Alternative Title

Understanding the long-term psychological impacts of racial trauma on Japanese Americans who were imprisoned during World War II

Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis

Study Type



School for Social Work


Japanese Americans-Evacuation and relocation-1942-1945, Japanese Americans-Evacuation and relocation-1942-1945-Psychological aspects, Japanese Americans-Ethnic identity, Internment, Japanese Americans, Japanese racial trauma, World War II, Collective trauma, Sense of belonging, Civil rights, Xenophobia, Identity, Incarceration, Solidarity, Resilience


The purpose of this exploratory study was to deepen the understanding around the impacts of racial trauma and civil rights violations on Japanese Americans’ enduring sense of belonging and legitimacy in the United States. The study used semi-structured interviews with 13 Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during WWII to gather qualitative data around their experiences, in order to explore the long-term psychological impact of imprisonment and additionally, how the psychological effects are related to the current social environment. The major findings of this study are that formerly incarcerated Japanese Americans experience long term psychological consequences as a result of their imprisonment experiences and that these psychological effects shape their perception of modern day political and social contexts.

The major findings from the study fell into five major categories: 1) decreased feelings of safety 2) solidarity across racial lines 3) repetition of history 4) increased activism and community empowerment 5) present-day demagoguery and xenophobia. These findings contribute to the existing literature by expanding on the understanding of how Japanese Americans’ incarceration trauma response interacts with modern day social and political contexts. This study articulates that Japanese Americans’ incarceration trauma response is triggered by witnessing prejudice experienced by other minority groups in the United States and also by a xenophobic political and social climate. However, this study formulates that in addition to these negative impacts, Japanese Americans’ also experience positive outcomes, including increased empathy between oppressed groups.




iv, 86 pages. M.S.W., Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Ma., 2016. Includes bibliographical references (pages 75-78)

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