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A portrait of Dave Tatsuno and his family, 1945. Courtesy of the Topaz Museum via Mountain West Digital Library.

Before the war, family was the key social unit for Japanese Americans. Incarceration in the camps greatly affected family dynamics and placed new pressures on family units. Men were traditionally the patriarchal leaders of the family, running small businesses or farms, and this authority was eroded by life in the camps, causing a disruption in deeply ingrained familial roles, relationships, and identities. More broadly, social networks that developed before mass incarceration were splintered, as neighbors, friends, and coworkers were sent to different relocation centers. The break-up of these informal social infrastructures is one of many little-perceived and long-term hardships that internment had on family and social life for Japanese Americans.

Tensions between first (Issei) and second (Nisei) generations within families were exacerbated by the incarceration. And, the work of organizations like the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), which collaborated with federal authorities to identify disloyalty, added to the feelings of disconnectedness. The JACL encouraged Nisei children to rebel against their Issei parents by offering patriotic, Americanized activities. These generational tensions were further aggravated in 1943 by government pressure on Nisei to enlist in the US military and adults to complete a loyalty questionnaire that demanded that Japanese Americans renounce their connections to Japan. People who refused to take the questionnaire—or “failed”—were relocated with their families to the Tule Lake Segregation Center—a special camp for internees deemed especially politically dangerous. Differing attitudes towards loyalty, tradition, enlistment, and the questionnaire tore many Japanese American families apart.