Jonathan van Harmelen

Jonathan van Harmelen is currently a PhD student in history at UC Santa Cruz specializing in the history of Japanese-American incarceration. He holds a BA in history and French from Pomona College, and has completed an MA from Georgetown University. From 2015 - 2018, he previously worked for the National Museum of American History as an intern and researcher. He can be reached at

Updated February 2020

media en

Posh Writings on Prisons in the West: The New Yorker’s Take on Japanese American Incarceration

In the wake of the Los Angeles Times’s recent self-reflection on the place of racism in its past, it is worth considering how mainstream publications covered historical events in American history associated with race and civil rights. One issue that inspired a wide range of responses was the mass removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Public opinion in favor of incarceration was fueled in part by the racist media portrayals of Japanese American disloyalty that were featured in West Coast publications such as the Los Angeles Times and the Hearst Press.

While East Coast newspapers ...

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Bunji Omura – New York Japanese Antifascist Writer and Publicist

Although the saga of the Issei generation has been written by a number of historians, our understanding the views of Issei writers and thinkers on Japan is still incomplete. While the work of Eiichiro Azuma delves into the connections of the Issei to Japanese expansionism and the rise of militaristic nationalism, few have examined their counterparts who spoke out publicly against Japan’s move toward fascism, and who defended democracy. One such voice was that of Bunji Omura.

Bunji Omura was born in 1896 in Takakura, Fukuoka, Japan. Although his parents were farmers, his family belonged to a long line ...

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Finding Sunshine Among Shadows: The Unknown History of Wartime Disabled Japanese Americans

On Aug. 13, 1943, Japanese Americans at the Tule Lake concentration camp opened copies of the Tulean Dispatch to find, on Page 2, a letter from Helen Keller, the deaf-blind disability activist. The entry was surprising but not unexpected: days before, students with disabilities decided to name their newly opened school in the camp in her honor.

Hannah Takagi wrote to Keller on behalf of the Japanese American students: “We are but a few of the thousands of Japanese Americans who were evacuated from our homes on the West Coast, over a year ago…our school is called ‘Helen Keller ...

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Wisdom through troubling times: The Life of LaVerne Senyo Sasaki

Reverend Sasaki is no stranger to challenges in life; as one of the longest-serving Jodo Shinshu Buddhist priests in the United States, Reverend LaVerne Senyo Sasaki has helped maintain the presence of Buddhist church within Northern California for over 60 years.

Now almost 90 years young, Reverend Sasaki still preaches at Buddhist Temples. At a service at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco in October 2019, he recalled humorously the difficulties of holding services and keeping audiences chanting sutras for fifteen minutes.

Yet despite these minor frustrations, Sasaki remains proud of his work. The son of a Buddhist reverend and ...

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The Pulitzer Prize and Japanese Americans in the South

As with other tragic chapters in United States history, the incarceration of Japanese Americans has had a lasting legacy on American culture. While the history of race relations in the American South has traditionally focused on black-white relations and the legacies of Jim Crow, a parallel field examining the experience of Asian Americans in the Deep South has emerged, featuring the work of such authors as Greg Robinson, John Howard, Moon-Ho Jung, Stephanie Hinnershitz, and Lucy M. Cohen. In places scattered throughout the American South, the incarceration left an imprint on the social landscape: the area surrounding the Rohwer and ...

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