Japanese American Beauty Pageants and Minstrel Shows: The Performance of Gender and Race by Nisei Youth during World War II
Abstract

This essay examines Japanese American youth culture as it was presented in incarceration-camp newspapers. It argues that these publications offered a unique forum for racially suspect Nisei youngsters to represent their bodies, culture, and ideals as fundamentally all-American. Through these publications many Japanese American youth crafted a look that conformed, as much as possible, with white mainstream conceptions of what an American looked like. As such, this essay examines clothing styles, beauty practices, and other cultural means that Japanese American youth used to craft an image of themselves as ideal American citizens. In addition, this essay explores how incarceration-camp newspapers often went a step further by covering the peculiar nature of other American racial minorities, whom they depicted as less patriotic and less American than Japanese American youth. These newspapers reported on minstrel shows put on by Nisei high school students, printed blackface cartoon strips, and ran editorials that critiqued elements of black youth culture. In this way, incarceration-camp newspapers attempted to rework America’s complex racial hierarchy by suggesting that Japanese Americans posed little threat to the United States, while African Americans—the nation’s historic racial other—should be watched with greater suspicion.


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