the PAn Am skies As Frontier
oF Jet-Age mobilitY
17 may 2007. Tavern-on-the-Green restaurant, Central Park, New York.
Annual luncheon of the Manhattan chapter of World Wings International,
the organization of retired flight attendants of Pan American World Air-
ways. The day exults in the glories of spring: brisk air, clear skies, brilliant
azaleas. Even as I exit the subway at 72nd Street on the Upper West Side, I
notice a couple of women who I guess may be headed to the same event. It
is something about their age, dress, and purposefulness that provides clues.
We diverge at the park, but sure enough, when I enter the restaurant there
they are, just ahead of me, still engaged deeply within the buzzing excite-
ment of their own company. I am here as an observer of the luncheon and
as a researcher of a small group of women among the 240 in attendance.
The majority of women in attendance are white: Americans and Europeans
based in New York who flew for Pan Am until its demise in 1991. There are
also a handful of women who stand out because of their African ancestry,
part of Pan Am’s program in Africa in the 1970s, as well as another handful
of Spanish-speaking women hired from South America in the 1960s and
1970s. The women I am researching are of Asian ancestry: they flew in an
even earlier racialized program of Pan Am’s, from 1955 on. They were called
“Nisei” (second-generation Japanese American) stewardesses, even if not
all of them were second-generation or Japanese American. By calling these
women generically “Nisei,” Pan Am built into the group the cultural capi-
tal of Japanese American war veterans whose heroism during the Second
World War made the name synonymous with patriotic Americans of Japa-
Previous Page Next Page