Beyond the Barbed Wire: Nisei Resistance and Japanese American Identity


Nicole Newton

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



Date of Award

Spring 2016


The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese military in December 1941 left Americans in a state of shock and fear. This fear manifested itself politically in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which authorized the exclusion of any person or people from specific military zones designated by the Secretary of War. The ramifications of this exclusion order focused on one singular group—Japanese American citizens and Japanese permanent residents of the United States. Studies of Japanese American internment began even before some evacuees left the War Relocation Authority’s (WRA) concentration camps. Historical scholarship ranges from early investigations of the reasons for exclusion to detailed accounts of those individuals involved in carrying out the order. Few studies, however, focus on Japanese American reactions to WRA assimilationist programs. This author focuses on such reactions, particularly emphasizing acts of resistance carried out by Nisei (second-generation Japanese American) men and women from 1942 to 1945. I argue that the Nisei combatted attacks against their cultural identity through everyday acts of resistance, and that those acts of resistance helped reinforce and solidify the Japanese American identity. Internee oral histories, personal correspondences, photographs from Densho Digital Archive, archives from centers of higher education such as Occidental College, the University of Washington, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and the University of California at Los Angeles provide evidence for this argument.


Cynthia Ross

Subject Categories

American Studies | Arts and Humanities | History