What are the important issues which affect the cultural group represented in Journey To Topaz?
One important issue which affects the Japanese Americans in the book is the atmosphere of hysteria and racism which follows the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, the FBI rounds up the leaders of the community for questioning, and eventually, the entire West Coast Japanese American population is forcibly relocated to camps in remote areas of the interior. Incidents like the one Yuki experiences in school, when one of her classmates calls her a "dirty Jap," are frequent, as many in the population do not distinguish between the country which has attacked them and law-abiding individuals living among them who happen to share a Japanese heritage.
Another issue affecting the Japanese Americans at this time is a problem of identity. This difficulty manifests itself in different ways among the old and the young in the Japanese community. The Issei, or first generation, have immigrated from Japan but have been denied the right to become citizens, so when the war begins, they find themselves to be individuals without a country. The Nisei, Japanese Americans of the next generation who have been born in America, have grown up thinking of themselves as being fully American, and are stung when they experience racism and discrimination because of their resemblance to members of the country which has attacked the United States. The Nisei, then, discover that while they are yellow-skinned on the outside, they are white on the inside.
A particularly difficult issue that the young men of the Japanese community must deal with is the question of whether they should enlist to fight for the country that has incarcerated them and their families. When the government decides to form an all-Nisei fighting force, the community is split between those who want to join up to prove once and for all their loyalty to their adopted country, and others who are insulted and aghast at the irony of the government asking the young men to fight while their families are being held behind barbed wire.