Historic Resource Study/Special History Study
NPS Logo



Segregation Program (continued)

Cultural Perspectives on Segregation Program. In contrast to WRA investigations examining evacuee resistance to the registration and segregation programs, David A. Hacker, a historian, prepared an academic study linking the registration/segregation responses of residents at Manzanar with their cultural re-identification during the war. This re-identification had begun immediately after the evacuation and was given impetus by the WRA's 'Americanization' program which had attempted to transform the evacuees into "100%" Americans. However, the countervailing Japanization of the relocation centers was acknowledged as a concern of the WRA from the beginning of the camps. Despite pressures both from within and without the camps, the WRA continued to clamor for a continual 'Americanization' program throughout the war. The Americanization program, according to Hacker, failed to fulfill its objectives. In reality, the camps became more and more Japanese in character.

Japanese culture contained specialized controls that defined and proscribed social behavior. Nearly all of these controls were expressions of obligation — to nation, community, family, and intermingling social interactions. In Japanese society, the community and family interacted as controlling agencies, and gained support from each other. Thus, the family in Japanese society was an enforcer of community standards and mores, while the community provided a clear and concise niche for the individual, but only as a member of the family.

In Japan, the community controlled behavior through formal and informal means. The formal means of control limited behavior by limiting choice. The informal controls utilized gossip, and the fear of rejection caused by it, as well as a system of authority structuring that honored the elders.

Many of the social values and controls used in Japan had been continued by the Issei in the United States. The hostility of outside Caucasian communities in the nation had enforced continuation of those processes as protectors and comforters for Japanese Americans. Thus, the social system produced by Japanese Americans in their prewar communities was neither wholly Japanese, nor wholly American in cultural preference. Predominantly Japanese population settlements had become enclaves, where a hybrid cultural social system evolved, cognizant of economic and social contacts with American culture, while isolated for decades from the mainstream of Japanese culture.

Upon evacuation, the Japanese American social system so carefully constructed before the war, began to disintegrate under the social pressures of their wartime experience. Feelings of rejection, reinforced by evacuation, however, led to heightened group solidarity and identification.

This identification within the camps led to resistance, which was generally understood by the WRA as ideological or political. This stance, according to Hacker, failed to incorporate preexisting conditions in the historical development of Japanese American communities in its analysis and, therefore, was unable to see such resistance as a natural part of the cultural milieu of the evacuees.

After an initial period of disorganization, the communities within the relocation centers began to more closely approximate their prewar configurations. Those configurations were a unique blend of traditional Japanese culture as well as American culture. In the relocation centers, Japanese Americans were faced with rigorous attempts to "Americanize" the social system propagated by them in their prewar communities on the west coast. Redevelopment of this culture at Manzanar, according to Hacker, was the first instance of resistance to WRA policies. Stabilization of that community feeling had progressed enough by the time of the registration program so that responses to it were predicated on community opinion trends.

In controlling the response to registration, the evacuee community used traditional means, such as gossip, to limit positive answers. Even the term inu was used to control responses, although gossip itself was often sufficient. The result of this control was the high number of negative answers to the loyalty questions at Manzanar.

This resistance to registration and segregation, as well as relocation, was community-motivated and was meant to maintain the solidarity and identity of the community threatened by those programs. Thus, a cultural choice was more important than a nationalistic one, and community sentiment was more significant than individual sentiment.

According to Hacker, the re-emerged Japanized community at Manzanar had utilized traditional forms of control, such as the maintenance of filial piety and continuance of Issei leadership to determine responses to the registration and segregation programs. As expressed on the block level in the camp, for instance, this control could mandate either a "Yes" or a "No." Before this occurred, however, the traditional leadership which controlled the block had to approve the decision.

For those choosing to segregate, the rejection they felt from America, coupled with the fear of Manzanar's closing had been been major factors. For the segregating Nisei, this rejection had more shocking, but for the Issei, it represented a continuation of historical rejection by American society.

Thus, the evacuees at Manzanar chose a path that led them into conflict with their government supervisors over the government's "Americanization" program. This insistence on American culture as the dominant cultural mode of socialization in the relocation centers led to chronic generational conflict between those Nisei willing to support the WRA program and those Issei, as well as Nisei, wishing to restructure anew their prewar cultural social system. This conflict, according to Hacker, led many observers of the Japanese American evacuees during the war to the belief that pro-Japanese and pro-American factions existed, in toto, within Manzanar and the other relocation centers.

However, a large segment of evacuees at Manzanar rejected the WRA's "Americanization" program and resisted attempts to classify or designate themselves as pro- or anti- American. They revived their prewar cultural milieu in order to protect and comfort themselves amid the struggles brought on by evacuation. They had been rejected by America and, in turn, were forced to reject America. Many went so far in their rejection that they chose to segregate to Tule Lake rather than risk the possibility of finding themselves relocated in a hostile, culturally different America. More than 6,000 evacuees remained at Manzanar, however, because of the increasing security that developed there after the violence in early December 1942. They had gained that security by the accommodation of the camp's administration, as both the WRA appointed personnel led by Project Director Merritt and the evacuees had agreed to pursue the "Peace of Manzanar." In the wake of the violence, the administration had allowed many of the physical aspects of Japanese culture that had been transplanted in the Japanese American prewar communities to be recreated at Manzanar in exchange for a dubious "peace." The evacuees maintained that "peace," but only so much as it was a natural part of their culture, and only so long as it was convenient. [101]

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002