Conflicting Identities 

“It was a time of very confusing events. I was considered a disloyal person until I was 18 years old. Then suddenly, I was considered a loyal citizen and drafted into the army.” —Jim Noda[1]

Singing the National Anthem
Japanese American woman singing national anthem at Topaz.
(Photograph courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society)

During internment, Japanese American adolescents faced an identity crisis. Internment signified to most that they could not be viewed as American while they were viewed as Japanese.” In order to combat this, many began replacing Japanese cultural elements with American ones and encouraged their parents to do the same. In class papers, students suggested that they and their parents adopt American manners such as eating with a knife and fork, always washing before eating, and men removing their hats when ladies were present.[2] Many Japanese American youth believed that if they displayed themselves as Americans, they might be viewed as such. This caused many Nisei youth to distance themselves from the Kibei, who were more likely to behave like “Japanese.”

Minoru Kiyota, a perspective of a Kibei at Topaz.
Minoru Kiyota, a Kibei’s life at Topaz.
[click the image to enlarge; click the image again to browse all pages]
(Courtesy of University of Hawaii Press)
Crowd at Topaz
Crowd of Japanese Americans at Topaz.
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Leonard J. Arrington Photograph Collection, P0316, Box 3, Fd. 27, image 4)

Minoru Kiyota, a Kibei, recalls how he was rejected by other Nisei at school in California. He states: “I reacted against them with contempt, becoming more and more attracted to the Japanese tradition that had been the source of so much solace to my soul. In fact, I had begun to take great pride in that tradition.”[3] Because of the Kibei’s cultural preferences, the WRA and FBI were more suspicious of the Kibei than they were of the Nisei. As a senior at Topaz High School, Kiyota was summoned to an interview with an FBI agent who interrogated him and called him a “dirty Jap.” The FBI agent deemed he was a “dangerous individual” and that he must remain in camp.[4]

Even before internment, many Nisei and Kibei were compelled to choose a cultural identity, but internment exacerbated this. Some began to side with the United States in order to prove their loyalty while others did not want to do so as they felt betrayed.

Illustration of Relocation
An illustration of Japanese American relocation.
[click the image to enlarge]
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Leonard J. Arrington Photograph Collection, P0316, Box 3, Fd. 27, image 34)

Loyalty Questionnaires

In February of 1943, the WRA and the War Department began issuing “Loyalty Questionnaires” to all adults, Nisei and Issei (Japanese immigrants) alike. The War Department used these forms to assess Nisei recruitment into an all-Nisei combat unit, which later became known as the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, while the WRA used these forms to register loyalty so that they could decide who they could relocate outside of the camps.

This form was very controversial for both the Nisei and Issei. For the Issei, the form asked them to declare loyalty to country that banned them from obtaining citizenship, while for the Nisei, it asked them to declare loyalty to a country that had questioned and betrayed their citizenship. After assessing loyalty, the WRA sent Japanese Americans they deemed disloyal to isolation centers (such as the one in Moab for Topaz residents) or Tule Lake, which became a “segregation” center where the WRA isolated the “disloyal” to their own camp.[5] Draft-eligible men whom the War Department deemed loyal could be registered into the U.S. Military as a part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. As these young Nisei fought abroad in Europe and at times encountered Nazi concentration camps, their family members remained confined in the relocation centers in the United States.[6]

Some Japanese American youth were directly affected by the Loyalty Questionnaires, even though not all were of the draft age. Some had family members who were drafted to fight while other youth, whose parents the government deemed disloyal, had to relocate to Tule Lake.[7]

[1] Tohmatsu, 77.
[2] “The Education Program,” 118.
[3] Minoru Kiyota, Beyond Loyalty: The Story of a Kibei (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 1998), 295.
[4] Kiyota, 294.
[5] Cherstin M. Lyon, “Loyalty Questionnaire,” Densho Encyclopedia, accessed April 1, 2020, https://encyclopedia.densho.org/Loyalty_questionnaire/.
[6] Solly Ganor, “From ‘Light One Candle,’ ” in Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience, ed. Lawson Fusao Inada (Berkeley, CA: Heyday, 2000), 377–387.
[7] Tom Akashi, interview by Tom Ikeda and Chizu Omori, “Tom Akashi Interview,” July 3, 2004, Densho Digital Archive, Topaz Museum Collection, accessed January 28, 2020,https://ddr.densho.org/media/ddr-densho-1000/ddr-densho-1000-164-transcript-d12438ff26.htm.