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From Race to Ethnicity

From Race to Ethnicity: Interpreting Japanese American Experiences in Hawai'i

Jonathan Y. Okamura
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    From Race to Ethnicity
    Book Description:

    This is the first book in more than thirty years to discuss critically both the historical and contemporary experiences of Hawaii’s Japanese Americans. Given that race was the foremost organizing principle of social relations in Hawai‘i and was followed by ethnicity beginning in the 1970s, the book interprets these experiences from racial and ethnic perspectives. The transition from race to ethnicity is cogently demonstrated in the transformation of Japanese Americans from a highly racialized minority of immigrant laborers to one of the most politically and socioeconomically powerful ethnic groups in the islands. To illuminate this process, the author has produced a racial history of Japanese Americans from their early struggles against oppressive working and living conditions on the sugar plantations to labor organizing and the rise to power of the Democratic Party following World War II. He goes on to analyze how Japanese Americans have maintained their political power into the twenty-first century and discusses the recent advocacy and activism of individual yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese Americans) working on behalf of ethnic communities other than their own. From Race to Ethnicity resonates with scholars currently debating the relative analytical significance of race and ethnicity. Its novel analysis convincingly elucidates the differential functioning of race and ethnicity over time insofar as race worked against Japanese Americans and other non-Haoles (Whites) by restricting them from full and equal participation in society, but by the 1970s ethnicity would work fully in their favor as they gained greater political and economic power. The author reminds readers, however, that ethnicity has continued to work against Native Hawaiians, Filipino Americans, and other minorities—although not to the same extent as race previously—and thus is responsible for maintaining ethnic inequality in Hawai‘i.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-4018-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    Unlike most books about Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i, this work includes both contemporary and historical aspects of their experiences in the islands. I did not want to write a primarily historical book because a substantial and valuable literature on Japanese American history already exists and continues to be written by trained historians, unlike myself. 1 Moreover, I have a greater research interest in ongoing problems and issues in the Japanese American community than in its history, so I have included a few chapters on contemporary topics that are very related to some of the subjects I discuss in the three...

  5. Part I: Historical Race and Race Relations

    • CHAPTER 2 Struggle and Resistance: 1885–1945
      (pp. 17-47)

      From a racial perspective, this chapter frames major historical processes and events in which Japanese were involved from immigration through World War II around themes of collective struggle and resistance. These experiences include labor recruitment and immigration, plantation labor and life, and labor or ganizing. Centering Japanese American history in this way necessarily ignores or obscures other important aspects of it, but it is likely that they have been described and analyzed in the abundant literature on local Japanese historical experiences. Furthermore, I interpret Japanese American history from the larger political, economic, and cultural contexts of the anti-Japanese movement that...

    • CHAPTER 3 Myles Yutaka Fukunaga and the Anti-Japanese Movement
      (pp. 48-80)

      In 1929, Myles Fukunaga, a nineteen-year-old Japanese American, was hanged for the murder the previous year of Gill Jamieson, a ten-year-old haole boy, despite Fukunaga’s likely insanity. I interpret the case from the larger racial context of the prevailing anti-Japanese movement, which reached its apex in the pre–World War II period during the 1920s in retaliation for Japanese leadership and participation in the 1920 strike. I contend that haoles raced to convict and execute Fukunaga because as a Japanese American he had brazenly transgressed the paramount racial boundary separating whites and nonwhites by brutally killing a child from a...

    • CHAPTER 4 Advocacy and Advancement: 1946–1970
      (pp. 81-106)

      In reviewing Japanese American experiences in the quarter century after World War II, this chapter emphasizes how they were advocates for nonhaole minorities, including themselves, and progressed both eco nomically and politically. As in chapters 2 and 3, the historical processes and events which Japanese Americans led and participated in that highlight the chapter’s themes of advocacy and advancement are interpreted from a racial framework. These historical developments include the unionization movement led by the International Longshoremen’s and Ware house men’s Union (ILWU) and the 1946 sugar strike, the Democratic “revolution” of 1954, and statehood for Hawai‘i in 1959, although...

  6. Part II: Contemporary Ethnicity and Ethnic Relations

    • CHAPTER 5 Power and Domination: 1971–1986
      (pp. 109-133)

      The transition to ethnicity as the primary or ganizing principle of social relations in Hawai‘i society, in place of race, occurred by the 1970s. This social and cultural process had been ongoing since the end of World War II with the challenges to haole economic and political supremacy and thereby to the racial boundary separating them from nonwhites. Among Japanese Americans, the greater significance of ethnicity was especially evident in their increasing political power since the 1950s, which eventually led to the election of George Ariyoshi as governor for three consecutive terms between 1974 and 1986. In contrast to the...

    • CHAPTER 6 Power and Ethnicity: Post-1986
      (pp. 134-164)

      This chapter describes and analyzes how Japanese Americans have maintained their power in electoral politics after George Ariyoshi left the governor’s office in 1986.¹ Beginning earlier in that decade, many observers of electoral politics predicted that Japanese American political power would subsequently wane primarily because of their declining percentage of Hawai‘i’s population. Their underlying assumption seemed to be that relatively fewer Japanese American voters would result in absolutely fewer Japanese American elected officials and thus less power. While the proportion of local Japanese in the population has been steadily dropping since the 1920s such that they are the third largest...

    • CHAPTER 7 Activism and Advocacy: Yonsei Leaders
      (pp. 165-203)

      I profile here individual yonsei who through their activism in the community can be viewed as political and cultural advocates on behalf of others in Hawai‘i. The idea came from the concluding chapter in Roland Kotani’s (1985)The Japanese in Hawaii: A Century of Struggle,“The Sansei Generation.” They were then the most recent adult and largest generation of Japanese Americans in the islands. In contrasting the political values of the sansei and nisei, Kotani (162) remarked on how nisei Democratic politicians supported reductions in government social ser vice programs and no increases in funding for the public schools and...

    • CHAPTER 8 Conclusion: Beyond Japanese American Experiences in Hawai‘i
      (pp. 204-218)

      Analyzing a particular social or cultural phenomenon within a given context can result in being oblivious of its larger significance and relation to other similar phenomena if viewed from other perspectives. Such is the case with Japanese American historical and contemporary experiences in Hawai‘i that can and should be interpreted from alternative frameworks, especially comparative. Viewing these experiences in other contexts besides Hawai‘i can enhance our understanding of them and of Hawai‘i itself as a multiethnic society that has allowed for Japanese American ascendance to political and economic power while denying the same to other ethnic groups. Thus, being local...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 219-234)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 235-246)
  9. Index
    (pp. 247-256)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-261)