Altered Lives, Enduring Community: Japanese Americans Remember Their World War II Incarceration

By Levy, Elinor | Western Folklore, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Altered Lives, Enduring Community: Japanese Americans Remember Their World War II Incarceration


Levy, Elinor, Western Folklore


Altered Lives, Enduring Community: Japanese Americans Remember Their World War II Incarceration. By Stephen S. Fugita and Marilyn Fernandez. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004. Pp. x + 253, acknowledgments, introduction, photographs, tables, appendices, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00 cloth, $24.95 paper)

I grew up Jewish in Oakland, California, the child of parents who suffer from survivor's guilt regarding the Holocaust. Oakland is home to a large Japanese-American community, and during World War II a local racetrack partly owned by my grandfather was appropriated by the government in service to the Japanese-American internment policy. I was brought up to believe that the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II was only a few steps from what had been done to the Jews in Europe. So I write this review from a very subjective place.

Altered Lives, Enduring Community is a compilation and analysis of data from a survey of Japanese Americans imprisoned during World War II, conducted as part of the Densho Japanese American Legacy Project, whose research materials are displayed on the Internet at http://densho.org. The term Densho means "to pass on to the next generation"-to leave a legacy. The Densho study began as a way of documenting the oral histories of Seattle-area Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II. This project evolved into an organization whose mission is to preserve, educate, collaborate and inspire action for equity, as reported at the Densho website. The project's aim is to document the Japanese American community in the Seattle area-their lives before the war, their incarceration, and, perhaps most importantly, their lives afterwards. Altered Lives, representing the second phase of the Legacy Project, is an attempt to quantify the legacy as well as to include oral material from those who declined to be videotaped. In the book, the statistics and mechanics go pretty much over my head, but the stories that come through in periodic quotations are informative and poignant. …

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