Museum Picks

Art Hansen’s pick: Japanese American Celebration and Conflict

This brilliant piece of scholarship, analysis, and writing by Lon Kurashige, a Los Angeles sansei who is currently an associate professor in the Department of history and the Program in American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California, can profitably be read on two different levels.

The general reader (whether Nikkei or not) will find the author’s narrative account of Nisei Week’s historical transformation since its creation in 1934 to be compelling, and is bound to be captivated, as I certainly was, by the sparkling discussions and stunning photographic images devoted to illuminating the festival’s parades, beauty pageants, fashion and talent shows, and assorted “extramural” activities.

The critical reader will be more attuned to Kurashige’s use of the Nisei Week festival to explicate, as a perceptive student of cultural politics, the succession of uneven power struggles within the Los Angeles Japanese American community waged on behalf of its identity and driven by generation, gender, and social class.

Each reader of this remarkable book will find aspects about it that especially speak to him or her. My past research into the Manzanar Riot draws me most powerfully to Kurashige’s discerning revisionist treatment of this World War II division within the Los Angeles Nikkei community in Chapter 3, “War and the American Front: Collaboration, Protest, and Class in the Internment Crisis.”

On the other hand, my present employment at the Japanese American National Museum as Senior Historian responsible for its Life History Program attracts me to two other aspects of Japanese American Celebration and Conflict. First, I find Kurashige’s assessment of what, in Chapter 6 (“Nationalism and Internationalism: New Left, Ethnic Rights, and Shopping Centers”), he calls Little Tokyo’s “most extravagant site of memory construction” worthy of serious community and institutional contemplation and debate.

Secondly, I am greatly interested in the author’s prefatory statement that he tape-recorded interviews with more than fifty Nisei Week officials and participants—especially since his bibliography indicates that the interview tapes, along with correlated research notes and transcripts, remain in his possession! I cannot help thinking what a great asset this invaluable material would be if it could be secured for the Japanese American National Museum’s permanent collection and readily used in the service of “memory construction” by researchers and community members alike.

Why not read Japanese American Celebration and Conflict and discover your own favorite section(s) and features?

Art Hansen is Senior Historian at the Japanese American National Museum, where he coordinates the Life History program in the Curatorial unit. He is also Professor of History and Asian American Studies at Cal State Fullerton, where he directs the Center for Oral and Public History and its Japanese American Project. He is currently the president of the national Oral History Association. His scholarly career began with a 1974 AMERASIA JOURNAL article on the Manzanar Riot, whose findings have been revised and refined by Lon Kurashige in the book under review.

November 2002

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