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Prewar, Preexistence (research paper)

Prewar, Preexistence (research paper)

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Published by Jillian Toda
A history essay exploring primary research done for the course "Creating Asian America" on Japanese American Nisei women in the Northwest. Themes include community-building and networking, leadership in the Portland JACL, and women's history in pre-WWII Oregon.
A history essay exploring primary research done for the course "Creating Asian America" on Japanese American Nisei women in the Northwest. Themes include community-building and networking, leadership in the Portland JACL, and women's history in pre-WWII Oregon.

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Published by: Jillian Toda on Mar 27, 2013
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Jillian TodaProfessor GriffithHIST-342: Creating Asian America12/13/10
Prewar, Preexistence: The Role of Nisei Women in the Portland Japanese AmericanCitizens League (JACL) and Public Memory, 1931-1939
“Did you find anything interesting?” my mom had asked back in September. She wasreferring to my grandma’s 1937 “souvenir program” from the Fourth Biennial Northwest DistrictConvention of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). Indeed, I discovered veryinteresting things from the program: the “JACL Pep Song,” an ad for my maternal, great-grandfather’s Pasco restaurant, and my paternal grandma’s name on the list of JACL officers inthe Northwest.
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 How could this be when the JACL was, in my mind, an activist organizationthat old, Nisei (second generation) men were part of? This curiosity coupled with a desire for  personal history motivated me into action through research, and what follows are the conclusionsI’ve found to answer this question, for myself and society.After discovering my grandma’s involvement in the Mid-Columbia JACL chapter, the purpose of this research was to uncover other women who had similar experiences in this political group. Even growing up within a Japanese American household, the memory of theJACL that was remembered and passed to kin was one in which the group was too political for women to participate in. Dominant society has created standards for what’s considered the“norm,” as defined by White people. This dominant cultural view holds a public memory thatoften excludes marginalized groups of people—such as people of color—but digging further can produce alternative perspectives that show how history is constructed.
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In my research, theconstruction of Japanese American women’s identity in America during the 1930’s will be1
 
examined in order to show the historical significance of Nisei women in shaping and managingthe actions of the JACL in the Pacific Northwest. Nearly a decade’s worth of primary documents from the Portland chapter of the JACLwas examined and demonstrated that women did, indeed, play a role in the organization.Exploring the meeting minutes from 1931-1939 will aid in giving voice to the numerous Niseiwomen who served in the JACL. Through a case study of the Portland group, this essay willdemonstrate the role of women in the JACL through answering first, how these womencontributed to the organization and second, why this contribution is pushed aside in thedominant, lasting image of the JACL. Although I found that there was a decrease in Niseiwomen participation about halfway through the decade, this shift can be viewed as related to thegender expectations of Japanese American women in the role of wife and mother, as well as a possible reason why Nisei women are excluded from contemporary public memory. Even withJapanese American women’s participation in organizations decreasing in the late 1930’s, theywere still vital to the politicization of the Japanese American community. In this essay, then, Iwill argue that during the 1930’s and based on primary sources, Nisei women in the Portlandchapter of the JACL, although not valorized in contemporary public memory, held importantroles as community-builders of the JACL and Japanese American social networks of the Pacific Northwest.
 Prewar, Preexistence: The Japanese American community, 1930-1939
 Nisei women of the 1930’s lived within a specific historical context of JapaneseAmericans unique to America. Contextualizing my research will help bring historicalsignificance to this study for American history and society, so I will offer historical background2
 
on the Japanese American community. Using that foundational knowledge coupled withscholarly works, I will then discuss the relevance of history to the meeting minutes of thePortland JACL while answering the questions and goals posed for this essay. Lastly, from theexamination of primary documents alongside historical, scholarly perspectives, I will infer theimplications of what this history means within today’s perspective, with specific regard to thecollective memory of dominant, White society. This case study will ultimately reveal howhistory is created; with the opportunity of one narrative, another is silenced.The collective Japanese American community has been silenced throughout history, withscholarly work often oppressing perspectives that challenged the notions of what a “good”Japanese American should be.
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Today, there is a dominant view of who a Japanese American is,which usually includes a male JACL member from either Seattle or urban California.Furthermore, dominant culture sees the historical significance of Japanese Americans as beginning during World War II and being almost entirely centered on internment. The aim of this essay is to uncover the stories of identities not remembered or acknowledged in dominantsociety. Addressing such issues widens the “big picture” of Japanese American communitythrough inclusion of voices who were active, female, and rural in comparison to Californian or Seattleite JACL members, in the prewar era. These women were left out of what was deemedimportant enough to remember in history. It is important for us to realize, however, that storiesnot remembered do not necessarily equate absence. Through researching the Portland JACL, itis apparent that women were indeed active in the organization, demonstrating the omissions thathistory too often holds.
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 Japanese American Nisei “grew up integrating both the Japanese ways of their parentsand the mainstream customs of their non-Japanese friends and classmates.”
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This group of 3

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