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*The term “Nima” comes from combining Nikkei and nakama (Japanese for “colleagues”, or “fellows”, or “circle”).

Nima of the Month

greg (Quebec, Canada)

Greg Robinson, a contributor to Discover Nikkei since 2009, grew up in New York City and is currently a professor of history at l'Université du Québec À Montréal. His books include By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Harvard University Press, 2001), A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America (Columbia University Press, 2009), and The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches (University Press of Colorado, 2016). His latest book is the co-edited volume John Okada: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy (University of Washington Press, 2018). Greg was previously selected Nima of the Month in October 2013.

What role does Discover Nikkei play in the sharing of global Nikkei stories?

Discover Nikkei plays an important role in publishing and sharing stories of global Nikkei. For one thing, the fact that it appears in multilingual versions and includes stories from outside the United States helps in disseminating information. The first time that I was Nima of the Month, five years ago, I commented on how pleased I was by coverage of Japanese Canadians. Now I also find the coverage of Latin America useful.

Some years ago, I met a distinguished Cuban, with whom I discussed the wartime internment of Cuban Japanese. I was sorry to learn that these events were little-known in Cuba. The man, in turn, asked me for Spanish-language material on the treatment of Japanese Americans, and I was embarrassed that I had none to give him. Nowadays I could point him to Discover Nikkei for help with both.

Even Discover Nikkei’s stories of Nikkei in the United States feature information on less-reported themes. Interestingly, when I was invited a year ago to serve as a regular contributor, the only restriction put on what subjects I could write about was that it had to be a subject that had not already been extensively explored.

What is the most meaningful thing that has happened as a result of your connection to Discover Nikkei?

Over the last years, my association with Discover Nikkei has taken different forms. In explaining the shift, I am reminded of the scholar Philip Guedalla, who (in a play of words on British Kings) wittily divided the novels of Henry James into three “reigns”: “James the First, James the Second, and the Old Pretender.” On a considerably smaller level, my own first “reign” was as a writer of extended multi-part articles, including one on the writings of Bill Hosokawa and Buddy Uno for a collaborationist Japanese newspaper in 1930s Shanghai, and another that contrasted Japanese American and Japanese Canadian “internment” films.

The second “reign” was a correspondent reporting on historical conferences: I provided dispatches from the Sedai/Keisho conferences on wartime Japanese Canadians and from the Japanese American National Museum’s 2013 Seattle conference. Since last year, I have been begun a new “reign” as a regular columnist. As with my “The Great Unknown” pieces for the Nichi Bei Weekly newspaper, I have devoted myself to reporting on unsung communities and individuals, whether it be Nisei athletes in prewar Louisiana; Gay novelist Christopher Isherwood’s views of the Japanese minority; or Loren Miller, the African American attorney who was an outstanding defender of Japanese Americans.

I have found two aspects of the work especially meaningful. First, I have been touched by the confidence of family members of the individuals I write about, who have corrected my errors, answered my questions, and provided assistance with images. Tsuyoshi Matsumoto’s daughter Helen Kagan tipped me off about a weekly newspaper column, entitled “People to People and How,” that her father wrote in the US Navy newspaper The Seahawk. My old friend Momo Yashima regaled me with stories about her parents Taro and Mitsu Yashima (subjects of a forthcoming column). GerrieLani Miyazaki, another old friend, shared with me photos of her late mother Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga.

The other aspect that I find especially meaningful has been the incitement to collaborate. The writing of pieces for DN has led me to join forces with young historians, some of them my own students. We have pooled our research and written together on an equal basis. I joined my student Maxime Minne, an expert on the history of the Panama Canal, in studying the wartime internment of ethnic Japanese in the Canal Zone—a U.S. territory all but forgotten in Nikkei history—and was gratified by the attention it received (it has had 134 shares on Facebook, far more than any other of my pieces).

Read Greg's articles >>

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Nikkei Roots: Digging into Our Cultural Heritage

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