From Race to Ethnicity: Interpreting Japanese American Experiences in Hawai‘i

Hardback: $42.00
ISBN-13: 9780824839505
Published: July 2014
Paperback: $28.00
ISBN-13: 9780824897871
Published: December 2023

Additional Information

272 pages
  • About the Book
  • This is the first book in more than thirty years to discuss critically both the historical and contemporary experiences of Hawaii’s Japanese Americans. Given that race was the foremost organizing principle of social relations in Hawai‘i and was followed by ethnicity beginning in the 1970s, the book interprets these experiences from racial and ethnic perspectives. The transition from race to ethnicity is cogently demonstrated in the transformation of Japanese Americans from a highly racialized minority of immigrant laborers to one of the most politically and socioeconomically powerful ethnic groups in the islands.

    To illuminate this process, the author has produced a racial history of Japanese Americans from their early struggles against oppressive working and living conditions on the sugar plantations to labor organizing and the rise to power of the Democratic Party following World War II. He goes on to analyze how Japanese Americans have maintained their political power into the twenty-first century and discusses the recent advocacy and activism of individual yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese Americans) working on behalf of ethnic communities other than their own.

    From Race to Ethnicity resonates with scholars currently debating the relative analytical significance of race and ethnicity. Its novel analysis convincingly elucidates the differential functioning of race and ethnicity over time insofar as race worked against Japanese Americans and other non-Haoles (Whites) by restricting them from full and equal participation in society, but by the 1970s ethnicity would work fully in their favor as they gained greater political and economic power. The author reminds readers, however, that ethnicity has continued to work against Native Hawaiians, Filipino Americans, and other minorities—although not to the same extent as race previously—and thus is responsible for maintaining ethnic inequality in Hawai‘i.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Jonathan Y. Okamura, Author

      Jonathan Y. Okamura is professor emeritus in the Department of Ethnic Studies, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.
    • Paul Spickard, Series Editor

  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • [The book] demonstrates that from the days of the early plantation society, Japanese American men and women resisted racial oppression through labor organizing and movements to revitalize their cultural identity. In this way, Okamura’s work demonstrates the complex interplay between race, class, and gender in shaping the emergent Japanese American ethnic identity. These collective experiences of struggle and resistance laid the foundation for the Japanese American community’s transition from a racialized minority to a powerful ethnic group during the quarter century after World War II.
      —Michael Jin, Hawaiian Journal of History, Vol. 49 (2015)
  • Supporting Resources