Roots of the Issei: Exploring Japanese American Newspapers

Winner of the 2017 Japanese Diaspora Initiative Award.

Roots of the Issei presents a complex and nuanced picture of the Japanese American community in the early twentieth century: a people challenged by racial prejudice and anti-Japanese immigration laws trying to gain a foothold in a new land while remaining connected to Japan. Against this backdrop, Andrew Way Leong examines the emergence of generational terms that have long been used to organize Japanese American narratives: issei (first generation), nisei (second generation), and sansei (third generation). In the process, he suggests these widely-used generational concepts are in fact a recent construct.

Leong’s illuminating research is made possible by the Hoji Shinbun Digital Collection, the world’s largest open-access, full-image, and searchable online digital collection of Japanese American newspapers. With this technology, Leong is able to analyze materials that until recently were regarded as beyond computer-aided analysis, due to difficulties presented by the complexity of Japanese language. With access to these primary sources, Leong is able to upend several scholarly assumptions and beliefs and present a never-before-seen picture of Japanese American struggles—both with an adversarial host country and among themselves—backed by the authority of primary sources.

 Andrew Way Leong
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