The hatred thrust upon the Japanese by other Americans during and immediately following World War II made it much more difficult for the Japanese to restore their pre-WWII lives. Japanese Americans were discriminated against based on their appearance alone and had to deal with a great deal of negativity from other raced Americans. However, it wasn’t just the white Americans that kept the Japanese down. In other words, the Japanese were also the root of their demise.
Without looking at the effects the Japanese had on people within their own culture, it is impossible to fully understand the strength needed to begin a new, successful life postwar. Ichiro, for example, is a young Nisei with major internal conflict. His mother, a strict Issei, raised her children with as much Japanese influence as possible. This was an issue for many Japanese Americans. The young adults felt caught between their homeland (America) and their parents while their parents felt caught between their homeland (Japan) and their children.
Nisei and Issei were two generations that were lost in translation; because of this, many Nisei, including Ichiro, felt lost and unable to escape from a dominant discourse (Ling 367). It is best to examine the Issei, Nesei relationship by looking at the strongest one in John Okada’s No-No Boy. Throughout the text, Ichiro is plagued with guilt; he torments Damato 2 himself over choosing not to go to war, (making himself a “No-No” boy,) rather than a “Yes-Yes” boy.
He looks at his mother in disgust, blaming her for his decision to turn away from America and pledge to Japan even though Ichiro knew he was far from being Japanese. In essence, he gave up his freedom of choice for his mother’s well-being. However, the underlying problem is not that Mama forced Ichiro to turn down war, (in the end, it truly was Ichiro’s decision. ) Rather, it was Mama’s inability to allow America and its culture to enrich the life of her family. Instead of welcoming a new culture after having children, she shunned it assuming she would move back to her homeland of Japan.
Because of this, she tried to raise her children as Japanese rather than as Americans thus making Ichiro feel as if he had no other choice but to turn down fighting in WWII. Although Mama had good intentions, her child rearing caused major internal conflicts within her children that reached new levels after the war: For me, you have been dead a long time, as long as I can remember. You, who gave life to me and to Taro and tried to make us conform to a mold which never existed for us because we never knew of it, were never alive to us in the way that other sons and daughters know and feel and see their parents.
But you made so many mistakes. It was a mistake to have ever left Japan. It was a mistake to leave Japan and to come to America and to have two sons and it was a mistake to think that you could keep us completely Japanese in a country such as America. ( Okada 186) It is a bold and sharp statement for Ichiro to claim that his mother was never alive to him the way other parents are to their children. Due to her loyalty to Japan, Ichiro and Taro Damato 3 were disconnected with their mother at a very young age; this disconnect only grew as
her sons became older and were exposed to more American culture than Mama would have ever liked. Ichiro accurately states that it wrong for his mother to have raised them as Japanese in an American environment. By trying to guide Ichiro in one direction while societal culture dragged him in another, it is no wonder Ichiro, (and other Nisei alike) felt without an identity. Although he might not have realized her power over him until he was forced to make a life-altering decision, he had always been somewhat of a puppet to his mother.
Her strong will and love for her former country leads to her son denying his birth country and a divide within her family that cannot be repaired. The anger Ichiro feels for his mother is quite apparent in the above quote and supports the claim that Ichiro believes his mother is partly to blame for going to jail. Paralleling other Nisei and Issei relationships, she is the key reason Ichiro cannot escape from his dominant discourse. However, she is not the only reason Ichiro cannot break out of his negativity and self-hate.
Inner-tension within the Nisei group itself is at an all time high post-war. Essentially, the young men who are without a sense of self (first as children through the Nisei/Issei divide and then as young men when forced to prove themselves American) are so distraught that they turn to fighting, drinking, and sulking with other men around them; these men keep each other down. Eto, the first “Yes-Yes” boy presented in the text, is depicted as being extremely aggressive and proud of his decision to enter the war. This is made very clear as he spits on Ichiro for refusing to fight for America.