Transpacific Exchanges and Race in the San Francisco-Osaka Sister-City Program
The Sister-City program is underrepresented in the historical literature, with the exception of the Nicaraguan twinnings fostered by activists to express dissent with American foreign policy in the 1980s. Yet, the program’s historical significance extends beyond radical leftist politics. It can also illuminate the participation of everyday, local actors, the transoceanic exchanges they engage, and their unintended consequences. The Sister City program in Osaka and San Francisco was built on the decades-old commercial networks between Japan and the US that historically helped grow both cities, but it also depended on a broad swath of civic organizations, schoolchildren, municipal officials, and everyday San Franciscans and Osakans for its continuation. Further, the program came to depend on the participation of Japanese Americans. Japanese Americans rearticulated longstanding, popular and scholarly assumptions about their “foreignness” and dangerous unassimability into valued cultural knowledge about a desired foreign partner. San Francisco’s interest in Japan thus gave Japanese Americans a way to demonstrate their usefulness and participation in mainstream civic initiatives, which helped to reposition them in the city’s racial terrain.
This paper connects the San Francisco-Osaka Sister-City exchanges, which helped to rehabilitate the postwar US-Japan relationship, to the reconstruction of post-internment Japanese Americans. This paper thus opens up urban history to a transnational frame and demonstrates the utility of this broadened analysis for understanding racial constructions.
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