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Beyond Two Homelands: Migration and Transnationalism of Japanese Americans in the Pacific, 1930-1955

  • Author(s): Jin, Michael
  • Advisor(s): Yang, Alice
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation examines 50,000 American migrants of Japanese ancestry (Nisei) who traversed across national and colonial borders in the Pacific before, during, and after World War II. Among these Japanese American transnational migrants, 10,000-20,000 returned to the United States before the outbreak of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and became known as Kibei ("return to America"). Tracing the transnational movements of these second-generation U.S.-born Japanese Americans complicates the existing U.S.-centered paradigm of immigration and ethnic history. The history of these transnational migrants revises the existing model of immigration history by complicating the linear and predictable notion of the so-called sending and receiving societies.

The transnational experiences of Japanese Americans in both Japan and the United States offer diverse notions of citizenship, nationalism, race, colonialism, and loyalty by placing the history of an ethnic community beyond dichotomous cultural and political distinctions between two nation-states. The five chapters in this dissertation explore the period from 1930 to 1955 in Japanese American history as a history of transnational movements. The experiences of Japanese American migrants in Japan, Japan's colonial posts, and the United States before WWII illuminate the complex interplay between the rise of Japanese militarism, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Japan, and the heightened anti-Japanese sentiment in the United States. During the Pacific War, their education in Japan and their bilingual and transnational identities made the Kibei in the U.S. convenient scapegoats as a pro-Japan element. Declassified federal and military records reveal that the presence of Kibei had a profound impact on the U.S. government's policy on the mass incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans during WWII.

Meanwhile, many Japanese Americans who were stranded in Japan during the war had to endure firebombing and starvation; and many Nisei men in Japan were conscripted into the Japanese military to fight the Allied forces in the Pacific Theatre. For many Nisei strandees in Japan, the war blurred the cultural, political, and even legal boundaries of their citizenship, as they found themselves in situations in which they had little room to negotiate their national allegiance. This dissertation offers an example of how Japanese American transnational experiences before, during, and after WWII demonstrate a critical intersection of the histories of migration, transnational families and communities, and diplomatic policies on both sides of the Pacific.

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