Greg Robinson

Greg Robinson, a native New Yorker, is Professor of History at l'Université du Québec À Montréal, a French-language institution in Montreal, Canada. He is the author of the books By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans (Harvard University Press, 2001), A Tragedy of Democracy; Japanese Confinement in North America (Columbia University Press, 2009), After Camp: Portraits in Postwar Japanese Life and Politics (University of California Press, 2012), Pacific Citizens: Larry and Guyo Tajiri and Japanese American Journalism in the World War II Era (University of Illinois Press, 2012), and The Great Unknown: Japanese American Sketches (University Press of Colorado, 2016), as well as coeditor of the anthology Miné Okubo: Following Her Own Road (University of Washington Press, 2008). Robinson is also coeditor of the volume John Okada - The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy (University of Washington Press, 2018). His historical column “The Great Unknown and the Unknown Great,” is a well-known feature of the Nichi Bei Weekly newspaper. Robinson’s latest book is an anthology of his columns, The Unsung Great: Portraits of Extraordinary Japanese Americans (University of Washington Press, 2020). He can be reached at robinson.greg@uqam.ca.

Updated July 2021

war en

The Unknown History of Japanese Internment in Panama

The historical narrative surrounding the wartime confinement of ethnic Japanese in the United States grows ever more complex. In the last years, historians and activists working with community organizations (in some cases with government funding) have made significant discoveries. The Honouliuli Internment camp in the then-Territory of Hawaii, whose site remained long hidden from view, was located and explored, and was ultimately named a National Monument. The Tuna Canyon Detention Station near Los Angeles, where Issei men arrested by the FBI after Pearl Harbor were held, was rediscovered and…

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politics en

K.K. Kawakami, Cosmopolitan Issei Writer

One intriguing aspect of Japanese immigrant experience before World War II was the diverse intellectual life of community members. Although most early Issei were farmers or laborers, a significant group of writers and thinkers emerged among them. These people found work as Buddhist priests, school teachers, or newspaper editors within Japanese communities. As Eiichiro Azuma shows, they wrote primarily in Japanese, identified with the old country, and were heavily invested in building a “shin nippon,” a new Japan in the New World. Yet overlapping with them was a selection of stu…

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politics en

The Unsung History of the Japanese American Committee for Democracy

The Japanese American Committee for Democracy (JACD), a New York-based social and political group of the 1940s, has been effectively ignored in the history of Japanese Americans. The JACD held rallies to support the American war effort in World War II, helped Japanese Americans in New York to find jobs and housing, and provided a forum for like-minded Issei and Nisei to meet up and socialize. Their monthly publication, the JACD Newsletter, offers historians a vital resource on what was going on in Nikkei circles in New York—especially during the early months of 1942, when the city was h…

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identity en

Toru Matsumoto: The New York Years

My recent Discover Nikkei article on Tsuyoshi Matsumoto has prompted interest from readers in other members of the Matsumoto family, such as Tsuyoshi’s sister Takako Shibusawa, a leader in social welfare work in postwar Japan, and most especially Tsuyoshi’s younger brother Toru. Toru Matsumoto (1913-1979) was actually the more-renowned brother during his lifetime: in the United States during the 1940s he was known as the author of multiple books, including the notable 1946 memoir A Brother is a Stranger. Following his return to Japan, he became celebrated as a popular media star…

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business en

The Eyes Have It: Nisei Contact Lens Pioneer Dr. Newton Wesley

One fun area of work in history is discovering the connections between everyday products and their unheralded inventors. There is the street light, developed by African-American inventor and engineer Lewis H. Latimer. Or take the Bing cherry, developed by Ah Bing, a Chinese immigrant horticulturist in Oregon. Or there is the case of Frank Zamboni, the son of Italian immigrants in Idaho who developed the ice-resurfacing machine that bears his name. One particularly intriguing figure in this respect is Dr. Newton K. Wesley, the Nisei inventor and optometrist who played a leading role in the dev…

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