League was far from inclusive of all Japanese Americans. It was an organization that granted membership to only citizens, which excluded Issei, and did little to support “Nisei sympathetic to labor interests, involved with the Young Democrats, or those were not interested in super-patriotism as their ticket to mainstream American society” (Lyon). The public stances of the League during World War II caused much controversy. It sought to distance the Nisei from the Issei as the JACL worked with the FBI to identify potentially disloyal among the first generation while portraying the Nisei as patriotic and loyal. Many Japanese Americans denounced the JACL for selling Japanese Americans “down the river” instead of protesting against unconstitutional violations of their civil rights. The JACL strived to present the American public with with a loyal and patriotic image of Japanese Americans image but also alienated many of its own community through its call for obedience to the authority of the American government and its criticism for any who resisted (Lyon).
While the JACL was not representative of all Nisei in their stances, the League was able to gain influence as the Nisei began to gain more prominence within the Japanese American community. Many of the Nisei resented their dismissal by the American mainstream as foreign due to their appearance, and began to view their parents’ backwardness with shame and as an obstacle to their acceptance. The Issei’s inability to fully assimilate to American culture and lack of a full grasp of the language frustrated many of the Nisei. Still the membership within the JACL was lower than the influence of the League suggests. The Issei leadership was seriously broken by FBI raids and the “[those] who remained did not have the skills of leadership, or they refused to risk being arrested themselves” (Spickard 157). The lack of Issei leadership meant there was no other major organization to take the lead except the JACL. While the JACL was most active in the mainstream, the organization was not representative of the Japanese American community as a whole. The conflicts between the Issei, Kibei, and the JACL were only intensified by the stressful circumstances of the war as they followed the Japanese Americans into the incarceration camps.
This tension among the interned Japanese can be best illustrated through the unrest in the internment camp in Poston, Arizona. Part of the conflict in Poston is due to the context of the war and the camp conditions. Although its purpose failed, Poston was initially founded upon fairly reasonable grounds. Administrators allowed and even encouraged internees to establish their own government and maintain their traditional cultures (Fujita-Rony). Thus, the internees had a lot of agency within the camps, as they themselves had control of their lives within the camps. They developed agriculture, built schools, created public parks and participated in various other recreational activities for themselves (Fujita-Rony). However, the administrators might have been too idealistic in their intentions; the somewhat peaceful camp soon transformed into a center of ongoing conflict and violence. Some of the factors include what John Embree calls in his War Relocation Authority (WRA) report, “factors inherent in the situation” and “factors relating to project administration” (1, 4). By this, Embree was referencing the humiliation from internment and the dreadful camp conditions. Internees in Poston faced more chaotic conditions than others, because two-thirds of the internees came directly from their homes rather than from assembly centers (Fujita-Rony). As a result, it lacked both administrators and inmates who had experience with running and maintaining assembly centers (Fujita-Rony). Alongside dealing with these inadequate facilities, the internees were overworked and underpaid, which only heightened their dissatisfaction and set the stage for hostilities even among themselves.
Tensions developed among the different internee groups as the camp administration classified them to jobs and showed favoritism to the Nisei, which led to numerous cases of violence. Embree reports that in Poston, where initial camp conditions were very disorganized, the camp administrators assigned “the volunteer Nisei with a good command of English” were to most of the better jobs while leaving out “late-comers and those less fluent in English” from opportunities to advance (4). The unfair assignments resulted in a perception that the well-treated Nisei sided with the administration than their fellow internees (Fujita-Rony). The administrators only confirmed their suspicions and heightened the tensions when they only allowed the loyal Nisei, particularly JACL members, to serve on their Temporary Community Councils (Fujita-Rony). This exclusion and “excessive attention given to JACL” resulted in “a large ‘out-group’, which is dissatisfied, has little responsibility and is consequently uncooperative with WRA administration, especially with Nisei office holders” (Embree 4). The Issei quickly developed a mistrust of the camp administration as well as the Nisei, and formed their own unsanctioned Issei Advisory Board (Fujita-Rony). In this way, rather than working together to form a unified, consoling community, the interned Japanese distinguished among the different generations and became antagonistic towards one another.
Perhaps no incident better illustrates these tensions than the beating depicted by Gene Sogioka in his watercolor “Acts of Violence on Mr. Kido.” Saburo Kido was born in Hawaii in 1902 but moved to California to study law at the age of 19 (Niiya). A natural Nisei leader, he became president of the JACL in 1940, only 11 years after its creation (Niiya). The years of his presidency would prove to be pivotal for the organization, as the JACL took a firm stance of loyalty to the American government, fully cooperating during relocation (Niiya). Some of his fellow inmates at Poston who were upset with the JACL’s actions and frustrated with their circumstances attacked Kido, first in September of 1942 (Niiya). In November of 1942, the JACL met and Kido advocated for re-classifying Nisei as eligible for selective service in the military (“Saburo Kido and the JACL”). A couple months later, in January of 1943 (Niiya), Kido was beaten again. The second beating, perpetrated by eight men in front of Mrs. Kido in their home, was so severe that it resulted in hospitalization (Niiya).
Kido was not the only JACL leader attacked in the camps, nor was the JACL the only source of conflict in the camps. John Embree described other problems that affected the distinct groups and generations differently, from young-men’s gangs to labor troubles (6). He recommended that these issues be analyzed while keeping different groups and backgrounds in mind, because up to this point the WRA largely homogenized the internees, causing further frustration (Embree 6).
Gene Sogioka’s Acts of Violence of Mr. Kido represents the growing tensions in the Japanese internment camps. World War II, however, did not create these tensions but only intensified them within the community, resulting in conflict and even violence between members of all generations. The divide between the Japanese American community carried after the end of the war, where the call for submission to the government to portray the Nisei as loyal and Nisei veterans of selfless sacrifice put those who had resisted during the war as traitors. In analyzing different instances of animosity among Japanese Americans, attempts to homogenize the community seems to hold as a common underlying theme across history. The American mainstream, starting from the labor exclusion and the alien land laws to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, sought to define them as foreign, unassimilable, and a threat to the United States. This frustrated many Japanese Americans, especially the Nisei, who often identified more as American than “Japanese.” As a response, members of the Nisei, such as those who associated with the JACL, presented a super-patriotic, loyal, and submissive Japanese American, alienating those who spoke out against violations of their civil rights granted by the Constitution by resisting incarceration and later, the draft. It may have been this submissive picture of the Japanese American, born out of policies of JACL during World War II, that contributed to the formation of the model minority. Scarred by condemnation from their own community, many Japanese Americans sought to return to their “normal” lives quickly and quietly after WWII, without protest against their incarceration. They strived to achieve success and recognition much as they had prior to the war, through hard work and staying low on the radar. It took the Japanese American community almost 40 years after the war to receive redress for their incarceration, and another decade for the JACL to apologize to draft resistors and other members who protested against the American government for their wartime condemnation. While the scars still run deep through the Japanese American and Asian American community, there has been a rise in many Asian Americans working towards a united front to advocate for their civil rights.
Dresner, Jonathan. “Individual Agency in Circumscribed Circumstances.” Rev. of Nisei/Sansei: Shifting Japanese American Identities and Politics., by Jere Takahashi. H-US-Japan (2000): n. pag. H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. Michigan State University Department of History, 2000. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.
Embree, John. Some Causes of Unrest at Relocation Centers. Rep. no. 2. N.p.: n.p., 1943. Print.
Fujita-Rony, Thomas. “Poston (Colorado River).” Densho Encyclopedia. Densho, 14 July 2015. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.
“Japanese American Citizens League.” Japanese American Citizens League. Japanese American Citizens League, 2015. Web. 26 Nov. 2015.
Lau, Chrissy. “Japanese American Incarceration.” Cornell University, Ithaca. 22 Oct. 2015. Lecture.
Lau, Chrissy. “Japanese Immigration and Labor” Cornell University, Ithaca. 8 Sept. 2015. Lecture.
Lau, Chrissy. “Second Generation: Daughters and Dancing.” Cornell University, Ithaca. 24 Sept. 2015. Lecture.
Lyon, Cherston M. “Japanese American Citizens League.” Densho Encyclopedia. Densho, 25 Jul. 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.
Niiya, Brian. “John F. Embree.” Densho Encyclopedia. Densho, 6 May 2015. 26 Nov. 2015.
Niiya, Brian. “Saburo Kido.” Densho Encyclopedia. Densho, 12 May 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.
“Saburo Kido and the Japanese American Citizens League.” Reading the Walls: The Struggle of the Haradas, A Japanese American Family. City of Riverside, n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.
Scheiber, Jane, and Harry Scheiber. “Martial Law in Hawaii.” Densho Encyclopedia. Densho, 29 July 2015. Web. 29 Nov. 2015.
Spickard, Paul. “The Nisei Assume Power: The Japanese Citizens League 1941-1942.” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 52, No. 2 (May, 1983): pp. 147-174. Web. 29 November 2015.
Yang, Alice. “The Internment of Japanese Americans,” in Major Problems in Asian American History, 310-318.
Yoo, David. “Introduction.” Growing Up Nisei: Race, Generation, and Culture among Japanese Americans of California, 1924-49. N.p.: U of Illinois, 1999. 1-16. Print.