As for Yoshiki Yoshida, the president of the Orange County chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League at the outbreak of WWII, it was driven to a certain extent by his family being part of the large contingent of prewar Nikkei family who lived and farmed on Irvine Ranch property (central Orange County). Maki Kanno's* interview provided the project with a representative from Greenville, in unincorporated area west of Santa Ana.
Over 90 percent of Japanese Americans were involved in farming. We wanted to showcase those families farming Orange County's four major cash crops (celery, sugar beets, chili peppers and strawberries), plus families associated with another less customary agricultural activity, goldfish farming, that was particularly identified with the County's Nikkei community.
The anxiety that the Issei interviewees felt in relation to their Japanese translators, however, derived from a quite different circumstance. Put simply, they felt that the "traditional" Japanese they had acquired in the Meiji-era (1868-1912) and Taisho-era (1912-1926) Japan prior to emigrating was "obsolete" and that this situation would hamper communication with their translators, who had been schooled in a "modern" variant of the Japanese language.
Nisei Kazuo "Kaz" Masuda* attended Huntington Beach High School and, along with his family, attended the Wintersburg Japanese Presbyterian Church. The Masuda family's experience during WWII was recognized by President Ronald Reagan during his national address regarding the signing of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. (Photo, the442nd.org)
These older Nisei also nursed some trepidation that their scholarly questioners would assume that they could present a fairly polished and comprehensive account of the Japanese American historical experience.
The time seemed right in the early 1980s, during the rising tide of the movement among Japanese Americans for redress and reparations of their WWII mistreatment, for those interviewed to speak up for democracy, social justice and dignity. It also was a time, at the peak moment of the so-called "Japanese miracle" in Japan, for Nikkei to give voice, though not ostentatiously so, to their pride in both their Japanese ancestry and heritage and their history and identity as patriotic Americans of Japanese descent.
Many Issei told stories about their marriages, their family and institution-building activities, how they coped with or circumvented prejudicial laws and extralegal measures aimed at them as Japanese or Asian immigrants, and when they decided, and why, to forego returning to Japan and make America (most especially Orange County) their permanent home.
Poston, Arizona Relocation Camp on the Colorado River Indian Tribes Reservation, about 12 miles south of Parker, Arizona. Most, if not all, of Orange County's Japanese Americans were evacuated to Poston. (Photo, KPBS.org)
Since in the postwar era many of the older Nisei carved out successful careers in a variety of different venues and raised children (third generation Sansei)--who often excelled in school and established themselves as business leaders and professionals--these experiences were frequently (and proudly) covered in their interviews.
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