Article

Hana Shimozumi Iki

Japanese woman in flouncy white dress and coiffed hair sits for studio portrait
Hana Shimozumi Iki, ca. 1915-1920

Courtesy the Library of Congress

Article written by Ellie Kaplan


Born in Hawai‘i and raised in San Francisco by Anglo-American guardians, Hana Shimozumi still had to prove her “Americanness” throughout her life due to her Japanese ethnicity. As a young opera star, Shimozumi encountered frequent incredulity at her unaccented English from those who assumed she a Japanese national. Years later she faced the ultimate assault on her American identity. During World War II she was sent to the Tule Lake War Relocation Center solely because of her Japanese ancestry.

Shimozumi was born in Honolulu on October 22, 1893, nine months after white businessmen overthrew the Hawaiian government.1 The following year, she arrived in San Francisco where she was put under the care of white guardians.2 Growing up, Shimozumi learned Latin, French, and Italian, though not Japanese, and started voice lessons at age twelve.3 In her late teens, she was performing concerts around the Bay Area when she was discovered by the opera producer Fortune Gallo. Shimozumi joined the new Gallo English Opera Company’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, a comic opera set in Japan.4 Shimozumi was credited as the first woman of Japanese ancestry to play the leading soprano role of Yum Yum.5 As she toured the U.S. and Canada in 1919 and 1920, the press lauded Shimozumi for her beauty, voice, and acting skills; however, they also exoticized her, making clear that part of the draw of her performance was her Japanese ethnicity.6

Shimozumi married George Iki, a Japanese immigrant who was studying to be a physician at the University of California Berkeley in May 1921. Shimozumi gave birth to their only child, Marsha, the following March.7 The new family lived for several years in San Francisco, where Iki worked as a doctor and Shimozumi gave the occasional performance, before moving to Sacramento in the late 1920s.8

When the United States declared war on Japan in December 1941, the Iki family’s fortunes plummeted. Under the powers granted by Executive Order 9066, the Iki family was forced to sell their house, medical practice, and most of their belongings and forced to move to the Walerga Assembly Center in Sacramento. From there, the U.S. government relocated the Iki family into the Tule Lake War Relocation Center several hours away. Tule Lake was the largest of the ten U.S. concentration camps, reaching a population of 18,700 people, and held Japanese Americans primarily from western Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, including Sacramento.9 Although “internment camp” is sometimes used to describe these camps, many historians and Japanese Americans view the term as an euphemism and prefer the phrase “concentration camp.”10 Much like the other Japanese American women forced into these camps, Shimozumi continued in her role as family caregiver. She worked to transform her family’s assigned barracks into a home and looked after her elderly white aunt, who accompanied the family to Tule Lake. However, there were also significant changes in family life: Shimozumi was no longer responsible for preparing meals, which instead were taken in mess halls, and she likely found her family spending less time together, as was the case for most families in the camps.11 Her husband continued in his work as a doctor, unlike the majority of men, whose work, status, and authority radically changed while confined in the concentration camps.12 His expertise resulted in the family being moved to other concentration camps, including Gila River in Arizona.13

Released in the final months of the war, Hana and George moved to Los Angeles, where he practiced medicine at an interracial health clinic.14 In the mid-1960s, the whole family moved back to Sacramento and enjoyed Iki’s semi-retirement until his death in 1974.15 Shimozumi died four years later on July 12, 1978.16 Hana Shimozumi’s life experiences, in American opera houses and concentration camps, demonstrated that the acceptance of non-white Americans as full Americans citizens was precarious throughout the twentieth century.


Acknowledgements

This project was made possible in part by a grant from the National Park Foundation.
This project was conducted in Partnership with the University of California Davis History Department through the Californian Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, CA# P20AC00946


Further Reading:

Valerie Matsumoto. “Japanese American Women During World War II.” Frontiers 8 no. 1 (1984), 6-14.



1 “Hana Iki in the California, Federal Naturalization Records, 1843-1999,” NAI Number: 618171, Record Group Title 21, Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685-2009, database on-line, Ancestry.com, National Archives at Riverside, Riverside California.

2 “Hana Iki in the California, Federal Naturalization Records, 1843-1999.” “Mrs. Emma G. Perkins is Appointed Guardian,” San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), January 14, 1902, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers, Library of Congress, https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1902-01-14/ed-1/seq-5/.

3 Vella Winner, “Japanese Has American Tastes,” Oregon Daily Journal (Portland, OR), September 1, 1920, Newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/12544096/hana-shimozumi-1920/.

4 “Japanese Prima Donna Is Real American,” Washington Times (Washington D.C.), September 14, 1919, Newspaper Archive, http://newspaperarchive.com/washington-times-sep-14-1919-p-16/.

5 “Hana Shimozumi, Jap Prima Donna Coming with Opera,” Eau Claire Leader (Eau Claire, WI), January 23, 1920, Newspaper Archive, https://newspaperarchive.com/eau-claire-leader-jan-23-1920-p-4.

6 Japanese Prima Donna,” Lethbridge Herald (Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada), September 10, 1920, Newspaper Archive, https://newspaperarchive.com/browse/ca/ab/lethbridge/lethbridge-herald/1920/sep-10-p-8/.

7 Winner, “Japanese Has American Tastes.” “Hana Iki in the California, Federal Naturalization Records, 1843-1999.”

8 “Oral History of Marsha Iki,” Walerga Oral History Project, Issei Oral History Project, Center for Sacramento History, Sacramento, CA, 1979, https://archive.org/details/casacsh_000190/casacsh_000190_a_access.mp3. “Oakland Ad Club to Hold Opera Lunch Tuesday,” Oakland Tribune (Oakland, CA), August 28, 1926, https://newspaperarchive.com/oakland-tribune-aug-28-1926-p-3/.

9 Tule Lake Committee, “History,” 2012, text from Barbara Takei and Judy Tachibana, Tule Lake Revisited: A Brief History and Guide to the Tule Lake Concentration Camp Site, Second Edition (Tule Lake Committee, Inc, 2012), https://www.tulelake.org/history.

10 Roger Daniels, “Words Do Matter: A Note on Inappropriate Terminology and the Incarceration of the Japanese Americans,” in Louis Fiset and Gail Nomura, eds., Nikkei in the Pacific Northwest: Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians in the Twentieth Century (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005), 183-207, https://www.nps.gov/tule/learn/education/upload/RDaniels_euphemisms.pdf (PDF, 207 KB). Lori Grisham and Edward Schumacher-Matos, “Euphemisms, Concentration Camps, and the Japanese Internment,” National Public Radio, February 10, 2012, https://www.npr.org/sections/publiceditor/2012/02/10/146691773/euphemisms-concentration-camps-and-the-japanese-internment.

11 Valerie Matsumoto, “Japanese American Women During World War II,” Frontiers 8 no. 1 (1984), 8.

12 U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (1982), National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/files/research/japanese-americans/justice-denied/chapter-6.pdf (PDF, 29 MB).

13 “Oral History of Marsha Iki.”

14 “Oral History of Marsha Iki.” “Dr. George Iki Joins Inter-racial Clinic in Los Angeles,” The Colorado Times (Denver, CO), July 7, 1945, Library of Congress, https://cdn.loc.gov/service/sgp/sgpbatches/batch_dlc_dupontcircle_ver01/data/sn83025518/00237288701/1945070701/0411.pdf (PDF, 790 KB).

15 “Oral History of Marsha Iki.” “George S Iki in the California Death Index, 1940-1997,” database on-line, Ancestry.com, State of California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics, Sacramento, CA.

16 “Hana Shimozumi Iki in the California Death Index, 1940-1997,” database on-line, Ancestry.com, State of California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics, Sacramento, CA.

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Last updated: March 3, 2022