Saturday, June 6, 2020

Art and Patriotism in Japanese-American Internment Camps

In the American context, some of the greatest acts of patriotism have come from members of repressed ethnic groups, fighting for their nation and loving it regardless. We might call to mind the black regiments of the Civil War union army, the Indian Scouts in the U.S. cavalry in the Indian wars, and the Japanese American 442nd Infantry in WWII. But patriotism is not only demonstrated through military service. All of these groups, it goes without saying, have contributed to our nation’s history through enduring, artistic creations that have become as American—to use the apt metaphor for this essay—as apple pie: The ingredients originated from various other parts of the world, but came together in their unique form through a combination of cultures and confectionery creativity.[2] 
A recurring question during the internment of Japanese Americans posited that immigrants and their descendants had a stronger “allegiance” (though the word is politically inflated) to one country over the other: The more recent the immigrant, the more likely was his allegiance to his birth nation. Is there a gradual shift in patriotism? Is it possible to be patriotic to more than one nation? The questions are personal, since it is one that the multicultural citizen never quite settles, it only fades away with the passing of generations, such is one of the sacrifices of immigration; to lose a part of yourself. Fortunately, this estrangement comes not all at once, and the lover of history can revert to past and existing examples of his cultures to be connected to his heritage—adopted or ethnic. 
Exploring this question beckons a reinterpretation of patriotism beyond the military service we intuitively envision. For the purposes of this essay, I want to focus on art as a form of national expression, albeit a more critical one. Art, as patriotism, is an outpouring of a nation’s—and therefore a society’s—culture. How our history, traditions, philosophy, and faith have been inculcated in us is revealed in our love of our country and in our visual, lyrical, and musical representation of ourselves. A representation of ourselves, no matter how individual and personal, is influenced by our sense of “home,” after all. We are shaped by our physical surroundings and our familial surroundings; here is a point of instability and oftentimes discord for people born or living in the U.S. while being raised in a home with a predominantly foreign culture. The imagination of a multicultural citizen finds unique appropriation in the art of both these cultures and all of their differences. Now back to our case study. 
Internment left scars within Japanese Americans, stirring hostility and controversy between them: Internment not only shattered the Japanese-American community as a whole by dividing them between those who wanted to protest against their internment and those who wanted to wait out the storm. In a more personal way, it also severed the ties of the family unit since many Nisei (American-born children of Japanese parents) tried to distance themselves from their Issei relatives (Japanese-born immigrants) in attempts to become more “American.” For the Japanese Americans who witnessed the direct punishments of those people who protested through strikes and the indirect consequences that internment was having on families and their communities, it became clear that direct protest was unbeneficial. As a result, most Japanese Americans handled their internment in silence. Of course, silence is but a verbal closure of emotion that must, sooner or later, emerge elsewhere. (Read more.)

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