Sakamoto’s Double Burden: Creating and Using Interpublic Relationships as Rhetorical Resources in the Japanese American Courier
Author: Hilary E. Y. Shuldt
Degree: Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Carnegie Mellon University, 2012
The most widely accessible discourse created by Japanese Americans before World War II appeared in their own bilingual and English-language newspapers. Of these publications, the Japanese American Courier (1928-1942) was the first English-language newspaper whose primary audience was Japanese Americans in the continental United States. Although editor James Yoshinori Sakamoto portrayed Japanese Americans as among the United States’ multiplicity of publics, he privileged Japanese Americans’ relationship with mainstream American citizens and sought the former’s eventual integration into the latter.
Sakamoto maintained this overarching goal of Japanese Americans’ integration throughout the increasingly turbulent interwar years. Drawing on the corpus of his original editorials for the Courier, I argue that he accomplished this by revising Japanese Americans’ relationships with other publics in response to international, national, and even local events that could impact mainstream American citizens’ perceptions of Japanese Americans. The three publics that Sakamoto cited most frequently and considered most relevant to Japanese Americans included: the first generation of Japanese immigrants to the United States; the government and people of Japan; and mainstream American citizens. In the Courier’s early years, Sakamoto promoted a relatively harmonious set of relationships between Japanese Americans and the three other publics. However, as Japan became more militarily aggressive in Asia and later toward the United States, Sakamoto ultimately aligned Japanese Americans with their mainstream counterparts in hostility toward Japan. Given that mainstream American citizens often conflated Japan with Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants, Sakamoto compensated for possible damage to the latter publics by promoting evidence of their loyalty and patriotism.
Sakamoto’s editorials in the Courier give valuable insight into Japanese Americans’ early characterizations of their relationships to mainstream American citizens and other publics and also demonstrate the importance and emergent nature of interpublic relationships generally. Viewed in a wider historical context, the Courier and other early Japanese American newspapers are important rhetorical precursors to the Asian American movement in the mid- to late 1960s, the campaigns for redress to former World War II internees in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and more contemporary studies of Asian American rhetoric.