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October 18, 1987|Wakako Yamauchi

EXILE WITHIN: THE SCHOOLING OF JAPANESE AMERICANS, 1942-1945 by Thomas James (Harvard University Press: $25; 212 pp.; photographs). The bombing of Pearl Harbor, war hysteria, the political and economic pressure by West Coast politicians and nearly a century of racism culminated in the herding of 110,000 Japanese and Japanese-Americans into concentration camps--fenced with barbed wire and guarded by sentries with machine guns and searchlights--in the wastelands of our country. In "Exile Within," Thomas James chronicles the education of the children of these communities.

Within weeks of the incarceration, teachers were recruited from among camp residents and from outside. Some outsiders came out of sympathy, some were attracted by the pay, and some came to make sociological studies of this unusual situation. Children foundered between the rhetoric of democracy and the reality of incarceration. Parents struggled to keep the family unit intact. Attrition among teachers was enormous as they struggled with inadequate supplies in barrack classrooms in a desolate environment.

"Exile Within" is a comprehensive and concise history of the Japanese-American children of war during 1942-1945. James draws the larger picture of the tides of war, of the loyalty oaths, of the Nisei volunteers who distinguished themselves in Europe, of the camp strikes, of the final days in camp and the suspension of social services, and the effect of all these on the children. A chilling note: All the students' academic and psychological records, and their compositions of family relations are held in the National Archives.

The fact that, despite substandard education and the demoralizing situation, many of the children went on to colleges and universities, and that most grew up to be responsible adults is a testament to the family unit and the Japanese respect for education.

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