Join us as we explore Japanese American life in Detroit, from the founding of the Ford Motor Company to tomorrow.
JAPANESE AMERICANS have been a part of Detroit’s vibrant history for over one hundred years, but the first major migration of Japanese Americans to the Midwest came during World War II. You may be familiar with this chapter of United States history, where Japanese Americans were forced from the Pacific states and incarcerated in camps scattered across the interior West.
Shortly after arriving in the camps, however, the United States government set into motion its plans for resettling Japanese Americans elsewhere: Even before the end of the war, Japanese Americans were hired out of the camps to labor in the sugar beet fields of Idaho and Montana; to work industrial and secretarial jobs in Chicago and Detroit; to obtain university degrees from Michigan State.
If Japanese Americans were such a threat to national security, why were they welcome in the Midwest? Officially, the Midwest existed outside of the sensitive “exclusion zone” on the Pacific Front. But no one of Japanese descent was ever convicted of collusion with the Japanese imperial government or army, and in the years since World War II, it’s become increasingly clear few ever regarded the Japanese American community as a genuine enemy threat. Instead, it was the Japanese American community under fire.
Executive Order 9066 and the incarceration of Japanese Americans disrupted family life, destroyed community infrastructures, and subjected Japanese Americans to what would ultimately become an intergenerational psychological trauma. Starting life anew in the Midwest may have been a reprieve from life in the camps, but this seeming gift of freedom was also, in many ways, an extension of incarceration’s effects: By scattering Japanese Americans across the Midwest, the U.S. government hoped to break up the ethnic enclaves, or Japantowns, that had formed on the West Coast. It hoped to eliminate Japanese American community life by division and assimilation.
Exiled to Motown is the story of the persistence of Japanese American community in the Midwest, and specifically Detroit. It’s the story of how Japanese American life continues to change and flourish as we eye the third decade of the 21st century, and how our community knits into the broader multiethnic histories of metro Detroit. It’s the story of how you fit into this story.
What will you learn with us today?