Penguin’s ‘Literature of Japanese American Incarceration,’ with its co-editors Frank Abe (left), and Floyd Cheung (right).

There’s a certain air of resilience in an anthology about the Japanese American incarceration; much of the Japanese American community has been raised by generations of silence regarding Nikkei history, so to have an intentional collection of stories and memories of camp feels like a direct resistance to the government that silenced the community to begin with. 

Edited by Frank Abe and Floyd Cheung, The Literature of Japanese American Incarceration brings to light the many complex and multifaceted perspectives of the war, the incarceration, social structures in camp, post-war culture, redress, and current parallels.   

Part of trauma is thinking of how one could have done things differently in the past. Part of intergenerational trauma is wondering what we ourselves might have done in the impossible situations our ancestors were put in. The Literature of Japanese American Incarceration portrays the varied perspectives and situations in which people were raised that led them to the decisions they made and even how they may affect us now. 

It is sometimes easy to judge different groups of people during camp – for instance, resisting the draft or, on the flip side, volunteering for the US military. What this anthology uncovers is the uncertainty of the time that subsequent generations may not understand and, therefore, the multiple factors that went into the different decisions folks had to make. 

Hiroshi Kashiwagi, for example, now regrets ever denouncing his American citizenship. At the time, he made the decision not knowing what would happen to him as a stateless individual. 

This collection of literature highlights the ways in which the Japanese American community was stratified: through the draft, the loyalty questionnaire, the choice of renouncing citizenship, speaking English versus Japanese, the list goes on. It comes to show how the choices of many people were made in the vein of resistance to the incarceration in their own ways.  

Some, like Hiro in Toshio Mori’s “She Is My Mother, and I Am the Son Who Volunteered,” believed that through fighting for the US and fighting for the only land they had ever known, they were fighting for their right to live.  

Some, like Yoshito Kuromiya in “Fair Play Committee,” protested through their refusal to fight for and prove loyalty to a government that imprisoned them, and their family. 

Some, like Nao Akutsu with her letter, “Send Back the Father of These American Citizens,” fought through their words, standing up for their families who had been arrested on faulty grounds without trial. 

Some, like Motomu Akashi in “Badges of Honor,” resisted through renouncing their citizenship and joining the “true Japanese” who maintained their Japanese heritage and culture, choosing to be stateless rather than to be associated with a country that wrongfully imprisoned them.   

The Literature of Japanese American Incarceration also conveys how Japanese American resistance has evolved. Today, the JA community has worked to rid words like “internment” and “evacuation” and other euphemisms of camp from our vocabulary. Yesterday, it was a fight against the loyalty questionnaire. Today, it is showing up at Fort Sill, the site of incarcerated migrant children during the Obama administration. Yesterday, it was the fight for redress. Today, it is the fight against concentration camps throughout the country. 

This anthology is bound by the shared voice of the Japanese American community – however stratified – telling the story of historical oppression and both the collective and personal means of resistance.  

Frank Abe will be discussing his new book at Elliot Bay Book Company alongside Karen Maeda Allman on Thursday, May 16 at 7:00PM – 8:00PM:  

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