19 February 2008

Japanese Internment in Canada and the U.S.

A recent article by Stephanie Bangarth in Japan Focus examines Nikkei Loyalty and Resistance in Canada and the United States, 1942-1947. Here is an excerpt.
A basic accounting of the similarities and differences in the situation of American and Canadian Nikkei sets forth something like this: In North [and South] America in general, the Japanese were subjected to discriminatory treatment upon arrival, including the denial of citizenship rights in the US and franchise rights in Canada; they negotiated this impediment by clustering in “ethnic enclaves” primarily on the west coast and increasingly became objects of suspicion, fear, and envy over the course of the early twentieth century. Following the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, both countries “evacuated” Japanese aliens, Japanese nationals, and their North American–born children from their west coasts and “relocated” them to inland camps on the basis of “military necessity,” a politically expedient term legitimating an historic racist animus. This movement involved about 112,000 people in the US and nearly 22,000 in Canada.

In the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor, both the US and Canada also developed policies that were used to defraud the Nikkei of their property and to encourage a more even “dispersal” of the population throughout the country. The policies diverged in the mid-1940s when the Canadian government expatriated Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry and deported some Japanese aliens (those who signed repatriation forms requesting to be sent to Japan). The Americans also deported some, but only those who renounced American citizenship. Japanese Canadians were disfranchised by provincial and federal legislation; by virtue of the Bill of Rights, those Japanese Americans who had been born in the US were not. In addition, they were permitted to enlist and many did so proudly in the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It is also worth noting that many Nisei who joined the armed forces did so while their families remained in the camps; still others resisted pressures to join, particularly after 20 January 1944 when the draft was reinstated for Japanese Americans.

Throughout much of the war, by contrast, their Canadian counterparts were prohibited from serving in the armed forces and thereby demonstrating their loyalty. Canadian government officials feared that in return for serving their country, Japanese Canadians might agitate for the franchise. It was only toward the end of the war that about 150 Nisei were permitted to work as translators for the Canadian military. Another important difference is that the US government allowed persons of Japanese ancestry to return to the Pacific coast in 1945 as a result of the Endo decision, whereas Japanese Canadians had to wait until 1949 when wartime government legislation finally lapsed.
via K. M. Lawson's Asian History Carnival #19 at Frog in a Well

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