Asian American Literature: An Introduction to the Writings and Their Social Context

By Elaine H. Kim | Go to book overview

5
Japanese American Family and Community Portraits

Like the Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans have been affected by the fluctuating relationship between their country of origin and their new land. Anti-Japanese activities, culminating in the mass internment of almost the entire Japanese American minority on the West Coast after the declaration of war against Japan, profoundly influenced the social and economic status of the Japanese in America, the development and shape of their communities, and the attitudes and behavior of individual Japanese Americans. By the eve of World War II the Japanese communities in the United States had evolved a pattern of economic and social life that paralleled but existed outside the mainstream of American society. Unlike the Chinese community, which had become predominantly urban by the end of the nineteenth century and which was comprised primarily of foreign-born men living in America as bachelors, about half of the Japanese Americans were living in rural areas clustered around small Japanese towns, or nihonmachis, all through the western United States. Moreover, the American-born Japanese, or nisei, had outnumbered the immigrants, or issei, by 1930.

Because of Japan's status as a rising power in the Pacific, the absence of foreign occupation or direct intervention, and the country's rapid industrial modernization, fueled by unimpeded Japanese colonization of Korea and Formosa, conditions of Japanese immigration more closely paralleled European than other Asian immigration. While it is true that the majority of Japanese who came to America between 1885 and 1907 were single young men, they were not the most impoverished persons in their homeland and were also relatively well educated, 1 especially about American life and customs. They had had opportunities to become familiar with the currents of Western thought and modern Western life: in the

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