St. Olaf professor receives three grants for new book on Japanese Americans during World War II
St. Olaf College Associate Professor of Asian Studies Ka Wong has received three grants from the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) for his study of Japanese Americans in Minnesota during World War II.
The grants allow Wong to conduct research across the state in different universities, libraries, and archives while he is on sabbatical. Wong also received additional funding from the Institute for Freedom and Community at St. Olaf as well as Stanford University to research at the Hoover Institution Library and Archives.
The three grants from the MNHS, each for $10,000, fund the research and writing behind Wong’s new book, Enmity and Empathy: Race, Resettlement, and Remembrance of Japanese Americans in Minnesota During World War II, which is tentatively slated for a 2024 release.
This project developed from his previous work. Through a series of Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) summer projects, Wong and his students researched local Asian American stories and presented them in a documentary short film, Beyond the Barbed Wire: Japanese Americans in Minnesota (2018), and an accompanying website.
“I have always been interested in knowing more about anything ‘Asian’ in Minnesota since I came to St. Olaf,” says Wong. “My new book project further develops all the materials collected over the years and aims to tell the fascinating stories of Japanese Americans in Minnesota during World War II.”
Japanese American incarceration began on February 19, 1942, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Between 1942 and 1945, around 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated to camps in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Arkansas.
“Although Minnesota does not naturally or instantly come to mind when one talks about Japanese Americans and World War II — since there was no incarceration camp in the state, for instance — Minnesota was intricately connected to a complex network of prominent people and national politics in unexpected ways,” Wong says.
“Combating the racism and many other challenges facing those Japanese Americans who came to Minnesota in the midst of war was a collaborative and concerted effort by not only the Japanese-Americans themselves but also their allies — the educators, nonprofits, religious organizations, military, and simply individuals, all of which this project aims to address,” Wong says.
“Combating the racism and many other challenges facing those Japanese Americans who came to Minnesota in the midst of war was a collaborative and concerted effort by not only the Japanese-Americans themselves but also their allies — educators, nonprofits, religious organizations, military, and simply individuals — all of which this project aims to address.”Associate Professor of Asian Studies Ka Wong
Wong sees himself as a story collector and presenter, and his project aims to uplift the stories that are often untold. “There are still many stories of the American past, notably about minority groups, which have not been fully explored, recognized, and understood. The extraordinary wartime experiences of Japanese Americans and their supporters offer a new perspective on the history of Minnesota, especially in a time of local and national reckoning about war, race, and social justice.”
Wong hopes that this project will encourage future studies about the role of Asian Americans in the Midwest, especially as the events reach further into the past.
“Time is our greatest adversary,” Wong says, noting that it’s critical to have new scholars or people interested in studying this history. “World War II was a long time ago. Since this project began, many of the interviewees who kindly shared their stories with us have passed away. It’s never too early for researchers to start their inquiries, especially when one would like to take a more ethnographic approach.”