#AtoZChallenge: N is for No-No Boy

Day 14 of the A to Z Challenge is the letter “N”:

N is for No-No Boy

Imagine being placed behind barbed wire because of the color of your skin. Next, imagine being asked if you are willing to serve in the armed forces of the very country that put you behind that barbed wire. What if you were asked to swear unqualified allegiance to that same country?

And if you answered “no” to both of those questions, what if you became a “No-No Boy” and were separated from your family and sent to a maximum-security camp?

In the following excerpt, Nobu considers how he will answer the Loyalty Questionnaire, required to be completed by all internees over the age of seventeen.

Courtesy Densho.org

Courtesy Densho.org


Nobu had to see what all the fuss was about. He walked over, stood on his toes and strained to see the bulletin, scanning it for the two questions he heard mumbled most often. Questions 27 and 28:

Question 27: Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?

Question 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?

 The words rose from the page and threw him a hard punch.

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? And number twenty-eight? 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?

He knew how he wanted to answer those questions: 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. Fear of the consequences of answering “no.”

Rage threatened to erupt. Fear rolled in tsunami waves, splashed over his anger, simmered it. But when the wave receded, it left boiling fury exposed.

He would not let fear drive him. When his time came to answer, he would answer “no” to both.

The gray sky tore with a rip of thunder, and a 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, couldn’t stand the thought of Sachi asking what he was writing about again. 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 will answer NO-NO! Let’s see what they will do!

This entry was posted in History, The Red Kimono and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to #AtoZChallenge: N is for No-No Boy

  1. Jen HaHA says:

    I read this for one of my Asian American Studies classes years ago. I remember reading it while taking a bath after a stressful day. TMI? I remember my asst professor getting heated up about Japanese Americans being put in internment camps when other Americans of German and Italian descent were not.

    Come check out my A to Z! Jen Hemming and Hawing Again

  2. Mustang.Koji says:

    Nice post… My dad and his oldest brother (and his wife and children) answered those questions at Tule Lake. While my dad was thought of as a “no-no” boy by some Nisei’s after settling in L.A. in the 60’s (because he was at Tule Lake), that was not the case. Nearly all Japanese-American internees from the Seattle area were first “evacuated” to Pinedale then onto Tule Lake. After the “questionnaire”, others “loyal” to the US were sent to other camps – primarily Minidoka where my dad and his immediate family lived out the war. However, his draft card changed from 1A to 4C – enemy alien.

    • Jan Morrill says:

      Mustang.Koji, what a small world. My mother and her family were also internees at Tule Lake, BEFORE it became the maximum security camp for “disloyals.” They were moved to Topaz in Utah, however, as you mentioned, Tule Lake was always associated with those who answered “no, no” on the questionnaire. Thank you for sharing your family history.

  3. precari0us says:

    Reading the excerpt lets your heart leap with the sheer thought of how the sufferers might have actually felt..

    – Your fellow A toZer
    Visit my post at http://precari0us.wordpress.com/

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