Professor Mary Hanneman’s new book, Becoming Nisei: Japanese American Urban Lives in Prewar Tacoma (written with UWT Prof. Lisa Hoffman) is receiving significant attention in the local community. Becoming Nisei explores Tacoma’s prewar Nihonmachi’s (Japan Town) vibrant and close-knit community, one consisting of first- generation Japanese immigrants and their second-generation American children. Prior to World War II, Tacoma was filled with Japanese businesses, homes, hotels and churches. The Tacoma Japanese Language School, located in Tacoma’s current downtown core, was a central institution in the lives of Tacoma’s Japanese population. Influenced both by the transnational connections to Japan and by the spatial components of the city itself, the book tells the story of the world they built, one destroyed then erased by incarceration and the passage of time.
On February 19th, the Day of Remembrance of Japanese American Incarceration During World War II, Prof. Hanneman and Prof. Hoffman gave a presentation on this history to the Washington State History Museum’s series Scholarly Selections. Their talk, entitled “Structural Erasure: Remembering Japanese Americans in Prewar Tacoma,” focused on the unique features of Tacoma’s prewar Japanese community, including its single, secular language school, prominent school leadership, and the size and spatial layout of the community. The book is based on interviews with 42 Nisei who grew up in Tacoma as well as archival work in the University of Washington Libraries Special Collections.
Thanks to Profs Hanneman and Hoffman for bringing this important period in our past to light, and highlighting the human stories behind the tragic treatment of the Japanese during World War II.