Late one evening, during the last stages of my work on this book and in
a moment of uncertainty about the relevance of the history of represen-
tation I was attempting to piece together, I decided to take a break. I
settled down in front of the television fully prepared to be distracted,
transported away from the questions raised by my immersion in the
post-World War II period and Japanese American history. Instead,
within five minutes I sat watching a commercial for the ymca narrated
by an elderly Japanese American man who identified himself as one
who had lived in ‘‘a detention center’’ during the war. As his voiceover
touched on the internment experience, an old black-and-white photo-
graph of what was either an assembly center or an internment camp
was briefly shown. The photograph was a wide shot, depicting a crowd
of people assembled in a yard that I could only guess was ‘‘the deten-
tion center.’’ The ymca, he quickly added, o¤ered him a helping hand
when he left ‘‘the detention center,’’ a way to regroup and reenter
American society. His testimonial, no longer than sixty seconds, pro-
moted the ymca as the quintessence of goodwill and tolerance. In the
last, lingering image of the commercial, I watched as the man, a smil-
ing, grandfatherly figure, strolled arm in arm with two younger people
along a sunny, flower-lined walkway. No doubt, they were all headed
to the ymca. If I ever questioned the enduring relevance of Japanese
Americans’ ‘‘absent presence’’ in the 1940s and 1950s, then here, it
seemed, was evidence to the contrary.
The visible e¤acement of Japanese American wartime history, to say
nothing of the obscuration of their complex postwar struggles, is eerily
maintained in the commercial’s euphemistic designation of intern-
ment camps or, as they were oªcially called, relocation centers or de-
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