Aggressive Regionalism: Commentary
14. Monica Sone, Nisei Daughter
Monica Sone’s memoir of growing up in Seattle during the 1920s and 1930s, and then being incarcerated at Minidoka and relocated to the Midwest during World War Two, is markedly different from the Matsushitas’ correspondence and poetry in several ways. First, it was created after the fact, not during the war, which means that Sone had time to get her thoughts in order, to construct a narrative, and, intentionally and unintentionally, to leave things out. Second, it was created by a relatively young person who remained in many ways preoccupied with her childhood and adolescence. In writing Nisei Daughter Sone at times worked at presenting things as she had seen them (or as she recalled seeing them) as a child, even though she was more than thirty years old when the memoir was published. Third, as a second-generation immigrant, or Nisei, Sone’s take on the events of the 1940s differed from that of the first-generation, or Issei. Indeed, there are points throughout Nisei Daughter when she described tensions between parents and children, both before and during the war. The Nisei faced questions about their identity—part Japanese and part American—that differed substantially from those that their parents faced.
Finally, Monica Sone’s perspective on “internment” continued to evolve even after she wrote Nisei Daughter. In the early 1950s, Sone expressed more disappointment than bitterness regarding what had happened to her family during the war. One of the excerpts included here suggests that, after a certain period of uncertainty, Sone made a kind of spiritual peace with incarceration; another passage describes how her brother Henry and his friend Dunks went from outrage at being recruited by the Army while incarcerated to deciding to enlist to serve in segregated units in order to help the Nisei prove their loyalty and earn their citizenship. No doubt these passages reflected in part how Sone and other Nisei truly felt during World War II; perhaps they also reflected in part the conformist and patriotic temper of most of American society during the early 1950s when the book was published.
Through the 1950s and early 1960s many people of Japanese descent were quite reticent to speak up critically about what had happened to them. In Nisei Daughter Sone clearly disapproved of what her country had done to her, but did not denounce it forcefully; indeed, she implied more criticism of racism on the West Coast than of the policies of the entire country. By 1979, however, when Nisei Daughter was reissued, attitudes had changed substantially. Americans of all backgrounds had become quite vocal about how people of Japanese descent has been mistreated in the United States during World War Two. Nikkei in particular increasingly voiced anger about what had happened to them and their families and demanded redress from the United States. Thus when Monica Sone prepared a preface for the new edition, her tone differed markedly from how she had written before. Not only did people of Japanese descent feel differently; in light of the Civil Rights movement and the struggles of many different minorities for recognition, equality, and better treatment in American society, the mood of the broader country had changed substantially since the early 1950s.
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