Between Two Empires: Race, History, and Transnationalism in Japanese America

Between Two Empires: Race, History, and Transnationalism in Japanese America

Between Two Empires: Race, History, and Transnationalism in Japanese America

Between Two Empires: Race, History, and Transnationalism in Japanese America

Synopsis

The incarceration of Japanese Americans has been discredited as a major blemish in American democratic tradition. Accompanying this view is the assumption that the ethnic group help unqualified allegiance to the United States. Between Two Empires probes the complexities of prewar Japanese America to show how Japanese in America held an in-between space between the United States and the empire of Japan, between American nationality and Japanese racial identity.

Excerpt

“East is West and West is East,” wrote Jizaemon Tateishi, a Japanese immigrant student at the University of Southern California in 1912, criticizing the bipolarities of the Orient and the Occident. “By this I do not mean that the outward manifestations of the two are similar,” he continued. “I mean if you go deep into the very heart of the people of Japan, the inner life in which we live, and move, and have our being, is essentially Anglo-Saxon.” Riichiro Hoashi, another usc student, challenged the same “too broad generalizations” that failed people like Tateishi and him:

Born in Japan and educated in America, we are neither Japanese nor
Americans but are Cosmopolitans; and as Cosmopolitans we may be al
lowed to express our opinions, freely and frankly, for nothing but Cos
mopolitanism can be our ideal since we have transcended the narrow
bound of nationality and race.

Thought-provoking and even postmodern as these statements may sound, neither Tateishi nor Hoashi became a famous intellectual or a leader in the Japanese immigrant community; indeed, their lives in America are scarcely known. But their personal trajectories are not as important as what their utterances signified in the context of their time and place. in the early twentieth century, whether they lived as merchants and store clerks in the urban ghettoes of “Little Tokyos,” as farmers and field hands in the remote valleys of California, or as . . .

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