The rhetoric of identity in Japanese American writings, 1948-1988
I examine the rhetoric of identity in Japanese American writings (1948-1988), focusing on two questions: How did Japanese American writers characterize Japanese Americans? Why did they characterize them in the ways they did? The introduction ("The Making of a Japanese American Identity") presents an overview of the anti-Japanese movement in America and the attacks in the media on the character of Japanese Americans used by white working class and racist organizations to justify both the exclusion of Japanese workers from the American state and discrimination against Japanese Americans. The exclusionists and racists charged that anyone of Japanese ancestry was loyal to the Japanese emperor and unassimilable. To counteract these charges, many of the Nisei (second-generation) writers portrayed Japanese Americans as patriotic (Chapter 1-"Nisei Patriotism"), assimilated (Chapter 2-"In the Melting Pot"), and ideally middle-class (Chapter 3-"The Hawaii Success Story"). Chapter 4 ("Down and Out in California") analyzes the rhetoric of two West Coast Nisei short story writers, Toshio Mori and Hisaye Yamamoto, who characterized the Issei and Nisei not as model middle-class citizens, but as struggling outcasts and victims who deserved sympathy rather than animosity from the American public. Chapter 5 ("The Passive Stance in Nisei Writing") discusses the generally deferential stance of Nisei writers and points out that this stance had its roots in Confucian rather than American values. Chapter 6 ("Active Voices: West Coast Sansei Poetry") describes the emergence of a new Japanese American identity during the 70's and 80's emphasizing protest rather than tolerance and acceptance. Under the influence of the Black Power and Third World movements, a new generation of West Coast Japanese American writers, mainly Sansei (third generation), rejected unquestioning patriotism, assimilation, middle-class success, and political passivity as the main elements of a Japanese American identity, instead emphasizing ethnic differences, cultural pluralism, and political activism. In conclusion I argue that the rhetoric of ethnicity and protest has had a beneficial effect on the Japanese American community, creating a healthier ethnic identity for Japanese Americans and promoting greater political and cultural participation in society.
- English