|Monica Sone (so-nay)|
September 1, 1919
|Subjects||Japanese American internment|
|Notable work(s)||Nisei Daughter|
Monica Sone (b. Kazuko Itoi, 1919 in Seattle, Washington) is a Japanese American writer, best known for her 1953 autobiographical memoir Nisei Daughter, which tells of the Japanese American experience in Seattle during the 1920s and 30s, and in the World War II internment camps and which is an important text in Asian American Studies courses.
Sone grew up in Seattle, where her parents, immigrants from Japan, managed a hotel. Like many Japanese American children, her education included both American classes and extra, Japanese cultural courses. She and her family visited Japan, where she realized how American she truly is. In her late teens, she contracted tuberculosis and spent nine months at Firland Sanitarium with future best selling author of the The Egg and I, Betty MacDonald . Award winning Journalist and author Wolfgang Hampel interviewed Monica Sone and her family during his research on Betty MacDonald.
During the War, she and her family were interned in the camps at Puyallup Civilian Assembly Center and at the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Hunt, Idaho. In 1942, Sone was allowed to leave the camp to attend Wendell College in Indiana, where she spent time living with a white family. She finished her degree at Hanover College and eventually received a master's degree in clinical psychology from Case Western Reserve University.
Sone’s best-known work, Nisei Daughter, was originally published by Little, Brown in 1953. It tells the story of a Japanese immigrant family's life in the United States before and during the war. The parents are from Japan (issei), but the children are born in the States, making them nisei (as in the title). The book explores the cultural differences they faced before the War, both in the States and on a visit to Japan, and the family's experiences during the Japanese American internment.
- Monica Sone’s, "Nisei Daughter," was originally published by Little, Brown in 1953. It is written in a narrative that is chronological. The author does not use flashbacks or dwell on memory and the past; rather, she is forward-looking as she gives an account of the high points of her life. In content and in tone, the book is very approachable, with uncomplicated vocabulary and descriptive images that allow the modern reader entry into the author’s world of the 1920’s and 1930’s. The entire story is told from Sone’s perspective as she details her personal experiences and relationships, though the reader may assume that her story resembles that of other nisei girls growing up at the same time that she did.
- Although the twelve chapters of the book have titles that name twelve separate and important main events, Nisei Daughter reads far better as a seamless whole than as twelve separate episodes. The book does not resemble a collection of unrelated short stories or discrete essays because the same pivotal characters – Sone and her immediate family – change and age throughout the book, and the reader shares their accumulating successes and misfortunes. Sone gives her readers a personal yet public account, describing details of family, friends, and community life that are set before a backdrop of important political events being played out between Japan and the United States. Thus, what emerges is a winsome description of growing up in troubled times and of the very human and specific impact of more global, government actions. The cover photograph of the book shows Sone and her sister smiling and sitting on the steps of the Carrollton Hotel, their father’s establishment, in 1932. The theme of nearly two-thirds of the book is captured in that one photograph: two girls, contentedly growing up within the circle of their family. The book contains no other illustrations. + During the War, she and her family were interned in the camps at Puyallup Civilian Assembly Center and at the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Hunt, Idaho. In 1942, Sone was allowed to leave the camp to attend Wendell College in Indiana, where she spent time living with a white family. She finished her degree at Hanover College and eventually received a master's degree in clinical psychology from Case Western Reserve University.
- Exposition concerning the courtship and marriage of Sone’s parents and the births of their four children begins the book. A comfortable childhood existence is nostalgically portrayed in the environs of the Skid Road Hotel, which Mr. Itoi operates near the Seattle waterfront. He is portrayed as a hard worker and a resourceful provider, refusing rooms to characters who seem drunken or otherwise unsavory, and continually repairing and improving his establishment. Mrs. Itoi is more colorfully portrayed as a woman who is capable of having fun and who wants to indulge her children in their creativity and their whims. The “shocking” fact of life that Sone discovers when she is six is that she is Japanese, and because of that fact she and her siblings must attend daily sessions at a special Japanese school rather than play after their regular grammar school recesses. The conflict between Sone’s Japanese heritage and her American situation is developed throughout the book as its main theme, as the author continually searches for who she is and where she belongs. + Monica Sone and her husband, Geary Sone, had four children, whom they raised in Canton, Ohio.
- Adolescents of all ethnic backgrounds are aware of a generation gap between themselves and their parents. As Sone grew up, however, she was also necessarily growing away from her Japanese culture, becoming more and more Americanized. She wanted to convince her Japanese parents that she should be allowed to participate in such American activities as studying ballet or having a boyfriend, but these ideas were not tolerated by her father, who saw such behavior as running contrary to Japanese tradition. He associated ballet dancing with geisha girls and would never consent to his daughter’s entering that profession. Furthermore, he believed that parents should select a future spouse for their child. He wanted his daughter to attend business school, but Sone had her heart set on enrolling in a university. + ==Nisei Daughter==
- Yet, as Frank Miyamoto observes in the introduction to the 1979 edition of the book published by University of Washington Press, Sone seemed to have a more intimate and companionable relationship with her mother than was true of most nisei children. Her mother was a refuge and shelter for Sone and her siblings, and she was very much a nurturer. Because she came to the United States at seventeen, before the pattern of Japanese culture had been too firmly established within her, she cooked mainly Western meals for her family. She seemed more sympathetic to her children’s needs, perceptions, and values than did a neighbor, Mrs. Matsui, who tried vigilantly to foist “old country” manners, mores, and punishment upon her unwilling and resistant children. + Sone’s best-known work, Nisei Daughter, was originally published by Little, Brown in 1953. It tells the story of a Japanese immigrant family's life in the United States before and during the war. The parents are from Japan (issei), but the children are born in the States, making them nisei (as in the title). The book explores the cultural differences they faced before the War, both in the States and on a visit to Japan, and the family's experiences during the Japanese American internment.
- - Although, in Sone’s world, parents and children did not always understand one another or agree, her home situation was one of love, support, and good humor. Her family celebrated their heritage with a community picnic in Jefferson Park, commemorated the new year both Western style and Japanese style, enjoyed a trip to Japan, grieved together at the death of Sone’s brother Kenji from illness, encountered racial discrimination when they sought to rent a summer vacation home on the coast, and, most of all, endured months of hardship confined in relocation camps with thousands of other Japanese Americans.
- - Nisei Daughter is a critically important document in a number of respects – personally, sociologically, and historically. In addition to exploring the personal life of a girl growing up among her family, sociologically the book depicts the influence of the environment on a developing personality. Her street—with its fishing pier, second-hand clothing store, tavern, mission hall, café, hot dog stand, and cigar shop—sparked the imagination of Sone and her siblings. Sone’s nine-month recuperation in a tuberculosis sanatorium, forcing her association with Western girls, made her aggressive, opinionated, and talkative. She herself noticed the personality change at the end of her stay when she met two new patients, both nisei girls. The girls behaved with “the utmost decorum becoming to modest maidens,” making Sone feel as if she “were a spy at large … lung[ing] at the visitor and … cross-examining him.”
- Historically, the book highlights the experiences of the children of Japanese immigrants during World War II. Because the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor led the U.S. government to suspect all Japanese Americans of espionage activities, the president issued Executive Order 9066. This order declared that people with any Japanese blood, whether legal aliens or American citizens, must liquidate their property and relocate to inland “camps” (usually racetracks or fairgrounds) away from the Pacific Coast. Such camps had armed guards and were surrounded by barbed wire; conditions were crowded, and the food was poor. Sone and her family were moved twice, once to a camp in Washington State and then to a larger one on an Idaho prairie. Her personal accounts of camp life, while poignantly illuminating, are not always bleak. The description of her brother’s wedding, from the preparations to the reception, is humorous and heartwarming. Bonds of friendship with both Japanese and white people finally transcended the forced internment. The book concludes in optimism, describing how Sone left the camp and fulfilled her lifelong goal of attending college. (http://www.enotes.com/nisei-daughter-salem/nisei-daughter)
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