The Politics of Racism by Ann Gomer Sunahara
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The intention of this book is not to arouse bad memories or to make accusations. What is past is past. Rather my intention is to tell frankly what the record shows about an unhappy event in Canadian history, an event inconsistent with the public image most Canadians hold of their society.
This book is aimed at two groups of readers. First it is aimed at those Canadians, especially those born and raised since the Second World War, who have known only a tolerant Canada: a Canada in which discrimination has been greatly reduced, although not eliminated; in which hate literature is an anathema; and in which racists are considered somewhat deficient mentally and emotionally. To that fortunate group of Canadians who, like myself, have lived free from racism, and hence in ignorance of its pain and its power, this book is intended as a reminder that the tolerance we know is historically only a thin and recently applied veneer on Canadian society. It is written in the hope that the events discussed here will bring home a realization of how easy it is in our imperfect world for an ill-informed majority to wreak havoc on a blameless minority.
The second group at whom this work is aimed is the Nisei, those Canadian-born Japanese who passed through the events described here, and the Sansei, their children. It is my hope that this book will answer at least some of the hundreds of questions I was asked by Japanese Canadians while researching this unhappy period in our history, questions that usually began with "Why?" If my efforts can help a few Nisei to understand what happened to them between 1941 and 1950 and a few Sansei to understand why their parents and grandparents made the choices they did, then I shall consider that I have accomplished something.
My debts for this work are legion. Historians Roger Daniels, Howard Palmer and Patricia E. Roy have given valuable encouragement, guidance and criticism. Financially I am indebted to the Canada Council for the Explorations Grant that made possible the collection of scattered sources and the conducting of interviews across Canada. For their valuable assistance in collecting archival materials, I would like to thank Glenn T. Wright and Mark Hopkins of the Public Archives of Canada, John Hilliker of the Historical Division, Department of External Affairs, Phillip Chaplin at the Department of National Defence's Directorate of History, George Brandak of the Special Collections Division, University of British Columbia Library, and the staffs of the Provincial Archives of British Columbia and the Vancouver Theological College Archives.
My greatest debt is to the many people who took the time and effort to answer my many questions, and often did so with refreshing frankness. Each of those listed in the bibliography gave me a gem of information, some small, some immense, some conflicting. Of the many I am especially indebted to two: John Kumagai, who first planted in my mind the idea of a study of the wartime experience of Japanese Canadians, and George Tanaka, who first showed me that the archival material necessary for such a study indeed existed. I also owe a special debt to Thomas K. Shoyama for his assistance in persuading the Office of the Custodian of Enemy and Evacuee Property to grant me access to their documents and subsequently to turn them over to the Public Archives of Canada.
Finally, I am deeply indebted to my husband, David Fumio Sunahara, who has not only offered encouragement, but through frank discussion has taught me more about being Japanese in Canada than the tools of the historian ever could. Any errors, of course, are my own.
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Copyright © 2000 Ann Sunahara
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