The Break Up – He’s Leaving Me!

Group: Jessica Chu and Christine Yuan

Watercolor Painting: “The Break Up – He’s Leaving Me!”

Primary Document: “Via Miss Alice Cheney”

The Break Up - He's Leaving Me!

The Break Up – He’s Leaving Me! by Gene Sogioka

In his painting The Break Up – He’s Leaving Me! Gene Sogioka depicts the separation of a Japanese-American couple, and the young man’s subsequent moving out. The scene is set in a barrack in the Poston, Arizona internment camp, in which two women are comforting a third in the middle, who has likely gone through a recent break-up and appears to be hysterical, possibly also due to the heat of the camps. The man is busy in the background packing and moving a few suitcases and drawers around, leaving that corner of the barrack completely empty. When forced to move out of their homes, Japanese-Americans could only carry a very limited amount of their personal possessions with them, which is reflected in the sparse living space and minimal belongings in the painting. The subjects in the paintings all appear to be Nisei. Just as in pre-war years, community among women within these camps was important, especially with men often leaving to enlist, and with camp conditions providing little privacy and changing family structure and function. These conditions also set the stage for accelerated social life among Nisei, which likely also contributed to accelerated dating and break-ups as depicted in the painting.

primary doc _via miss alice chenney_-page-006 primary doc _via miss alice chenney_-page-001 primary doc _via miss alice chenney_-page-002 primary doc _via miss alice chenney_-page-003 primary doc _via miss alice chenney_-page-004 primary doc _via miss alice chenney_-page-005

“Via Miss Alice Cheney”

The primary document is a letter written by Hideo Hashimoto three months into his internment to his close Caucasian friends. Hashimoto describes the feelings of acceptance and adjustment, even “pauperization,” noting some of the positive circumstances offered by the government, including food, jobs, and leisure time. The church often organizes many social and educational activities. Nonetheless, he also notes the anxiety felt by everyone in the camp in response to being confined from the outside world. The temperatures are high and the living units are small. There is also very little freedom of speech, as articles must go through multiple censorships. There is also a strict curfew that is monitored by the police. Some described the experience as like being “stuck out […] in the desert.” Another describes his reaction to his arrival as a “combination of awe, disappointment and anger at everything and everybody.” Hideo goes on to discuss work in the WRA centers, likening it to “some sort of slavery”  – the Japanese were forced to work with little wage and were not allowed to sue for injuries. If they did not work, they were required to pay the WRA. He feels that the Japanese were tricked into believing in the idea of American democracy. Because of these injustices, Hashimoto encourages his friends to take action. These actions include writing letters to people in power to change their ideas of Japanese Americans, changing public opinions of American democracy, and helping the Nisei find places to work after internment is over.

Romance and courtship in Japanese American internment camps

Prior to internment, within the tight-knit Japanese communities, Nisei girls faced rigorous monitoring from the Issei, much more so than boys were.[1] Very few families allowed their daughters to socialize with members of the opposite sex.[2] Many girls were also bound by filial duty and married to their parents’ choice of men.[3] Most of the socialization between boys and girls was through supervised club recreational activities.[4] This dynamic, along with much of Japanese American social structure, changed abruptly following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the removal Japanese Americans to internment camps.

The altered family dynamics and women’s roles due to internment transformed the way Nisei approached relationships. These changes accelerated romantic relationships among Nisei youth, making dating more casual than it was prior to internment. However, relationships also became a point of conflict due to these changes.The deconstructed family structure as well as increased leisure time for women allowed Nisei more freedom to date. The disintegrated family structure gave Issei less control over the dating life of their daughters.[5] Additionally, since women had more leisure time, they could frequently participate in camp dances.[6] Since these dances were no longer exclusive to girls’ and boys’ club members as they were prior to internment, the Issei had even less control over the social activities of their daughters. Consequently, dating was more casual and frequent, and could occur “under the radar” because the boy and the girl did not feel the need to undergo the approval of Issei parents. The camp environment also facilitated conflicts surrounding relationships due to generational conflicts and the greater power that women had. Because Issei had such little control over their daughters, they were often more concerned about them.[7] Some Issei parents even tried to interfere in Nisei relationships and by attempting to arrange their daughters with other men. Furthermore, women were less willing to simply follow the wishes of their significant others because of their own responsibilities to their families, as they were given more wage-earning roles.[8] Because of the accelerated romantic lives of Nisei girls, romantic relationships held a significant amount of weight in their lives, and the loss of love had a detrimental emotional impact.[9]

[1] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 (New York, Oxford University Press, 2014), 20.
[2] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 20.
[3] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 22.
[4] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 38.
[5] “Mits Takahashi Interview,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, March 20, 2008.
[6] “Mits Takahashi Interview,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, March 20, 2008.
[7] “Mits Takahashi Interview,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, March 20, 2008.
[8] “Falling in Love: Courtship in a Japanese American Internment Camp.” National Museum of American History. February 13, 2013. http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2013/02/survival-heartbreak-and-love-at-jerome-a-japanese-american-internment-camp.html.
[9] Gene Sogioka. “The Break Up – He’s Leaving Me!”

References

“Falling in Love: Courtship in a Japanese American Internment Camp.” National Museum of American History. February 13, 2013. http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2013/02/survival-heartbreak-and-love-at-jerome-a-japanese-american-internment-camp.html.

Matsumoto, Valerie J. City Girls: The Nisei Social World In Los Angeles, 1920-1950. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014.

“Mits Takahashi Interview,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, March 20, 2008.

Sogioka, Gene. “The Break Up – He’s Leaving Me!” watercolor (Cornell University Archives)

 

Setting the Stage for Romance: Analysis of Romantic Relationships among Nisei in Japanese Internment Camps

In pre-World War II Japanese American communities of the 1920s and 30s, Nisei social life thrived in the forms of clubs and other community organizations, facilitated by the ethnic enclave and surrounding mainstream American culture. At the same time, the emerging social culture of the Nisei was at times at odds with that of their Issei parents and community leaders, a tension often reinforced in the family and domestic sphere, where traditional Japanese ideas and family structure remained. This dynamic, along with much of social structure, faced an abrupt change with the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the uprooting of Japanese Americans in their removal to incarceration camps away from the west coast that drastically changed social relationships. While camps were made up of a huge majority of Japanese Americans and provided community, they were also isolated from the rest of the nation, lacking in privacy, and therefore greatly affected the family. Internment caused changes in community structure for both Issei and Nisei women that led to deteriorating family unity and separation between generations, as well as increased power and community interaction for women, which accelerated and facilitated Nisei social life and exploration of romantic relationships and subsequent conflicts.

The artificial conditions created by close proximity of families within camps and the structural changes to Japanese Americans’ daily lives caused greater divides between generations and deterioration of family function and structure. In a letter to his American friends, minister Hideo Hashimoto writes, “The poisoning effect of being torn away from home, concentrated into a small, congested barbed-wire enclosure is already felt. […] Restlessness is ever present all over the camp.”[1] This restlessness began even before Japanese Americans relocated to camps, as many Issei community leaders including businessmen, teachers, and ministers, were arrested; in fact, almost one in ten adult male Issei heads of household were taken away.[2] The loss of much of the male leadership of community networks, as well as having to sell or leave behind the majority of their property, and the sudden evacuation orders caused fear and confusion amongst the community that continued into the camps. Hashimoto describes the conditions of the relocation assembly centers as very crowded, with temperatures reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Police enforced a 10:00 P.M. curfew and other strict regulations.[3] These descriptions also reflected the settings inside camps: crowded barracks in bad condition housed four to five families each, little furniture provided, and heat and dust. The barracks were arranged in close quarters in blocks, which shared facilities like mess halls, and latrines and showers. This extreme lack of privacy in the new communal structure of camp as well as climate caused physical and emotional strain, changed family routines, and contributed to deteriorating family unity. In addition, some families were interned separately, with the husbands, or sometimes wives, having been arrested before the family’s evacuation. Reverend Yoshiaki Fukuda, an Issei man who was arrested and detained separately from his family, recounts the stress of the situation as possibly having contributed to his wife’s hospitalization, and that the doctor even strongly recommended that Fukuda be allowed to see her to save her health. He also observes that separated families suffered greater anxiety and faced more serious problems.[4] Beyond individual families, internment also exacerbated division between the Issei and Nisei generations. Martha Nishitani, a Nisei woman, recounts in an interview that the Issei were very different from the Nisei and felt that they didn’t like the Nisei very much, often disapproving of dances, which facilitated social and dating culture. At the same time, she describes the internment period as being a chance for children to get away from parents.[5] Indeed, the division extended beyond disapproval of Nisei activities; due to the war, Nisei with American citizenship had an advantage as they posed less of a security risk in the eyes of the U.S. government. Issei parents were often left behind in the camps, and sometimes felt as if “the Nisei had ‘turned against Japan,’”[6] especially as many enlisted in the U.S. military. Language barriers also affected Issei and Nisei women’s access to jobs and education; fields like nursing generally favored Nisei women,[7] and Nisei could more easily leave camp for work and study, and hold leadership positions in camp, all of which likely led to generational tension. Tom Akashi notes that in terms of camp authority, “the Niseis took over, and the Isseis were kind of a secondary role.”[8] Although women did what they could to better their situations, certain inevitable factors contributed to alienation within families and between older and younger Japanese Americans, and conflict regarding socializing and dating.

The new social structure and economy of internment camps altered gender dynamics and changed women’s roles, especially in the economic and domestic spheres, giving women more agency, power, and leisure time than they previously held in their communities. Already from the beginning, with the arrest of many male community leaders, women needed to take on new family and social roles. Within the camps, women’s traditional roles in the family greatly changed: whereas they united the family through home-cooked and intimate family dinners in pre-war times, the communal regimented mealtimes in mess halls took away the need for women to cook meals, and with that, part of their role in maintaining family unity and family dynamics. Children would often eat with their friends and peers, separately from parents, and not return home to the barracks except for essential things like sleep.[9] Other domestic work counted as women’s work such as washing and sewing, as well as general maintenance of living spaces, became more public, communal, and elevated within the camp. Yoshiko Uchida, a Nisei whose father was also arrested and interned separately, describes doing laundry as a full day task requiring the help of both her mother and sister. Women would also often go out at four in the morning to do laundry before hot water ran out.[10] Because families were only able to take a small percentage of their belongings with them, furnishing living spaces, repairing and making clothes also became an important task, such that a room at the end of a barrack was sometimes allotted to public sewing space. In order to do these things, women also had to buy the materials through mail order catalogs from outside sources, and their skill in purchasing under the rationing and low wages became essential to the well being of their families. Their increase in control over the family finances also increased with the leveling of wages and increase in wage-earning labor for women: while men, women, and children all received low wages, husbands were often no longer the main breadwinners, [11] and men were sometimes even absent or left for the military, leaving open more positions for women. At the same time, because living area size had decreased drastically and many of the communal aspects of camp relieved women of some of their pre-war labor and busy schedules, they also had much more free time to engage in community activities, recreational classes, and social events that were especially popular with the Nisei and reminiscent of prewar clubs. Although much of the changes still remained within traditional gender roles, these shifts reduced male authority and general parental authority, and set the stage for the accelerated social life of the Nisei, and subsequently, for romantic relationships among Nisei.

The altered family and generational dynamics and women’s roles due to internment inevitably transformed the way Nisei approached relationships. These changes accelerated romantic relationships among Nisei youth, making dating more casual than it was prior to internment. However, relationships also became a point of disagreement as a result of these changes. Because romantic relationships started to play such a central role in the lives of Nisei girls, the end of these relationships caused great emotional turmoil.

Prior to internment, within the tight-knit Japanese communities, Nisei girls faced rigorous monitoring from the Issei, much more so than boys were, as not being on their best behavior would “bring shame to the Japanese community.”[12] Very few families allowed their daughters to “mix freely with members of the opposite sex.”[13] Many girls were bound by filial duty and married to their parents’ choice of men “with whom they had very little in common.”[14] Most of the socialization between boys and girls was through club recreational activities, as Issei often approved of such clubs. For example, the Japanese Girl Reserves Inter-Club Council invited members of boys’ clubs to their social events, providing opportunities for “heterosexual flirtation within a controlled environment.”[15] Many club dances were also chaperoned, “[allaying] parental anxiety about the respectability of the gatherings.”[16] As illustrated by these examples, although the Issei did discourage their daughters from socializing with Nisei boys, families and parents were able to have some supervision of the relationships between Nisei boys and girls in the prewar period.

The new social environment of camp allowed for more opportunities for dating without Issei supervision among the Nisei due to the deconstructed family structure as well as increased leisure time for women. The deconstructed family structure allowed Nisei more freedom. According to an interview with Mits Takahashi, a Nisei male who spent time at Puyallup Assembly Center in Washington and the Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho, the disintegrated family structure gave Issei less control over the dating life of their daughters: “…they really didn’t have strict control over [the girls]. I mean, like I say […] you went with your own friends in your dining room […] a lot of us never did get together with our parents.”[17] Additionally, since women had more leisure time, they could frequently participate in camp dances, almost every weekend.[18] According to an interview with his wife, June Takahashi, these dances were essentially open to everyone in the camps, “as long as you want to walk that far.”[19] Since these dances were no longer exclusive to girls’ and boys’ club members as they were prior to internment, the Issei had even less control over the social activities of their daughters. Consequently, dating was more casual and frequent. Mits Takahashi recalls in his interview, “As a casual date or something, I think changes of going in and meeting the family and things were very, very rare.”[20] He agreed that dating could be “under the radar” because the boy and the girl could simply verbally agree to meet at dances rather than involve the parents.

Just as the camp environment facilitated dating, it also facilitated conflicts surrounding relationships due to generational conflicts and the greater power that women had. Mits Takahashi states in his interview that because Issei had such little control over their daughters, they were often more concerned about them: “So I think for our mothers that had daughters, I think especially if they’re teenage girls, I think they were much more concerned about their kids than they were with boys.”[21] Some Issei parents even tried to interfere and set their daughters up with other men. For example Keiko Kageyama recalls in her interview how her mother tried to set her up with a Kibei while she was dating her current husband in camp: “I said, ‘No, no thank you.’”[22] Additionally, because women had a much more prominent role in earning wages for the family during internment, they were less willing to simply follow the wishes of their significant others. The story of May Asaki and Paul Ishimoto’s relationship illustrates this trend. Although May and Paul, both Niseis, were in a relationship during camp, when Paul first proposed to May, May said no: “May had to think of her family. Some of her siblings were quite young. They needed their surrogate mother. There was no room for romance. No room for another family. […] She had responsibilities.” It was only after Paul continued to beg May, when May finally agreed to marry him.[23] From these examples, it is clear that the camp environment contributed to conflicts surrounding relationships due to disintegrated family unity and women’s financial roles in the family.

Gene Sogioka’s watercolor painting, “The Break Up – He’s Leaving Me!” further illustrates the impact of the conflicts surrounding romantic relationships in the internment camps. In the painting, a young woman, likely a Nisei is shocked when she finds out that her significant other has broken up with her, and is being comforted by two other Nisei girls.[24] It seems as if, because of the accelerated social and romantic life of Nisei girls, romantic relationships held a significant amount of weight in their lives, and the loss of love had a detrimental emotional impact.

Life during internment was, in many ways, not the same as prewar life for young Japanese Americans, particularly Nisei girls. Before camp, the lives of Nisei girls were very much under the control of their parents. In contrast, the camp environment caused divides between generations and deterioration of family function and structure. It also gave women fewer domestic roles and more wage-earning roles, as well more leisure time for socializing. This environment facilitated more unsupervised dating among Nisei boys and girls, as well as more conflicts involving romantic relationships. Because of the more prominent role of romantic relationships in the lives of Nisei girls, the breakups that did happen were more significant and detrimental than before.

[1] “Via Miss Alice Cheney,” Notes from the Bureau of Sociological Research, Box 13 F 3, Cornell University Archives, 9.
[2] Thomas Fujita-Rony. “Remaking the “Home Front” in World War II: Japanese American Women’s Work and the Colarado River Relocation Center,” Southern California Quarterly, 88 (2006): 163.
[3] “Via Miss Alice Cheney,” 9.
[4] Yoshiaki Fukuda, My Six Years of Internment: An Issei’s Struggle for Justice (San Francisco, CA: The Konko Church of San Francisco, 1990), 49-50.
[5] “Interview with Martha Nishitani.” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, May 15, 1998.
[6] Daisuke Kitagawak. Issei and Nisei: The Internment Years. (New York, NY: The Seabury Press, 1967), 111.
[7] Fujita-Rony, “Remaking the “Home Front” in World War II,” 191.
[8] “Interview with Tom Akashi,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, July 3, 2004.
[9] Fujita-Rony, “Remaking the “Home Front” in World War II,” 173.
[10] Yoshiko Uchida. “Tanforan: A Horse Stall for Four,” 1982. Reprinted in Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience, ed., Lawson Fusao Inada (Berkley, CA: Heyday Books, 2000), 75.
[11] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 155.
[12] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 (New York, Oxford University Press, 2014), 20.
[13] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 20.
[14] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 22.
[15] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 37.
[16] Valerie Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 38.
[17] “Mits Takahashi Interview,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, March 20, 2008.
[18] “Mits Takahashi Interview,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, March 20, 2008.
[19] “June Takahashi Interview,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, November 17, 1997.
[20] “Mits Takahashi Interview,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, March 20, 2008.
[21] “Mits Takahashi Interview,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, March 20, 2008.
[22] “Keiko Kageyama Interview,” Friends of Manzanar Collection, Densho Digital Archive, May 5, 2012.
[23] “Falling in Love: Courtship in a Japanese American Internment Camp.” National Museum of American History. February 13, 2013. http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2013/02/survival-heartbreak-and-love-at-jerome-a-japanese-american-internment-camp.html.
[24] Gene Sogioka. “The Break Up – He’s Leaving Me!”

References

“Falling in Love: Courtship in a Japanese American Internment Camp.” National Museum of American History. February 13, 2013. http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2013/02/survival-heartbreak-and-love-at-jerome-a-japanese-american-internment-camp.html.

Fujita-Rony, Thomas Y. “Remaking the “Home Front” in World War II: Japanese American Women’s Work and the Colarado River Relocation Center.” Southern California Quarterly, 88 (2006): 161-204.

Fukuda, Yoshiaki. My Six Years of Internment: An Issei’s Struggle for Justice. San Francisco, CA: The Konko Church of San Francisco, 1990.

“Interview with Martha Nishitani.” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, May 15, 1998.

“Interview with Tom Akashi.” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, July 3, 2004.

“June Takahashi Interview,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, November 17, 1997.

“Keiko Kageyama Interview,” Friends of Manzanar Collection, Densho Digital Archive, May 5, 2012.

Kitagawa, Daisuke. Issei and Nisei: The Internment Years. New York, NY: The Seabury Press, 1967.

Matsumoto, Valerie J. City Girls: The Nisei Social World In Los Angeles, 1920-1950. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2014.

“Mits Takahashi Interview,” Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archive, March 20, 2008.

Sogioka, Gene. “The Break Up – He’s Leaving Me!” watercolor (Cornell University Archives)

Uchida, Yoshiko. “Tanforan: A Horse Stall for Four.” In Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience, edited by Lawson Fusao Inada, 69-81. Berkley, CA: Heyday Books, 2000. Originally published in Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family (1982).

“Via Miss Alice Cheney,” Notes from the Bureau of Sociological Research, Box 13 F 3, Cornell University Archives.

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