Gossipping Women

Group: Radhika Gupta and Zoey Tang

Watercolor Painting: “Gossipping Women”

Primary Document: Seinen Kai Meeting at Block 37

Gossiping Women

 

The Gossip Women

The watercolor painting “Gossip Women” portrays three groups of women. The Nisei women, the group of women on the back of the picture, wear short hair in the style of flappers. They all sit backwards and show no face in the pictures. The two groups of women in the front are apparently gossiping about others. They all have hair tugged back in a bun, which are considered more old-fashioned and reserved. All these Issei women have ugly appearances with the one in the front is portrayed with a pig nose. These details present Gene Sogioka’s attitude toward Issei Women. Gene Sogioka infer his distain toward these gossiping Issei women in the concentration camp, as they could not contribute anything but only rumors. Gene Sogioka’s painting thus illustrate the separation between the Issei and Nisei women and conflicts between the two generations.

 

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“Seinen Kai Meeting at Block 37”

The Primary document is about a Nisei girl, who, believing that there was a dance social event in a section of the community within which she has a personal love interest, goes to a Seinen Kai meeting. The organization was made to create peace amongst the Issei and Nisei and it was the only one of it’s kind in the camp. The club functioned only in Japanese and one of it’s main purposes was to develop the usage of the Japanese language. Most of the people attending the meeting were Kibei or Nisei; there were only a few Issei members and they were younger Issei. The advisors of the club were Kibei or Nisei and the president was a Kibei. After seeing so many Kibei the girl is turned off by the club and because of a strike that had happened earlier in the camp in which Kibei were given a bit of power. The girls believes that this club is a way for Kibei to merely reaffirm their power instead of promoting harmonization amongst Nisei and Issei and leaves the function early.

 

Gossip in Japanese American Internment Camps 

A major facet of Japanese interment that is not often dwelled upon is the gossip prevalent amongst the Issei women in interment camps. As the interment camps that Japanese Americans were forced to reside in during the second World War were often times small enough for word to spread quickly, but just large enough for their to be substantial gossip and ambiguity, gossip was a common pastime for Issei. The first factor that caused this gossip was, in fact, this increase in leisure time experienced by the Issei women in the camps. Issei women no longer had housework or work outside their home that needed to be done, they now had “communally prepared meals and limited living quarters,” freeing them from the cooking and cleaning they were previously expected to do. [1] The women, could now instead focus on leisure, and often times camps offered courses that would teach Issei women “handcrafts and traditional Japanese arts such as flower arrangement, sewing, painting, calligraphy, and woodcarving.” [2] During these classes, Japanese Issei women would be able to gather and speak to each other in close quarters, causing gossip to form and travel easily.

A second factor that lead to the crude gossip of the Issei women was the evolving Americanization and romantic culture of the second generation Japanese, Nisei, girls. The Nisei girls were very different from their Issei counterparts in that they partook in dating, and quickly blossoming romances with boys, whereas Issei with arranged marriages. Because of these differences, Issei women had more traditional interpretations of what love looked like than Nisei women did. Often times, the gossip targeted the Nisei. The Nisei, now in close contact with other Nisei peers more often had immediate access to Nisei men, and therefore much more dating took place and many more people knew who was dating who, and when people broke up, because of the enclosed environment of the camp. Nisei women followed “countless suggestions on how to impress boys,” and showed clear interest towards romance, which was much more promiscuous than the experiences of the Issei women. [3] This dramatizing of new romantic relationships also promoted an increase in gossip because it was a subject the Issei women could focus their gossip on.

Gossip was both increased the generational gap between Nisei and Issei as Nisei were targeted by Issei, but also bought the Issei women closer together.

[1] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies: P9

[2] Ibid

[3] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies: 6. P10

 

Gossip and Conflicts between Nisei and Issei during Japanese Internment

Gene Sogioka, the painter of the watercolor painting named “Gossip Women”, was a professional painter who graduated from the Chouinard Art School and worked previously in Disney. When entering the camp, Gene Sogioka was frustrated with the situation because he was a very qualified artists but he “[couldn’t] do anything in the camp”[1]. Later, he managed to work for Dr. Alexander Leighton and painted “everything about the camp”[2].  As an aspect of  this camp job, Gene Sogioka presented the conflict between the Nisei and Issei as he considered that “[i]n the camp they had a struggle between young and old”[3].  For men, the young generation wanted to volunteer for the army, and showed acceptance of their unjust treatment while the old Issei men desired to go back to Japan because the government’s treatment, often times more reluctant to obey the government.  Similar to men, women also had conflict that originated from the two different cultures, struggling with appearing all american and showing loyalty to America whilst still not betraying their Japanese heritage, the heritage of the enemy during the war .  For Issei and Nisei women, they had distinct view toward relationship because of their different background. Thus, the camp gossip, which was due to Issei women’s reaction toward the romantic uniqueness to the second generation Japanese American women caused an increase in mistrust amongst the Nissei.

        The Issei Women, who immigrated to the United States, entered between 1908 and 1924 because of the “Gentlemen’s Agreement”[4] of 1908. These Issei Women came to the United States to either reunite with their husbands or to meet their husband as the picture bride. Women in the rural area “lived with their husbands in labor camps” or “farmed with their husband as cash or share tenants”[5].  For women in the cities, they “worked as domestics or helped their husbands run small businesses such as laundries, bath houses, restaurants, pool halls, boarding houses, grocery stores, curio shops, bakeries, and plant nurseries”[6].  Due to their background and general harsh living environment, they were especially strict to their children in terms of family education. The Issei parents were “not inclined to open displays of affections toward their children, but the Nisei were conscious of their parents’ concern for them and for the family”[7]. Contrary to the Issei generation, Nisei who “were born between 1910 and 1940”[8], participated as a part of the family economy earlier. They incorporated both the Japanese culture and American customs.  Due to the strict parenting style,  the Nisei believed in the ideology of “not bring[ing] disgrace upon the family or community and exhorted them to do their best in everything”[9].  At the same time, they also adopted mainstream American culture by “[listening] to Hit Parade, Jack Benny, and Gangbusters on the radio, learned to jitterbug, played kick-the-can and baseball, and read the same popular books and magazines as their non-Japanese peers”[10]. This was the origination of the conflict between the Issei and Nisei Japanese American women. Because of the ambivalent Parent-Child relationship, the two generation were more separated.  After the U.S. government initiated the internment camp policy, the two generations had limited communication and led to further disconnection.

        The two generations thus had different reactions toward the order of evacuation. For the Issei women,  they have experienced all the previous hardship and perceived the evacuation as a “culmination of the heavy-handed treatment they have received since they had set foot on American soil”[11]. However, for Nisei women, they had contrasting views as most of the Nisei females “were in school when the exclusion orders came”[12].  Since they were born as U.S. citizens, they had a stronger sense of belonging compared to their parents. Even though they had many Japanese cultural values, they “identified with America rather than Japan”[13].

        After the involuntary evacuation began and Japanese Americans began their internment life, the conditions of camp life changed the original family structure and “affected women of all ages and backgrounds”[14].  From the pre-war period, the Nisei generation strived to balance their American identity with their Japanese heritage; this difference also carried into the life of the interned Japanese. Nisei that were incarcerated were able to socialize with large groups of Japanese peers that faced the same internal conflicts of identity that they themselves did, and did so in an environment in which parental authority was weakened because of a decrease in economic dependence on the first generation Japanese Americans, and, therefore, nuclear family ties were weakened.  Originally, the Japanese Society depended on heavily on family units, and focused on filial duty.  However, the camp life dramatically changed the original family structure   and led to more community-based lifestyle, where Nisei interacted and depended more on Nisei rather than Issei for all their economic support. This weakening of strong family bonds allowed Japanese Nisei culture to flourish and heightened the cultural differences between the two generations.[15]

In Poston, the Nisei and Issei were particularly splitted, and this was evident by the Poston strikes. The Poston Strikes were  a famous walkout that had occurred because two Kibei were arrested for beating up an informer in the camp. The problem was that the temporary councils, which served as Japanese representation on the trial,  could only be made up of Nisei and assisted as jurors. The Nisei and the issei had very different views from each other because the issei were born and raised in Japan and the Nisei were born and raised in America, and were now, in the camps, more autonomous from their parents. After the announcement that the council would be made up of Nisei, the Issei formed their own advisory board because Nisei were often more concerned with showing loyalty to America and separation from the “grotesque Japanese enemy,”[16] and so were less likely to admit that they were being treated unfairly by administration.  However, the Kibei identified more with the views of the Issei and loyalty to their Japanese ethnicity, and so were more likely to resist changes imposed by the American government.  Because of these strikes the Nisei and Issei formed a new board comprised of both generations, giving even greater amounts of power to the Nisei in the community and furthering the Nisei culture. [17] The occurrence of these strikes showed the clear cultural difference felt by the Issei and the Nisei, which was enough to impose some mistrust amongst the two generations.  

In a journal entry from the Poston camps, an interned Nisei girl elaborated on this mistrust, particularly after the strikes, amongst those that identified more with Japan and the Nisei generation. This Nisei girl attended a social event because she was misinformed and believed that it was a dance and she believed a person she was interested in might be attending the event.  When she attended, she discovered that it “[was] the only one in the camp and the purpose of it [was] to create a harmonious feeling between the Issei and the Nissei.”[18] The organization was made to target language barriers between Issei and Nisei and, through that, obtain better relations. However, the organization was created by Kibei who didn’t have the same experiences as Nisei. Rather, the Kibei were sent back to Japan to get a middle school and high school education, so they identified more to Japanese culture compared to the Nisei. The Nisei girl left the meeting once she found out the camp was run primarily by Kibei, a group that was more ethnically Japanese, because she considered that it was just a way for the Kibei to obtain power over the Nisei in the camps. The girl’s uneasiness toward the camp run by the Kibei showed her bitterness towards Japan and the Japanese people. She was wary of Issei and Kibei because she might  want to de-emphasize her identity as a Japanese American and to sustain the newly gained power of the second generation Japanese Americans in the camps, after the strikes.

This cultural difference can also be seen in the power of gossip around the camps. Gossip seemed to be much more prevalent amongst the Issei than the Nisei and it was often crude. The internment camps were often times the perfect environment for gossip because they were small enough for word to spread quickly. The major reason behind gossiping was due to two factors. First, the Issei women had more leisure time because they wouldn’t need to work inside and outside the home but enjoyed “the communally prepared meals and limited living quarters”[19].  In order to spare their time in the camp, they attended the adult courses that involved “handcrafts and traditional Japanese arts such as flower arrangement, sewing, painting, calligraphy and wood carving”[20].  These types of classes were the occasions during which gossiping Issei women found the time and the community of other Issei women with which to gossip. The other major factor that led toward these gossip was due to the Nisei romantic culture, which revolved quickly blooming love and was very different than the romantic culture of the Issei.  After moving into the internment camp, the Nisei women got more opportunities to meet with other Japanese Americans, who were more ideal romantic candidates because they related to Nisei Japanese women more than peers in pre-war schools may have. For Nisei women, they envisioned a marriage with other Nisei men who shared similar backgrounds.  Nisei women received “countless suggestions on how to impress boys, care for their complexions, and choose the latest fashions”[21] from newspaper columns.  The popularity of these newspaper columns, which provided advices not only toward fashion but also “aesthetic concerns”[22], illustrated that Nisei Women were actively seeking relationships within the camp, making them seemingly more promiscuous in the eyes of the Issei. This gossip, often from the issei, would sometimes affect the actions of the Nisei who were less prone to such gossip, perhaps because they had more to do in terms of recreation and education and because they were targeted by the gossip. In an interview Nancy Araki, she describes how in her grade school in camp she was chosen to be the may princess and she found it very difficult because she “got a pretty dress, the thing on her head, got to be in front of people and knew other people wanted and [she] didn’t care but knew enough about… because she hung around adults and listened on adults, [she] heard the malicious gossip,” and was hurt by the idea that these adults would start speaking poorly about her, and consider her more promiscuous because she accepted a role in which she had to wear beautiful clothing.[23] Araki was concerned about the type of image she would portray – gossip was so prevalent amongst adults in the camps that even a young girl in grade school was concerned about what adults would think of her after she’d accepted a role she was appointed to. And this concern was just because especially when relationships started to develop within the camp, there was a natural production of large amounts of gossip.  The third factor that led to the development of gossips was Issei’s different interpretation toward love and relationship. For Issei women, their view toward love was “a bond that might evolve over the course of an arranged marriage that was firmly rooted in less romantic notions of compatibility and responsibility”[24]. As these women had more conservative and traditional view toward romance and relationship, they found that the freedom to choose husband as a luxury and unusual.  On the other hand, Nisei women were greater proponents of the American dating culture, which involved dating, boyfriends, breaking up, and then dating again. The unusual phenomenon drew the attention of first generation Issei women, as it was novel and much less conservative than the arranged marriages Issei women had to go through  and Issei women thus began to spread the gossip within the camp. The malicious gossip made life more difficult for Nisei women, the target of this gossip, and consequently created more distance between the Issei and the Nisei. Life was made so hard that in an interview with Nobu Suzuki, Suzuki detailed how she wrote a letter to a Nisei woman, Kimi to help take care of a young, presumably Nisei, woman with an illegitimate child explaining that she would not be accepted in the camps because of the cruel gossip that would arise about her. Kimi was the YWCA secretary in the mid-west and Suzuki was in contact with her because she felt it was impossible for the woman with the illegitimate child to survive in camps because of the outrageous gossip in camps.[25] The gossip was clearly crude and attacked Nisei culture because of it’s novelty to the Issei women.

Within the incarceration camp, the Nisei and Issei women experienced internal conflicts due to different cultural background and self-identity.  As Issei identified more as the Japanese, Nisei considered themselves belonging to Americans. This fundamental self-identity difference led to disputes between the two generations and distrust.  Within the camp, the Issei women began to spread malicious gossip because they had more leisure and were inexperienced with the romantic relationship between the Nisei generation. This furthered the gap between the Nisei and the Issei as the gossip would often target the Nisei, and mistrust was only increased between the two generations. Whereas the Nisei felt targeted by this gossip and felt as if the Issei couldn’t understand their struggles as Nisei in the internment camps, the Issei felt a sense of betrayal from the Nisei and their effort to prove themselves American to America, often stemming from shame of being the same culture as the enemy. These generational and identity differences led to a completely different cultures for Issei and Nisei women, and unique problems encountered by each of these two groups in the internment camps.

[1]  Gesensway, Deborah, and Mindy Roseman. Beyond Words: Images from America’s Concentration Camps. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987. P147

[2] Ibid, P151

[3] Ibid, P153

[4] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies: P6

[5] Ibid, P7

[6] Ibid

[7] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies: 6.

[8] Ibid, P7

[9] Ibid, P7

[10] Ibid, P7

[11] Nakano, Mei T., and Grace Shibata. Japanese American Women: Three Generations, 1890-1990. Berkeley: Mina Press Pub. ;, 1990. P11

[12] Ibid, P12

[13] Nakano, Mei T., and Grace Shibata. Japanese American Women: Three Generations, 1890-1990. Berkeley: Mina Press Pub. ;, 1990. P12

[14] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies:P8

[15] 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.)

[16] 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.)

[17] “Poston, Arizona.” Japanese American Veterans Association. JAVA, 6 Oct. 1992. Web. 29.

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

[19] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies: P9

[20] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies:P9

[21] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies: 6. P10

[22] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies: P9

[23] Dee Goto. “Nobu Suzuki Interview I Segment 38.” Densho, video. 2:38. November 3, 1938.

[24] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies: 6. P11

[25] Tome Ikeda. “Coping with Gossip in Camp.” Densho, video. 5:58. September 3, 2010.

 

 

References:

Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women during World War II.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies: 6.

Nakano, Mei T., and Grace Shibata. Japanese American Women: Three Generations, 1890-1990. Berkeley: Mina Press Pub. ;, 1990.

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

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.)

“Poston, Arizona.” Japanese American Veterans Association. JAVA, 6 Oct. 1992. Web. 29.

Gesensway, Deborah, and Mindy Roseman. Beyond Words: Images from America’s Concentration Camps. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987.

 

 

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