Groundbreaking works ‘connect the dots’ of Nikkei experience before, during and after WWII

AfterCamp

AFTER CAMP: PORTRAITS IN MIDCENTURY JAPANESE AMERICAN LIFE AND POLITICS

AFTER CAMP: PORTRAITS IN MIDCENTURY JAPANESE AMERICAN LIFE AND POLITICS
By Greg Robinson (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2012, 328 pp., $27.95, paperback)

PACIFIC CITIZENS: LARRY AND GUYO TAJIRI AND JAPANESE AMERICAN JOURNALISM IN THE WORLD WAR II ERA
Edited By Greg Robinson (Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2012, 344 pp., $60, cloth)

Readers of the Nichi Bei will no doubt be familiar with Greg Robinson and his regular column, “The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great,” or his book “By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans” and his magnum opus, “A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America.”

Robinson has done it again in these two publications of uncovering our “buried past” in a refreshing, accessible, smart, and above all free of useless trendy theories and jargon meant to impress fellow academicians. He follows in the footsteps of pre-eminent historians like Roger Daniels and the late Yuji Ichioka, doing difficult and time-consuming primary source research and analysis “connecting the dots.”

In “After Camp,” Robinson explores the little known and researched area of Nisei life after the incarceration period in a comparative approach. He breaks new ground as he tries to answer the question of “what happened afterward?”

This volume consists of essays and articles organized around five major topics. Part I, “Resettlement and New Lives,” contains three articles; perhaps the most interesting is “Political Science? FDR, Japanese Americans, and the Postwar Dispersion of Minorities,” in which Robinson connects the dots from FDR to other officials and their views on resettlement of European refugees and Japanese Americans to race and eugenic ideas. This should provide a different lens to view the “scattering” as merely a neutral administrative policy and a wonderful adventure that was good for Japanese Americans.

Part II covers assimilation, with Part III, IV and V breaking new ground by placing the Nisei within the matrix of the interethnic political world of Mexican and African American organizations. The Sansei generation may think that they were the first to take part in “Third World” coalitions, but once again Robinson sheds light on Nisei activists on both coasts and connects the dots from Korematsu to the landmark Brown case. This volume should be required reading for all those who are serious about recovering our “buried past.”

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PacificCitizens“Pacific Citizens: Larry and Guyo Tajiri and Japanese American Journalism in the World War II Era” is another example of Robinson’s wide-ranging scholarship and ability to “connect the dots” by researching their lives, activities, and writings, both in ethnic and non-ethnic presses before, during and after World War II. He deftly combines all of these sources to develop a complex and nuanced portrait of Larry and Guyo Tajiri, the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) newspaper Pacific Citizen and the National JACL.

There have been celebratory accounts of the JACL’s accomplishments in past publications; however, Robinson’s vast research using correspondence, published articles and editorials — from many ethnic as well as non-ethnic sources — help create biographies of Larry and his wife Guyo that bring them out of obscurity into sharp relief, adding to our collective historical memories.

Equally valuable is that Robinson provides each of the seven chapters with the all-important historical context that frames Larry Tajiri the man, along with his imprint on the Pacific Citizen and many other topics. His wide-ranging work will no doubt force many in the Japanese American community to re-examine the simplistic view held by many of the post-war JACL and its leaders as conservative accommodationists or worse, “sell-outs.”

Both of these publications by Robinson break new ground and should act to broaden our understanding of the past.

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