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  • Victor Mitsunaga

A Third-generation Japanese-American Reflects

The short essay below is by Kyla Mitsunaga's dad, Victor Mitsunaga, who is a third-generation Japanese-American whose parents were put in internment camps during WWII. Kyla’s dad, who was born in 1942, was 3 years old at the time, and her uncle was born in the camp.

I never gave any thought to the emotional issues faced by #hyphenatedAsians. I guess it makes a lot of sense. I know for me there was a time I was embarrassed by how different my parents and I was compared to my Caucasian friends when I was in school.

Whenever I visited them it was clear to me that there was a big difference in our families. I never invited any of my friends to my house because I was ashamed of how different we were. I don’t think it affected me except to become more withdrawn from my friends.

I think relating to friends at Japanese school on Saturdays and at church on Sundays probably kept me sane because I always viewed myself as Japanese, more so than as a (white) American.

It wasn’t until I started working, where I was surrounded by Caucasians, that I figured I should become more “American.” An acquaintance once asked me whether I saw myself as Japanese or American. I told her that it depended on whatever social situation I was in and would become one or the other—whatever was easiest.

I don’t know whether that means I was very adaptable or just trying to blend in. In either case, it made things less stressful and, therefore, less harmful. I may have had problems handling certain emotional or social issues, but I think it was more because of the way I was raised rather than my Japanese/American confusion. I guess I was fortunate it didn’t cause me any mental or emotional damage; except once.

I was transitioning from high school to college. Fortunately, it was Junior College because several of my closest friends (Mike, Terry, Marlene) also attended and we saw each other virtually every day. I wanted to be popular in college as I was in high school and tried really hard to do so but it didn’t happen. I started to worry myself sick, and developed a stomach ulcer. It lasted for a year or so when my mother told me it’s impossible to make friends with everyone and I should just live my own life.


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