Talk Title: Visual Citizenship and the Legibly Cool: The Recognition and Misrecognition of Japanese American Belonging in the Southern California Suburbs
Date/Time/Location: Thursday, October 22nd 12:45-2 p.m. PDT
Focusing on a little known Southern California amusement park, this paper examines the ways in which Japanese American citizenship and belonging was shaped and claimed through spatial and visual cues of foreignness and Americanness. Japanese Village and Deer Park, an Orange County attraction from 1967-1974 where the charms of ancient Japan were displayed for white middle-class tourist consumption, serves as a unique location for examining the underlying assumptions and deployment of race and American identity. In order to create the façade of a quaint Japanese village, proprietors of Deer Park employed local high school and college-aged Japanese American youth, the majority of whom were third generation. This paper relies on in-depth interviews with former employees as well as approximately 400 promotional and personal photographs depicting Deer Park to examine how Japanese American citizenship was interpreted through visual cues of belonging. My analysis suggests that for Japanese Americans during the time of Deer Park, visibility rested upon their legibility as foreign/peripheral within the boundaries of membership within the US nation. While foreignness of costume as well as body was all that was seen by the predominantly white patrons of the park, Japanese American youth continued to accentuate their work attire with contemporary American style through hair, make-up, and language. Such domestic style remained illegible to park patrons, but was highly visible to other Japanese American youth working at the park. In terms of their co-ethnics, American fashion points allowed young Japanese Americans to be visible and legibly “cool” to one another.
Speaker Bio: Dana Y. Nakano is an Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, Stanislaus. He received his doctorate in Sociology from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) as well as master’s degrees in Asian American Studies from San Francisco State University and Demographics and Social Analysis from UCI. Dr. Nakano’s published work appears in Contexts, Sociological Inquiry, Sociological Perspectives and Asian American Policy Review. He also co-edited Japanese American Millennials: Rethinking Generation, Community, and Diversity (Temple University Press 2019) with Dr. Michael Omi and Jeffrey Yamashita. He is currently working on a book manuscript titled Racial Uniform: The Limits and Affect of Japanese American Citizenship.
Generous support from the Intercollegiate Department of Asian American Studies, the Agnes Moreland Jackson Diversity Program Fund, and the Campus Life Committee has made this event possible.