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"Americanization" and Reparations for Internment

"Americanization" and Reparations for Internment

Discrimination and suspicion forced Japanese Americans to perform their patriotism in ways that were not required of other Americans or European immigrants, and was crucial to their safety and self-preservation. For example, when white soldiers harassed paroled Japanese Americans in transit to Seabrook, Yager commended the released internees, on behalf of the WRA, for quietly tolerating the abuse with no “argument, disorder, shoving, or man-handling.” At Seabrook, the company constantly captured proof of Japanese Americans’ patriotism and social “rehabilitation” through the propaganda it provided. At Seabrook, the WRA and company officials emphasized a program of social reintegration, an ambiguous concept given the fact that many Nisei had only known the United States as a home, had attended public high schools and universities in California and Washington, and had grown up loving American movies, food, and sports the same as their non-Asian American peers. The Issei sent to Seabrook did not receive the right to naturalize as American citizens until 1952 when the federal statute was changed. Many had children who served in the war, with at least three mothers being rewarded “Gold Stars” – the medal given to those who lost sons in the service.

Some Nisei saw the internment camps and Seabrook as an opportunity to seize leadership from their immigrant parents and to take a more prominent role in defining the needs and interests of the community as a whole. Still, the mixed feelings that released internees had about Seabrook reflected the fact their choices remained limited by racism and their parole status. Yoshiko Hasegawa recalled how the “great Japanese spirit worked so hard so that Mr. Seabrook was able to upgrade his rickety plant.” This fact would resurface in the movements for redress, when largely Nisei activists campaigned for monetary reparations for internment.Testifying before the redress commission appointed by Congress in 1980, William Kochiyama recalled of his experience at Seabrook that, “Any promotions to the top positions were made available to the Caucasians.” Nor is there any evidence that Seabrook backed former internees in their attempts to win redress from the federal government, despite the fact that the company directly benefited from the fact that Issei and Nisei workers were barred from working on their own farms in California and other Western states. Only after years of organizing did incarcerated Japanese Americans receive a formal apology from the government and living survivors received a onetime $20,000 redress payment for the trauma and financial devastation caused by internment. Reparations discriminated against Japanese Peruvians, who, despite having lost all of their assets through internment, only received $5,000 in 1998 as part of a government settlement to a class action lawsuit.

Letter from Harry C. Smalley, Principal of Bridgeton High School, to H. Leon Yager, WRA, May 25, 1945

A letter from the principal of Bridgeton High School, Harry C. Smalley, praises Japanese American students and the ease with which they have been assimilated into the student body. Smalley claims that "If the boys and girls which we have are typical of all American born Japanese then they are a credit and an asset to any student body." Records of the War Manpower Commission, Record Group 211, Region III, National Archives at Philadelphia

Naturalization class students intent on listening to their teachers Mr. & Mrs. Berhbert Brauer of the American Legion

Seabrook championed its “rehabilitation” of Japanese American citizens and immigrants requiring further "Americanization." When the 1952 Walter-McCarran Act permitted Asian immigrants to naturalize, Seabrook actively promoted - and documented - the occasion. Here, Issei signed up for a "fundamentals of American history" class taught by the American Legion, to prepare them for their citizenship test. Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, New Jersey Digital Highway

American Legion questionnaire

The Seabrook chapter of the JACL provided a translated version of American Legion questionnaire. These questionnaires were meant to aid citizen hopefuls applying for naturalization and citizenship to the United States. The questions provide an elementary (and uncritical) overview of American history. Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, New Jersey Digital Highway

127 newly naturalized citizens take an oath as new citizens in the auditorium of the Seabrook Community House, June 25, 1953
A group of Japanese immigrants jointly take the oath of citizenship. Celebrations such as this, which continue today, were designed to foster patriotism through rituals. Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, New Jersey Digital Highway

Newly naturalized citizen voting for the first time

Seabrook continued to document the "Americanization" of Issei and Nisei residents after Issei gained citizenship. Here, the camera captures an Issei man performing a quintessential act of democracy and citizenship - voting. Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, New Jersey Digital Highway

Gold Star Mothers

The women pictured here are “Gold Star Mothers,” an honorary designation given to women whose sons died in the war. Here, the Japanese Americans Citizens League celebrates their newfound citizenship at a dinner commemorating the ten-year anniversary of arrival of Japanese Americans at Seabrook. More than other internees, the Gold Star Mothers were subject to a particularly horrific and brutal form of irony. At the same time their loyalty was being questioned, their sons were sacrificing their lives as an obligation of their American citizenship. Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, New Jersey Digital Highway

Wounded Japanese veterans at Seabrook

Johnny "Pineapple" Kubota, Michi Nishiura, and Richard Ouchi pose for a picture at Seabrook. Kubota, on the left, lost his leg fighting in Italy and, after the war, convalesced in Atlantic City before joining his family at Seabrook. Michi (Nishiura) Weglyn attended Barnard College but lived with her family and worked as a disc jockey at Seabrook during the summers. She would later write Years of Infamy. Published in 1975, Years of Infamy uncovered previously hidden government documents that refuted the government's claim that internment was a military necessity. Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, New Jersey Digital Highway

JACL Evacuations Bill

The JACL lobbied Congress to pass Evacuation Claims Bill HR 3999, in order for former internees to recover property stolen from them after their incarceration. In 1951, Congress granted a settlement program, but restricted it to elderly claimants, like the woman pictured here. Congress also capped monetary redress at $2,500. The JACL helped elderly Issei file claims, donating time and legal advice. However, because of the large amount of paperwork, only 137 claims were settled nationwide. It would take nearly three decades of organizing and lobbying before large numbers of Japanese Americans would receive substantial monetary reparations for internment. Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, New Jersey Digital Highway

CWRIC flyer

After extensive lobbying undertaken by Nisei activists and their third-generation children, in 1980 Congress created the Committee on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians to investigate the incarceration of Japanese Americans during the war and to recommend remedies. Because the CWRIC lacked the power to formally correct grievances, activists feared that it was a symbolic, placating measure. Beginning in 1981, the CWRIC conducted hearings in 20 cities and heard testimony from formerly incarcerated Japanese Americans from all over the nation. After hearing thousands of testimonies and poring over declassified documents that revealed that the government itself had questioned whether incarceration was a military necessity, the CWRIC recommended, among other things, a formal apology and $20,000 individual redress payments for every surviving individual Japanese American who had been incarcerated. These reparations would be the basis for the Congressional redress bills that followed. Courtesy of the George Yuzawa Papers, TAM.442, Box 1, Folder 91, Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Hearing in New York: East Coast Japanese Americans for Redress: Correspondence, Flyer and Press Release, Tamiment Library, New York University