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A Japanese American Community in Decline

Forgive me if mine is a lonely view of the Japanese American community. But, however beclouded my bifocals, I see that community is fading away. Beyond our time, being Japanese American will be a matter of waning remembrances, if not numbers.

The reason for this outcome is elementary. Demographic studies indicate that the Japanese in America, i.e., the second, third and fourth generations, have been intermarrying at a remarkable rate. Pretty soon, there won’t be any "pure" persons of Japanese blood here amongst us, and our future progeny will be assessing their Japanese lineage by smaller percentages. And, JA history will be learned by the book.

And, say, even the Japanese Japanese are having their problems. Their birthrate has declined precipitously. And, given the home-grown resistance to foreign immigration, according to a recent article in the Washington Post [January 7, 2008, A-12], the outlook is that instead of importing workers from abroad, Japan is looking at robots to fill its labor pool.

It’s obvious, in any case, that Japan cannot look ahead to a time when Americans of Japanese ancestry can help out with their manpower needs. As mentioned, it may become difficult to find them.

You may say that all this is balderdash...or employ some other term not used in polite company. But, if you have done any oral interviewing, say, of Nisei World War II veterans, as have I, one has to come away with the impression that the purity of race among Americans of Japanese ancestry is in jeopardy, if not irretrievably lost. The fact is that virtually every interviewee I encountered mentioned that there had been intermarriage in his family. In some cases, more than one. And, most of them claimed that the same held true for almost all the other JA families they know.

This is the kind of reality that statistics substantiate. And, it couldn’t happen to a nicer group of people. But, who would have thought – in those dark days of the early l940's when being of Japanese ancestry was akin to bearing a cross of ethnic dishonor, that the Japanese in America would become barely cognizable two or three generations later. Okay, that’s an overstatement, but one is commenting here about trends and inevitability.

Now, being of the generation personally influenced by the preoccupations of Issei parents, i.e., the preservation of cultural values and language, one should feel conflicted by this turn of events. But, the light bulb of reflection enlightens me that this is the same dilemma that probably all immigrants to this great country have had.

America is characterized as a melting pot society. The real truth is that the ingredients of that pot have not always mixed well, or have needed time to stew. Most newcomers to these shores have wanted to retain their cultural and/or ethnic identity. But, they yearned for country club acceptance, too, at least for their kids. So, eventually, in the natural course of things, identity has lost out. This is, to use a buzz term, real "change."

The fact that the Japanese in America, at least up to the DeWitt era, had been so visibly concentrated along the West Coast gave false credence to the general’s prejudice that race matters. But, World War II changed all that. JA integration has come about because of the astonishing Nisei war record, an accomplishment, paradoxically, borne out of segregation. The values that the Issei parents had inculcated in their offspring – with stress on education and responsibility – has found a home in our nation’s Puritan past and ideals. The lack of more Japanese immigration has also helped. Even Japan’s remarkable ascendancy after its defeat in the greatest war of all has been a benign factor. And, of course, time and generational change.

So, it’s farewell to a Japanese American vet community parochially troubled that a Ehren Watada has cast a cloud on JA patriotism by his stubborn insistence that personal integrity trumps commitment. And, it’s all hail to a melting pot community where, providentially, that cloud is missing its ethnic hue.

© 2008 Calvin Ninomiya