The Story of the Issei and Nisei

Hello everyone,

Today, I would like to discuss a particular aspect of the research that I have been doing about Japanese – American people during WWII. As the rising tension between America and Japan peaked as the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred, the aftermath left America in great peril. The propaganda pushed anti – Japanese ideas and caused the climate of America to point towards Japanese fear and questioning. This feeling towards the Japanese led to the creation of internment camps. These camps housed people of Japanese ancestry that were living in the United States. The included people in this relocation effort were all people of Japanese ancestry that were healthy enough to be relocated. Of the peoples housed in these camps the population is historically divided into two fundamental groups. The Issei are first generation, Japanese immigrants, and the Nisei. The Nisei are the second generation Japanese – Americans. This group was typically born in America and began schooling in America also; there is a group of Nisei that was born in America but had schooling back in Japan. When the word spread that people of Japanese ancestry would be relocated to internment camps, many Issei did not believe this order would include their children due to them being born in America and being full citizens. Nisei, however were placed in camps for there possible connection to the homeland of Japan.

The two groups, the Issei and Nisei are described as having different mindsets about going to the internment camps and being under the restrictions that the United States government placed these individuals under.  The Issei were generally unbothered and non-confrontational about the matter. They believed this non-confrontational approach was the best method to take against the matter. One account from an Issei inside an internment camp spoke to some of the reason why he has accepted his role inside the camp. He makes the point that outside the camp, the Japanese people faced a great deal of prejudice and discrimination against them due to the anti – Japanese climate in post-Pearl Harbor America. This observation by the Issei brings up an interesting thought inside the minds of people of his generation; many Issei came to America with very little and had worked their way into developing a steady income in America. Through this hard work these individuals faced a lot injustice that made the conditions of the internment camps not as bad comparably. The Nisei were not as receptive to the relocation such as the older generation. This group had seen more freedom on the outside of the internment camps and did not feel like they belonged in the camps due to their lack of direct connection to Japan. In the book, Infamy: A Story Untold, the author writes of the large number of Nisei youngmen that were taunted with the idea of a all – Nisei combat regiment. Joining this combat team was meant to show their loyalty to the United States and not to Japan. This issue played a large role in dividing the Issei and Nisei; many Nisei were faced with the conflicting ideas of serving in the combat team to show their loyalty to America, or not serving as many of their parents wished and proving “disloyal” to America.  Propaganda heavily reinforced the idea that Nisei serving in the Army was their “golden opportunity” to secure their futures as Americans. This left many Nisei with the choice of going against their parents will to be safe and joining the combat team due to all the propaganda pointing to it being the right thing to do to show American loyalty.

The two groups, Issei and Nisei, both had different thoughts about being in the internment camps and on the inside of camps this caused friction and really divided the group as a whole. Inside the camps the two groups functioned as two separate entities and each had self-sufficient governments with elected officials. The Issei and Nisei were not largely different people; however, their different upbringing and place in America was enough to divide these groups on a greater level.

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