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Constructing group identity.

International migration is by no means a new phenomenon, characteristic of our current, globalised reality. Historical memory (cf. Olick 1999: 333-48) records significant numbers of movements across and between the constitutive boundaries of national states. Prompted by a spirit of adventure, nourished by dreams and hopes of betterment and freedom, or simply driven by impounding necessity, individuals and sometimes whole ethnic or socio-economic groups found themselves breaking away from the protective folds of the national circles to which they belonged by birth and conditioned integration, in search of new beginnings and possibilities on distant shores and in foreign lands. Such was also the case of the Issei (first generation) immigrants from Japan, who crossed the testing waters of the Pacific, carried by visions of fortunes, betterment and freedom onto the shores of Canada, continental United States and Hawaii. Although the three destinations did not receive equal numbers of immigrants in the same historical periods, research has identified certain patterns and waves of immigration prompted by economical and political conditions, as well as geographical proximity and similarity to the native environment. The latter in particular played a significant role in the articulation of Japanese communities on Canadian and American ground, since the Issei, and Asian immigrants in general, exhibited a tendency to "stick together" and "live on each other," in order to take advantage of the support and comfort of co-nationals who formed a protective shield against the vulnerability most of them experienced in the new and alien world they had entered with great hopes, only to become "strangers," different and inferior, a racial minority.

The subsequent pages provide a concise overview of the historical presence and evolution of the Japanese communities on the North-American continent. We will take as guidelines some of the main events that marked the history and collective memory of these communities, as well as the manner in which the ethnic groups affected, shaped and were shaped by the mainstream Canadian and American societies. Bearing in mind the wide historical span, our account makes no claims to exhaustiveness; rather, it aims to present a balanced picture of the two groups within the national borders of the above-mentioned states.

Before analyzing some historical data regarding Japanese immigration to Canada and the United States, let us take a look at the events and conditions that prompted the large-scale migration at the turn of the twentieth century. Unsurprisingly, the foreign destinations that beckoned most to the Issei were the United States and Hawaii. Canada's western coastline oftentimes served as a stopover, en route to the American mirage, the green British Columbia even being designated with the promising name of "Golden Door." Large-scale immigration to Canada was, in fact, concentrated in two short periods, 1898-1900 and 1905-1908, the subsequent growth of the Japanese Canadian community resulting primarily from natural increase.

As early as 1637, the economically emergent Japan took the decision to sever all its international connections, cease all its foreign pursuits and turn in upon itself, in rigid seclusion from the world, under the authoritarian government of the powerful warrior family Tokugawa. Prior to this enforced isolation, the maritime nation had been actively colonizing areas of the Pacific and pursuing trade relations with Spain and Mexico, as Ken Adachi points out in The Enemy That Never Was: A History of the Japanese Canadians. However, weakened by internal political strife, Japan could hardly have been able to compete with the European nations in the great race for colonization and expansion. For nearly two centuries, then, until Commodore Matthew C. Perry's vessels intruded in 1853, Japanese people found themselves forbidden by law to travel abroad or enter into contact with foreigners, a reality that nevertheless was to create the premises for the subsequent migrations to the North-American continent. But it was only after the restoration of the Meiji emperor in 1867 that Japan entered a new era, during which the impetus for "knowledge sought throughout the world" started to be actively promoted among the common people. After what has become known as the Meiji Restoration, the maritime nation began to fervently pursue a program of modernization and westernization in order to protect itself against European and American imperialist powers. This new policy ignited an outburst of emigration, fuelled by internal pressures that had been accumulating for over a decade. Nevertheless, the eruption was not to be permitted without a certain degree of order. Ever conscious of preserving its international reputation, and driven by a rising nationalism, the Meiji government viewed overseas Japanese as representatives of their homeland and therefore strongly regulated emigration. No other Asian nation so specifically controlled the movement of its people abroad, particularly not China. In fact, the "ignominious conduct and behavior of indigent Chinese of inferior character" was responsible, in the 1884 view of Japanese Consul Takahashi Shinkichi, for bringing "upon the Chinese as a whole the contempt of the Westerners and resulted in the enactment of legislation to exclude them from the country" (the United States). From our contemporary perspective, such an attribution of blame clearly indicates political and ethnic scapegoating, given that the Chinese, like the Koreans, have found little favor with the Japanese across the ages. While behaviour may have played some part in the scornful reception of the Chinese immigrants in North America, responsibility cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of the immigrant communities, pitted as they were against a strongly racist environment, in which physical and linguistic difference immediately triggered reactions of fear and rejection in the white Anglo-Saxon majority. As the Japanese government was resolute to prevent such contempt towards its subjects, the Chinese "failure" in America was repeatedly stressed as a "lesson" that Japan must learn from. In retrospective, it has become evident that the Japanese government of the time was attempting to control and influence reactions that were most likely beyond their grasp.

Nevertheless, the initial Japanese immigrants were a select group, much more so than the Chinese. The reports that the Japanese government had received with respect to the conditions of the Chinese in America prompted the government's resolve to monitor carefully the quality of its emigrants and prevent the emigration of "lower class Japanese." All candidates were required to apply for permission and review boards screened them to ensure that they were healthy, literate and would credibly "maintain Japan's national honor."

Another area in which the Japanese government diligently learned from the failed experiences of the Chinese was the policy towards the emigration of women. In the attempt to prevent problems like prostitution, gambling and drunkenness, and bring greater stability to the immigrant communities overseas, the government actively promoted female emigration, so that Japanese women went to North-America in much larger numbers than their Chinese counterparts, who, by law, Confucian religion and traditional mentality, were bound--not only in their feet--to their domestic spheres. Statistical records show that as early as 1905, females constituted over 22 percent of the Japanese population in Hawaii, where they were much better received, and about 7 percent on the United States mainland, amounting to a total 39 percent of all Japanese immigrants between 1911 and 1920 (Takaki 1998: 46). In Canada, the majority of Issei women were in their child-bearing years and arrived in the country in the two decades between 1908 and 1928, as a result of which families were formed within a relatively short period, and generations clearly differentiated.

Owing to their education, Japanese women were also more receptive to the idea of travelling overseas than the Chinese ones. The Meiji government required schooling of female children alongside boys, acting on the conviction that the Japanese youth, "boys as well as girls," should learn about foreign countries and become "enlightened to ideas of the world." Disciplines like mathematics, literature, writing, and religion became compulsory alongside Japanese in the newly reformed school system, and in 1876 English was adopted as a major subject in middle schools. The combination of the above mentioned factors--active government policy and the promotion of equal educational opportunities--coupled with an increasingly widespread process of proletarianization that drove women in rural areas to seek employment outside the home almost as frequently as the men--accelerated the modern capitalistic development of Japan and created fertile mental grounds in which to plant stories of America as "heavenly," which tales could only ripen into a hungry curiosity about the outside world. Such motivations are not much different than the fictions of prosperity, unlimited riches and promise of freedom that attracted the initial Spanish conquistadors and the subsequent Anglo-Saxon and European immigrants to the American continent.

The traditional custom of "photo-marriage", or shashin kekkon, lent itself readily not only to assuage the fervent burning in the hearts of young women to see foreign countries, but also to satisfy the needs of the Japanese migrants workers on the North-American continent. Marriage in Japanese society was hardly an individual matter of love and preference, but rather a family concern, as well as a practical means to ensure generational continuity and even socio-economic betterment. Parents, usually fathers, could negotiate the "transaction" themselves, but they often employed go-betweens (nakodo or baishakunin) to help them select partners for their sons and daughters. And in situations involving families located at a far distance from each other, the prospective bride and groom would frequently exchange photographs before the initial customary meeting (omiai). Drawing on this established practice, the picture-bride system came about as a perfect solution. When in search of wives--most often as a result of familial and socio-economic pressures,--Japanese laborers in Canada, the United States and Hawaii (all of which ruled marriage between Asian immigrants and whites illegal) would send their pictures back to native Japan. And most often parents or relatives, sometimes even specialized suitors, would mediate the marriage procedures. Personal sentiments and likings were of much lesser importance than pragmatic considerations like material stability, social standing and the suitability of the partners as long-term helpmates. To reduce future marital strife and tension between spouses, marriages would normally be arranged between men and women originating from the same prefecture, and if possible the same village. The groom on the other side of the Pacific, assumed to be economically better-off, would customarily have to pay the expenses for bringing his future wife over, along with an honorary fee to the mediator of the marriage. This practice bound Japanese women to their prospective husbands not only through marriage certificates, but also in economic dependence, as they would be expected to repay some of the investment from future earnings.

Nevertheless, as individual accounts show, when informed that they would be married and sent to husbands abroad, many women secretly had their own extravagant reasons for going. One picture bride, Ai Miyasaki, recalls for instance that "when I told my parents about my desire to go to a foreign land, the story spread throughout the town. From here and there requests for marriage came pouring in just like rain!" Another first generation immigrant, Riyo Orite, who also had a picture marriage arranged through a relative, reminisces that: "All agreed to our marriage, but I didn't get married immediately. I was engaged at the age of sixteen and didn't meet Orite until I was almost eighteen. I had seen him only in a picture at first." And yet another picture bride reveals that she "was bubbling over with great expectations. My young heart, 19 years and 8 months old, burned not so much with the prospects of reuniting with my new husband, but with the thought of the New World" (cf. Takaki 1998: 47). In her most recent novel, The Buddha in the Attic, third generation Japanese American writer Julie Otsuka movingly recreates the exuberant hopes and dreams, as well as the fearful anticipation that must have simmered in the bosoms of the young immigrants brides:

On the boat the first thing we did ... was compare photographs of our husbands. They were handsome young men with dark eyes and full heads of hair and skin that was smooth and unblemished ... They looked like our brothers and fathers back home, only better dressed, in gray frock coats and fine Western three-piece suits. [...] We dreamed of new wooden sandals and endless bolts of indigo silk and of living, one day, in a house with a chimney. We dreamed we were lovely and tall. [...] Most of us on the boat were accomplished, and were sure we would make good wives. We knew how to cook and sew. We knew how to serve tea and arrange flowers and sit quietly on our flat wide feet for hours, saying absolutely nothing of substance at all. A girl must blend into a room: she must be present without appearing to exist. [...] On the boat we crowded into each other's bunks every night and stayed up for hours discussing the unknown continent ahead of us. The people there were said to eat nothing but meat and their bodies were covered with hair. [...] The language was ten times as difficult as our own and the customs were unfathomably strange. [...] The opposite of white was not red, but black. What would become of us, we wondered, in such an alien land? [...] On the boat we complained about everything ... We complained about our own complaining. Deep down, though, most of us were really very happy, for soon we would be in America with our new husbands, who had written to us many times over the months. I have bought a beautiful house ... I own a farm. I operate a hotel. I am the president of a large bank ... I am 179 centimeters tall. [...] Because we were on the boat now, the past was behind us, and there was no going back. [...] On the boat we could not have known that when we first saw our husbands we would have no idea who they were. [...] That the photographs we had been sent were twenty years old. That the letters we had been written had been written to us by people other than our husbands, professional people with beautiful handwriting whose job it was to tell lies and win hearts. [...] This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong. (Otsuka 2011 :9-20)

Still wearing kimonos and sandals when they disembarked from the ships, the picture brides often found themselves quickly taken by their husbands to clothing stores and outfitted with Western dress. What had been valuable and highly esteemed in their old country, became on the other shore of the Pacific a stigma, a betraying mark of Asianness and foreignness where the need to fit in was imperious in order to be tolerated, though not accepted. And to fit in, one had to peel away one's previous identity, to discard it like the folds of the kimono and store it away in dark trunks. The secret dreams, the mountains and rivers of home, the sounds and smells of childhood and loved ones could only be preserved as memories, wrapped around one's most inner being. The "hour of memory" was upon them, as the majority of women and Issei migrants would hardly ever return to Japan. Gradually though, even the memories would recede into the innermost recesses of consciousness, from where they might return as dreams and stories passed down to the next generations, blurring the dividing line between recollection and mythical reconstruction.

The reality these women encountered invariably let down their naive dreams of youth. The husbands were often much older than their manipulated photographic alter-egos (and sometimes the photo would turn out to be that of a completely different man), aged far beyond their years by harsh living and working conditions, climate, and contemptuous racial treatment in the foreign land. And the work cut out for the women was far more demanding and demeaning than their youthful hearts had anticipated, while the pay--when any at all--much lower than the honeyed stories of infinite possibilities had promised. The golden dream of freedom and riches remained an elusive beacon. Nevertheless, drawing on unsuspected reserves of strength and resilience, forged in the intermingling of traditional upbringing and the more modern ideas instilled by the reformed educational system, and even prompted by desperation, the majority of female immigrants often sighed in resignation Shikata ga nai! ("There's no alternative, no other way") and--packing shattered dreams along with scarce belongings--set out on the challenging journey in front of them with as much dignity and resolution as they could muster. Just like Terry Watada's narratively reconstructed Atsuko Hatanaka, they might entrust their hopeful wishes to the promising talisman of a daruma, expectantly filling in one of its blank eyes and, borrowing symbolic endurance from the Buddhist monk's story of perseverance, they would resolve to work hard in order to become successful in the alien new land that was often hostile to their Asianness and gender. Their silenced stories would later carry themselves into fiction, one of the few instruments available for voicing personal experiences silenced in the struggle to "hold on." Japanese American author Yoshiko Uchida is one of the most important story-tellers of her time to lend her literary voice, with critical applause, to an array of Issei and Nisei women in more than thirty books. Of these, Picture Bride, which follows the intertwined stories of Hana Omiya, her husband and several other members of the San Francisco Japanese American community, has been received as "a very serious and important book," "a moving tribute" and "a rare insight," as well as "a tender, painful, exquisitely written novel."

The emigration of women was also influenced by views on gender and the system of land inheritance in Japanese society. Since arable land was limited in mountainous Japan and most of the farm holdings were small, division of property among children would have led to disaster for the family. Therefore, the passing of inheritance was traditionally done on the rule of primogeniture: only one of the sons, usually the eldest, inherited the family's holdings and was thus responsible for keeping intact ownership of the land, providing the family's means of survival, and caring for the aged parents. The younger or non-inheriting son(s) had to find employment in towns. At morning ceremonies in elementary and middle schools, principles even instructed the students: "First sons, stay in Japan and be men of Japan. Second sons, go abroad with great ambition as men of the world!" Younger sons were thus less tightly bound to their parents than their Chinese counterparts, and they were allowed to take their wives and children with them to distant lands. And they often did so in the hope that they could stay away longer, perhaps even permanently, unlike first-son heads of families who, when driven to immigrate, were inclined to take their wives with them on the reasoning that the double incomes could enable them to pay off family debts more quickly and thus shorten their sojourn (Takaki 1998: 49-50).

A folk saying popular among Japanese farmers expressed their feelings regarding the respective places of their children: One to sell, one to follow, and one in reserve. The "one to sell" was usually the daughter. She was expected to marry and enter into the husband's family, as one picture bride, Tsuru Yamauchi, explained: "Once you become someone's wife you belong to his family" (Takaki 1998: 49-50). And the belonging presupposed much more than emotional inclusion; it implied a literal ousting of the girl or woman from her family of birth--to the extent that her name would no longer be mentioned in family records of members--and an insertion in the husband's family, in a subordinate position of total obedience to maternal authority. In the case of the Issei picture-brides abroad, this burden of total submission might have been somewhat lessened by geographical distance. She owed obedience to her husband, but could evade the scrutinizing eyes of the mother-in-law, who, conditioned by tradition and age, remained in Japan. The pressure of responsibility, however, was not lifted from the woman's shoulders, but rather replaced with the duty of insuring a steady income, oftentimes from hard physical labor in agricultural and menial jobs that usually paid less on considerations of gender. In fact, whether a Japanese woman went to America most often depended on which son she married--the son "to follow" or the son "in reserve." Hundreds, and possibly even thousands of women, were also brought over as prostitutes, most of them to the United States mainland. They were sold to Japanese pimps (amegoro), abducted or lured under false pretenses.

Necessity, as we have seen, played a decisive role in most Japanese women's act of immigration. Emigration for them was rarely a matter of choice, but rather a wife's obligation. Intertwined with this pressing duty was, however, a new sense of what some authors (cf. Adachi 1976 & Takaki 1998) have termed as extravagance. Their curiosity, their impatience to experience for themselves the promising foreign lands recounted in countless tales, their ingenuity and fervent dreams filled their hearts and heads with boundless possibilities and tugged them further and further away from the comforts of their old homeland. Men in particular were offered the freedom to be extravagant. And in the difficult economic reality of Meiji Japan, thousands were seized by an emigration netsu--a "fever" to go abroad and "return home in glory" as rich men. At about a dollar a day--an amount equal to more than two yen at the time--American wages seemed fantastic to the impoverished migrants from the newly opened Meiji Japan. In America, it seemed, "honey grew on trees" (Takaki 1998: 45) as one poem with unknown author illustrates: "Illusion and I / Travelled over the ocean / Hunting money-trees. / Looking and looking... / Even in America / What? No money-trees?"

Farmers all over Japan faced economic hardships as a result of the Meiji program of modernization and westernization. To finance the industrialization as well as militarization of the country, the Meiji government required farmers to pay an annual fixed tax on land, instituting at the same time deflationary policies that depressed the price of rice and caught farmers in a financial squeeze. Consequently, many distressed farmers looked with great hope to the newly emerging possibility to work abroad, in Hawaii, the United States and Canada. They saw themselves as dekaseginin--lit. "go-out-to-earn people"--laborers working temporarily in a foreign country. Their goal was to work hard and usually after a period of three years return home, use their savings and buy land or regain property lost to debtors. They carried in their hearts the dream of striking it rich and coming back to Japan as kin i kikyo--wealthy persons. One migrant worker, Inota Tawa, calculated for instance that as a laborer in America he could save in one year almost a thousand yen--an amount equal to the income of a governor in Japan at the time. Some even hoped to advance socially into a higher class by becoming a yoshi--a son-in-law adopted into the wife's family. Whatever the dream, the years of separation from family and friends seemed to most like a small sacrifice for the huge sums they were anticipating and most migrants came as sojourners. Still, a portion came thinking they would or might stay. Intention of permanent settlement in fact increased for the Japanese after the 1908 Gentlemen's Agreement. Japanese American author David Mura comments in his memoir that it was "ironically the many barriers that the whites on the West Coast put up against the Japanese immigrants" that caused most of them to sever "their psychological and emotional ties to Japan" and settle in America although their initial intention was "to make their bundle quickly" and simply return home (Mura 2005: 52).

What essentially defined the migrants--not only those of Japanese origin, but most Asians laborers in general--was their ability to dream, to unfurl before change and challenge, to make choices regarding their lives and futures. Necessity also powered the men and women who stayed at home, but it was the immigrants that restlessly decided to be extravagant, to take risks and search for new beginnings with perseverance and endurance. And in so doing, they were already more atypical than their co-nationals. Driven by "dreams of riches," they felt "their hearts tugging them toward an alluring America as they separated themselves from the graves of their ancestors and from a world where there were common points of cultural reference and where people looked like them and spoke their language. They reached for what persisted" (Takaki 1998: 66). And they had their own views of the diversity deemed as a means of control by the American businessmen.

Let us now take a change of perspective and look at how the presence of the Japanese immigrants was perceived by the American and Canadian societies and what were the main rationale that motivated the opening of the labor market towards Asia.

The whole movement is credited by historical records to have been started by agricultural exploits in Hawaii. On the island of Kauai, in 1835, a young man from Boston noticed the presence of a few Chinese workers as he was visiting a small sugar mill. William Hooper had been sent to the remote tropical island by a Honolulu mercantile firm financed by New England businessmen, with the mission of establishing the first sugar plantation in Hawaii. A "white man" determined to advance the "progress of civilization," and in true alignment with Euro-American efforts to colonize the islands, Hooper soon became frustrated by the inefficiency and recalcitrance of Hawaiian native laborers and began to employ a few Chinese. He quickly saw the enormous potential of an immigrant Chinese workforce, and two years later urged his company to import Chinese laborers as a means to put the plantation in order. A decade later, another American policymaker followed in Hooper's footsteps and called for the large-scale importation of Chinese laborer to the United States.

As with the first Puritan colonizers, both Hooper and Palmer were united by a common, specifically white-American worldview and driven by a moral compulsion not to let the land "lie in waste." Necessity also drove expansionist America. This necessity, however, did not spring from emaciating poverty and oppressive social restraints; it was a necessity enshrined as an impulse to progress. Determined to bring the modern industrial order of productivity to the Pacific frontier, expansionist America would justify its "destiny" as "manifest" and look to the West's potential for becoming a great locus for "industry and national prosperity." And crucial in this transformation was to be the entry of "strangers from a different shore"--from China, Japan, as well as Korea, the Philippines and India. Thus, while the Chinese preceded the Japanese as migrant laborers on the North-American continent, Japan soon followed in its neighbor's tracks, allowing 148 Japanese contract laborers to be shipped to Hawaii in 1868, at the request of the Hawaiian consul in Japan. And a year later, German merchant John Henry Schnell would take some 40 Japanese with him to start a silk farm in California. After these modest initial steps, in 1884, the Japanese government would grant Hawaiian planters permission to recruit contract laborers. Farmers in the southwestern Japanese prefectures were specifically targeted by the Hawaiian recruitment program, and once emigration from the area was underway, it would be fueled by word of mouth and the spreading of stories about opportunities in Hawaii.

During the contract-labor period (from 1885 to 1894), Japanese migrants signed agreements to have their passages paid for by planters and to work for three years for nine dollars a month plus food, lodging, and medical care--an arrangement that closely reminds of the Anglo indentured servants who emigrated to America in its early history. The contracted Japanese workers clearly saw the wage advantage they would have in Hawaii. The higher wages and the favorable dollar-yen exchange rate could enable a plantation laborer in the islands to earn six times more than a day laborer in Japan. They were told they would be able to save four hundred yen--an amount a silk worker at home could only acquire by working every day and saving all wages for ten years. Hawaii offered a chance to succeed.

By 1894, some 30,000 Japanese had gone to the islands as kan 'yaku imin, or government sponsored contract laborers. After 1894, migrants most frequently went to the islands as private contract laborers through emigration companies, or as free laborers, drawing from their own resources or borrowing money to pay for their transportation. But starting with the 1890s, Japanese migrants were also attracted to the U.S. mainland. Between 1885 and 1924, some 200,000 Japanese went to Hawaii and 180,000 to the U.S. mainland, predominantly young men in their twenties and thirties. Due to Japan's system of compulsory education, the migrants were comparatively well educated, with an average of eight years of schooling. In fact, according to U.S. statistics, Japanese migrants had a higher literacy rate than their European counterparts (Takaki 1998: 46). Hawaii was a particularly attractive destination also because of its policy towards women immigration. Planters in the islands welcomed Japanese women as cooks, seamstresses, and field laborers. What is more, the planters viewed the family as a mechanism of labor control, so that thousands of women sailed to Hawaii as private-contract laborers. But while the Hawaiian government actively promoted their immigration, the U.S. government only tolerated the entry of Japanese women, seeing them as a danger to the transitory character of the Japanese labor force.

Like the planters in Hawaii, businessmen on the U.S. mainland were aware of a need to "get labor first," to ensure a constant flow of work force. Many of them saw that advances in technology had transformed Asia into a new source of cheap labor for American capitalism. Steam transportation had brought Asia to America's "door" and given American industries access to the "surplus" of labor of "unnumbered millions" in Asia. In an article entitled, "Our Manufacturing Era," published in the 1869 Overland Monthly, one such capitalist entrepreneur, Henry Robinson, discussed for instance California's enormous economic potential. The region had every variety of climate and soil for the production of raw material, a nearly completed railroad, an abundance of fuel and water power, markets in Asia and the Pacific, and an unlimited supply of low-wage labor from China. His comments with respect to this underpaid work force, however, evidence the racism that permeated his era:

If society must have 'mudsills,' [Robinson wrote], it is certainly better to take them from a race which would be benefitted by even that position in a civilized community, than subject a portion of our own race to a position which they have outgrown (Takaki 1998: 44).

Racist and discriminatory in the most by today's moral and cultural standards, Robinson's view expressed a widely shared conviction of the time. Asian workers, and in particular the Chinese, provided the best and cheapest instruments to advance the "manifest" goals of American capitalism. Fueled by their "dreams of riches" and confident in the briefness of their toils, Asian immigrants not only worked for miser wages, but could also be turned into a multi-functioning control device--among the ethnic groups themselves, as well as to weigh down white workers during periods of economic expansion and to hold white labor in check during periods of overproduction. Asian workers had turned into commodities.

Labor was a major cost of production, and employers saw how the importation of Chinese workers could boost the supply of workforce and drive down the wages of both Asian and white workers. The resulting racial antagonism between the two ethnic groups helped to ensure a divided working class and a dominant employer class. However, as soon as the Chinese laborers began to demand increased wages and the granting of work rights, the commodity turned into a liability and employers began to look for other sources of workforce. Thus, six years after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Japanese labor was introduced.

The demand for farm labor rose sharply with the development of sugar-beet agriculture and by the turn of the century, farmers in California were already complaining that their fruits and vegetables were rotting in the fields as a result of the labor shortage. Consequently, they began to increasingly employ Japanese, to satisfy their labor needs. Another advantage that farmers saw in the use of Japanese labor--in addition to its ready availability--was its transient, migratory character. "The Japs just drift--we don't have to look out for them," an official of the California Fruit Growers' Exchange explained for instance (Takaki 1998: 47). White laborers with families represented liabilities when pitted against the drifting Japanese workforce, and Chinese labor was already too demanding and out of the strict control of employers. In the obedient Japanese, farmers seemed to have found the perfect instrument. That these "ideal tools" had wishes, expectations and emotional turmoil of their own was hardly of importance to the white growers. Julie Otsuka once again insightfully captures the commodification of the Japanese immigrants:

They admired us for our strong backs and nimble hands. Our stamina. Our discipline. Our docile dispositions. Our unusual ability to tolerate the heat... They said that our short stature made us ideally suited for work that required stooping low to the ground. Wherever they put us they were pleased. [...] A Japanese can live on a teaspoonful of rice a day. We were the best breed of worker they had ever hired in their lives. (Otsuka 2011: 27)

The idyllic situation did not last very long, however. No sooner than 1907 the same farmers were complaining that "the labor problem" had become "extremely troublesome," as they were facing demands for higher wages from Japanese workers. The cheap commodity had once again taken on a life of its own, and as a result labor was once more in shortage and employers were forced to increase wages. So a new means of control had to be found. The solution was the same as before, in the case of the insurgent Chinese: the introduction of Asian-Indian laborers "as a check on the Japanese."

The recipe for successful capitalism seemed to be always the same: import a racially diverse labor force with the scope of exercising greater control on the workers. In this vein, Frank Waterman, a representative of the state employment agency, advised an interviewer in 1930 on how farmers could get a maximum amount of work out of Japanese and Chinese workers: "Put a gang of Chinese in one field and a gang of Japanese in the next, and each one works like hell to keep up with or keep ahead of the other" (Takaki 1998: 47). True to this professed conviction, during the 1930s, Californian farmers, fearful of the "aggressive" Chinese and Japanese, turned to Mexican workers as their main source of labor, which they found to be "amenable to suggestions" and do their work quickly. But as soon as the Immigration Act of 1924 instilled a quota restriction on the increasing numbers of Mexican migrants, growers began to import Filipino laborers, for the Philippines was a territory of the United States and represented an unimpeded supply of labor.

Asian labor immigration to America therefore took place "under capitalism." But unlike the movement of European laborers to the country, coming from "a different shore," Asian and Japanese immigrants in particular constituted a unique laboring army of "strangers," of alien origin to use Georg Simmel's terminology. They were imported to serve as an "internal colony"--"cheap" migratory laborers and members of a racially subordinated group, not future citizens of American society.

In Canada, a similar pattern evolved, disrupted only by the natural concentration of Issei immigrants on the western coastline and particularly in the province of British Columbia, which attracted Japanese immigration mostly on reasons of geographical proximity and environmental similarity to the homeland they had left behind. Although neither the published Canadian census of 1891 nor immigration records of the 1890s mention Japanese, anecdotal evidence indicates that they were already present in the province by that time. For a short period only, a few British Columbians even regarded the Japanese as a superior people whose homeland was rapidly adopting Western ways and offered great commercial prospects. But in 1891 provincial legislators were already complaining that they were "just as injurious" as the long-despised Chinese.

Because continued immigration and competition for jobs in a variety of industries increased the hostility towards the Japanese laborers, Japan, ever alert to its image and the welfare of its citizens abroad, announced in 1895 that it would no longer issue passports to Japanese bound for British Columbia unless they had sufficient means to engage in farming or mercantile pursuits. The Japanese consul in Vancouver, Tatsugoro Nosse, actually noted that the permanent Japanese population of the province had never exceeded 1,100, averaging in fact only 300 people. The fact that many Japanese immigrants passed through British Columbia en route to the United States nevertheless made the numbers appear higher. And immigration statistics were additionally inflated by fishermen who came only for the fishing season. Because those who stayed the year round sent their money home or saved it for their return, British Columbians repeatedly complained that the Japanese workforce did not contribute to the development of the province. That the Japanese, and Asian immigrants in general, were performing backbreaking and perilous work that no "self-respecting Canadian" would willingly subject himself/ herself to went conveniently unacknowledged in the growing animosity.

In an attempt to appease the angry spirits, the Canadian premier of the time, John Herbert Turner, announced that Japan was officially regulating emigration and that merchants were legally acceptable in British Columbia. Still, the provincial legislature of 1897 unanimously asked the federal government to "prevent unrestricted immigration of Japanese." Two years before, the province had, in fact, taken matters into its own hands, changing the provincial elections act so as to deny Japanese immigrants and their Canadian-born offspring the right to vote. The Chinese had already been stripped of any voting rights a decade before. These restrictions, therefore, excluded any and all Asians--irrespective of educational, social and political background--from participating in municipal and federal elections, holding public office, or becoming lawyers, pharmacists, architects and accountants, because these positions were open only to those on the provincial voting list. In this, the first in a long series of similar restrictions and resolutions, the legislators were concerned about "the lower class Jap," who was perceived as unwanted competition in the labor market.

Still, large-scale Japanese immigration to Canada was just beginning. The period between 1898 and 1900, registered more than 5,000 individuals who left Japan for Canada, and in the three months between April and June of the latter year, 7,682 are recorded to have arrived in British Columbia, which at the time only had a total population of about 150,000 (cf. Adachi 1976: 30-31). Although many of the incomers were actually on their way to the United States, this so-called "invasion" alarmed the province's white population.

The Japanese consul in Vancouver, Seizaburo Shimizu, who attempted to reduce white discrimination against Japanese laborers while also dissociating himself as superior to the emigrating masses of low class laborers and farmers, persuaded the Japanese foreign office to halt emigration as of July 30, 1900. Nevertheless, the provincial legislature mistrusted this measure, and, considering it only temporary, passed the "Act to Regulate Immigration into British Columbia" (later known as the "Natal Act"), which required that any immigrant fill out an entry application in an European language. Since the law applied only to the Japanese Chinese immigration was regulated by a head tax--consul Shimizu immediately protested the "unfriendly action" as a violation of the Anglo-Japanese Commercial Treaty of 1894, which guaranteed Japanese the "full liberty to enter, travel, and reside in any part of the Dominion of Canada." Wanting to save face and ensure the continuation of economic relations, the federal government disallowed this provincial law, as well as subsequent attempts at similar legislation, either in response to diplomatic protests from Japan or in anticipation of them--particularly since the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance further strengthened the international position to which the country of the rising sun had risen. Consequently, although Japanese immigrants remained second-class citizens in British Columbia, Canadian law seems to have treated them less severely than their counterparts in the United States, who were deemed "ineligible for citizenship" by naturalization and thus remained perpetual aliens. On the other hand, since the Citizenship Clause of the 1868 United States constitution stipulated that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside," the Japanese American Nisei (second generation), became American citizens by birth, and therefore enjoyed more constitutional rights than their Canadian cousins.

To assuage British Columbians, who were upset over the repeated disallowance of the province's immigration laws, the federal government of 1902 appointed a Royal Commission on Chinese and Japanese Immigration. The commission agreed with white witnesses that the Japanese impeded the permanent settlement of the country and, since they had "more energy, push and independence," they were more dangerous competitors to working men than the Chinese. However, it recommended that Canada legislate against them only if Japan lifted its prohibition on the emigration of laborers. But the prohibition remained in place. Only six Japanese immigrants are known to have entered Canada in the three years between 1901 and 1904, while a number of earlier immigrants returned home or moved to the United States. Japan was anxious to maintain good relations with the British Empire, but it also wanted to keep potential soldiers and sailors at home in anticipation of war with Russia, which was in fact declared in 1904. After the war, however, Japanese immigrants once again began to appear in British Columbia, as the province was prosperous, and laborers were in high demand. Consequently, by the spring of 1907 the trickle of immigrants had become a flood, especially since employment agencies and Japanese emigration companies, eager to increase their profits, had found a loophole in Japanese regulations. Emigrants secured passports for Hawaii and, once they were beyond Japan's control, they proceeded to Canada, sometimes en route to continental United States.

To protest their arrival, some Vancouver residents, including labor organizers, clergymen, and politicians, congregated into a branch of the Asiatic Exclusion League, which had been first established in California. The league sponsored a parade and mass meeting at Vancouver's city hall on September 7, 1907, and while the parade itself was orderly, in the evening the large crowd advanced on the nearby Chinatown and "Little Tokyo." Although no lives were lost in the ensuing riot, personal injuries, many smashed windows and other property damage incurred. News of the disturbance travelled quickly around the world and became an embarrassment to the Canadian government, which was striving to promote an image of law and order to attract British and European investors and immigrants.

The federal government was also mortified because it wished to retain good trade and diplomatic relations with Japan. Thus, when the latter submitted a claim for property damages, the Canadian authorities immediately offered an apology to the Japanese government, sent Mackenzie King, the deputy minister of labor, to Vancouver to investigate, and made reparations to the victims of the riots. More importantly, it dispatched the Labor Minister, Rodolphe Lemieux, to Tokyo to negotiate the secret Lemieux-Hayashi pact of December 1907, or what came to be known as the "Gentlemen's Agreement." Japan promised to issue no more than 400 passports per year to agricultural laborers or domestic servants who desired to immigrate to Canada, while the latter promised to allow free entry to "bona fide students, merchants and tourists from Japan," along with "wives, parents and children of resident Japanese" (cf. Multicultural Canada, Node: 06). Once the agreement fully came in effect, Japanese statistics recorded just 3,353 individuals leaving for Canada between 1907 and 1908. Canadian sources, however, mention almost three times as many entrants in the period. The difference most likely results from the passing of transients en route to the United States and arrivals from Hawaii. This last route was subsequently blocked when Canada passed an order-in-council requiring immigrants to come directly from their country of origin. In the following years, the numbers of immigrants varied slightly over the imposed limit of 400 (which applied only to agricultural and domestic laborers), but never above 900.

The Japanese population in Canada nevertheless continued to grow, from 9,000 in 1911 to about 23,300 twenty years later. White British Columbians repeatedly agitated for additional restrictions or even a total ban on Japanese immigration, pressuring the federal government to emulate the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which virtually excluded the Chinese from entering Canada, and the United States legislation of 1924, which prohibited Japanese immigration to that country. However, since the growth of the Japanese community in Canada resulted primarily from natural increase, the government was more anxious to reduce female immigration. Thus, in 1928, Japan and Canada would revise the "Gentlemen's Agreement" of 1907, so that the Canadian legation in Tokyo would process no more than 150 passports annually for sponsored agricultural laborers and domestic servants bound for Canada, as well as wives and children of Japanese residents in the Dominion. Bowing to Japan's sensitivities, Prime Minister Mackenzie King agreed not to publicize the fact that no more than 75 women would be allowed to emigrate per year. The new agreement and the onset of the Depression sharply reduced immigration to an annual average of roughly one hundred persons until 1938- 40, when the numbers dropped to about fifty a year.

For a while, in the early 1930s, when immigration was low, agitation against the Japanese declined, but as Japan moved towards its "Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere," stories of illegal Japanese immigrants, alleged to be part of an advance guard of military forces, spread like wild fire in both British Columbia and the western United States. To quell the rumors, the Canadian federal government sent a representative of the Department of External Affairs to investigate. Though he found only nineteen illegal immigrants, he was unable to check the talk. Some politicians called for a complete halt to Japanese immigration and even the repatriation of all Asians, including the Japanese, but such action was impossible in peacetime.

Before the outbreak of World War II, over 90 percent of the Japanese in Canada lived at or near the coast of British Columbia. In 1941, for instance, 8,458 of the 23,450 Japanese in the country resided in Vancouver, concentrated especially around Powell Street, in the downtown area known as Little Tokyo, and in the Kitsilano and Marpole districts, which were convenient to the sawmills. The largest population, however, was in the fishing village of Steveston. Japanese immigrants had also settled farther up the Fraser valley, where they had specialized in growing small fruits, while a few moved into the agricultural districts of the north Okanagan Valley. Along the coast, Japanese could be found in most fishing communities, around pulp and paper mills, and on Vancouver Island in the coalmining town of Cumberland, as well as several logging and sawmill communities. Most Japanese outside British Columbia resided in southern Alberta in the region around Raymond, where many became sugar-beet growers. Included in the number were Okinawans who had gone to the province early in the century as railway maintenance workers. Okinawa had become part of Japan only in 1879 and had a different language and customs, so that the Japanese from the four main islands regarded Okinawan residents as inferior and did not mix well with them. Still, in 1941 virtually all Japanese in Canada lived in British Columbia (22,096), with a mere 1,053 throughout the rest of the country. Little wonder, then, that while the westernmost province simmered with racial strife and agitated for legislative restrictions on Asian immigration, the rest of Canada remained virtually impassive and largely unaware of the rising ethnic antagonism.

Repatriation and resettlement during World War II and post-war immigration, however, would change the pattern of distribution across the country. Of the 65,680 individuals recorded in the 1991 census who reported they were wholly or partially of Japanese origin, only 41 percent were still living in British Columbia, with the largest concentration in Vancouver. Ontario accounted for 37 percent, and Alberta 13 percent. Of the remaining 9 percent, the only provinces with more than one thousand Japanese were Quebec and Manitoba. Today, more than two decades later, the balance has shifted significantly and Toronto has become the largest concentration center for the Canadian population of Japanese descent, while the traces of its historical presence in Vancouver have been largely erased.

Let us now take a brief look at how World War II and the post-war period impacted the Japanese communities in North-America, particularly in terms of ethnic, individual and collective identity.

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 is a date which will live in infamy. United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan [...] and since the unprovoked and dastardly attack ... a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

These were the words with which President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the American people, twenty-four hours after the fateful dropping of the Japanese bombs on Pearl Harbor. An official war declaration, they were also the linguistic tools that started two of the largest internal exoduses in history. As Japanese American writer John Okada put it, "the moment the impact of the words solemnly being transmitted over the several million radios of the nation struck home, everything Japanese and everyone Japanese became despicable" (1986: vii). A treacherous act and angry words that severed with lightning speed the fragile roots the hundreds of thousands of Japanese immigrants had painstakingly struggled to strike for decades not only in the United States, but on the whole of the North-American continent. The psychological and emotional trauma caused by the violent uprooting and destruction of one's community, and by the irresolvable rifting of the self between two contrary cultural and socio-political forces could only lead to a problematic questioning and an ultimate re-evaluation of personal identity.

Pre-war Japan, as we have seen, was very much a cast-like society, with rigidly delineated social categories, established most often on hereditary, gender and economic criteria that made it close to impossible for members of one category to move beyond the socially imposed limitations--and at times very difficult to exist even within the categories themselves. In their struggle for survival, therefore, many looked beyond the national borders to the North-American continent, which was often advertised as a place of infinite opportunity. However, the reality rarely lived up to the golden promise, so that what awaited the immigrants was often a life fraught with just as much hardship as they had left behind. Marked by their visible Asianness, they were relegated to racially segregated parts of the towns and they suffered institutionalized discrimination--employed most often in menial and low-paid jobs, they were barred from certain industries, forbidden to become citizens and vote in the countries they lived in, prohibited to marry outside their race and to own land. They were often portrayed as threats to the ethnic "purity" and economic security of white Canadians and Americans. Nevertheless, the determinate endurance that characterized their proud nature allowed most Japanese immigrants to persevere and achieve some measure of success. In the United States they moved from itinerant farm laborers to owners of farms and small businesses. In Canada, they created a niche for themselves in the fishing and boat industry. And their children, the Nisei, who through their being born on American soil were constitutionally granted citizenship, at least in the United States, sometimes managed to fight their way into professions like doctors, teachers, and newspaper editors.

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, however, put a sudden halt to the Issei and Nisei's struggle to belong. In the angry United States, without regard to the provisions of the Fourth Amendment guaranteeing "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal and incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans, despite governmental evidence that they posed no military threat. Two thirds of them were American-born citizens and over half were children. Identified as "enemy aliens," and "enemy non-aliens" in the case of the Nisei, they were immediately evacuated from the strategic West Coast. Families were registered and given numbered tags to identify themselves and their belongings. Told to bring only what they could carry, they were forced to sell their possessions and dispose of their property in less than 48 hours, being transported first to what the army called "assembly centers" and later to hastily set up detention camps in isolated inland areas, with unsanitary conditions, nutritionally inadequate meals, minimal medical care, barbed wire fences and armed guard towers. Still, a sizeable number of Nisei young men left the barbed wire confines to volunteer for the Army, mostly out of desire to prove their loyalty and distinguished themselves in military service. In 1946, the last of the detention camps was closed, and all Japanese Americans were permitted to return to their homes. Resettlement of the West Coast had already been re-opened two years prior.

In Canada, however, in 1895, the provincial government of British Columbia had already succeeded in denying the vote to Japanese residents, referring to them as the "Yellow peril." The attack on Pearl Harbor, then, provided the perfect excuse to unleash the barely contained racial anger that had been building for almost a century, especially in the westernmost province of British Columbia. "Everything Japanese and everyone Japanese became [now] despicable ... animals of a different breed" (Okada 1981: viii) and in the sensitive and high-strung context of inevitable war, the residents and citizens of Japanese ancestry could easily be framed as threats to national security. Their boats, radios, cars and even cameras were confiscated, their newspapers closed--with the exception of The New Canadian--and many Japanese Canadians were detained. Next came the War Measures Act, by the letter of which, in 1942, the entire Japanese community was evacuated and interned in camps with great paucity and inhuman living conditions ("where the horses were, that's where they put us"), an uprooting followed by the forceful selling of all their properties the next year, at less than half of their real financial value. This measure accelerated the dispersal of the Japanese Canadians eastward and severed their links with the Pacific Coast. The end of the war, however, did not bring an end to their ordeals, as the new "repatriation or relocation scheme" forced them to choose between going to Japan or moving East of the Rockies. 4.000 alleged volunteers who had never before set foot in Japan were thus expatriated from Canada before the law was suspended in 1947. And as for those who stayed, it was only in 1948 that their right to vote was restored and they were not free to move until April 1949. But even then, since their properties were not restored to them, few returned to their original places, and their dispersal was definitive. Most stayed where they were and many settled down on sugar beet farms in Alberta and Manitoba, where they lived for a while in shacks without electricity or water, as isolated as they could from the xenophobic atmosphere which continued to victimize them. As Japanese Canadian writer Joy Kogawa insightfully notes in Obasan: "To a people for whom community was the essence of life, destruction of community was the destruction of life."

Rainbows, it seems, come with a history of tears. [...] Someday the time for laughter will come. (Kogawa 1992: 9-13)

The toiling mothers of Otsuka's Buddha in the Attic collectively bemoan the unpreventable drifting away of their Nisei acculturated children:

They had secret words that they whispered to themselves whenever they felt afraid ... They had their own rules ... They had their own rituals ... They had their own beliefs. [...] One by one all the old words we had taught them began to disappear from their heads ... They spent their days now living in the new language, whose twenty-six letters still eluded us even though we had been in America for years ... They gave themselves new names we had not chosen for them and could barely pronounce. [...] Soon we could barely recognize them. They were taller than we were, and heavier. They were loud beyond belief.... They preferred their own company to ours and pretended not to understand a word that we said. [...] They insisted on eating bacon and eggs every morning for breakfast instead of bean-paste soup. They refused to use chopsticks. They drank gallons of milk. They poured ketchup all over their rice. [...] Mostly, they were ashamed of us. Our floppy straw hats and threadbare clothes. Our heavy accents ... Our cracked, callused palms. Our deeply lined faces black from years of picking peaches and staking grape plants in the sun. They longed for real fathers with briefcases who went to work in a suit and tie and only mowed the grass on Sundays. They wanted different and better mothers who did not look so worn out. [...] and with each passing day they seemed to slip further and further from our grasp (55-57, emphasis added)

Cleavages and conflicts between generations are, of course, a given of human existence, as the younger generation is generally predisposed to challenging the parents' authority, as well as the given attitudes and patterns of behavior. With immigrant groups, however, these cleavages are inevitably aggravated by issues of contesting linguistic codes, political representation, and socio-economic status in the adoptive new country. In the case of the Japanese communities in North America, the seeds of separation were planted with the first contact between the young children of the Issei and the surrounding white society, primarily as a result of the need to enter formal education. But the bitter fruits of estrangement only started to ripen with the coming of age of the Nisei (second generation). In both Canada and the United States, then, the Nisei were generally the perplexed products of a bleak and dispiriting era (Adachi 1976: 170). They came to be a generation locked in discontent, divided among themselves, and marked by a tormenting split between cultures, between two major poles of identification: on the one hand, the traditional values and attitudes of Japanese culture--on, permanent indebtedness to parents and ancestors, giri and wa, the ethical imperative to follow the rules of society and forego one's own needs in order to ensure group harmony, as well as the preservation of dignity, enryo, tact and reserve, gaman, endurance and perseverance--which their Issei parents tried to ingrain at home, and, on the other, the diametrically opposed cultural codes of the dominant Canadian and American white societies, which stressed individualism, spiritedness, outspokenness and personal initiative, and which were impressed upon them by formal education and socialization. Adding to this identity dilemma were the perceived discrimination, marginalization and a lack of sociopolitical power to steer the course of their own destinies, to achieve their dreams and ambitions. In sociological terms such a "conscious experience of a negative discrepancy between legitimate expectations and present actualities" (Schaefer 2008: 69) is described by the concept of "relative deprivation," which relates, in some measure, to depression and mental health issues. In the case of the Nisei, the relative deprivation they experienced, their feelings of frustration when they became aware that their future chances of achieving what they desired were blocked by circumstances of their origin (Asakura 2004: 5), that their birthright citizenship was nothing but an empty status in the two North-American nations that professed equality before the law, prizing individual freedom and personal enterprise as the cornerstones of a democratic society, ultimately prompted the generation's sustained activism for civil rights and socio-political empowerment. Yet, the achieving of their goals was as much hampered by the racist antagonism of white society, as by the lack of unity and collaboration among the Nisei themselves and their disdainful perception by the Issei as immature, dependent, namaiki (impertinent) "problem children" of suspect morality, and who brought shame on their families.

The widening cultural gap between the two generations made communication very difficult, for the Nisei's scant knowledge of Japanese polite forms of address and behavior was offensive to the Issei, while the often economic dependency of the Nisei forced them to suppress open opposition to the actions of the Issei-dominated community (Adachi 1976: 165). The internment and the repeated uprootings during and after World War II only added to the trauma and insecurity of the already tested second generation, who represented almost two thirds of the internment camps' inhabitants. On the other hand, their tears and rage also strengthened their determination to speak out against the injustices, to fight for recognition, redress and political empowerment, moved, in the majority of cases, by the conviction that "the past is the future" (Kogawa 1981: 51) and that "the dispersed are the dispersed, unless they're connected" (Kogawa 1992: 4).

"Here, this is my biggest effort,' she said. 'Read this, Nomi.' I held it gingerly on my lap. In the center of the title page in capital letters was printed: The story of the nisei in canada: a struggle for liberty--by Emily Kato. [...] The entire manuscript was sixty pages long. I skimmed over the pages till I came across a statement underlined and circled in red: I am Canadian. The circle was drawn so hard the paper was torn. [...] The thin wafers of paper were fragile with old angers. Crimes of history, I thought to myself, can stay in history... Out loud I said, 'Why not leave the dead to bury the dead?' 'Dead?' she asked. 'I'm not dead. You're not dead. Who's dead?' 'But you can't fight the whole country,' I said. 'We are the country,' she answered." (Kogawa 1981:46-50, emphasis added)

Aunt Emily, the "word warrior" of Kogawa's Obasan, ardently voices the deeply rooted and widely shared conviction of the Canadian Nisei, who, as a rule, dissociated themselves from their Japanese-minded parents, recognized themselves as Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry and had no real wish to reject or change this basic identification. To the despair of their families, and the vexation of white opposers and agitators such as the "Native Sons of B.C.," who declared that "the Canadian-born Nipponese never has and never will think of himself as Canadian (100 percent or 1 percent)" (Adachi 1976: 159), the belief of the Nisei in their "assimilability" was genuine and profound. They professed to have social and intellectual achievements equal to those of other immigrant groups as well as the dominant white population, and to have already absorbed the Western ways to a great extent. They would much rather renounce the fragilely rooted Japanese cultural mores and habits, which appeared as strange and offensive to white sensibilities, than give up the struggle to prove their Canadianness. "We are Canadians--let us be thoroughly Canadian" (Adachi 1976: 159) was one motto circulated in two short-lived English-language newspapers established in Vancouver by some Nisei. Such entreaty inevitably echoes Aunt Emily's exhortations for the Japanese Canadians across the country to unite and stand up for civil rights and the redress of the grave injustice perpetrated against them. If in Kogawa's novel, Aunt Emily's words seem to fall mostly on disapproving and/or unhearing ears--she is reproved by both Uncle and Obasan for being too loud, too outspoken, "not very Japanese-like", by Naomi herself for stirring up painful memories, for not letting "the dead bury the dead," while her appeals and letters repeatedly go unanswered--the real-life Nisei were generally determined to harness their talents and cultural heritage in order to become better Canadians and enrich Canada with their presence. Their attempts to unify and mobilize were, however, hindered by suspicion and frictions within the community itself. And in their drive to assimilate and conform to Canadian ways, many lost a valuable part of who they were or could have become, a part that, although unacknowledged, would remain a barely healed wound and would later return to "haunt" the next generation.

The time up to Pearl Harbour witnessed a high-degree of self-scrutiny and some organized attempts, mostly on the part of youthful Nisei (high school or university students and college graduates), to ameliorate their status as second-class citizens, especially with respect to the problem of denied franchise. Being taught in schools and universities that taxation without representation was a form of oppression and that it was not only justified, but also highly commendable to fight for one's political rights and equality, the Nisei came to be animated by the belief that the Canadian society will eventually come to put into practice the democratic ideals it professed. This faith in the universality of democratic principles grew, on the one hand, from their English-language education, and, on the other, from the conviction, passed down by their parents, that they were the descendents of a worthy people with a centuries-old cultural heritage (Adachi 1976: 158). To be denied the vote solely on grounds of racial origin, and in spite of their Canadian citizenship, was then highly humiliating and mortifying. It led, not only to a growing sense of grievance and injustice, but also to an exaggerated emphasis on the role of political rights in a modern, democratic society.

One of the most successful attempts at organizing gave birth, in the spring of 1936, to the Japanese Canadian Citizens League (JCCL), which absorbed the previously established Japanese Canadian Citizens Association in Vancouver and aimed "to provide an adequate machinery which would ultimately enable [the Nisei] to qualify as an integral part of Canada" (Adachi 1976: 160). Another, unspoken goal of the JCCL was, however, to challenge the authority and influence of the parental generation, the more traditional and Japan-minded Issei, who saw themselves as the natural leaders of the community due to their age and experience. The first ambitious project of the JCCL was to collect funds and, with the support of a local Vancouver lawyer who had prepared a brief asking for the revision of the franchise law in British Columbia, they dispatched a four-member delegation to Ottawa to appeal before the House of Commons for the granting of the right to vote during federal elections. Although highly educated and articulate, the four delegates--a teacher, an insurance agent, a dentist and a university lecturer--once again failed to secure the much-craved franchise for the Nisei. Since the right to vote was regulated by provincial legislation, the Parliament had little wish to intervene, even if it had the power to do so. The competence of the delegation, in fact, seemed to turn against them, for the "charming lady and the polished gentlemen" (Adachi 1976: 162) openly contradicted the stereotyped image of the Oriental. That their fluency in the English language alone was a matter of astonishment to the twelve members of Parliament clearly bespoke the ignorance that characterized not only government authorities, but also the Canadian public in general with respect to the resident Japanese and the Nisei in particular. The JCCL's unsuccessful attempts in Ottawa somewhat anticipated the League's subsequent failure to unify the various Nisei groups, who looked with a critical eye at the JCCL's leadership composed mostly of university students or graduates affiliated with Christian churches (the majority of Japanese Canadian Issei and Nisei were of Buddhist faith) and activating chiefly in the field of politics and public relations. Thus, up until the war, less than 20] of the Nisei in Vancouver were members of the JCCL and there was hardly any well-developed sense of community and group responsibility. Even editorial advice from The New Canadian, the Nisei newspaper that functioned as the number one print medium through which Japanese Canadians could make their voice heard and present their views to the white majority, was often received with resentment and criticism. Although the paper's focal points were race relations and community life, it occasionally endorsed the need to break up the Japanese concentration on the West coast and disperse across Canada. Such recommendation no doubt appeared to the majority of Japanese descendents as an attempt to play second fiddle to the wishes of the antagonistic white society. The absence of a mature political consciousness, feelings of suspicion and rivalry among themselves, the different degrees of social assimilation and the economic dependency upon the Issei community therefore hindered the Nisei's coming together as a community.

The economic hardships and social discrepancies that affected the second generation were, to a certain extent, rooted in the limited number of opportunities for employment. Hampered by the restrictive legislation of the time and the Depression, the majority of Nisei found themselves compelled to remain in the occupational areas of their parents, despite education or training that qualified them for skilled employment or professional work (Adachi 1976: 172). Even those who did manage to practice in their fields of training--the handful of doctors, nurses and teachers--were dependent upon the Issei-controlled Japanese business community for their livelihood. A very small number of Nisei attempted to find employment in white-operated companies, and those who did were rarely hired in any position that required contact with the general public. Consequently, in spite of their individual dreams--"to become an artist ... to build bridges ... to play the piano ... to operate [their] own fruit stand ... to become a state senator ... a master seamstress ... a teacher ... a doctor... a gangster" (Otsuka 1994: 59)--and their aspirations to rise to "white collar" status and achieve financial independence, the second generation Japanese Canadians often experienced the disappointment and bitterness of having to accept menial and laboring jobs mainly in the primary industries. To a certain extent, they were practically back to where their parents had started almost half a century before, while the Issei had moved up the economic ladder to become owners, tenant-operators and generally self-employed as a result of their "industry and thrift."

Yet another factor that added to the Nisei's sense of insecurity and inferiority was their subservient position in the Issei-operated businesses. Japanese tradition culturally ascribed a stereotyped deferential role to the child as permanently subordinate to the authority of the parent, which meant that some Nisei working in family enterprises were sometimes grossly underpaid for the amount of work they were doing (Adachi 1976: 174). What is more, their insufficient mastery of the Japanese language--sometimes failing to meet even the most minimal standards of fluency, for the majority of Japanese Canadian youth had rebelled against their parents by refusing to learn the tongue that had been crammed into their heads every day after school at the specially set-up language schools--often made the Nisei targets of discrimination within their own community. Many a time, Issei employers preferred the newly arrived immigrants from Japan or the Japan-educated Kika, who would fit in easier and receive higher wages for the same work. The Kika (or Kibei in the United States) were a special category of the Nisei, born on North-American soil, but sent by parents back to the homeland, to be raised and educated. Their training in Japan made them essentially Japanese in temperament and personality, and therefore much more to the taste of Issei leaders and employers than the rest of the Canadian-minded, English-speaking Nisei.

In terms of marriage and family life, the Nisei had an equally rough time. The concept of a "romantic" union was normally disavowed by the phallocentric Japanese tradition, so that the majority of Issei found the free intermingling of sexes in Canada utterly incomprehensible and contrary to their sense of morality (Adachi 1976: 168). The young generation, however, was fond of socializing and had the deep-set belief that the choice of mates should be theirs alone. Serious conflicts would therefore ensue when parents tried to dictate the marriage partner. Nisei women, in particular, were under the greatest of pressures. While sons enjoyed more freedom with respect to relationships, the ancient moral norms condemned any kind of pre-marital sexual association (and dating was a prime example) in the girl's case, because of the grave danger it posed to her reputation and the ruinous effects it might have on the chances of arranging a suitable marriage. What is more, there was the widely circulated theory that intellectual achievements would discourage a man (whether Japan-born or Canadian-born Nisei) from wanting that respective woman as his wife. Higher education was, therefore, often forbidden or discouraged, in case it might jeopardize a daughter's chances of marriage (Adachi 1976: 168). Both Aunt Emily and Miss Saito, the protagonist of Sakamoto's Electrical Field, are fictional embodiments of such Nisei women under pressure, narrative examples of the unwanted outcome of breaking the moral and behavioral codes of tradition. A middle-aged and an old-aged spinster, respectively, the two are much too absorbed in their own worlds to be any bargain in the marriage market. The outspoken Aunt Emily, tough and independent, "never stays still long enough to hear the sound of her own voice" (Kogawa 1981: 10) and is too much of an activist, too focused on her own quixotic battles to attract a husband. Nevertheless, she refuses to label herself as an old maid, for the term is, in her view, "too covered with cultural accretions for comfort" (Kogawa 1981: 10). For her part, the hysterical Miss Saito has retreated too much in her own mind and spends too much of her existence among the ghosts of the past (the memories of her beloved dead brother Eiji with which she falls asleep every night) and the disabled of the present (her bedridden father and her distracted younger brother) to be able to take on the additional role of lover and/or wife. Naomi Nakane herself, the narrating consciousness in Obasan, is thirty-six and still single, but in her case the reluctance to wed seems rooted more in the childhood traumas of sexual abuse, incomprehensible loss of the mother and unpreventable dispersal of family and community, than in a determination to break with the traditional mores.

As evidenced so far, the image of Nisei society as a homogeneous racial bloc, the way it was envisaged and promoted by anti-Japanese agitators, was far from reality. With the exception of a certain characteristic quietness and introversion, and a pervasive feeling of being on the periphery, impotent social misfits, the Japanese Canadian Nisei were a heterogeneous group in terms of interests, counter-interests and education, as well as age. The 1942 forced internment thus found the older Nisei in mid-career, forcing them to give up painstakingly obtained sources of livelihood and intensifying their barely expressed anger at once again being rejected by society. Some joined the trickle of laborers who were allowed to leave the camps all through 1943 to take up domestic work and factory jobs in Eastern Canada (Adachi 1976: 274). But many stayed in the camps, unwilling or unable to sever emotional ties and forsake aging parents for the great unknown of the "outside world." The majority of the Nisei, however, were either children or in their adolescent years, and could not always comprehend the gravity of the situation at the time. This is not to say that they did not register any kind of emotional trauma, for in most cases they had already been exposed to discrimination and had been made aware of their belonging to a racially inferior group. Many young boys thus drifted aimlessly about the camps, developing a sense of futility and engaging in mild juvenile delinquency (Adachi 1976: 274). Others passed the time with team sports such as baseball, hockey and softball, music and dancing, movies, drama nights and creative crafts, fostering social relations with peers and enjoying the newly found freedom of being able to escape the dreariness of prewar of Japanese language classes forced upon them every afternoon. And although they were being exposed to more Japanese than ever before, their preferred language continued to be English (or rather a peculiar dialect combining English and Japanese terminology) and their primary identification was still as Canadians (albeit of Japanese ancestry). It was this identification, in fact, that had motivated the Issei's and Nisei's compliance with the abusive Canadian authorities and it also was this identification that prompted those eligible for military service to follow in the footsteps of WWI Issei veterans and try to enlist at the start of the war, in their wish to prove their loyalty to the country of their birth. However, only 32 Japanese Canadians succeeded in enlisting, most of them from Alberta and only one from Vancouver--but only by convincing a recruiting officer in Montreal to sign him up. It was only in 1945 that Canada relented somewhat, at the request of the British government, and allowed 119 Nisei men to enlist as translators in the Canadian Intelligence Corps. But since service in the military would have granted both the soldier and his wife the right to vote, the federal government quickly added a provision to the Soldiers' Vote Act, disenfranchising any Japanese Canadian who had not previously had the right to vote. Franchise was finally granted to Nisei veterans and the rest of adult Japanese Canadians by the provincial government of British Columbia a week before their release from the camps on April 1st, 1949. Still, although free to return, very few had the means or inclination to go back to their pre-war homes on the racially hostile west coast. The evacuation and the government's liquidation of their property without their consent had greatly destabilized the economic balance the immigrants had managed to achieve through thrift, frugality and industry. Those who did not leave Canada dispersed across the country, in the attempt to reconstruct their scattered lives. Many Issei, however, and even some Nisei, were signaled out as disloyal and forced to return to Japan during the repatriation program, while others left of their own free will, embittered by their wartime experiences in this so-called "land of freedom and plenty."

Their new destinations were not always very welcoming to their presence, yet the same values of endurance and perseverance that had prompted the success of Issei immigrants before the war eventually helped the Nisei carve a niche for themselves in the harsh social reality of post-war Canada. They quickly became relatively inconspicuous among the white population, adopted the outward signs of middle class status and seemed to overcome, at least on the surface, the traumatic events of their past. Toronto became the new center for Japanese Canadians, yet there was conscious and sustained effort to avoid the clustering and economic interdependence of prewar ethnic enclaves. Community dissolution and fractured selves were the price to pay for this seemingly successful assimilation. Yet the wound persists, clad in silence and relegated to the darkest corners of consciousness, the proverbial "skeleton in the closet."

The second generation descendents of the Issei immigrants in the United States followed a similar pattern to their Canadian cousins in terms of community and self-articulation. An embittered Ichiro Yamada, the main character of Okada's No-No Boy, voices for instance the Japanese American Nisei's dilemma of being caught between cultures, of struggling to find an impossible balance between the two defining yet contradicting halves of their identity:

"No", he said to himself ... There was a time when ... it was all right to be Japanese and feel and think all things that Japanese do even if we lived in America. Then there came a time when I was only half Japanese because one is not born in America and raised in America and taught in America and one does not speak and swear and drink and smoke and play and fight and see and hear in America among Americans in American streets and houses without becoming American and loving it." ()kada 1981:15, emphasis added)

[S]earching for scraps / of haunting memories. / like a child unloved ... (Jim Wong-Chu, old chinese cemetery) // We too are still somehow Other. (David Mura Turning Japanese, 369)

Poet, fiction writer, playwright, teacher, historian, musician, composer, human rights activist and a Japanese Canadian Sansei (third generation), Terry Watada confesses to taking up writing in order "to define my past, my community, and my culture, because, to the age of 19, I hadn't realized my family had been interned... I took it all for granted." For her part, Japanese American painter-turned-writer Julie Otsuka seems to have been similarly, though unconsciously driven to writing by "ghosts" from the cultural memory of her ethnic group. Straddling generations as the daughter of a Shin-issei father (the first generation of Japanese immigrants who came to North America after World War II, the sometimes pejoratively termed "fobs," "fresh of the boat") and Nisei Japanese American mother, Otsuka confides that the main character of her debut novel, When the Emperor Was Divine, "simply took up residence, one day, in my head: I saw her standing alone on a street, reading the evacuation notice for the first time, and then I followed her home to see who she was, and what she might do after that." One prize-winning novel later, she has come to acknowledge that the purpose (we contend, even the destiny) of her literary endeavours has been "to tell the story of my people." Similarly, Japanese American Sansei poet, novelist, playwright, critic and performance artist David Mura comes to the realization that "[m]y writing comes out of [the Japanese American] community, is addressed to that community [and] I can't tell its stories if I'm not a part of it" (1996: 11). But before being able to affirm his literary voice as rooted in the plurality of his ethnic background, Mura first needed to go on a quest to understand his anger and obsession with the past and to rearticulate his splintered identity. And the best way to achieve such a goal was by surrendering himself to the impetus to write and cross the Pacific, first imaginatively and then physically, to satisfy the longing "to return to the lost center, my grandparents' kuni" (Mura 2005: 33).

What all these Sansei writers have in common is a deep-seated need to reconnect both with the cultural memory of their ethnic group and with the individual memories of their family history in order to articulate, explore and understand first their personal identities--"to imagine myself," "to return to the lost center"--and then act as representative voices for the entire minority of Japanese ancestry within the fabric of their North-American homelands--"to define my past, my community and my culture," "to tell the story of my people". Indeed, there seems to be widespread appreciation/respect among the Sansei for the historical endurance of their Issei ancestors, once "the skeleton in the closet" is brought into the open, that is, once they come to discover the weathered history of their ethnic group. As the third generation tries to recapture what the second generation tries to forget, the generational divide between the two seems to widen. Japanese Canadian critic Ken Adachi designates this paradox as the "phenomenon of the third generation" (1976: 365). David Mura more poetically captures the entangled relationship between the three generations:

We love the Issei more univocally because they were defeated. They never recovered from the camps. They verify that the camps were horrible ... I, and many other Sansei, are more angry at the Nisei than at the Issei. Despite the obstacles in their path, the Nisei, our parents, were in some sense able to succeed in America, to enter the middle class. (2005: 226, emphasis added)

Mura's professed affection for his grandfather, who appears in his poems as "a dashing, invented character" modeled more on the mythologized figure of the gambler in Western movies and the author's own "yearning for a romantic past than anything Japanese" (Mura 2005: 50), is by no means singular. Julie Otsuka's decision to focus her second novel on the Japanese mail-order brides in the interwar period bespeaks (we believe) of a similar need to reach out to the life experiences and stories of one's ancestors. And in Joy Kogawa's Obasan, Naomi, the Sansei protagonist, relates more to her first generation uncle and aunt, who conduct themselves according to Japanese values of endurance and perseverance, than to her more outspoken, militant and Canadian-minded Aunt Emily. For his part, the third generation Japanese Canadian author Terry Watada feels compelled to dedicate his book of fictional biographies Daruma Days to "the issei and nisei ghosts." Such fondness is to a certain extent natural, for grandchildren are frequently inclined to relate to their grandparents in their attempt to evade the rigors of parental authority, for the grandparents often appear as more tolerant and fascinating than the parents. With the Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans, though, the inclination of the younger generations toward the first generation is also motivated by a quest for identity and personal definition, by some deeply felt hunger for memories and stories that foster belonging, identification and security. And in the absence of such narrative recollections (for the relationship between the Sansei and Yonsei and their Nisei parents is often frustrated by silence, shame and a feeling of being haunted by unexplained ghosts of the past), the younger generation may resort to imagining their own stories (and the past itself) and mythologizing the figure of their ancestors. The grandfathers and grandmothers become thus larger-than-life characters, whose imaginatively reconstructed character combine bits and pieces of history with idealized projections from the consciousness of the grandchildren (which inevitably bears the ideological imprint of the adoptive country and culture). Hence, on the continuum of generations, the Issei are often romanticized as a "twilight generation," as the characterization of one Nisei writer shows:

They show no resentment. The lines on the faces of Issei people are softened by a kind of acceptance, their slowing movements touched with quiet dignity. With them will go much of the colour and epic quality which makes an era memorable ... The Issei carved a foothold in the new world. Their women followed uncomplainingly, pitting their frail but steel-like endurance against loneliness--and a thousand unknown fears ... But if greatness can be measured in terms of adjusting to soul-shaking events without loss of personal dignity, then the Issei have come very close to greatness. (Adachi 1976: 365, emphasis added)

We contend that the internment, relocation and repatriation programs have achieved their goals well beyond government expectations. The Japanese communities in North America were uprooted and fragmented during the war, and then permanently dispersed in the ensuing postwar and Cold War period. Burdened by the shame of these uncalled for experiences and prompted by a desire to avoid any future signaling out on account of their race, they strove to blend in, assimilate, become "invisible." Ironically, this effort seems to have been equally successful, but could such acculturation be but "a blessing in disguise? In Ken Adachi's estimation, the Japanese will likely fade as a distinct linguistic and social minority in Canada. His assertion is prompted by the rapidly declining interest of Japanese Canadians in preserving their uniqueness, against the paradoxical background of a growing preoccupation with "ethnicity" that has been observed within the last decades in mainstream Canada. A similar eclipse seems to be looming on the Japanese Americans in the United States, where they "are few in numbers compared to other Asian groups, [and] many Sansei/Yonsei have rejected traditional cultural practices and customs and do not seem to have the same customs to want to be around other Japanese Americans as the Chinese, Indian and Vietnamese communities do" (Asakura et al 2004: 2). This reality seems to be confirmed by the testimonials of other Sansei, who acknowledge that the "Nikkei suffer from low self-esteem and lack of confidence since WWII [and] they have never been able to be proud of their heritage" (Asakura et al 2004: 2). The community itself "is more disparaged and diluted [than ever] and there is not a strong unifying community issue." The Yonsei (fourth generation) and Gosei (fifth generation), on the other hand, are expected to be, in the estimation of a young Yonsei woman, "a lost generation of children of Sansei who are affected by the shifting racial and economic conditions of the US and who, in turn, have been affected by the Nisei camp/ WWII experience" (Asakura et al 2004: 2). Both the Japanese Americans and the Japanese Canadians, then, have moved from standing out as a "visible minority" to being the "invisible minority" (Takahashi; apud. Asakura et al 2004: 2). The first label was paramount in the process of their othering based on physical difference as well as language and customs, while the second stems, on the one hand, from their current small numbers and dispersion across the national territories of United States and Canada, and, on the other, from their so-called successful acculturation, which has greatly contributed to spinning of the leveling myth of the "model minority."

The United States, and Canada in their wake, opened their doors to Asia moved by the "manifest" impulse for capitalist progress and, in the race for profit, looked to import cheap, transient commodities that would solve some of the pressing labor problems with great advantages. The marked Asianness of these non-white temporary residents made them too different, too "strange and alien" to assimilate, and therefore they were safe instruments. And once their native country became the enemy, the exoticism and "alienness" of these Japanese faces were sufficient to justify their punishment and removal under the pretext of national security. Economical, social and cultural contributions were to be overlooked in order to oust the "alien spies" from the midst of "normal" society. Communities had little or no meaning unless validated by the power of the majority.

The first generation of Japanese immigrants, however, came to North-America with their own views, spurred by both necessity and extravagance. Like with many other Asian migrants, their necessity was prompted by the economic hardships that a changing Japan was undergoing as a result of its efforts for modernization and westernization. But their extravagance sprang directly from a fortunate ability to open their minds and hearts to change and challenges, and imaginatively transform the destinations of their toil into great spaces of opportunity. In their wishful hunt for "money trees," they were the representatives of a changing world. The intertwining of necessity and extravagance provided the Issei with the ability to endure and persist in the new and alien world where they were baptized with discrimination and racial injustice. And ultimately to rise again after the lives they had painstakingly built were uprooted and shipped away with "only what [they] could carry." They kept their customs, language and Japanese-instilled worldviews for the most part, while at the same time becoming aware of their new North-American context and the need to adjust, re-shape and forge new traditions that would be neither Japanese nor American/ Canadian, but would belong to them as unique communities.

How Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians ethnically define themselves depends, largely, on factors such as generation, parenting and discipline during childhood, parents' experiences during World War II, degree of exposure to the culture and language of the ancestral homeland, ethnic circumstances in their neighborhoods and mixed racial descent. Age also tends to play an important part in ethnic identification, as some Americans and Canadians of Japanese descent--mostly those who grew up in non-Asian communities--can experience an unanticipated awakening of Nikkei heritage in their later years. Another very interesting tendency is manifested with respect to marriage. North-American statistics, as well as foreign conducted research, repeatedly indicate that citizens of Japanese ancestry in both United States and Canada have the highest intermarriage rate of all Asian ethnic groups, and the attitude to exogamy (intermarriage) grows more and more positive with each new generation, while the value of endogamy (marriage within the same ethnic group) continues to weaken. Mixed ethnic or mixed heritage Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians will thus become a prevalent reality of future generations such as the Gosei (fifth generation) and Shin-nisei (the second generation of Shin-issei, the more recent, post-WWII immigrants).

Sociological research, therefore, seems to confirm Adachi's prognostication of the twilight of Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans as a distinct socio-linguistic community in North America. An important factor is undoubtedly the spur of acculturation prompted by the shameful and traumatic wartime experiences of forced exile within the geographical and political boundaries of the states to which the great majority of those interned belonged by birth and formal education, and with which they internally identified. In terms of literature, valuable texts that approach the identitary struggles awaiting a mixed-race "Japanese North-Americano" (and for that matter any person with mixed ethnic background) are still to be produced. Any biracial individual inevitably strives for totalness, for a sense of wholeness that is more than the sum of their heritage parts. Unfortunately, in today's context, and in spite of the so-called multicultural societies, mixed-race individuals continue to be viewed as "genetically inferior to both (or all) of their parents" and tend to experience a social pressure to "choose" what group they belong to (Nakashima; apud. Asakura et al 2004: 7). Some mixed-race voices complain, for instance, of "a tendency towards reverse discrimination towards mixed Japanese Americans," the so-called happa (racially half-and-half, part Asian and part western or European). A female Sansei in her thirties, quoted in Asakura's study, remembers "feeling it [the reverse discrimination] from my relatives, peers all my life. It was very subtle, uncomfortable and unidentifiable until I became an adult. I am half Japanese ..., but look very much Caucasian. Growing up only around my Japanese side of the family left me feeling very different most of the time. I could never understand the distance I felt from some Nisei (even my own aunties). I was definitely not able to blend in with my 20 other Japanese cousins."

Similar experiences of discrimination and marginalization are recounted by those of Caucasian descent, mostly the children of white immigrants or business workers stationed in Japan, who, having grown up in the country, are fully competent in the language and cultural mores of Japan, yet continue to be perceived as gaijin, "foreigners," "outsiders" by the majority, particularly since Japan has been historically concerned with preserving the myth of a racially and culturally homogeneous people.

David Mura's memoir Turning Japanese fictionally anticipates such identitary tensions and struggles in its conclusion, with the awaited birth of the author's mixed-gene Yonsei daughter in whom the hope for a brighter, more generous and category-encompassing future is placed:

... she kicks with a sound that has come from nothing, from everything in our past, from my Japanese genes to the genes of my wife, English and Hungarian Jew ... Our daughter has made me feel much older than I was in Japan, much more tied to my grandparents, my parents, and to the future. This split I have felt between America and Japan, this fusion of two histories, will reside in her, in a different, more visible way. I would like to think she is a part of a movement taking place everywhere throughout the globe, our small planet spinning along in blue-black space. I would like to think that the questions of identity she faces will be easier than mine, less fierce, less filled with self-neglect and rage. That she will love herself more and be more eager for the world, for moving beyond herself. (372, emphasis added)

Let us conclude by noting that if this paper employed certain generalizations, it was not with the wilful intent to obscure experiences and nuances of Japanese presence in North America, but rather in the attempt to capture what we deemed as most significant for the purpose of the paper. As with most minority and ethnical groups, there will always be a wealth of cultural memory and individual stories that can be accessed, experienced and, why not, examined.


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Alina E. Anton

Alexandru Ioan Cuza University

Odette Caufman Blumenfeld

Alexandru Ioan Cuza University

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Author:Anton, Alina E.; Blumenfeld, Odette Caufman
Publication:Romanian Journal of Artistic Creativity
Date:Sep 22, 2013
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