By ELLEN ENDO
“To keep your marriage brimming, with love in the wedding cup, whenever you’re wrong, admit it; whenever you’re right, shut up.”
―Ogden Nash (1902-1971) American poet
For the record, I don’t have an Uncle Nobu. He’s a prototype I concocted to represent the Nisei men who never married. Nearly every Japanese American family has one — a confirmed bachelor. But before we chastise Uncle Nobu for being too shy or too particular, let’s examine what I believe may be the real reason behind his singlehood — World War II.
Yes, I know, it seems as if everything circles back to the war. In this case, the evidence is persuasive.
In February 1943, the U.S. War Department and the War Relocation Authority (WRA) decided to test the loyalty of all people of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated in the WRA camps. They required those 17 years of age and older to fill out a form to discern whether they were loyal or disloyal to the United States. The form became known as the “loyalty questionnaire.”
Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?
Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any and all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance to the Japanese Emperor or any other foreign government, power, or organization?
I am not a statistician or social scientist, but in my opinion the infamous loyalty questionnaire given 70 years ago did more than separate the “yes-yes” from the “no-no.”
Young men who said “no” to one or both of the questions faced suspicion and even possible prosecution. Much has been written and said about the resisters and the no-no boys, and the contradictions associated with unjustly imprisoning an entire ethnic group and then punishing those who stood up for their rights.
We also know that those Nisei who answered “yes” were eligible to volunteer for the U.S. Army or were drafted. About 2,200 Japanese American men volunteered from the camps and another 14,000 from Hawaii and other parts of the U.S. As the war progressed, many more joined the military to serve in the segregated 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team or were assigned as linguists in the Military Intelligence Service in the Pacific. Eventually, 33,000 Nisei served their country, including many of the resisters of conscience and so-called no-no boys.
Their story has been told over and over. Rarely discussed, however, is what happened to the Nisei soldiers who returned en masse to the states after WWII ended. Strangely, the Army had provided a kind of swaddling in the form of regulations and routine. Soldiers are trained as to what is expected of them, how to respond in given situations, whom they report to, and who reports to them.
Naturally, married soldiers were able to reunite with their families. Many veterans wisely took advantage of the G.I. Bill and went to college. Others returned to help their families rebuild their lives and businesses, eventually planted roots, married, and had children.
Yet a significant number (I say “significant” because I don’t actually have any figures here) remained single their entire lives — the Uncle Nobus. “Nobu” is the guy who was in his late 20s or 30s and had become so accustomed to the Army way of life that he found it difficult to unjust to the uncertainty of civilian life. There’s no one to tell you what time to get up in the morning, what to wear, when to eat, when to speak, and when to stand at ease — all of those tiny decisions civilians have to make for themselves every day.
Such single veterans, including many from Hawaii, tried to transition back to civilian life by settling in Los Angeles. In the 1950s, it was common to find these men hanging out after work, playing pool at the Taul Building in Little Tokyo. Many may even tell you those were some of their fondest memories — good friends, beer, and bank shot that all the Nobus envied.
In truth, it was difficult for them to meet and socialize with eligible Japanese American women despite L.A.’s large Nikkei population. Add to this the lingering stigma of marrying non-Nikkei. Hundreds of Uncle Nobus, deprived of life’s normal social order, were on track to become confirmed bachelors whether they liked it or not.
Between 1870 and 1930, according to the 1930 Census, the Nikkei population in America rose steadily, from 55 immigrants in 1870 to 138,834 by 1930. Oddly, that number dropped by nine percent to 126,947 by 1940.
In the 1950 Census, there was a rise of 11.7 percent compared to 1940, attributed mainly to births in camp. The same period for the general U.S. population increased about 8.7 percent.
By 1960, thousands of Nisei men had returned from military service, immigration opened up, and camp babies began to come of age. The Nikkei population spiked a whopping 227.5 percent while the overall population rose only 8.4 percent.
Although some Nikkei men married later in life, in their 40s or 50s, and others were able to find spouses among women from Japan, it was too late for most Uncle Nobus.
Today, there are singles clubs, and church and community groups that increase “hook-up” opportunities considerably. Attitudes toward outmarriage have changed considerably as well. Interracial marriage among the Nisei was about 10 percent, while it is estimated to be between 50-65 percent today.
There are those who believe that the Uncle Nobus are better off, perhaps even free of the stress of coping with family issues. Nobu may be the one who is always smiling, content to be the favorite uncle.
Joe and Ann are driving to find a justice of the peace to get married when they have a fatal car accident. Standing at Heaven’s gate, they tell St. Peter that they wish to spend eternity as a married couple and ask if someone can perform the ceremony. St. Peter replies, “I don’t know. This is the first time anyone has ever asked that. Let me go find out.”
The couple sits and waits and waits. Six months go by, until finally St. Peter returns. But now the couple asks him, “What if things don’t work out? Can we also get a divorce in Heaven?”
Exasperated, St. Peter throws his hands up in the air. “I don’t believe this! It took me six months to find a priest up here! Who knows how long it will take me to find a lawyer?!”
I received several supportive responses to my previous column about Ann Curry’s ignominious ouster from NBC’s “Today” show.
Ed Ikuta commented, “It’s sort of interesting that when her replacement, Savannah Guthrie, took over, the station’s ratings have gone lower than the time when Ann Curry was on the show. Therefore Savannah Guthrie hasn’t resulted in the ratings going up. She hasn’t been removed.”
What’s even more disconcerting is we are now learning that the humiliation started long before Curry was transitioned out of her “Today” post. Media reporter Brian Stelter writes in his new book, “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV,” that Curry was often the target of mocking by behind-the-scenes staff. Stelter writes that even “Today” executive producer Jim Bell supposedly took to teasing Curry.
Stelter’s sources claim that Bell concocted the plan to remove Curry from the show and replace her with Guthrie. The plan was reportedly dubbed “Operation Bambi.”
Whether one is a Curry fan, we should all be appalled at her treatment as a woman, as a Japanese American, as a decent human being. Whether or not audiences responded favorably to Curry in the co-anchor spot, we must still call into question the judgment of an executive producer who seemingly found plenty of time for insensitive jokes.
The ratings problem may be attributed to fact that viewers are smarter than some executive producers might think. We know when we are being ignored or disrespected.
Although it might appear that Curry is better off now that she out of the Bell-Lauer den, she still works for NBC. Let’s hope that more sensible minds prevail as her career progresses and as “Today” tries to correct its downward trajectory.
The solution may be all too obvious. For, as they say, a fish stinks from the head.
“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”
―H. Jackson Brown Jr. (1940- ),
Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Rafu Shimpo or its management. Comments and/or inquiries should be directed to ellenendo[at]yahoo.com.