Almost fifty years have passed since Roger Daniels's seminal study of the World War II internment of ethnic Japanese in the United States (Concentration Camps U.S.A., 1972). Historians have added more studies of the United States, as well as Canada, Brazil, and Peru, but very little has been written about Japanese removal in Mexico. Now Selfa A. Chew has written a book intended to fill that gap. In addition to exploring Mexican and U.S. archival collections, Chew interviewed family members and descendants of Japanese immigrants who were relocated. These interviews provide a better understanding of this community before and during the war. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. State Department pressed Mexico to help the Allies and protect Mexico by treating its Japanese residents as “internal enemies.” Mexico agreed, although, as Chew stresses, unlike their counterparts in the United States and Canada before the war, Mexican Japanese had been integrated and well received by local communities, especially since many of the men had Mexican wives and children. Surely, they were loyal to their new country. Mexico's submission to American pressure was influenced by the shared view of Japanese, and all Asians, as racially inferior and Asian males as sexual predators. Since ethnic Japanese did not fit the ideals of mexicanidad and indigenous European mestizaje, they were considered foreigners and potential spies. To the government, uprooting men, and in many cases entire families, from the strategic regions in which they lived—borderlands and coasts—seemed necessary and legitimate, especially because many males were noncitizen Japanese nationals. Enforced displacement of thousands of Japanese began in March 1942. Many were settled at the center of the country, in Mexico City and Guadalajara. Whether the Japanese were alone or joined by their families, their movements in the cities were restricted and employment opportunities were limited. The most outrageous aspect of the removal project, however, included the internment of men, women, and children in prisonlike camps, with the principal ones located at Hacienda de Temixco, in the state of Mexico, and Castro Urdiales, in Jalisco. Some Japanese were deported to the Crystal City camp in Texas; others were deported to Japan. Historians estimate that until releases began in June 1945, internment and displacement affected 80 percent of the Mexican Japanese community. Life at the camps was tough, even though the facilities were largely under the internal management of the Japanese Mutual Aid Committee. Led by wealthy and well-connected Japanese men, the committee represented the community. It negotiated with the authorities and protected the internees from excessive abuse by the military, but, according to Chew, there was an absence of widespread or organized open resistance against relocation. The author could have touched on broader issues in the context of her topic: extreme racism, ethic genocide, removals and internment of “threatening” populations by other states in the twentieth century across the world, along with deeply held nationalistic beliefs in ethnic and territorial integrity. Additionally, the book could have benefited from a more careful editing of chapter and subchapter order, notes, and the index. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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