CSUSB professor explores the heroism of Hirabayashi during WWII

By Melissa Benton |Staff Writer|

Cherstin Lyon, CSUSB assistant history professor, published a historical book about the Japanese American draft resistors during World War II.

“Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship, Civil Disobedience, and Historical Memory” follows the story of 41 Nisei who were imprisoned after refusing to be drafted into the U.S. military during World War II.

Lyon tells how the struggles of these Japanese Americans in resisting the draft and the legal battles that followed which could be compared to civil rights hero, Gordon Hirabayashi.
Lyon is giving a lecture on Gordon Hirabayashi on Feb. 22 in John M. Pfau Library from 12-1 p.m. in PL-4005.

Hirabayashi was known for his legal battle against incarceration and resistance to the draft.
Lyon wrote the book while attending the University of Arizona as a graduate student working on her doctorate degree.

Lyon recorded the oral history of a group of Japanese American men were resisting the draft. They were visiting the site of a former prison, where many of them had been held during World War II.

The prison was being renamed in honor of Hirabayashi.

She decided to do her dissertation on this topic and began to do more research in the National Archives. She found little information on the subject.

“It was hard trying to figure out how to approach this story and fit it into literature. It was all uncharted territory. It changed my perspective, especially when it was overlooked and not in other literature. It raised many more questions for me to answer,” said Lyon.

The dissertation turned into 11 years of research and a book.

Lyon received much recognition for her work on the book, including esteem from Franklin S. Odo, chief of the Asian division of the Library of Congress.

“‘Prisons and Patriots’ adds welcome depth and analysis to a growing number of works that are now disclosing two increasingly important reasons the Japanese American experience during World War II needs further research,” said Odo.

“First, the complex ways in which the Japanese American communities responded to the unconstitutional barbarity with which the U.S. government treated them and, second, the fascinating ways in which post-war actors sought to play roles in the crafting of a metanarrative for the ethnic group, the war, and the nation. This is a fine book, much needed at this point in time,” Odo said.

Lyon felt the information needed to get into public access. She said it raised questions about how people were treated during the war.

Japanese Americans went from having citizenship to internment.

“This book came out right around the time of 9/11. It moves to look more closely at people who gave up the rights of others in the time of war. It’s a combination of prejudice and fear,” said Lyon.

“I’m hoping this book will inspire research and conversation. This was my small contribution. I also hope the family members enjoy having something written about their father, grandfather or uncle.”

The book was published Nov. 3 by Temple University Press.


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