Jim and Jap Crow: A Cultural History of 1940s Interracial America

Jim and Jap Crow: A Cultural History of 1940s Interracial America

Jim and Jap Crow: A Cultural History of 1940s Interracial America

Jim and Jap Crow: A Cultural History of 1940s Interracial America

Synopsis

Following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U. S. government rounded up more than one hundred thousand Japanese Americans and sent them to internment camps. One of those internees was Charles Kikuchi. In thousands of diary pages, he documented his experiences in the camps, his resettlement in Chicago and drafting into the Army on the eve of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and his postwar life as a social worker in New York City. Kikuchi's diaries bear witness to a watershed era in American race relations, and expose both the promise and the hypocrisy of American democracy.



Jim and Jap Crow follows Kikuchi's personal odyssey among fellow Japanese American intellectuals, immigrant activists, Chicago School social scientists, everyday people on Chicago's South Side, and psychologically scarred veterans in the hospitals of New York. The book chronicles a remarkable moment in America's history in which interracial alliances challenged the limits of the elusive democratic ideal, and in which the nation was forced to choose between civil liberty and the fearful politics of racial hysteria. It was an era of world war and the atomic bomb, desegregation in the military but Jim and Jap Crow elsewhere in America, and a hopeful progressivism that gave way to Cold War paranoia.



Jim and Jap Crow looks at Kikuchi's life and diaries as a lens through which to observe the possibilities, failures, and key conversations in a dynamic multiracial America.

Excerpt

Meeting the spouse of the main historical figure in your book is an exhilarating, disorienting, and angst-inducing experience. Yuriko Amemiya Kikuchi was much more famous than her late husband, Charlie, for the length of their fortytwo-year marriage. An acclaimed dancer in Martha Graham’s avant-garde company and originator of the memorable role of Eliza in choreographer Jerome Robbins’s The King and I, Yuriko—who went only by her first name for the stage, instantly recognizable like “Billie” or “Ella”—was the vibrant sun around which her husband, fellow dancers, critics, and guests in the couple’s Lexington Avenue apartment constantly circled. Now ninety years young, Yuriko still exudes an unmistakable grace and presence, and when she speaks, you listen. “Don’t ever let your children see you and your wife fight,” she advised. And: “Charlie and I always made sure that we wouldn’t go to bed angry with one another.” After such relatively benign and helpful bits of marital advice and a few more hours of bending each other’s ears, she suddenly stopped, sat on her couch, and asked me to do the same. “You know, when Charlie and I were still young,” she nearly whispered. “I became unexpectedly pregnant. I was so nervous, as I hadn’t—we hadn’t— planned for it.” I was unsure whether she was referring to her daughter, Susan, her son, Lawrence, or possibly a child not brought to term; truthfully, that detail didn’t matter, and all things being equal, it wasn’t my business. a painfully long and silent pause sat heavily between us. Yuriko looked away for a few seconds. Then she smiled, the radiant sun once again: “But Charlie, you know, he comes to me and gives me a huge bear hug. He turns his head towards me and makes sure I’m looking at those big, kind eyes, while he says, ‘Anything’s possible, honey. Don’t you worry.’ This is what he told me whenever we had serious worries, problems, plans, or dreams: ‘Anything’s possible.’ He always tried to be hopeful. and he meant we would always figure it out, no matter how complicated. We would always find a way.”

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