Browse new and forthcoming books in Asian American Studies by visiting our virtual exhibit. We are pleased to offer AAAS members a 30% discount on all orders. If placing an order through our website, you can take advantage of the conference discount with promo code WAAAS23 at checkout now through May 31, 2023.
In this community memoir, Wats connects the deeply personal with the uncompromisingly political by telling the stories of more than thirty Asian American AIDS activists. For many, the AIDS epidemic sparked the beginning of their continued work to build multiracial coalitions and confront broader systemic inequities. Detailing the intertwined realities of race and sexuality in AIDS activism, Love Your Asian Body offers a vital portrait of a movement founded on joy.
A brilliant, gorgeous, and nuanced rendering of queer Asian American activism in the 1980s and 1990s. This is the book I have been waiting for all my life.
—Anthony Christian Ocampo, author of The Latinos of Asia: How Filipino Americans Break the Rules of Race
This book is an inspiring work that deserves to be read as it is an integral piece towards understanding the queer Asian American struggle for sexual liberation and health equity.
Critical Filipinx Studies is a new book series from the University of Washington Press, edited by Robyn Magalit Rodriguez, founding director of the Bulosan Center for Filipinx Studies. This series lifts up the decolonizing identities and cultural productions of people who claim roots to the Philippines and illuminates how Filipinos in America and across the diaspora experience and imagine their everyday lives.
Informed by cultural studies, ethnic studies, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, this series is necessarily a feminist and queer project. Emphasizing work by scholar-activists who adopt a stance of care—ethical and political commitment—toward the people whose lives animate their work, it traces interracial solidarities, as fraught as they may be, to disrupt racial capitalism’s impulse to both homogenize and propagate “multicultural” difference.
“I can think of no better partner than the UW Press in launching this historically significant book series in Critical Filipinx Studies. UW has published important texts in Asian American Studies and will continue to be at the cutting edge of Asian American Studies scholarship with this series,” explains Robyn Magalit Rodriguez.
This series will publish books that engage with some of the following questions: What are the experiences of Filipinx migrants and what about these experiences sheds light on the nature of global racial capitalism? How do Filipinx people resist imperial and neocolonial structures and imagine and organize toward non-extractive, regenerative futures? How are Filipinx people represented across multiple forms of media and in what ways do they counter these representations? How do Filipinx people construct an alternative global archipelago of being and belonging?
“I’m looking for vibrant interdisciplinary projects or projects rooted in various disciplines, including critical ethnic studies, Asian/American studies, history, cultural studies, geography, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. I’m also particularly drawn to books that are theoretically rich but accessible to readers outside of academia. I’d love for these books to be on the shelves at local independent bookstores and public libraries,” adds Acquisitions Editor Mike Baccam.
Proposals for single-authored books across disciplines, from monographs to other compelling nonfiction books that appeal to a broader audience, are welcome for submission. We will also consider groundbreaking anthologies. Queries may be sent to Robyn at email@example.com and to Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the particular pleasures of shepherding my book The Unsung Great: Stories of Extraordinary Japanese Americansthrough the publication process has been the chance to work with University of Washington Press, especially with editors Larin McLaughlin and Mike Baccam. A big reason I decided to publish with UW press is the positive experience I had with them on my previous book project, the coedited collection John Okada: The Life and Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy (2018). Indeed, it felt like second nature to continue working with UW Press because of the close connections between John Okada and The Unsung Great. Not only do both books center on the histories of remarkable but little-known Japanese Americans but The Unsung Great contains a pair of chapters that are spun off from the earlier project (which itself takes off from John Okada’s groundbreaking novel No-No Boy, also published by UW Press).
One of the Okada chapters of The Unsung Great is an account of the long evolution through which the book John Okada came into existence, and the mechanics of my collaboration with my coeditors Frank Abe and Floyd Cheung. I want to share an interesting aspect of our collaboration that I did not touch on in my account, as it later had a funny sequel. It revolved around the respective value of theory versus experience.
Let me explain. Several years ago when I first joined forces on the Okada project with Frank and Floyd , we all agreed that Frank should serve as our project leader because of his long years of doing research on the life and times of John Okada. Conversely, I volunteered to be our chief representative in discussions with the press over our book contract, and to lead whatever negotiations we would need. The reason for this was that I was the only one among the three of us who had previously published books, and thus had a more concrete idea of what to expect. When the time came to settle on the contract provisions, everything went smoothly, and we were all satisfied with the result.
Fast forward to early 2019, not long after the publication of the book. Frank and I went on a book tour of Southern California (sadly, Floyd was not able to join us), and we presented on John Okada at various book events. On multiple occasions, audience members asked a longstanding question about No-No Boy: namely, what had led Okada to give that title to his novel, which dealt with a Japanese American draft resister? They noted correctly that the “no-no boys” were in fact the camp inmates who had been ordered to fill out loyalty questionnaires by the US government, had refused for various reasons to give the answers the government wanted, and had been forcibly separated from other inmates and locked up in a high security “segregation center” at the Tule Lake camp. Okada’s book, in contrast, dealt with a Japanese American who—after presumably giving the “right” answers on the loyalty questionnaire—had resisted joining the US Army in protest over the continued confinement of his family in the camp. The audience members regretted the confusion caused by the misleading title and asked us to explain the paradox.
When these questions came up, Frank, as the resident Okada expert, felt obliged to discuss the different theories that scholars had come up with over the years to explain the title. Once Frank had finished, I weighed in—not as an expert on Okada but as a veteran book author. I remarked that in my experience publishers did not always accept an author’s suggested title, and instead they often proposed their own. I recalled that in the case of my first book, By Order of the President, I went through an extended back-and-forth with the publisher, with each of us proposing several alternatives, before I finally came up with the title phrase that satisfied them—and was, in fact, the best choice, I believe. I noted that in the surviving correspondence we had unearthed between Okada and his publisher, the author did not indicate any proposed title for the manuscript that he offered them for publication. This absence, in addition to Okada’s inexperience with publishing, led me to deduce that it was his publisher who had chosen the title, opting for a catchy phrase over strict accuracy.
The audience seemed to react with amusement at the discovery that such an aged and apparently thorny intellectual question actually had a simple explanation. I was reminded of a story I read in Samuel Rosenberg’s book Naked Is the Best Disguise, about T. S. Eliot’s 1935 play, Murder in the Cathedral. In one scene, Eliot’s characters pronounce a litany that seems identical to one in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tale “The Musgrave Ritual.” Apparently different literary critics debated at length over the relationship between the two: whether they were connected and whether Eliot had adapted Doyle’s words or whether they came from a common source. Finally, Nathan Bengis, an American Sherlockian, announced that he had thought to write Eliot himself about the matter, and Eliot had responded that his borrowing from “The Musgrave Ritual” was deliberate and wholly conscious. So, there are times when complex theories are trumped by simple realities.
And I have a final confession to make: The title The Unsung Great, which pleases me greatly, was chosen by the publisher.
Greg Robinson is professor of history at l’Université du Québec à Montréal and author of several books, including After Camp: Portraits in Midcentury Japanese American Life and Politics and By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans.
I initially encountered Aiiieeeee! in the winter of 2003, during my first Asian American literature course at Wesleyan University. My professor deftly outlined the major critiques that had been leveled against the anthology over the years—the narrowness of its definition of Asian America, its overtly masculine tone and underrepresentation of women, its American-born, monolingual perspective—and with each contention, I grew more indignant. The magnitude of my indignation was perhaps out of proportion with the size of its source, based as it was on my thin reading of a thin selection: no more than the twelve pages that made up the original 1974 preface. We did not read the introduction that followed, nor the selections that constituted the bulk of the anthology (although we did read two of the excerpted novels, America Is in the Heart and No-No Boy, in their entirety). I am ashamed to admit that not until recently did I actually read the entire anthology, cover to cover. Yet I would venture that this oversight is not uncommon among Asian Americanists of my generation. Indeed, if what defined Asian Americans for the editors of Aiiieeeee! was that they “got their China and Japan off the radio, off the silver screen, from television, out of comic books,” then for years perhaps what defined me as an Asian Americanist was where I didn’t get my Asian America: which is to say, from Aiiieeeee!
In short, students of Asian American literature have often been far more familiar with what is wrong with Aiiieeeee! than with Aiiieeeee! itself. From the earliest days of its publication, many Asian Americans did not hear themselves in the scream of Aiiieeeee!, did not see themselves in the “our” of its “fifty years of our whole voice.” They chafed against what they saw as the editorial limiting of “authentic” Asian Americanness to “Filipino, Chinese, and Japanese Americans, American born and raised.” This act of border drawing, by excluding Pacific Islander, Korean, and South Asian Americans (among others), further contributed to critics’ rejection of Aiiieeeee!’s brand of Asian American cultural nationalism as more divisive than unifying.
Add to that the damning charge of gender bias. Many, including the editors themselves, have interpreted this critique to mean that women writers were underrepresented in, even actively excluded from, the anthology. In truth, writing by women made up nearly 30 percent of the literary selections. But the real criticism wasn’t so much about the statistical representation of female bodies in the literature of Asian America gathered here; it was about the perceived erasure of female voices in the theory of Asian American writing that Aiiieeeee! delineated in its original preface and introduction. In an aggressive and largely denigrating way, the editors invoked—but did not anthologize—Asian American women writers like Jade Snow Wong, Monica Sone, Sui Sin Far, Betty Lee Sung, and Virginia Lee. Not that women were the only ones to suffer the editors’ wrath—the Chinese American author Pardee Lowe, in particular, was alternately razed and raised up as a straw man pandering to white American readers’ appetite for “actively inoffensive” stories of exotic Orientalia. But it was, statistically speaking, mostly women who were criticized for their presumed assimilationist ideals.
The reason for omitting the gendered targeting of this critique, according to the editors themselves, was simply numerical fact: there were at the time far more published female Asian American writers than male. The problem with the imbalance, however, went beyond numerical representation. Feminist critics lambasted Aiiieeeee! for its conceptual phallocentrism: the way it took the “sensibility” of the Asian American man as a metonym for Asian Americanness as a whole. The editors, in other words, too quickly subsumed the experience of Asian American women under a default ethnic humanity. In the same problematic way that the word man has historically been used in English as a synonym for all human beings, the editors declared that “a man in any culture speaks for himself. Without a language of his own, he no longer is a man” and that “the white stereotype of the acceptable and unacceptable Asian is utterly without manhood … contemptible because he is womanly, effeminate.” Attempting to spring the trap of “racist love” (Frank Chin and Jeffery Paul Chan’s term for white America’s embrace of Asians as a model minority), the editors risked falling into the trap of misogyny. As King-Kok Cheung noted, “In taking whites to task for demeaning Asians, [the editors] seem nevertheless to be buttressing patriarchy by invoking gender stereotypes, by disparaging domestic efficiency as ‘feminine,’ and by slotting desirable traits such as originality, daring, physical courage, and creativity under the rubric of masculinity.”
Tara Fickle is an assistant professor of English at the University of Oregon and affiliated faculty in the department of ethnic studies, the New Media and Culture Certificate program, and the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies. She is author of The Race Card: From Gaming Technologies to Model Minorities. More information can be found on her website.
The new edition of Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong includes a new introduction by Leslie Bow, Professor of English and Asian American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of ‘Partly Colored’: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segregated South. Prior to the book’s publication in the fall of 2019, Jade’s son Mark Stuart Ong sent Professor Bow a letter that gave more insight into his mother, especially in the context of Leslie’s introduction and the legacy of Jade Snow Wong’s book. The following is a reproduction of Mark’s letter, with permission from its author.
Your introduction reminded me of Rashomon. Nothing remains of that Kyoto gate except for a stone marker. The site reveals nothing about the story. In the same way, it’s hard to find a single narrative about Jade Snow Wong. However, her book is a gate and it still stands.
My mother grew beyond the young woman in Fifth Chinese Daughter. Over a sixty-year career, she balanced service to her parents and mother-in-law, her role as a wife and mother, her artistic goals, and her multi-pronged career. She also had to face how Chinatown and the world changed decade by decade.
The response to Fifth Chinese Daughter and her pottery may have been tainted with murky issues—racial stereotyping, fascination with Asia in the mid-twentieth-century, the reception of Asian American women (as opposed to the men), and the popularity of the memoir. You described scholars who felt that Jade Snow Wong packaged Chinatown and her family for white America. They accused her editor, Elizabeth Lawrence, of fostering a book that supported white stereotypes. Those opinions weren’t based on any facts of my mother’s life. Fifth Chinese Daughter expresses its author’s truth.
I’d especially like to address three areas: the authenticity of her name, the complex meaning of Chinatown, and the role her husband played.
The Name Jade Snow Wong
My mother’s given name was Jade Snow Wong ( 黃玉雪). Each of her ceramic bowls was incised with the ideograph jade, 玉, when the clay was still soft. Her name was an indelible part of her work.
Some have portrayed her use of the third-person as false modesty, but they are not looking at the dilemmas of a second-generation Chinese woman born in 1922 to a nineteenth-century father. The curtain she drew over many aspects of her family life—such as the existence of the first wife (a woman she never knew and who likely wasn’t mentioned often)—was a necessary decision for her. Her Chinese name was her passage between a Chinese home and an American arena. It enabled her to talk about the hermetic world of Chinatown without bringing embarrassment or shame, and it allowed her to be modest before her parents and glamorous before her audience. She steadfastly maintained a distinction between public and private all her life.
San Francisco Chinatown
Chinatown is not homogeneous, its residents depend on the outer world for income, and much of Chinatown functions as a tourist attraction. Grant Avenue could mean the glamor of the Imperial Palace Restaurant that hosted Hollywood and political celebrities. It could be the street where Jade Snow Wong went shopping on a nearly daily basis, saying hello to various people to whom she was distantly related. It could be the place of gang shootings. Fifth Chinese Daughter was Jade Snow Wong’s view of her own home community.
My mother was keenly interested in the differences between Chinese and American culture. She habitually tried to parse those differences during conversations. As much as people might imagine her as a guide to Chinese culture, she also performed the opposite role. She took my grandmothers to medical appointments, interceded when relatives had trouble interacting with the American world, and helped immigrant Chinese get established in the United States. She was an intermediary on both sides of Chinatown’s borders.
My father was born in 1916. His Chinese name was Deng Huazhan (鄧華湛). I live with his ceramics and his silversmithing, and I wonder what happened in the years before I was born. At first, he tried to be an artist along with my mother. If he had intended to make a career as a craftsperson, it didn’t happen. He gradually sublimated himself to my mother—mastering metal spinning to make the copper forms she enameled, keeping the books and managing the business, and acting as a salesperson. When my parents were offered the chance to become travel agents and lead tours to Asia, my mother hoped that might allow my father to have his own role in business. The denouement of that came in the last month of my father’s life. He demanded that my mother learn all the aspects of the business—the accounting and banking, getting accreditation with the airlines, and writing plane tickets. It was overwhelming and it added to her grief. When you met her in 1987, my father had been dead a mere two years. As I wrote to you before, she said: “Every day since Woody has died has been drudgery.”
Some part of Jade Snow Wong’s success was due to the way Chinese American women are seen in American society. Some part of Woody Ong’s disappointment was due to the way Chinese American men are torn down in American society. My father long endured being called “Mr. Jade Snow Wong.” I cannot gauge how much he suppressed his own ambitions or swallowed his own disappointment. I look at his ceramics and his silver pieces and wonder what he would have been if his hopes had also been rewarded.
What’s Worth Saving?
From childhood, every authority figure—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, ministers, teachers, and shop owners—declared the same rule to me: “You are forever Chinese. Don’t bring shame to your people. Preserve Chinese culture. Don’t try to change it.”
What do we keep of our Chinese American heritage? We may not be able to preserve Chinatown as a distinct neighborhood. Most of the people mentioned in Fifth Chinese Daughter, as well as its author, are dead. China itself has modernized and Chinese immigration to the United States is drastically different from the 1950s. In the ensuing years, I hope that readers realize that Jade Snow Wong is her true name and identity, that Chinatown is a living community, and that it often takes loyalty and support for a person to be successful.
Jade Snow Wong’s bowls remain and her book will be here for future readers. They will still find a deeply human story in Fifth Chinese Daughter. In the Rashomon din, we should especially give room to Jade Snow Wong’s own voice. I appreciate your effort to preserve her work.
Mark Stuart Ong is Jade Snow Wong’s eldest son. He is a book designer, art director, and publishing consultant living in San Francisco.
This compelling collection offers the first full-length examination of John Okada’s development as an artist, placing recently discovered writing by Okada alongside essays that reassess his lasting legacy.
Part of the University of Washington Press’s Classics of Asian American Literature series, No-No Boy, John Okada’s only published novel, centers on a Japanese American who refuses to fight for the country that incarcerated him and his people in World War II and, upon release from federal prison after the war, is cast out by his divided community. In 1957, the novel faced a similar rejection until it was rediscovered and reissued in 1976 to become a celebrated classic of American literature. As a result of Okada’s untimely death at age forty-seven, the author’s life and other works have remained obscure.
With meticulously researched biographical details, insight from friends and relatives, and a trove of intimate photographs, this volume is an essential companion to No-No Boy that illuminates Okada’s early life in Seattle, military service, and careers as a public librarian, aerospace technical writer, and ad man.
Upon receiving the award, co-editors Frank Abe, Greg Robinson, and Floyd Cheung spoke about Okada’s legacy and impact, former University of Washington Press winners, and the significance of receiving this award.
“No-No Boy became a foundational work in the emerging field of Asian American Studies when the Combined Asian American Resources Project (CARP) rediscovered it in the early 70s,” said Abe. “It joined a broader literary movement that included establishment of the Before Columbus Foundation itself, so to now have our study of John Okada honored by the foundation brings us full circle. I hope this recognition brings new readers to Okada’s novel as well as our own book, which opens new avenues of scholarship for a new generation of students.”
Cheung added, “If the Before Columbus Foundation were around in 1957, when No-No Boy was published, I imagine that Okada’s novel would have won the American Book Award. I interpret this honor as a posthumous prize for John Okada as well as a kind acknowledgment of the work that Frank, Greg, and I did to tell the story of his life and recover his unknown works.”
“In 1984 Miné Okubo won the American Book Award for the University of Washington Press edition of Citizen 13660, her powerful graphic memoir of Japanese American camp life,” Robinson said. “Now, 35 years later, John Okada has won that same award. It makes me even more proud to feel that Frank, Floyd and I are following in Okubo’s footsteps.”
Since the 1970s, the University of Washington Press has published great works of Asian American literature, including America Is in the Heart, Citizen 13660, No-No Boy, Nisei Daughter, as well as the third edition of Aiiieeeee! (forthcoming in October 2019)—the anthology that reintroduced No-No Boy to readers in 1974 with an excerpted chapter and whose enthusiastic reception prompted CARP to reprint the entire novel in 1976. Launched in 2014, the Classics of Asian American Literature series ensures that current and future generations of readers will have access to significant, foundational titles for years to come, and the press continues to seek opportunities to elevate key voices in Asian American literary history.
The American Book Awards were created to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America’s diverse literary community. The purpose of the awards is to recognize literary excellence without limitations or restrictions. With no quotas for diversity, the winners list simply reflects diversity as a natural process. The Before Columbus Foundation views American culture as inclusive and has always considered the term “multicultural” to be not a description of various categories, groups, or “special interests,” but rather as the definition of all of American literature.
The 2019 American Book Award winners will be formally recognized on Friday, November 1, 2019, from 1:00-4:00 p.m. at the Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Public Library, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco, CA. This event is open to the public.
Featuring Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Politicsfor women’s history month offers us the opportunity to speak on the feminist and racialized gender politics that terms like “women” and “women’s history” often serve to marginalize and erase. In many ways, our collection is about naming, addressing and navigating the many silences and invisibilities that emerge not only between the white/Anglo middle-class heterosexual presumptions of who counts as “women” and who determines mainstream feminist agendas, but also between concepts explicitly named in the title: “Asian American” and “Feminisms; “Asian American Feminisms” and “Women of Color Politics.” At the heart of our book is the question, what is an Asian American feminism and what is its genealogy as a political formation? Situated within, and in relation to a Women of Color politics, what are the complexities and contradictions within the field of Asian American feminisms, and what are the possibilities for cross-racial solidarity through an Asian American feminist praxis?
Noting the difficulty to name and identify an existing collection that grapples with the relationship between Asian American feminisms and Women of Color politics, we set out to create a collection that did not assume to be exhaustive of all Asian American ethnicities, identities, or political struggles. Rather, we wanted our contributors to engage the broader political questions: What theoretical interventions, resistant strategies, and epistemic shifts shape the field of Asian American feminisms? How are these central concepts, theories, and praxical strategies in dialogue with the coalitional politics of Women of Color and US Third World feminisms? What tensions or disconnections push against and redefine or re-imagine the possibilities for an Asian American feminist politics? In so doing, we were able to create a collection that not only speaks to particular sites of Asian American feminist epistemologies, struggles, and theorizations traditionally marginalized in mainstream feminist genealogies, we were able to grapple with existing tensions and contradictions within an Asian American feminist approach.
We were clear that we wanted to name and accentuate the on-going political tension between Pacific Islander Studies and Asian American Studies more broadly. While Asian settler-colonialism is recognized within Asian American studies we wanted to push Asian American feminisms to embrace and recognize the two fields as completely separate operating from different histories and epistemological frameworks. Thus, as our author’s Nohelani Teves and Maile Arvin emphasize, we chose not to title the book Asian Pacific American Feminisms, as this falls into the practice of establishing false equivalencies.
As co-editors we consciously engaged in a feminist praxis editorial model. Early on we established ground-rules for collaborative writing, one of which was that we never simply erase or replace each other’s words without consultation. We clearly documented and reiterated our plans, with our deadlines clearly set. We discussed deliberately every issue we encountered knowing the politics at stake, and never minimalized each other’s concerns. We worked closely with the Editor in Chief over major decisions as a collective, neither one of us ever acted or engaged in conversation over decision-making issues without the other’s presence. We sent out carefully crafted invitations, and all email correspondences were seen and edited by each other before they were sent. We crafted a long-term writing system, where we first requested abstracts, discussed them and made decisions, then we requested each contributors first five pages, read them, provided feedback, discussed them, and returned them with suggestions for revisions and our vision on their developing essays. We repeated this process with the next 10 pages, 15 pages, and then the full rough draft. As co-editors we were very hands-on in the development and edited as each chapter came along. This enabled us to engage with each author as they worked through their original essay specifically keeping in mind the larger questions driving this collection.
Throughout the process of editing this collection, we along with our contributors were fortunate to participate in multiple roundtables and panels at several major conferences. Extending this conversation outward we learned early on that wider audiences are still grappling with identifying an Asian American feminisms. In one instance we experienced divergent desires to see a collection that was less theoretically driven and more definitional in scope. We stood committed to developing a collection that could grapple with the larger conceptual frameworks of state and interpersonal-violence, decolonization, and resistance prominent in Women of Color politics yet sorely missing in Asian American feminisms as a collective body. We see this collection as an entry point in which to further timely discussions of coalitional possibilities as Asian American feminists engaging in Women of Color politics.
In the spirit of “women’s history” month, we offer Asian American Feminisms and Women of Color Politics to those who seek to live a political commitment that not only identifies the intricacy of our interlocking oppressions, but also, and most importantly, our expansive and deeply interdependent modes of resisting, building, flourishing, and rising up despite state-sponsored (neo)colonial racial projects seeking to quell our refusals to be complicit in our own and others’ destruction.
Lynn Fujiwara is associate professor at the University of Oregon. She is the author of Mothers without Citizenship: Asian Immigrant Families and the Consequences of Welfare Reform. Shireen Roshanravan is associate professor of American ethnic studies at Kansas State University. She is the coeditor of Speaking Face to Face / Hablando Cara a Cara: The Visionary Philosophy of María Lugones.
April 23, 2018 marks what would have been Gordon Hirabayashi’s 100th birthday. As a young man, Gordon learned the hard way that without a vigilant and engaged citizenry, our Constitution is little more than a scrap of paper. He took a stand and became one of the best known resisters to World War II incarceration—and we have much to learn from his example today.
Just days after his 24th birthday, Gordon challenged the government’s right to target and forcibly remove Japanese Americans without due process of law, and turned himself in to the FBI rather than going along with the forced removal. He paid a high price for his act of civil disobedience, spending the next nine months in a jail cell while awaiting trial and appealing his conviction, before being sentenced to prison when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against him. It would take more than 40 years to correct that injustice–but Gordon never gave up, and instead continued to fight for the rights of himself and all Americans.
Returning from New York, I became one of the leaders of the UW student conscientious objectors group right after the first peacetime conscription law [Selective Training and Service Act of 1940] was passed. . . . As for confronting the government, with all the information I had, I thought, “They’re wrong!” For me, my position was a positive one, that of desiring to be a conscientious citizen. It was this desire that prevented my participation in the military as a way of achieving peace and democracy and other ideals for which we stood. How could you achieve nonviolence violently and succeed? War never succeeded before. War has always caused more problems than it solved. I can’t say it’s wrong for everybody, but I can’t approve of it for myself. I couldn’t put my life on the line and put my efforts toward war with how I feel.
I wanted to work toward justice and peace in my own way. And there were others with whom I could do that, namely, liberal members of churches and political parties. We had a lot of protection actually. If we had to go to prison, treatment was all right, since the concept of conscientious objection was not ipso facto disloyal.
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, I went to the Quaker meeting as usual. After the meeting, a student came down from an apartment across the street: “I skipped the meeting this morning. Japan bombed Pearl Harbor! We’re at war!” It didn’t sound real. It was unbelievable, but it slowly sank in.
On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, acting under his emergency war powers, issued Executive Order 9066, which delegated broad powers to the secretary of war as well as U.S. military commanders to protect the national security. That protection included the right to remove any suspect individuals from military areas.
A proclamation, generally referred to as the curfew order, was issued on March 24, 1942, restricting the movement of certain individuals. General John L. DeWitt, who was the top military man in charge of the Western Defense Command, issued the curfew. It was applied to all enemy aliens—Germans, Italians, Japanese, plus non- aliens of Japanese ancestry—confining them to their residences between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., and restricting their travel to areas within a radius of five miles from their homes. The government and military kept using this term “non-alien” in identifying the second-generation Japanese Americans, who, after all, were actually U.S. citizens by birthright. The military seemed to feel more comfortable carrying out these orders if they didn’t have to think about applying them to other Americans. At first I responded as an ordinary citizen and obeyed government orders.
As I thought the situation over, however, I reasoned that a citizen is a member of a state: a person, native or naturalized, who owes allegiance to a state and is entitled to protection from it. An alien is someone who is not a citizen. What, then, is a “non-alien”? I felt forsaken as a citizen to be included in this strange kind of categorization. It appeared that the federal government was more interested in suspending citizens’ rights than in protecting constitutional guarantees regardless of race, creed, or national origins.
At my YMCA dormitory, there were about fifteen of us, mostly locals, but some from different states and a few internationals: one or two Chinese, a Filipino, and some Canadians. They became my time- keepers. “Gordon, it’s five to eight,” and I would rush back from the library, which was about two blocks from my UW dormitory, Eagleson Hall. And then it happened. One night, I thought to myself, “I can’t do that. I have to change my philosophy or I can’t do this, or I’m not true to myself, and if I’m not, I’m not a very good citizen to anybody. Why am I dashing back and those guys are still down there, and I could stay longer and get some more work done, too?”
So I went back to the library, and the first dorm mate who saw me said, “Hey! What are you doing here?”
I said, “What are you doing here?” “Working,” he responded.
I retorted, “Well, I’ve got work to do, too, same as you. Why should I be running back if you’re not running back? We’re both Americans!” My dorm mates never turned me in. They could have. I never was arrested for curfew violation or caught as I was roaming around the University District. If I had been living a half a block away at the Japanese Students Club, I would have been one of the forty or so residents who would be returning at five to eight. If that had been the case,I wonder whether openly confronting the racist curfew order would have occurred to me?
Members of the University of Washington Japanese Students Club in 1941. Courtesy of the UW Nikkei Alumni Association.
If I were to maintain my integrity in terms of my belief that I am a first-class American citizen, but then accepted second-class status, I would have had to accept all kinds of differences. But how is it that I could raise a question about being a first-class citizen when every day I experience differences that restrict my rights because of my ancestry?
The curfew and exclusion orders were issued, making the Nisei subject to those restrictions purely on the grounds of ancestry, but many Nisei found it possible to find a way to accept those orders in the name of loyalty and patriotism. I heard various reports from the Japanese community. Nisei came to have their lunch at the YMCA, and I dropped over to the Japanese Students Club from time to time. I heard that the Issei leaders were being picked up.
Among the community, all sorts of rumors were rife, and the concentration camp fever hit us all. Others will be picked up. There was a kind of resignation among us that because the Issei were prohibited from naturalizing, they were still Japanese subjects. And with war, they were technically enemy aliens. Therefore we expected that some restrictions would fall on them, that they would all be put into some kind of confinement. I remember trying to assure the Issei that, at worst, some things like that could happen, but if they did, we Nisei would look after their needs.
Shortly after the curfew order, the government posted an official proclamation on telephone poles and post office bulletin boards: NOTICE TO ALL PERSONS OF JAPANESE ANCESTRY, BOTH ALIEN AND NON-ALIEN. Civilian Exclusion Order No. 57 commanded all Japanese and Japanese Americans out of their homes and into special, totally segregated, camps.
In response to the Army’s Exclusion Order Number 20, residents of Japanese ancestry appeared at Civil Control Station in Sacramento. Photo by Dorothea Lange, Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.
Soon enough, the districts of Seattle were on a deadline to move all persons of Japanese ancestry, “both alien and non-alien.” All this time I was thinking that when the last bus came, I would probably be on it. About two weeks before my time came, I said to myself, “If I am defying the curfew, how can I accept this thing? This is much worse, the same principle, but much worse in terms of uprooting and denial of our rights, and the suffering it’s going to cause.” While I had to agonize over that for a couple of days, the answer was inevitable. I found it necessary to keep myself internally intact.
I was a senior at the University of Washington. At the end of winter term in March 1942, I dropped out of the university. It was clear to me that I would not be around long enough to complete spring session. I volunteered for the fledgling local American Friends Service Committee, with Floyd Schmoe as my boss. [. . . .]
The top priority was to sensitively respond to needs arising among the Japanese Americans. The Quakers were responding to calls for help. My assignment involved helping those families with little kids whose Issei fathers had been picked up and interned immediately after Pearl Harbor because they were leaders of the community. The mothers were busy closing the houses, arranging for storage, and preparing young children to carry their things on the trek to camp. Gosh! Something seems wrong; helping people to go behind barbed wires and into flimsy shacks. What a mixed-up life this is—the American way. It really horrified me to help these families pack up their belongings, drive them down to the temporary camp at the Western Washington Fairgrounds in Puyallup, and leave them behind barbed wire.
Japanese Americans from Seattle arrive at the Puyallup detention facility, which was also known as “Camp Harmony” (a euphemism coined by army public relations officials days before the first Nikkei arrival and a name in common usage by camp survivors). Courtesy of the Museum of History and Industry.
Those who saw me waving goodbye expected to see me within a few weeks, a prisoner myself. Then, somewhere in a period of a few days, it occurred to me that if I can’t tolerate curfew, how can I go with this camp deal, which is much worse? As long as I had come to this stage, I thought I couldn’t do it. It was only about a week before the last evacuee left, but by then, I knew I wouldn’t go! [. . . .]
My parents, who still lived in Thomas, were expecting to be uprooted sometime in May, and because we lived south of Seattle, the family was initially going to be sent to the center for Japanese Americans erected at Pinedale, California. They thought that I would be home in time to join them for the exodus. I had to explain what was happening to me and tell them that I would not be joining them. Because of travel restrictions and demands on my time by the Quaker service work, I had to telephone home to give my parents the unpleasant news.
My mother pleaded, “Please, put your principles aside on this occasion, come home, and move with us. Heaven knows what will happen to you if you confront the government. You are right and I agree with you, but this is war. We’re all facing unknowns. We are going to be moved, but we don’t know where or for how long. The worst of all would be that if we are separated now, we may never get together again.”
That was quite a concern to her if I continued to defy the government. My brother Ed heard Mom crying and begging. She had read The Count of Monte Cristo, and as that was her only reference to jails and prisons, she worried about the consequences of my decision. I might face the firing squad or something like that. I told her, “If I change my mind because of your pressure, it wouldn’t be good. I need to retain my own self-respect, because when I take this stand, I am following what I think is right. I can’t change my views, since I’d rather remain true to my beliefs and be true to you as your son.”
After the war, my brother Ed observed, “Once they had done all they could do to dissuade Gordon and saw they couldn’t change his mind, they became his greatest supporters and were proud of him, in spite of the terrifying thought of his being in prison.”
In a 1999 interview with Densho, Gordon reflected on his mother’s support, and his decision to take a stand:
I am a huge National Public Radio nerd (I know), and from late February through the end of April you’ll often find me watching and listening to the wonderful submissions from unsigned talent to the annual Tiny Desk Contest.
I was especially thrilled to see the 2018 submission from No-No Boy, the amazing multimedia project of Brown University doctoral students Julian Saporiti and Erin Aoyama that takes inspiration from the oral histories of World War II incarceration camp survivors and aims to shine a light on the Asian American experience, including Saporiti’s family’s history living through the Vietnam War and Aoyama’s grandmother’s incarceration in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. (Their submission, “Two Candles In the Dark,” is a featured staff pick this week on the All Songs Considered blog.)
I’ve been a fan of their music and other work for a while now, and my little publicist heart is especially excited that their contest submission video features not only No-No Boy by John Okada, but also Nisei Daughter by Monica Sone,Desert Exile by Yoshiko Uchida, Years of Infamy by Michi Nishiura Weglyn, and A Tragedy of Democracy (Columbia UP) by John Okada coeditor Greg Robinson, among many other scholarly books on the Asian American experience. Can you spot any other university press titles?
I hope you’ll join me in rooting for No-No Boy for Tiny Desk Contest (the winner will be announced in late April). In the meantime, check out the project on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and Soundcloud. You can (and should) also listen to interviews with and songs by No-No Boy on Order 9066, an eight-part series podcast from APM Reports and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and anywhere else you are able.
Executive editor Lorri Hagman and advancement and grants manager Beth Fuget will be representing the Press at the conference. Come see us in the exhibit hall at booths 413 and 415, join us and NUS Press for a special book signing of Mediating Islam by Janet Steele, and follow along with the meeting on social media at #AAS2018.
Broadening an overly narrow definition of Islamic journalism, Janet Steele examines day-to-day reporting practices of Muslim professionals, from conservative scripturalists to pluralist cosmopolitans, at five exemplary news organizations in Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Art of Resistance surveys the lives of seven painters during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966– 1976), a time when they were considered counter- revolutionary and were forbidden to paint. Drawing on interviews with the artists and their families and on materials collected during her visits to China, Shelley Drake Hawks examines their painting styles, political outlooks, and life experiences.
Shanghai Sacred demonstrates how religions are lived, constructed, and thus inscribed into the social imaginary of the metropolis. Evocative photographs by Liz Hingley enrich and interact with the narrative, making the book an innovative contribution to religious visual ethnography.
Ranging from imperial times through the post-Mao era, chapters examine an array of topics, including polygamy, crimes of passion, homosexuality, and sex work. Collectively, they reconsider Western categorizations and explore Chinese understandings of sexuality and erotic orientation.
Down with Traitors reveals how the hanjian were punished in both legal and extralegal ways and how the anti-hanjian campaigns captured the national crisis, political struggle, roaring nationalism, and social tension of China’s eventful decades from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Medicine and Memory in Tibet examines medical revivalism on the geographic and sociopolitical margins both of China and of Tibet’s medical establishment in Lhasa, exploring the work of medical practitioners, or amchi, and of Medical Houses in the west-central region of Tsang.
Slapping the Table in Amazement is the unabridged English translation of the famous story collection Pai’an jingqi by Ling Mengchu (1580-1644), originally published in 1628. It includes translations of verse and prologue stories as well as marginal and interlinear comments.
Drawing on a wide range of sources, from whaling ledgers to recipe books and gravestones for fetal whales, Jakobina Arch traces how the images of whales and byproducts of commercial whaling were woven into the lives of people throughout Japan.
Two issues central to the transition from the Kory to the Choson dynasty in fourteenth-century Korea were social differences in ruling elites and the decline of Buddhism, which had been the state religion. In this revisionist history, Juhn Ahn challenges the long-accepted Confucian critique that Buddhism had become so powerful and corrupt that the state had to suppress it.
New and Forthcoming from Modern Language Initiative Books
At the intersection of Chinese studies, Asian American studies, film studies, and translation and adaptation studies, Transforming Monkey provides a renewed understanding of the Monkey King character as a rebel and trickster, and demonstrates his impact on the Chinese self-conception of national identity as he travels through time and across borders.
Forming the Early Chinese Court builds on new directions in comparative studies of royal courts in the ancient world to present a pioneering study of early Chinese court culture. Rejecting divides between literary, political, and administrative texts, Luke Habberstad examines sources from the Qin, Western Han, and Xin periods (221 BCE-23 CE) for insights into court society and ritual, rank, the development of the bureaucracy, and the role of the emperor.
In exploring the evolution of the Mulian story, Rostislav Berezkin illuminates changes in the literary and religious characteristics of the baojuan (precious scrolls) genre as a type of performance literature that had its foundations in multiple literary traditions.
In this revealing ethnography, Amy Bhatt shines a spotlight on Indian IT migrants and their struggles to navigate career paths, citizenship, and belonging as they move between South Asia and the United States.
Based on extensive ethnographic research between 2003 and 2015, Making New Nepal provides a snapshot of an activist generation’s political coming-of-age during a decade of civil war and ongoing democratic street protests.
Through an examination of Savant Singh’s life and works, Heidi Pauwels explores the circulation of ideas and culture in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries in north India, revealing how Singh mobilized soldiers but also used myths, songs, and stories about saints in order to cope with his personal and political crisis.
This study of Buddhism’s most famous pilgrimage site examines the modern revival of Buddhism in India, the colonial and postcolonial dynamics surrounding archaeological heritage and sacred space, and the role of tourism and urban development in India.
Desai examines the confluences, as well as the tensions, that have shaped this complex and remarkable city. In so doing, she raises issues central to historical as well as contemporary Indian identity and delves into larger questions about religious urban environments in South Asia.
Using extensive archival research and interviews with artists, curators, diplomats, and visitors, Brown analyzes a selection of museum shows that were part of the Festival of India to unfurl new exhibitionary modes: the time of transformation, of interruption, of potential and the future, as well as the contemporary and the now.
Now Available in Paperback
“Emperor Hirohito and the Pacific War” by Noriko Kawamura
“Xinjiang and the Modern Chinese State” by Justin M. Jacobs
“Onnagata” by Maki Isaka
“The Emotions of Justice” by Jisoo M. Kim
“Forgery and Impersonation in Imperial China” by Mark McNicholas
“Writing the South Seas” by Brian C. Bernards
“The Letter to Ren An and Sima Qian’s Legacy” by Stephen Durrant, Wai-yee Li, Michael Nylan, and Hans van Ess