Glenda Izumi, Fielding's School of Human & Organizational Development
This qualitative study reflects upon and honors 17 Nikkei (persons of Japanese ancestry residing in the United States) women’s memories of their World War II incarceration camp experiences. An ecosystemic lens was used to examine their stories that were shaped by multiple systemic layers of political, economic, environmental, personal, and cultural aspects. The data were collected from individual and open-ended interviews of women who ranged in age from 76 to 97 years old. Thematic analysis was used to understand and interpret their experiences that reflect a myriad of juxtapositions and the use of both eastern and western coping strategies.
In general, my findings deviate from earlier research that viewed the incarceration experiences through a single lens, for example, one that was namely political, historical, or psychological rather than taking a more holistic view. Contrary to earlier findings that Japanese culturally based coping strategies are typically emotion-focused, I found the Nikkei women were quite adept at employing problem-focused coping strategies as they contributed to the development of viable and productive communities for themselves and their families.
Another point of deviation from many earlier studies is the focus most of the women had on the positive aspects of their experiences and opportunities they gained from their incarceration. The injustices and oppression they faced were certainly acknowledged during the interviews, yet the women willingly expressed appreciation for opportunities they may not have had had they not been incarcerated. They were grateful for having their basic needs met in camp; the chance to strengthen and appreciate familial and community bonds; and being presented with opportunities such as education, jobs, and friendships with other Nikkei.
Several women felt empowered to share internalized feelings and private thoughts they previously did not feel comfortable or confident sharing. In particular, they revealed the impact the fatalistic and culturally embedded attitude of shikata ga nai had in creating a strong and reliable framework from which they were able to endure and even enjoy camp life. Overall, the women’s narratives reveal a consistent and profound regard for family and a will to persevere and prevail. Their stories are core to viewing the entire incarceration experience systemically.
Key words: biculturalism, Nikkei, Japanese American, women, incarceration camp, ecosystem, shikata ga nai, resilience, American concentration camp, coping strategies