Remembering ‘The English’ in four ‘memory moment’ portraits: navigating anti-Japanese discrimination and postcolonial ambiguity in mid-twentieth century Alberta, Canada

This article explores anti-Japanese racial discrimination in the mid-twentieth century as it was experienced in everyday life from the 1940s to the 1960s. Drawing on oral-history interviews with nisei (‘second generation’) individuals, it presents four ‘memory moment’ portraits to consider the transformation of anti-Japanese discrimination, whereby colonial mechanisms prevalent during the Second World War gave way to make employment, education – and later, intimate – opportunities commonplace, even as ‘micro-aggressive’ forms of racism powerfully if subtly continued. Central to understanding how remembering narrators perceived discrimination were ‘The English’. Emergent from memories of painful engagements with real individuals, ‘The English’ were a stereotype whose ambiguous indeterminacy could create opportunities at a time when Canada and Japanese Canadians’ place within it were in a state of flux. The ‘postcolonial ambiguity’ that the four ‘memory moment’ portraits explore is not solely a characteristic of the past. Rather, the ‘memory moment’ portraits describe instances of remembering in close detail as performative acts animated by the remembering narrator’s desire to script their histories and share them. These are also quantum moments in which past and present are straddled, sparking a potent conjuncture of history and memory.