Japanese American Internment Depicted in Literature Analysis

Identifying Issei and Nisei

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Within hours after Japan’s bombing attack of the United States naval station at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began arresting community leaders, teachers at Japanese schools, and anyone who had business ties to Japan. Most of the two thousand men arrested were Issei (born in Japan, immigrants to the United States). Their status as resident aliens was changed to that of enemy aliens. The two-week period of arrests along the Pacific coast was also a time of search and seizure of Japanese American households. Homes, businesses, and personal property were lost.

For the Nisei (born in the United States) the wartime hysteria and subsequent actions on the part of fellow American citizens were simply not believable. This is evident in Monica Sone’s fictionalized autobiography Nisei Daughter (1953). In Nisei Daughter, Sone recalls the FBI raids on ordinary citizens, confiscating radios, cameras, firearms, knives, and anything Japanese that could be construed as subversive. For the shocked Nisei, their identities as citizens were erased along with their constitutional rights. Having one’s identity suddenly become a number on a cardboard tag is an issue universal to internment narratives. Mine Okubo even titled her memoirs by her family number, Citizen 13660 (1946). The loss of their names is yet another example of the assault on Japanese American identity. In Janice Mirikitani’s poem “Crazy Alice” Alice remembers that before the war she had a name.