Have you ever heard of a loyalty questionnaire? Imagine being sent to internment camps and later forced to answer a loyalty questionnaire, all because of the color of your skin.
Two questions in particular caused great distress among the internees and were used to determine loyalty, as well as whether or not young Japanese American men would be allowed to serve in the armed forces during World War II. Those who answered “no” were transferred to Tule Lake, a maximum security camp. The young men who answered “no” were not allowed to serve in the military, and were labeled No-No Boys.
Following is an interview with actor, George Takei, where he discusses immigration and the loyalty questionnaire, and how it impacted his family.
NOTE: According to Densho.org, the United States’ first naturalization law was passed in 1790. This granted the right of naturalization to any alien who was a “free white person.” In 1870, the right of naturalization was extended to “aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” However, Asians, such as the Chinese and Japanese, who were neither white nor black, were classified as “aliens ineligible to citizenship.” Without the right to naturalize, Japanese immigrants could not become U.S. citizens; without citizenship, they could not vote; without the right to vote, they had very little political influence.
In this excerpt from The Red Kimono, Nobu struggles with how to answer the loyalty questionnaire:
The forms were laid neatly in rows on the long tables, a pencil placed precisely to the right of each. Nobu took a seat next to the person he followed in line and read the title of the four-page form: Statement of United States Citizen of Japanese Ancestry.
Four pages. Just how much information did they need to know to begin processing release? He scanned the list of twenty-eight questions. Most seemed pretty benign; name, age, address. Sex, height, weight.
He flipped to the last page and read the last two questions. Their words rose from the page and threw him a hard punch.
27) Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?
What the—? Hell, no! Why would I serve a country that rounded up its own citizens, shipped them off in trains and corralled them behind barbed wire?
But it was the last question that stabbed at his heart:
28) Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power or organization?
How could they ask me this? I’m an American citizen. I’ve never even been to Japan—know nothing of the Japanese emperor. Even so why should I swear unqualified allegiance to this country that has no allegiance to me?
His hand trembled as he picked up the pencil. He tapped it on the table and listened to the growing sounds of sighs and mumbles, the growing sound of shuffling in the room. The faster and harder his heart beat, the faster his tapping became, until he slammed the pencil on the blank form and laid his head in his hands.
He knew how he wanted to answer: No. No. Hell, no! But how should he answer? What would be the consequences of No-No? What would Mama say? And what would Papa say, if he were alive? Mama and Papa were Issei—first generation. Even after living and working in America for over two decades, they’d been denied citizenship by the American government, like every other Issei. If they answered “yes,” forswore allegiance to the Japanese emperor, the Issei would be without a country. Yet, if they answered “no,” they would be labeled “disloyal.” How could they possibly answer Question 28?
What about Yuki? Forget Yuki. Why should he care how she would answer? Of course, she’d say anything to stay by the side of her soldier.
He could think of a hundred reasons to answer “no” to both questions. And only one reason to answer “yes.” Fear. What would be the consequences of answering “no”?
Rage threatened to erupt, while fear came in tsunami waves, splashing over his anger, simmering it. When the wave receded, it left boiling fury exposed.
He would not let fear drive him. Not today.
He picked up his pencil and steadied his hand. The tightness in his shoulders eased as he answered Question 27—NO. Question 28—NO.
Numbness overtook him as he mindlessly finished answering the questions on the first three pages—questions that did nothing to define who he was inside.
Outside the mess hall, men gathered in small clusters. They huddled together, heads nodding to quiet rumblings. Nobu walked over to join one of the groups. As he drew close enough to see one man gritting his teeth, telling the others he answered “no, no,” a guard approached.
“Okay, let’s break it up,” he said, shooing the men away. “Go on, get out of here.”
The gray sky tore with a rip of thunder, and hard, cold rain began to fall as Nobu drifted back to his apartment. He pulled his jacket over his head and started to run. God, how he didn’t want to see Mama now—didn’t want to talk to anyone. All he wanted to do was spill his anger onto the pages of his journal.
He arrived at the stoop in front of their unit. Water dripped from the eaves above, but he didn’t care. He removed his journal from his shirt and sat on the top step. Holding his jacket as shelter from the rain, he began to write.
To hell with them all. They stole Yuki, but they’ll never steal my dignity. I marked NO-NO! Now let’s see what they do!