JANM Statement on Wisconsin School District’s Rejection of Historical Fiction Novel About WWII JA Incarceration

The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) is seriously concerned about the Muskego-Norway School Board’s rejection of “When the Emperor Was Divine” for use in a tenth grade Accelerated English class.

The school board’s curriculum planning committee selected Julie Otsuka’s historical fiction novel “When the Emperor Was Divine” as part of the district’s annual recommendations for new textbooks and teaching materials. Winner of the American Library Association’s Alex Award and Asian American Literary Award, Otsuka’s novel uses multiple perspectives to tell the story of a Japanese-American family’s experience of incarceration.

On June 13, 2022, the school board’s Educational Services Committee rejected the selection on the grounds that it was a “diverse” book instead of a “unrestricted” or non-diversity book. .

The committee also claimed that the novel would create a lack of “balance” in the curriculum because its inclusion would ensure that students would read two books from the perspective of Japanese Americans instead of from a “viewpoint of Japanese Americans.” American government on why they did this.

“The historical record is clear. There can be no ambiguity about the facts of the incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II,” said Ann Burroughs, President and CEO of JANM. “When public school districts ban literature that clarifies the historical record, which is itself based on fact, they are disrespecting American ideals of equality, justice, and freedom.

“Their justification is forged from the same fire that fuels discrimination, hatred and prejudice and reflects the prevailing public sentiment that turned a blind eye to incarceration in 1942. A massive disservice is being done to students who miss the opportunity to develop another perspective outside of their own worldview, and in turn, deepen their empathy for others and their understanding of what it means to live and thrive in this world.

Irene B. Bowles