From Densho's Archives

Densho has collected hundreds of hours of video testimony and tens of thousands of historical images. This series presents selections from their archives which highlight primary sources from the Densho Digital Archive to illustrate themes in Japanese American history.

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Hatsuji Becomes Harry: Names and Nisei Identity

“When I got married and had kids, I didn’t try to share with them too many Japanese things. And when they were born, I made sure none of them had Japanese first names.” 
                                                                    —May K. Sasaki

What we call ourselves says much about how we want the world to see us. Aspiring entertainers adopt stage names; militants drop the surnames of their oppressor ancestors; immigrants voluntarily or involuntarily end up newly dubbed in their new country. Usually outsiders don’t presume to rename someone else’s child. But time and again in the years preceding World War II, Nisei ...

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Evacuation or Exclusion? Japanese Americans Exiled

          “They came here to be American.”
                                          —Earl Hanson

As we trace the calendar of Japanese American history through the images and words preserved in Densho’s Digital Archive, we come upon dismaying news photos dated March 30, 1942. On that day, the first Japanese American families were taken from their homes by armed soldiers under the authority granted by President Roosevelt to Western Command General John L. DeWitt.The general had won the cabinet-level argument in favor of removing every man, woman, and child of Japanese descent from declared military zones of the West Coast. Up and down the coast ...

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Real Friends: Standing by the Japanese Americans

"Everywhere there is community feeling to be mended, vicious legislation to be defeated, many urgent jobs calling for attention from real friends of the real America."
   --Letter from Friends of the American Way

Whether through principle or personal attachment, true friends of Japanese Americans did not abandon them after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when in public perception they were suddenly equated with the enemy. Interviews and documents preserved in the Densho digital archive give poignant testimony to the consolation that Japanese Americans felt when schoolmates, neighbors, and customers stood by them in spring 1942 and during their years of ...

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Pioneer Generation: Remembering the Issei

They were early pioneers. And especially on farms it was very difficult for them."
   --Kara Kondo

The stories Nisei interviewees tell about their parents form a pattern: Fathers left the villages and rice farms of Japan at the turn of the last century to earn money in Hawaii and mainland United States. Some still in their teens, they took grueling jobs at farms, lumber mills, railroad camps, and fishing canneries; others worked as houseboys. Once they earned enough money, the men returned to Japan to find a bride or sent for a picture bride. Babies arrived, and the Issei built ...

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International Internees: The Family Camp at Crystal City

"The bitterness of the incarceration was there, but they were able to circumvent it somehow and live a pretty decent...community family life."
                                                                                    --Mako Nakagawa

Days after the Texas Board of Education voted to amend the state's social studies curriculum in order to correct a perceived liberal bias, a Texas chapter in Japanese American history comes to mind. According to press accounts, among the changes the school board made to the curriculum is "an amendment stressing that Germans and Italians as well as Japanese were interned in the United States during World War II, to counter the idea that ...

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