Hiroshima Nagasaki Indochina: Unite to Oppose the Genocide of Asian People”: Linking Memory and Activism in Asian American Citizenship

Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:50 AM
Centennial Ballroom A (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Naoko Wake, Michigan State University
In January 1970, a group called Asian Americans for Peace organized an anti-Vietnam march in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, California. Six months later, a newly established Asian-American Ad-Hoc Committee on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in San Francisco, was planning a commemoration for the A-bomb anniversaries of August 6 and 9. Both events were first-of-a-kind for Asian Americans. They were witnessing an era of transformation, with the condemnation of the Vietnam War quickly growing into anti-nuclear activism. By breaking silence around the Asian "genocides," Asian Americans were resisting stereotypes of a quiet model minority and asserting new modes of citizenship.

Using oral histories, ethnic newspapers, and manuscripts of key organizations, I explore significant roles that anti-nuclear activism played in Asian American citizenship in the 1970s. I do so by examining Asian Americans' growing understanding of wars in Asia as their wars and their assertion of citizenship arising out of a newly found Asian American kinship to Asia. I focus on how America's use of nuclear weapons against Asia, both real and imagined ("Hiroshima-Nagasaki 1945. 1970? Hanoi-Haiphon," asserted an anti-war rally flyer), became an important bridge between Asia and Asian America. Although previously little-known, Asian American survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings began to tell their memories of the nuclear destruction, contributing significantly to the making of Asia-America linkage. Such inquiry remedies two scholarly shortcomings. First, the relative invisibility of anti-nuclear activism in the study of Asian America and, in turn, the absence of Asian Americans in the scholarship about anti-nuclear movements. Moreover, my work reveals the crucial roles that Japanese Americans' memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki played in the making of anti-nuclear activism. Their remembering and participation in the activism, which refuted the traditional image of survivors as helpless "victims," was formative for a more participatory, critical citizenship in Asian America.