We talked about Anti-Asian sentiment quite a bit this Thursday and what really stood out to me was the discussion on Anti-Japanese sentiment before and during World War II in the US. What really got me going was seeing all the racist cartoons and comics and remembering that when I was growing up that my parents occasionally made anti-Japanese statements. It reminded me that my grandparents and great grandparents were all directly affected by the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. They probably passed on that lingering fear of the Japanese to my parents who, luckily, didn’t pass it on to me. Interestingly enough, my exposure to Japanese culture happened at about the same time that my parents started telling me horror stories about the occupation but I internalized it as just a part of the past, mostly because I was under ten years old I couldn’t imagine how short 60 years was. Still, it was really confusing being told all these terrible things about the same people who you played games with in recess and whose birthday party you went to that one summer break.
Sure, it was confusing for me since I was getting two conflicting ideas but I can’t imagine how odd it must have been for my parents—they probably didn’t meet many Japanese people while living in the Philippines—when my family moved to the Asian heavy LA area where there were Japanese people everywhere. By extension, something similar must have happened to my grandparents and great grandparents, since they lived through the occupation. Thinking about how difficult it must have been for them to adjust to the post WWII world after all those experiences with the Japanese military suddenly makes it easier to understand post war discrimination.
If my family never had contact with Japanese people and culture then all we would know about them would through the old horror stories of rape, murder, and infanticide and we would probably be very distrusting of them. Yes, the internet makes global news and information far more widespread and easier to access, but it doesn’t replace meeting someone and finding out that they’re as human as you are. If there are people who haven’t met anybody from a different culture and only know what they’ve read in textbooks and heard in anecdotal stories (and there probably are quite a few) then they probably wouldn’t be too accepting of those who’ve been portrayed as the mysterious and evil people who are out to kill everyone. Thinking back to all those Anti-Japanese cartoons and comics we saw, it makes sense why they used those old stereotypes the way they did. It’s because when you want to demonize someone who you don’t understand and have never met, you turn to old stories: stories that just don’t represent those people anymore.