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Japanese American Celebration and Conflict: A History of Ethnic Identity and Festival, 1934-1990

Lon Kurashige
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Japanese American Celebration and Conflict
    Book Description:

    Do racial minorities in the United States assimilate to American values and institutions, or do they retain ethnic ties and cultures? In exploring the Japanese American experience, Lon Kurashige recasts this tangled debate by examining what assimilation and ethnic retention have meant to a particular community over a long period of time. This is an inner history, in which the group identity of one of America's most noteworthy racial minorities takes shape. From the 1930s, when Japanese immigrants controlled sizable ethnic enclaves, to the tragic wartime internment and postwar decades punctuated by dramatic class mobility, racial protest, and the influx of economic investment from Japan, the story is fraught with conflict. The narrative centers on Nisei Week in Los Angeles, the largest annual Japanese celebration in the United States. The celebration is a critical site of political conflict, and the ways it has changed over the years reflect the ongoing competition over what it has meant to be Japanese American. Kurashige reveals, subtly and with attention to gender issues, the tensions that emerged at different moments, not only between those who emphasized Japanese ethnicity and those who stressed American orientation, but also between generations and classes in this complex community.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92647-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  7. Introduction: The Problem of Racial Rearticulation
    (pp. 1-12)

    This study was born of the conviction, held even more firmly now at the study’s conclusion, that our perception of American history is misserved by the image of Japanese Americans as a successful “model minority” group. The Issei and their descendants are certainly worthy of appreciation for having overcome intense and prolonged bouts of racial persecution, including the forced internment of 120,000 American citizens and permanent residents. But the many “unsuccessful” peoples (e.g., blacks, Native Americans, Latinos) also command our deepest admiration for having broken through formidable barriers of subjugation—sometimes merely by surviving and passing down glimpses of what...


    • ONE Succeeding Immigrants Ethnic Leadership and the Origins of Nisei Week
      (pp. 15-41)

      Little Tokyo’s weeklong celebration of ethnic pride, racial harmony, and international friendship emerged from very basic motivations. During the most severe depression the United States had ever seen, the immigrant leadership hoped that a Nisei festival, which included a parade, talent and fashion shows, cultural exhibits, and an essay contest, would entice patronage from Japanese American youth. The depression had compelled owners and managers of Japantown stores to look beyond the reliable base of Issei customers, whose rising incomes had transformed the ethnic enclave from an immigrant way station to a thriving business district. Indeed, the burgeoning of California agriculture...

    • TWO Rise and Fall of Biculturalism Consumption, Socialization, and Americanism
      (pp. 42-72)

      “Chaplin is here . . . Chaplin is here!” The message spread through the crowd gathered in Los Angeles’s Japanese quarter to watch the finale of the first Nisei Week festival. On that August night in 1934, a thousand kimono-clad youth halted theirondo,or Japanese folk dance, to get a glimpse of the screen idol. Urged to address the gathering, Chaplin praised Nisei Week for its dancing, its food, and especially its “beautiful Japanese girls.” “I’m very happy to see all of you enjoying yourselves in the ondo,” he announced. “It reminds me of my delightful days when I...

  9. PART 2: CAMP

    • THREE War and the American Front Collaboration, Protest, and Class in the Internment Crisis
      (pp. 75-116)

      On December 6, 1942, more than two thousand Japanese Americans at the Manzanar internment camp renounced the Americanist campaign that had punctuated the last years of Nisei Week. At twilight, in the firebreak on the edge of camp, they gathered in protest, hailing the Japanese emperor and damning the “white man’s democracy.” The most vituperative contempt was reserved for those Nisei leaders believed to have betrayed their own race. Fred Tayama, Tokutaro Slocum, Togo Tanaka, and other Los Angeles JACLers were placed on a death list for actively collaborating with the Manzanar administration.¹

      At nightfall the protesters sought to murder...


    • FOUR Defining Integration The Return of Nisei Week and Remaking of Japanese American Identity
      (pp. 119-150)

      Taro Kawa was one of the first Japanese Americans to return to Los Angeles after the exclusion order was rescinded in December 1944. His top priority was to reclaim the family’s home, which had been leased while family members were interned and, subsequently, living in Chicago. He was so determined to do this that he loaned money to his tenants toward the purchase of their own homes. Later, Kawa was equally committed to reestablishing the family grocery store. To this end, he found one of the family’s former employees in the WRA camp in Poston, Arizona, and, in his own...

    • FIVE The New Cosmopolitanism From Heterodoxy to Orthodoxy
      (pp. 151-185)

      At the beginning of August 1965, Nisei Week leaders were gearing up to celebrate the festival’s twenty-fifth anniversary. It would be an auspicious moment, Nisei Week’s chairman proclaimed, to herald the festival’s “maturation” and its achievement in reaching “a high level of sophistication where we can be proud to share this week with the entire American community.”¹ As it turned out, however, the celebration was marked by tragedy rather than triumph. On August 11, four days before the festival was to begin, the nearby ghetto of Watts, California, erupted in a storm of destruction and racial warfare. This crisis, the...

    • SIX Nationalism and Internationalism New Left, Ethnic Rights, and Shopping Centers
      (pp. 186-212)

      By 1974, the name “Nisei Week festival” was coming under attack. Critics of Nisei Week claimed that it discouraged the participation of Sansei and succeeding generations, but they were even more concerned about its exclusion of groups beyond the ethnic community. Columnist George Yoshinaga, who launched an editorial campaign to preserve the name “Nisei Week festival,” explained that the effort to broaden the celebration’s title to “Japanese festival” marked a showdown between two parties: those seeking to maintain Little Tokyo’s immigrant heritage and those catering to the foreign investors driving the enclave’s dramatic redevelopment. Although the columnist applauded the building...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 213-216)

    A perusal of the anniversary booklet of the fiftieth Nisei Week festival in 1990 shows the historical transformation of an ethnic community. The young, fresh faces at the front of booklet are old and weathered by the end. The discussion of economic and racial problems that provided the original impetus for Nisei Week is supplanted by narratives of Japanese American successes—on the battlefield and the playing fields and ultimately in redressing the wartime internment. Old-timers look back wistfully to the festival’s beginnings as a time when there were no commercial floats or corporate sponsorships; everyone was welcome to dance...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 217-246)
  13. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 247-264)
  14. Index
    (pp. 265-274)