The incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II is a dark chapter in American history. After the Pearl Harbor attack, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and sent to government-run detention centers. “Over two-thirds of those detained were citizens by birth but weren’t seen as American because of their race,” said Rachel Endo, dean of the UW Tacoma School of Education. “They were viewed and treated as enemy aliens, foreigners and ultimately un-American.”
Endo has published a new book as part of the National Council of Teachers of English High School Literature Series. “The Incarceration of Japanese Americans in the 1940s: Literature for the High School Classroom” focuses on the work of three authors: Jeanne Wakatsuki, Lawson Fusao and Hisaye Yamamoto. “All of these authors were either children or young adults during World War II so they lived through the camps and through detainment,” said Endo.
The book is primarily geared toward high school teachers. “The challenge was to make the content both teacher-friendly and youth-friendly,” said Endo. The 161-page book includes work from the authors as well as discussion prompts, suggested readings and lists of resources. “As a young Asian American person I learned very little about people who looked like me,” said Endo. “If we were mentioned we were depicted as foreigners, inferior to Whites or culturally backwards. This book will be a resource for teachers to present a more historically accurate and balanced view of Japanese Americans and other Asian Americans.”
The impetus for Endo’s book stems from various talks and workshops she gave to different groups, including K-12 and university educators, in the years following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. “I was asked to talk about the connections between national security, wartime hysteria and racial profiling using the incarceration of Japanese Americans in the 1940s as a case example,” said Endo. “Unfortunately many of these themes are timeless, including in current times where different groups of people are being detained, excluded and ultimately denied equal protection under the law.”
Endo hopes teachers and students who read her book will see the connection between past and present. “These issues about who supposedly is and isn’t an American are still very much alive,” she said. “I hope all teachers and students will begin to think more critically about what and who we stand for as Americans, and to imagine and work toward a world free of hatred and violence.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org