By PHIL SHIGEKUNI
I read an article the other day about the demographics of Japanese Americans. One statistic that caught my attention was the large number of JAs who were born in camp. They would be in their upper 60s to 70 years of age today — older “baby boomers.”
I know a number, mainly Sanseis, in that age range. I was glad they all qualified for redress. Their offspring would be Yonsei, and their children, Gosei. I wonder, at what point do we stop counting generations — particularly considering the high percentage of outmarriages in our community?
But getting back to those born in camp: Evidently the “population explosion” in camp was a real concern to certain members of Congress. In 1944, Congressman Jed Johnson of Oklahoma introduced a bill that would have authorized the sterilizing of all Japanese women in camp. In fact, according to my Google source, during the redress hearings in 1981, a woman claimed her grandmother was involuntarily sterilized in Tule Lake.
My Google search also brought up an item that was shocking: North Carolina, between 1929 and 1974, involuntarily sterilized 4,600 girls and women! These individuals were generally poor, had some mental or physical disability, and in large number were black. In 2010, Gov. Bev Perdue proposed a bill to compensate each victim of this act with $50,000. As of April 2012, no one has been compensated.
Wikipedia also states that at one point 17 states, including California, had laws permitting involuntary sterilizing under the cover of the social theory “eugenics,” which meant using measures to improve the human race. What brought eugenics to a close was having the world consider the eugenics practiced by the Nazis during WWII in connection with eliminating Jews and other “undesirables.”
Two weeks ago, our community center, along with JACL and Athletics, sponsored the showing of “Manzanar Fishing Club.” After the showing, one of the men featured in the film, Mas Okui, spoke of his remembrances of Manzanar as a young teenager. Basketball was popular. Mas says that his basketball coach would sometimes leave the practice for an “afternoon nap.” Mas and the other boys seemed to have an understanding about these “naps.” Obviously, private time was at a premium.
Our generations have been stratified starting with the Isseis. Because of immigration laws, our Issei forebears were allowed to come to the mainland U.S. in the early to mid-1920s. Many Niseis were born in this time span, and the average age of the mainland Nisei at the outbreak of the war was 17.
I am sure we are all aware of senior Sanseis who are caring for their aging Nisei parents, now well into their 80s and 90s. Longevity is a blessing, and it has its challenges even as the senior Sanseis make provisions for their “golden years.”
Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.