by Linda Okazaki
Those of us connected to the American Nikkei community know the usual vernacular: Issei, Nissei, Sansei, Yonsei and so on. Of course, there are a variety of other terms, Happa being the most prevalent in my family.
My husband recently coined his own term, Half-a-Sansei. You might wonder, shouldn’t that be Happa-Sansei? Well, no. Happa implies that the individual is racially mixed. Hubby is racially Japanese, born and bred in Tokyo, though educated there in American schools.
Is my husband “Nihonjin” or “Gaijin” or something else? His mother was and is a Japanese citizen, or Nihonjin. His father, born in California, WAS an American citizen, or Nissei. Sadly, Ojichan lost that citizenship at the end of WWII. As immigrant Asians, his parents were prohibited from becoming American citizens. After years spent incarcerated at multiple facilities in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, they chose repatriation to Japan when the war finally ended. Ojichan sailed with them aboard the S.S. Matsonia, arriving in Uraga Harbor on Christmas Day, 1945. He was a renunciate who gave up his American citizenship in order to remain with his parents. He was stateless until his U.S. citizenship was restored in 1949 at the U.S. Consulate Office in Kobe, Japan.[i] Ojichan remained in Japan for the next 50+ years, a reinstated American citizen working for the United States government. He married a Japanese citizen and had two children.
They were both born stateless.
When documenting family history, it is critical to understand the laws of the time. The old U.S. law is very clear. From 10 October 1952 until 14 November 1986, children born abroad to married parents consisting of one American citizen and one alien parent were ineligible for U.S. citizenship unless that American parent “was physically present in the U.S. or its territories for a period of at least 10 years at some point in his or her life prior to the birth, at least five of which were after his or her 14th birthday.”[ii] Ojichan left the U.S. just after his 18th birthday, having only lived there 4 years beyond the age of 14. To further complicate the situation, Japan does not recognize dual citizenship. In order for his children to become Japanese citizens, Ojichan would have been required to renounce his American citizenship once again.[iii] And that was out of the question.
At the age of 21, my husband received his American naturalization papers.[iv] He truly was half-a-sansei, with one Japanese parent and one Nissei parent. Our daughter was also born in Japan, but a few years after the 1986 law change. She was granted American citizenship by birthright. Is she Yonsei? Half-a-Yonsei? If I am Hakujin, maybe that makes her Hafu-Happa-Yonsei.
Hafu: Ethnically half Japanese; term used in Japan
Happa: Ethnically mixed, originally a Hawaiian word
Issei: First generation Japanese immigrant
Nijonjin: Japanese citizen
Nissei: Second generation, born to Japanese immigrants
Sansei: Third generation, grandchildren of Japanese immigrants
Yonsei: Fourth generation, great grandchildren of Japanese immigrants
[i] Terumi Okazaki ([ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Lafayette, California), multiple interviews by Linda Harms Okazaki, 2012-2013; Video and audio recordings, privately held by interviewer, Lafayette, California. 2013.
[ii] U.S Citizenship and Immigration Service, Citizenship Through Parents, Online Instructional Pamphlet, (http://www.uscis.gov/us-citizenship/citizenship-through-parents : accessed 15 June 2014.)
[iii] The Ministry of Justice, The Japanese Nationality Law, Online Descriptive Pamphlet, (http://www.moj.go.jp/ENGLISH/information/tnl-01.html : accessed 15 June 2014.)
[iv] Naturalization Certificate, Okazaki Family Collection; privately held by Okazaki Family, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Lafayette, California, 2014.