Tragic facts of the Japanese Internment review

Narrative Research Project: “Past, Present, & Future

My mother is Japanese; she is a beautiful, inspiring woman that Disney’s Mulan could never do justice, nor the near-flawless view of Amy Tan as the Great Japanese-American Writer, nor Mineko Iwasaki, the perfect Gieisha of Arthur Golden’s tales. My mother is just a woman who, one day, fell in love with her very own gift from the sea: my father. One rainy Seattle day in 1981, my mother met a charismatic American ship captain and not long after, they were married. My mother and father were happy in their early lives together, and after two years of marriage, I was born.

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From my earliest days, the sea played a very important role in the life of my family. It was what carried my mother to America, provided my father with income and professional vitality, and lapped upon the rocky shores of my home. I was born in Edmonds, Washington, a seaside town with small-town ambiance and the sturdy vista of Mountains just on the horizon. 15 miles south is Seattle, and the Puget Sound is an important part of the city’s growth. There, I experienced the 1980s like any other American child; I knew neon colors, recognized MTV, played with slap bracelets and G.I. Joe, but I was not long for this side of the Pacific.

My father was frequently at sea for months at a time, and my mother and I moved back to Japan when I was five years old. Wada became my new home. Although my mother shared with me her Japanese history and culture, the actuality of this new terrain was very different than anything I had ever known before. As of 2003, Wada, a small town located near the ocean, had only 5,588 people total.

Here, I spent my early formative years, deeply rooted in the Japanese that would soon redefine my title as a Japanese-American.

“Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, ‘That afternoon when I met so-and-so … was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.” I expect you might put down your teacup and say, “Well, now, which is it? Was it the best or the worst? Because it can’t possibly have been both!”

In my case, my time in Wada was both; it was an ever-generous foundation from which I would come to know the real Japan that, had I still remained in America, would only have been a construction of myths, memories, and assumptions. Here, I got to experience Japan for myself, learning inside its schools, partaking in its customs, and soaking up the history of half of my family. Here, I learned to be just another Japanese boy.

After a few years, my father, mother, and I returned to America, to the Seattle that connected them and had, when I was just a boy, shoved me across the ocean into the arms of Japan. Instead of witnessing a comfortable resurgence of the earliest lessons of my life, falling seamlessly into the American fabric, I stumbled. The world of my birthplace was foreign to me, and between the differing cultural norms and societies, I faltered in not only my perception of myself, but my ability to commune with the world outside of me.

Little did I know how lucky I was; had I lacked the foundational experience in Japan that tied me so directly to my heritage, I would have, like so many others, wondered curiously, and somehow aimlessly, about a past that wasn’t exactly mine but would seem to shape entirely who I am. One such man is Yoshio Kishi, a 74-year-old Japanese-American film editor. In his life, long after I had tasted the actual Japan of our histories, he began to wonder about the place that was partially his home. “In the mid 1960s, around his 30th birthday, he found himself in the throws of a classic identity crisis. He began to regret that he did not know more about his Japanese heritage.”

To compensate for what he did not know — the landscape I had seen with my own eyes, and voices I had not only learned to listen to but also become — he began a collection. He started small, gathering anything that might connect him to his homeland in a way that he could transform into a personal compass. The sheet music to “Chin-Chin Chinaman” from 1917 mixed with Joe Jitsu hand puppets and a Wheaties box with Kristi Yamaguchi on the front, all meaningful attempts to capture something indescribable and, to him, ultimately inaccessible.

What eluded him was given to me at such an early age I was unable to appreciate its priceless worth.

In the American school system, I learned of the histories shared by Japenese-Americans before me: the tragic facts of the Japanese Internment. The act of World War II barbaric fear has long been the subject of public criticism and conversation in a historical context, but its socioeconomic and psychological consequences have been frequently ignored. Nevertheless, the Nisei, or the second-generation Japanese-Americans, know it well. Nisei populate the entire United States, but many occupy Kings County in Seattle. Their tight network has provided countless support systems to the veterans of the encampment as well as their offspring, and it has perpetuated a creation of the social consciousness of the Japanese-American community.

While the Japanese Internment remains an ever-present part of the collective memory of the Japanese-American people, it also has spawned a movement of recognition regarding this cultural subgroup — my subgroup. In addition to the motivation provided by the non-profits, intellectual elite, and the shamed and guilty government, the Japanese-Americans took preserving their communities and introverted respect into their own hands. Writers, philosophers, activists, and artists involved themselves in their communities in an integral, inextricable way, taking with them not only a history of Japan, but a history of American mistrust.

Art teacher Mabel Rose Jamison wrote that “a good painting is a thing of lasting beauty,” an ideal she transferred to her Rohwer High School students, eight of whom have compiled a mural series called “Lasting Beauty.”

With the hands, minds, and hearts of eight Japanese-American students, she created a series of murals — inside the American concentration camp. The sheets of cloth are brightly colored, filled with the dark seas that roll back to Japan, the bright sun that brought the day from there to here, and the unbelievable reality of being held captive here, on Freedom’s soil. The artwork tells part of the story that stays alive in a national consciousness, one of a life interrupted.

This is a feeling familiar to many Americans, particularly those caught between cultures emblematic of the hypher-Amercan lifestyle. Like Japanese-Americans, many Muslim-Americans have witnessed the chasm between their historic and ethnic culture and that provided and allowed for by the greater American community. “If you forget your history” said Larry Schectman, education chairman for the Chicago arm of the Japense American Citizens League, “you are bound to repeat it.”

As such, he and other civic leaders are working hard to not only preserver the memories of the Japanese-American experience, but also to find a way to learn from it and make the path for other ethnicities and national groups in America easier.

Nevertheless, the history of mistrust for Japanese-Americans remains an important part of the group’s interaction with the larger American community. Here, Japanese are known for succeeding in school, doing well in music, and seeking automatic entrance to the intellectual elite, but while at home, toiling over the schoolwork in the long hours that make that reputation possible, the disconnect is magnified. “When you say the Pledge of Allegiance each day and learn the Constitution, you are so shocked when you are picked up and put into prison,” one Japanese-American remembers. “It’s your country that betrayed you.”

My country? Which country is that? I am home in two worlds, both of which have given me a plethora of gifts with which to embark upon my future. In Japan, I learned from my mother. I learned about its history, its great civilizations, and a magnificence unmatched in America, where both shortness of time, national life, and breath preclude it. In the United States, I learned a world of freedom, ease, and comfort, where I can pursue my own future separate of the cultural expectations of me. Between the two, I am able to be both Japanese and American, connecting my past, my mother’s Japan, my father’s America, and find me. In both cases, there is grief and destruction in the history, but there is also beauty, music, love, intelligence, and art.

Miss Jamison’s artwork is currently on display at the Japanese-American National Museum, the Los Angeles home to the preservation of a culture that, theoretically, is mine. But I was not interned, and like your grandfather’s stories of hiding in bunkers or fearing the draft, it is part of a distant knowledge of something that it supposed to be me. The Japanese-American history is one of immigration, discrimination, and internment; of reparations, intermarriage, and an awkward transformation and amalgamation of cultures. It is about being the Japanese of hip anime, world-class technology, and cutting-edge fashion.

Being American is about McDonalds, Levi’s jeans, the proliferation of Starbucks, the Michael Jackson scandal, and essay topics like this.

The plaque at the Poston/Colorado River Relocation Center reads: “May it serve as a constant reminder of our past so that Americans in the future will never again be denied their constitutional rights and may the remembrance of that experience serve to advance the evolution of the human spirit … ”

While I may not be constantly reminded of a servitude of the past, I, like many African- and Caribbean-Americans, share a history of struggle here in America; history books, policies, and adults in my life remind me of this, and imbue me with the spirit to go forward. By their experience, I have the luxury of guidance.

Many people have assumed that role, too, making me not only the person that I am but also guiding me towards the person I will inevitably become. Friends, family, and mentors have illuminated a path before me that ties me not only to the greater community of America but also a history of my parents’ homeland. Every moment of tribulation and every ounce of turmoil is surrounded in a cloud of history, one that I interpret through the lenses others have helped me create, and which I will pass down to my children.

Alphonse de Lamartine, the romantic French poet whose personal history was recorded through the scrutiny of his nation’s Revolution in 1848, notably wrote, “history teaches everything, including the future.” My history is one of the American boy — born in any town, USA in the mythic 1980s, with nurses singing Madonna’s first hit in the delivery room and parents in the Classic Kick white Reeboks waiting for my arrival. My history is one of the Japanese boy — reared in history, a demanding academic system, and a life of quiet regiment. My history is one of the hyphen-American, a melting pot mixture of polar cultures, learned in and confused by both.

My presence is one all my own, that of a boy named Justin Tucker, working hard in college, laughing with my friends, listening to my family, and dreaming about the future. My future is one still shrouded in mystery and excitement; I know what will happen tomorrow as much as anyone else. I do know, however, that as I move forward in this world, I take the lessons of the past with me. I carefully listen to the stories others tell — both Japanese, American, and none of the above — and take from them narrative, fact, and opinion. These histories are the building blocks of the eyes with which I find my path for the future and will carry with me always.

Asakawa, Gil. Being Japanese America: AJA Sourcebook for Nikkei, Hapa … And Their Friends. San Francisco: Stone Bridge Press, 2004.

Bowean, Lolly. “Minorities Share Lessons with Chicago Teachers; Japanese-American, Muslim Tell How Rights Can Be at Risk in Crisis.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Ill: Apr. 17, 2005. p. 3.

Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha. New York: Vintage, 1999.

Hartocollis, Anemona. “In a West Side Apartment, a World.” New York Times. New York: May 1, 2005. P. 14.

Iritani, Frank and Joanne. Ten Visits. San Mateo, CA: Asian-American Curriculum Project., Inc., 1995.

“Lasting Beauty: Miss Jamison and the Student Muralists.” The Japanese-American National Museum. February 6, 2005.

Ng, F. “Choice.” Middletown. May, 2005. Vol. 42, Iss. 9, p. 1655.

“Wada, Japan.”

“Wada, Japan.”

Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a Geisha. New York: Vintage, 1999. P. 7.

Hartocollis, Anemona. “In a West Side Apartment, a World.” New York Times. New York: May 1, 2005. P. 14.


Ng, F. “Choice.” Middletown. May, 2005. Vol. 42, Iss. 9, p. 1655.

“Lasting Beauty: Miss Jamison and the Student Muralists.” The Japanese-American National Museum. February 6, 2005.


Bowean, Lolly. “Minorities Share Lessons with Chicago Teachers; Japanese-American, Muslim Tell How Rights Can Be at Risk in Crisis.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Ill: Apr. 17, 2005. p. 3.


Asakawa, Gil. Being Japanese America: AJA Sourcebook for Nikkei, Hapa … And Their Friends. San Francisco: Stone Bridge Press, 2004.

Iritani, Frank and Joanne. Ten Visits. San Mateo, CA: Asian-American Curriculum Project., Inc., 1995.

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