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When Nikkei women write : transforming Japanese-Canadian identities 1887-1987 Iwama, Marilyn Joy 1998-12-31

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WHEN NIKKEI WOMEN WRITE; TRANSFORMING JAPANESE CANADIAN IDENTITIES 1887-1997 by MARILYN JOY IWAMA B.S., The Univeristy of British Columbia, 1990 MA., The University of British Columbia, 1992 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES Interdisciplinary Studies [Anthropology / Asian Studies / English / History] We accept this thesis As conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA September 1998 © Marilyn Joy Iwama, 1998 In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanced degree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make it freely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensive copying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of my department or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying or publication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my written permission. Department The University of British Columbia Vancouver, Canada Date jJLnt • i^Qi DE-6 (2/88) II ABSTRACT Describing historical accounts of Canadian Nikkei1 experience, historian Midge (Michiko) Ayukawa (1996) writes that these accounts represent "history in the passive voice, and that it is necessary to retell it with the eyes and ears of the people who were directly involved" (3). For Nikkei women, "history in the passive voice" has either completely overlooked their experiences or narrowly defined their social role in terms of domesticity and submission to a patriarchal authority. The dominant image of the Japanese Canadian woman has been that of the "good wife, wise mother" (Ayukawa 1995). This ideal image of womanhood emerged as a component in the dramatic processes of social reform in Meiji Japan (1868-1912). Both Caucasian and Nikkei historians have sustained the power of this mythical image by characterizing those experiences that exceed its conceptual boundaries as merely idiosyncratic. Simultaneously, however, Nikkei women have been weaving narratives of their history which both duplicate and subvert this image of quiet domesticity. This study contrasts processes of identity formation in twentieth-century writing by and about Canadian Nikkei women. I approach these narratives by first analyzing the categories of race, class, ethnicity, culture, and gender that historians, anthropologists, literary theorists, and theorists of ethnicity have constructed in order to interpret and contain them. I then examine how the narratives engage with three dominant discourses of being, namely those concerned with food, sexuality, and the transmission of culture. For several reasons, I treat this body of writing from an interdisciplinary and multi-theoretical perspective. My sources include published and unpublished texts from a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, history, literature, and geography. These texts embrace a wide range of genres, among them fiction, poetry, autobiography, the essay, the journal, the letter, so-called conventional scholarship, and responses to an ethnograhic questionnaire that I have collected. The texts are also informed by both Japanese and "western"2 cultural ideas and 1 "Nikkei" are individuals of Japanese descent living outside of Japan. 2 Some researchers favour the upper case "Western" to describe North American and European theoretical traditions across disciplines (Mennell 1985). I include in the category of "western" all those practices, and sometimes by several additional cultural influences. Their writers create a complex interrelation of textual identities which invites a range of disciplinary and theoretical perspectives. Thus I examine the texts by engaging with a number of theories, including deconstructive postmodernism, deconstructive feminism, feminist anthropology, feminist history, and close textual analysis. I base this study on the theoretical premise that to treat narratives of experience rigorously, the researcher must regard the texts as both objects of study and authoritative critical voices (Cole and Phillips 1995; Chow 1993; Trinh 1989; Clifford and Marcus 1986). Therefore, I look to writing by Nikkei women for its reflections on Nikkei women's experiences, but also for guidance in interpreting the texts under study. As well, I read these texts for their critical comment on the conceptual categories that conventional scholarship has used to manage the unruliness and ambiguity of Nikkei women's narratives and experience. By welcoming the categorically disruptive, my analysis offers a theoretical perspective that may help to ensure a creative interrelation of theory and praxis. ideas that become a body of thought as they are used to distinguish them from "eastern" or "oriental." With the success of European and American imperialist projects from the nineteenth century to the present, this "setting-off against the Orient," as Said calls it (Orientalism 3), exceeds national boundaries. One can say, then, that there are critics of Japanese ancestry, residing in Japan and elsewhere, who write from a western point of view. Thus, I depend on the lower-case "western," to emphasize the constructed nature of western ideology, as op