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Japanese American Celebration and Conflict: A History of Ethnic Identity and Festival in

Los Angeles, 19341990

Source: Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 72, No. 4 (November 2003), pp. 665-666
Published by: University of California Press
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Accessed: 13-08-2017 22:09 UTC

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Reviews of Books 665

Japanese American Celebration and Conict: A History of Ethnic Identity

and Festival in Los Angeles, 1934-1990. By Lon Kurashige. (Berkeley,
University of California Press, 2002. xxii 274 pp. $45 cloth, $18.95

Lon Kurashiges study of Nisei Week celebrations in Southern

Californias Little Tokyo from 1934 to 1990 is a sweeping look at one
ethnic groups internal and external debates about their identity
through the lens of festitivity. It therefore adds a great deal to the
growing scholarship on ethnic celebrations and their role in the
making (and unmaking) of ethnic identity. The study also illumi-
nates the signicant connections between racial formations, foreign
policy, and immigrant and ethnic communities.
The book is divided chronologically as well as thematically, be-
ginning in the 1930s when the Issei generation existed in an ethnic
enclave, through the internment camp experience at Manzanar
during World War II, to the dispersion and redenition of Japanese
American identity from the 1950s through the 1980s. In this way,
Kurashige is able to provide a broad overview of the Japanese Amer-
ican experience in Southern California while also paying close at-
tention to the debates and struggles over identity evident in the cel-
ebration of Nisei Week.
Nisei Week began in 1934 as an effort by the Issei generation to
boost sales in Little Tokyo and draw the Nisei generation into the po-
sition as a bridge to American culture. In this incarnation of Nisei
Week, ethnic leaders posited a complicated identity in which con-
sumer spending in Little Tokyo signaled that one was an authentic
Japanese American while at the same time assuring white outsiders
that the Japanese in Little Tokyo might be exotic but were commit-
ted to American values and ideals. This has been a common strategy
for leaders in many ethnic groups but held particular urgency at a
time when Asian immigration to the United States was banned, im-
migrants were not allowed to become citizens, and their legal rights
were questionable. This bicultural strategy, as the author refers to
it, was abandoned by ethnic leaders in the late 1930s as relations be-
tween the United States and Japan soured. Leaders replaced bicul-
turalism with an Americanism strategy that focused almost entirely
on arguing that the Nisei were 100 percent American. This strategy,
although not at all uncontested, was reinforced by the internment
experience and pursued by leaders of Nisei Week well into the 1950s.
As relations between Japan and the United States improved and as
Asian immigrants were allowed citizenship, the struggle in the 1950s
and 1960s was no longer access but success. Leaders negotiated a

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05-C2856-REV 10/21/03 10:59 AM Page 666

666 Pacic Historical Review

delicate balance between an Americanism strategy and loyalty to

Japanese American culture. By the late 1960s young radicals upset
this delicate balance with an ethnic revival or new cosmopoli-
tanismthat emphasized their Asian-ness and links to other racial
minorities and feminism. This identity played itself out in the Nisei
Week celebrations of the 1970s and was eventually, as the author ar-
gues, transformed into the fuzzy, reformist, and even patriotic or-
thodoxy of cultural pluralism (p. 152).
This excellent book is particularly good at demonstrating how
the struggles and debates in the community were articulated
through the Nisei Week celebrations. I am more specically appre-
ciative of the interesting focus on gender in each chapter and on
how race and ethnicity are often negotiated through gender in such
celebrations. Kurashiges work is signicant for thinking not only
about Japenese American history, but about the process of ethnic
transformation and the importance of celebration in the creation of
Illinois Wesleyan University APRIL SCHULTZ

Not Just Victims: Conversations with Cambodian Community Leaders in the

United States. Edited by Sucheng Chan, interviews conducted by Au-
drey U. Kim. (Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 2003. xxx 299
pp. $39.95 cloth, $19.95 paper)

Once again, Sucheng Chan has given us a work of great sub-

stance and value, building upon the ne collection of personal his-
tories she edited in Hmong Means Free (1994). Her fty-eight-page
introduction is really composed of two parts, the rst on the
methodology of oral histories used here versus sociological inter-
views, and the second a historical overview of the fall of Cambodia,
the genocidal Khmer Rouge period followed by the decade-long
Vietnamese occupation, and the phases of refugee movements to
the United States and elsewhere. She provides a convincing case for
the quality and reliability of oral histories, which can give voice to
the voiceless (p. xvii), perhaps because they are less structured and
the contents less predetermined than in sociological interviews. She
also acknowledges that she opted for the approach of editing the
transcripts to make them more readable and grammatically correct
rather than exotic and with non-standard English (p. xxiv).
The historical introduction is most useful, for she recounts not

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