Masters Thesis

Reminiscence sessions with Japanese American elders: Trauma, perspective, and a call for unity

The Japanese American elders who lived through World War II, and who were incarcerated in the American concentration camps, specifically, are nearing the end of their lives. Their experiences and thoughts are invaluable, and the window of time available to learn from them is narrowing. It is important that the entirety of their lives is qualitatively assessed, rather than solely focusing on their experiences in the American concentration camps. Reminiscence sessions were conducted with 14 Japanese American elders residing in the Central Valley of California to assess their lives pre-Pearl Harbor, the impacts of growing up in the United States during the World War II era, and how they dealt with discrimination and injustice. Grounded theory was used to arrive at themes that arose from the elders’ responses. The Japanese American elders reported a sense of multicultural acceptance in their childhood friend circles prior to the events of Pearl Harbor, which left them shocked when they were forcibly removed from their homes in California. While in the American concentration camps, the loss of family cohesion was evident due to the fractured nature of their families’ activities and duties. The trauma did not end when the camps were closed. Elders reported high levels of racism and discriminatory practices that were oftentimes emotionally scarring. These struggles were mitigated and lessened by key individuals throughout their lives who reminded them that not everyone disliked Japanese Americans. These elders maintained an admirable perspective on life by preaching family as a priority and unity as a goal despite the differences between people.