DVD Issei: The First Generation

Directed by Toshi Washizu. Narrated by Amy Hill.

During the first quarter of the 20th Century, more than 160,000 men and women left Japan seeking a new life in America. They were the “Issei,” the first generation of people of Japanese ancestry to make their home in America.

Many of these new immigrants were mail-order brides, most of them young girls, whose only connection with America was a single photograph of fiancés who had immigrated earlier. Together these couples would endure hardship, bigotry and even the ordeal of America’s World War II internment camps to build farms and small businesses and become an integral part of life on the West Coast of the United States.

Among the survivors of this remarkable generation who began the Japanese American tradition is the 95-year-old Yasu Kawamura, who along with her husband settled in Walnut Grove, California, where the couple managed a barber shop; Kumajiro Murakami, 102, who tells of how he immigrated first to Hawaii where he worked on a sugar plantation, and later to California to become one of the first pioneers of the strawberry industry in Watsonville; and Taka Washizu, 84, who tells of hardships before, during, and after the war, working with her share cropper husband in Walnut Grove.

Yet, despite this injustice and other struggles, their affection for America is not dimmed. “The soul I have inside is Japanese,” recalls one Issei, “but I am proud to be an American.”