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Harassed Japanese-American Youth Asserts His Citizenry

A 17-year-old Japanese-American boy in Hood River, Ore., wrote a poem shortly before committing suicide on Feb. 27, 1931.  The youth, Kay Yasui, son of Japanese immigrants Masuo and Shidzuyo Yasui, had faced racial harassment at a time Asian discrimination was especially high in the United States.  Much of his family would later spend World War II in Northern California’s Tule Lake Japanese confinement camp.

The poem’s timeless message goes like this:

You call me “Jap,”

And boast, saying you yourself are American.

My hair is black,

My nose, you say, is flat.

You insult and torment;

You say you are my superior

Because you are



If such a thing be true,

By what rights do you designate yourself


In your blue eyes, I see the Swede,

You have the red hair of the Irish,

Your mother’s mother was of Spain,

Your father is from Britain’s soil.

Trace your ancestry;

Were they Indians of America?

By what rights then,


Are you American?

Because you were born in this land

Are you American?

I, too, claim this land as my birthplace.

As much American as you,

I, too,

Am American.


Source:  Kessler, Lauren. Stubborn Twig. Corvallis, Ore.: Oregon State University Press, 2008. Print.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.