Peace and Dignity Overcome Oppression

The Cultural Effects of World War II on Three Generations of Japanese Americans

Meredith Montgomery

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left: Marion Konishi and her brother in Los Angeles before the war; middle: families of Japanese ancestry boarding buses for an assembly center and aerial view of Granada Relocation Center, Amache, Colorado (both photos courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration); right: Ken Takehara of the 442nd during World War II

Marion Konishi was a happy 16-year-old living a comfortable life with her parents and younger brother in Los Angeles in 1941. They’d go to the movies every Saturday night and they’d attend baseball games whenever they could. Her father, who immigrated to California from Japan in high school, had a produce company, and her Japanese mother, who had been brought to America as an infant, was a homemaker.

But life as they knew it changed drastically when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor that December. “I can still remember how I felt when we heard the news,” says Marion, who is now 96. There were other Japanese families in the neighborhood, but their school’s student body was predominantly white. “All of us did not know whether we should go to school the next day. We were so worried and scared, but our parents encouraged us to go.”

Konishi family (Marion in front) at the beach before World War II

Teachers and peers were initially warm and accepting, but as the scope of the disaster became better understood, public opinion began to change. “Then we didn’t think it was such a good idea to be Japanese and we wished that we didn’t look like the enemy,” Marion says. FBI agents swept through homes in California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii, arresting community leaders and anyone that might be suspected of having sympathetic ties to Japan. All bank accounts belonging to anyone born in Japan were frozen and a curfew was imposed for Japanese people, including Japanese American citizens.

A History of Asian Oppression

This was not the first instance of anti-Japanese acts in the U.S. After Japanese immigrants started arriving in the 1860s, the Japanese Exclusion League formed in the early 1900s and used legislation, boycotts, propaganda and school segregation to oppress these new members of the population. Immigrant quotas that excluded any Asians from entering the U.S. were established, and in 1922, the Supreme Court ruled that Japanese immigrants were not eligible for naturalized citizenship — only free white persons and, since…

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Meredith Montgomery

writer | designer | artist | mom | ryt | herbivore | nature nut | music enthusiast | slow bicyclist