The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Nisei stories

In an essay in my co-edited 2018 book “John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy,” I described Okada’s writing as “a seed in a devastated landscape.” The devastated landscape, of course, was the field of Japanese American writing after World War II. During the 1930s, Japanese community newspapers served […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Lucile Colyer’s account of WWII’s impact on her Nikkei friends

In a “Great Unknown” column earlier this year, I spoke about Sam Constantino Jr.’s 1946 novel “Tale of the Twain.” The book is a complex narrative that takes place in both Japan and the United States. It includes a section, set on the prewar West Coast, that portrays the condition of Issei and Nisei as seen […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Rethinking ‘By Order of the President’

In my Aug. 19, 2021 column of the Nichi Bei Weekly, I commemorated the 20th anniversary of the publication of my first book, “By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans,” by recounting the origins and development of the project — first as a dissertation, then as a published volume. I […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Former GI’s ‘idiosyncratic work’ on JAs

As World War II came to an end and American servicemen returned home, the nation welcomed a wave of literature about the wartime experience produced by former GIs, many of them in the first blush of youth. This initial crop included Gore Vidal’s novel “Williwaw” (1946); Thomas Heggen’s 1946 novel and subsequent play “Mister Roberts;” […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: ‘By Order of the President’ turns 20

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of my book “By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans.” “By Order” was my first book. It introduced me to the public as a specialist in the history of Japanese American wartime confinement, and helped launch my career as both scholar […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: K.T. Takahashi: Transnational Japanese American writer

During the last years of the 19th century, Kazutomo (aka Kadzu Tomo) Takahashi settled in Montreal, Quebec, where he operated a book and magazine store. Although Takahashi’s career in Montreal spanned barely a decade, during that time he managed to establish himself as a pathbreaking Japanese American writer and publicist. He published in mainstream publications […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: TOSHI SEEGER’S ARTFUL LIFE: From folk music and film producer to organizer

Toshi Ohta Seeger was a remarkable Nisei who collaborated with her longtime husband Pete Seeger in his musical career and support for progressive causes. However, both because she was an Asian American woman, and because she preferred to shun the spotlight and work in the background, she has not historically received the attention she was […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: In praise of the cook: Remembrance of Jack Shirai, A Nikkei antifascist fighter

(Editor’s note: The following article was co-written with Jonathan Van Harmelen.) Traditionally, discussion of the Nikkei combat experience starts with World War II and centers on the exploits of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the Military Intelligence Service, and the actions of individual veterans such as Sgt. Ben Kuroki or Frank Fujita. Yet one of […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Anne Howden’s lifetime of human rights advocacy and public service

Mich Kunitani, the subject of my last “Great Unknown” column, was not the only member of his family to make a name as a political activist. His first wife, Anne Saito Kunitani, later known as Anne Howden, was a lifelong human rights advocate who shifted her focus from advocacy to public service. She was born […]

THE GREAT UNKNOWN AND THE UNKNOWN GREAT: Mich Kunitani and the Nisei Young Democrat movement

Arguably the most dynamic Nisei political force in the later 1930s was the Nisei Young Democrat movement. Founded by a set of liberal intellectuals and activists, notably Nichi Bei Shimbun editor Larry Tajiri, the Young Democrats formed chapters in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland, Calif. By 1940 the Oakland branch had established itself as […]

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