Nisei Daughter Critical Context - Essay

Kazuko Monica Itoi

Critical Context

Nisei Daughter is an important coming-of-age story. Within the body of Asian-American literature, the book is also important for its firsthand account of life in the internment camps. Other works offer similar personal accounts: Joy Kogawa’s Obasan (1981), Toshio Mori’s Yokohama, California (1982), Yoshiko Uchida’s Desert Exile: The Uprooting of a Japanese American Family (1982), and Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660 (1983). Reading such works will drive home the very personal upheaval and disaster that 110,000 Japanese Americans experienced (77,000 of whom were U.S. citizens) and that the American government only sought to redress four decades later.

By the late 1930’s, Sone and her contemporaries were of employable age, but jobs in the white communities were nonexistent for them. The United States seemed to emphasize conformity to its immigrants who wanted to succeed. As Miyamoto observes in the book’s introduction, however, the white majority had no intention of permitting the nisei access to the means to conform. Discrimination takes many forms, and the more that young adults read about the experience the more sympathetic they will become toward all ethnic minorities who have had to struggle to gain their place within a majority culture because of their race, religion, or other non-traditional status.