Reading America: Asian and Japanese Americans Anxious in New Era of US-China Rivalry

It has been 81 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. In Japan, this date is December 8, marking the start of the American-Japanese War. As anti-Japanese sentiment and racial discrimination intensified in American society after the attack on Pearl Harbor, many Japanese-Americans were detained.

Their children and grandchildren, or Nisei, are as Asian American as their parents. They reflect America’s diverse immigrant population.

Today, the arrival of the COVID-19 virus from China and the escalating conflict between China and the US has led to growing anti-Chinese sentiment and discrimination. To find out, Sankei spoke to American families anxious about these growing trends.

In this story, we delve into one family’s concerns about the future of Asian-Americans living in the United States.

Children of Japanese Americans and Nisei

Former President Trump sparked hostility toward Asian-Americans by referring to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” He acted as if Asian Americans had something to do with COVID-19.

This is the same tactic that the Roosevelt administration used against Japan during World War II, branding Japanese-Americans “foreigners of the enemy” and making them scapegoats. This must never happen again. I don’t want this to happen again.


WAW!2022: Japan hosts World Conference on Women after three-year hiatus

These were the words of Tara Hirose Wu, a third-generation Japanese-American lawyer, in an interview on March 13 in Washington, DC.

Tara’s father, Mutsuo Hirose, 94, is a second-generation Japanese-American. He was one of the Japanese-Americans interned after the outbreak of the Japanese-American War.

Tara is disgusted by Mr. Trump’s comments, which are said to have encouraged hate crimes against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic, based on her sense of justice as a lawyer. But it also reflects broader concerns about her family’s future. Tara’s husband, Jeff Wu, is of Chinese descent, and their son just turned 12.

The night before the interview, Tara’s father, Mutsuo, had been invited to a ceremony in Washington, D.C., honoring Japanese-American veterans. There, he shared his experiences. His story is the history of Japanese-American incarceration. Close family members of Tara and Jeff described the experience as “an example of the failure of American democracy that stands for liberty and equality.”

Japanese American
Mutsuo Hirose with his daughter Tara, and her husband Jeff. (© Sankei by Yusuke Hirata)

Anti-Japanese Sentiment and Human Rights Issues

Mutsuo Hirose was 13 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was on his way home from fishing in a beach town in California when he saw American troops on the move. Naturally he wondered where they were going. When he got home, he heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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The next morning at school, the principal asks Mutsuo to raise the flag on behalf of the students, swearing allegiance to the United States. Mr. Hirose recalled gratefully: “The principal worried that anti-Japanese sentiment might grow among the students. He gave me the opportunity to stand in front of everyone and prove my American citizenship.”

Still, with anti-Japanese sentiment rising in the country, the principal’s concerns proved correct. It resulted in the deprivation of liberty and property confiscation of 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast.


WAW!2022: Japan hosts World Conference on Women after three-year hiatus

Japanese Americans were transferred to 10 internment camps across the United States, severely violating their human rights. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, paving the way for their incarceration.

More than two months after the war started. The order authorizes Army commanders to expel residents from “designated military areas” to prevent espionage and subversion.

At the camp, Mutsuo said he spent many days asking himself, “Why am I here? I was born in America, and I’m American.”

Japanese-Americans serving as U.S. military personnel in Japan

The camp was built in no man’s land, and the living conditions were harsh. “Summer is hot, winter is cold,” Mr. Hirose described.

Mutsuo’s father died at the Tule Lake internment camp in California. After losing the breadwinner of his family, Mutsuo graduated from high school and enlisted in the army.

The war is over. But after training in boot camp, he was sent to occupied Japan in 1946 to work at Allied Headquarters (GHQ) in Tokyo.

Hirose’s father was born in Yamanashi Prefecture, and his mother was born in Sapporo. This is his first visit to his parents’ home country.


WAW!2022: Japan hosts World Conference on Women after three-year hiatus

The land is ravaged by war, and the people are in dire straits. When his relatives learned of his arrival in Japan, they turned to him for help.

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“I bought a lot of daily necessities at an American military store to give to relatives, but no one said thank you, which made me sad,” he recalls.

For native Japanese, the Nisho who came to Japan as part of the occupying force elicited mixed feelings, even if those Nisei were their relatives.

A Generation of Model Japanese Americans

After three years of service with GHQ, Mr. Hirose left the military and returned to his hometown in California. There, he attended college with the help of the GI Bill and became a teacher. (The law provides educational assistance to retired soldiers.)

He was married and had a daughter, Tara, who went on to graduate from the prestigious Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. She also studied at Oxford University, UK.

Even after the war, discrimination remained high. But both father and daughter were able to advance in American society. The Hirose family became the embodiment of the “model minority” and a symbol of hardworking Japanese-Americans.

Postwar Nisei dedicated to public service

The postwar Japanese-American community also produced some influential politicians, including Daniel Inouye (1924-2012). Inouye served as a U.S. Senator and received many honors for his service with the U.S. Army’s 442nd Unit, the Nisei military unit that fought on the front lines in Europe during the war.


WAW!2022: Japan hosts World Conference on Women after three-year hiatus

On August 10, 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, formally apologizing for the incarceration of Japanese Americans and promising reparations. At this point, the United States has restored the honor of Japanese Americans.

At the U.S. Army Museum in Virginia near Washington, D.C., there are a series of memorials along the “Road of Memorial” along the parking lot entrance. The first monument in the series commemorates the 442nd Regimental Combat Team to which Inoue and his comrades belonged.

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This monument is a testament to the respect American society has for the II servicemen who served in World War II.

fear of anti-Chinese sentiment

However, discrimination against Nissei and Asian Americans has not disappeared from American society. This point was made by Admiral Harris, the first Japanese-American (and Asian-American) admiral and former commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command.

At a March 12 ceremony where Mutsuo Hirose shared his story, Admiral Harris noted, “Hirose and other Japanese-American veterans who fought discrimination and prejudice during and after World War II continue to engage with Asians today. Fight hate crime.”

According to a report released in summer 2022 by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, there will be 369 hate crimes against Asian Americans in 21 cities in 2021, which is 2.2 times the same period last year. In 2020 there were 114 such anti-Asian hate crimes. The center analyzed hate crime data in major U.S. cities.

New York City had the highest number of hate crimes against Asians with 133. San Francisco, California, has 60, followed by Los Angeles, California, with 41.


WAW!2022: Japan hosts World Conference on Women after three-year hiatus

Seeking to End Bias and Discrimination

Tara’s in-laws are from China. Her husband, Jeff, was born in Texas, but he grew up with prejudice and discrimination against Chinese Americans.

when Sankei Shimbun Asked if Jeff was worried about the escalating conflict between China and the United States, Jeff responded immediately. “I’m very concerned,” he said, referring to the growing hostility toward Chinese and other Asian Americans that once targeted people of Japanese descent.

Jeff continued, punctuating every word, as if to confirm his own thoughts:

The incarceration that disenfranchised my father-in-law during World War II is an extreme example. I don’t know if the same thing will happen to Asians today.

However, discrimination and prejudice are embedded in human nature. It is impossible to predict what events this hostility will lead to, but I fear it will create new fears and new victims.


(Read the story in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Yusuke Hirata


WAW!2022: Japan hosts World Conference on Women after three-year hiatus

Originally written in Japanese and translated into English with the help of Samantha Lee.


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