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Using video histories of Japanese-American internees during World War II, this lesson engages students in understanding the discrimination that Japanese Americans faced before and after their internment.  In addition, students will be introduced to the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, and discuss whether or not it made up for the discrimination that Japanese Americans received from the U.S. government.


  • Students will learn about the concept of the “perpetual foreigner syndrome” and understand how it contributes to past and present discrimination against Asian Americans and, specifically, Japanese Americans.
  • Students will learn about the escalation of hate if left unchecked.
  • Students will identify examples of different types of hate in the 20th century faced by Japanese Americans.
  • Students will discuss two different perspectives from former Japanese-American internees about the redress made by the U.S. government.

 National Standards (.pdf format -28 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)

Lesson Preparation
Handouts/Supporting Documents:

  • We Are Americans (one copy)
  • Definitions of Basic Terms (one copy per student)
  • Pyramid of Hate (one copy)
  • Behaviors and Their Impact (one copy per group per assigned video clip, double-sided)
  • Short List of Definitions for Oral Histories (one copy per student)
  • Japanese-American Internee’s Thoughts about Redress: Ruby Inouye (one copy per student)
  • Japanese-American Internee’s Thoughts about Redress: Tsuguo “Ike” Ikeda (one copy per student)
  • (Optional) Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White (one copy per student)
  • (Optional) Understanding the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (one copy per student)
  • (Optional) Historical Overview (one copy per student)

Other Materials:  video clips (see step #11), chart paper, markers; laptop/LCD projector with screen, or overhead projector and transparency sheet; computers with Internet connection

Advance Preparation:

  • Reproduce handouts as indicated above.
  • Create overhead transparency of We Are Americans or save it on a laptop, and prepare the appropriate projector for viewing it on a large screen.
  • Draw the Pyramid of Hate diagram on chart paper or the board.
  • Review Talking Points: Brief Background of the Japanese-American Internment.
  • Review the 13 video clips listed in step #11 and group the video clips so that 2-4 clips are assigned to each of the 4-5 groups of students (size of group to be determined based on classroom size).  Set up computers in classroom, computer lab or library to appropriate video links.  Alternatively, identify 4-6 clips and prepare the laptop and LCD projector for viewing them on a large screen.


Part I: Perpetual Foreigner Syndrome and Japanese-American Internment (20 minutes)

  1. Brainstorm a list of what a “typical” American looks like.  Ask students not to think too hard, but just to suggest the first thing that comes to mind.  Record 3-5 responses on chart paper or on the board.

  2. Project We Are Americans on the screen.  Share that this photo depicts a group of people who are American citizens and legal residents.  Ask if this photo matches the descriptors listed on the board.  (Typically, the descriptors of the photo are different from those on the list.)

  3. Explain the following to students: Americans whose ancestors came from Asia or who themselves immigrated from Asia are referred to as Asian Americans.  Some have lived here for generations, as far back as the early 1800s.  Some have recently moved to the United States.  Some can speak an Asian language; some cannot.  However, many people in the U.S. tend to assume that Asian Americans are not from the U.S., no matter how long their ancestors have lived in this country.  They are seen as the “perpetual foreigners” – people who are assumed not to be Americans, who are assumed to be visiting the U.S. or to have only recently moved to the U.S.  Their loyalty and patriotism to the U.S. are also questioned, regardless of how long they have lived here.

  4. OPTIONAL: Ask students to either read Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, excerpted from the book by Frank Wu, which describes how he experiences the perpetual foreigner syndrome, or to view the humorous YouTube video, Perpetual Foreigner by Phillip Cha.  Following, elicit from students specific examples of Wu’s (handout) or the Asian-American character’s (video) experience with the perpetual foreigner syndrome.

  5. Share with students that the perpetual foreigner syndrome is nothing new, that this syndrome has been used to discriminate against Asian Americans for a long time.  Explain that one of the most terrible episodes in U.S. history involved Japanese Americans who – simply because of their Japanese heritage – were incarcerated in camps during WWII.

  6. NOTE: If students are familiar with the Japanese-American internment, skip to step #6.

  7. Share points raised in Talking Points, as well as other information related to the Japanese-American internment.

  8. ALTERNATIVE PROCEDURE: Ask students to read “Background” section of Understanding the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 or portions of Historical Overview by the Japanese American Citizens League to provide a general overview of the Japanese-American experience during WWII.

Part II: Pyramid of Hate (70 minutes)

  1. Share that, unfortunately, the U.S. government wasn’t the only source of discrimination, and the end of the internment didn’t end the discrimination.  Explain that individuals also harbored bias and prejudice against Japanese Americans and discriminated against them, before, during and after the internment.

  2. Distribute Definition of Basic Terms and review the terms that will be used in the next part of the lesson.  Ask students to provide an example for each term.

  3. OPTIONAL: These terms can be written on the board in lieu of distributing the handout.

  4. Post the Pyramid of Hate prepared earlier.  Briefly review the different levels of bias in this diagram and share the following information with participants:

  5. The Pyramid shows biased behaviors, growing in complexity from the bottom to the top.  Although the behaviors at each level negatively impact individuals and groups, as one moves up the pyramid, the behaviors have more life-threatening consequences.  Like a pyramid, the upper levels are supported by the lower levels.  If people or institutions treat behaviors on the lower levels as being acceptable or “normal,” it results in the behaviors at the next level becoming more accepted.  In response to the questions of the world community about where genocide comes from, the Pyramid demonstrates that this level of hate was built from acceptance of behaviors associated with the other levels of hate.

  6. Share with students that they will be using this diagram to understand the behaviors that led up to and followed the internment of Japanese Americans.  To start, ask students where they think the forced removal of Japanese Americans into internment camp belongs on the pyramid (Discrimination: political discrimination, segregation).  Acknowledge that for the purposes of this activity, “genocide” will not be used, as this does not apply to the Japanese- American experience.

  7. Divide students into 4–5 small groups.  Ask each group to identify a recorder, and distribute Behaviors and Their Impact (one copy for each video clip the group will be viewing) and Short List of Definitions for Oral Histories.  Explain that each group will be assigned a set of video clips to watch that are oral histories of surviving Japanese-American internees, who talk about their experiences before and after the internment camp experience.  Instruct students to do the following:

    • During the viewing, take notes about what behaviors were directed at the interviewees because of their Japanese heritage, and how these behaviors impacted them.  Refer to the Short List of Definitions for Oral Histories for words used in the videos that may be unfamiliar.

    • After viewing each clip, discuss what behaviors were directed toward the interviewee, where they would be classified on the pyramid and the impact of these behaviors.  The group recorder should write out the group’s responses on the handout, one interviewee per handout. 

    • Each video is supplied in two sizes, for High and Low bandwidth connections, please select the best match for the connection speed at your location.

  8. Assign the following clips, listed in alphabetical order by first name, to each group:

    • Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga Interview (High/Low)
    • Frank Kitamoto Interview (High/Low)
    • Frank Yamasaki Interview #1 (High/Low)
    • Frank Yamasaki Interview #2 (High/Low)
    • George Fugami Interview (High/Low)
    • Mako Nakagawa Interview (High/Low)
    • May K. Sasaki Interview (High/Low)
    • May Ota Higa Interview #1 (High/Low)
    • May Ota Higa Interview #2 (High/Low)
    • Ruby Inouye Interview (High/Low)
    • Sue K. Embrey Interview #1 (High/Low)
    • Sue K. Embrey Interview #2 (High/Low)
    • Tom Akashi Interview (High/Low)

    Video materials provided by Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project,

    NOTE: Transcripts of these clips can be found in the Archive section at Densho.  You will need to first search for the original clips, which are accompanied by transcripts.  Densho requires a free registration process to access the Archives, which includes over 270 visual histories, photos, documents and newspaper articles.
    ALTERNATIVE STEP #1: In lieu of steps #10-11, distribute the handouts and show the entire class one of the 4-6 clips identified earlier.  After each clip, ask them to complete the handout either individually or in their small group.  Show remainder of the clips in the same manner.
    ALTERNATIVE STEP #2: Assign step #10-11 as homework, to be done individually.  Be sure that students have access to the Internet in order to complete the project.

  9. After students have completed the handouts, ask each group to present at least one of their interviewee’s experiences to the class, indicating where these behaviors fall on the Pyramid of Hate.  Indicate these behaviors on the pyramid posted earlier by using a check mark.

  10. Lead a whole group discussion, using some or all of the questions below:
    • What obvious and subtle behaviors directed at the interviewees reflected the “perpetual foreigner syndrome”?
    • Some Japanese Americans shared their self-hatred of their identity.  Why do you think they felt this way?  Are there aspects of your identity with which you struggle?  If so, which ones and why?
    • Do you think the behaviors you placed at the bottom of the pyramid were less painful emotionally than those higher up?  Why or why not?
    • Did the end of the internment camps mean the end of discrimination against Japanese Americans?  Why or why not?  What does discrimination against Japanese Americans, and Asian Americans at large, look like today, e.g., hate crime against Vincent Chen in 1982 in Detroit, MI; racist T-shirts in response to Japanese baseball player Kosuke Fukudome joining the Chicago Cubs in 2008?
    • In reflecting on the escalation of hate, what would be the best time to challenge biased attitudes and behaviors?  Why?

Part III: Reactions to Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and Redress (30 minutes)

  1. Share the following:

  2. Decades after World War II, as the result of much work by the Japanese-American community and its allies to seek reparations, the U.S. government formally recognized the grave injustices committed against Japanese-American citizens and residents during World War II with the passage of the Civil Liberties Act on August 10, 1988, which provided $20,000 ($32,000 in 2007 dollars) to each of the surviving 60,000 Japanese Americans (50% of the total interned) and created a public education fund to ensure that the period of Japanese-American internment would not be forgotten and repeated.

    ALTERNATIVE PROCEDURE: Ask students to read “The Civil Liberties Act of 1988” section of Understanding the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.
  3. Explain that these efforts by the government to right the wrongs against the Japanese-American community are referred to as “redress,” which means a way of seeking a remedy.

  4. Ask students to read Japanese-American Internee’s Thoughts about Redress: Ruby Inouye and Japanese-American Internee’s Thoughts about Redress: Tsuguo “Ike” Ikeda, which explore Ruby Inouye’s and Tsuguo “Ike” Ikeda’s perspectives on redress. 

  5. OPTIONAL: Show their interview at Densho’s Archives (Ruby Inouye Interview: Segment 53; Tsuguo “Ike” Ikeda Interview III: Segment 8.)

  6. Engage in a large group discussion using some or all of the questions below:
    • How do Inouye and Ikeda differ in their feelings about the government’s redress efforts?
    • How do they feel about the financial payment of $20,000 ($32,000 in 2007 dollars)?  Do you think this is sufficient, given that they lost their home, their business or job, and their possessions?  Why or why not?  How much would you give if you could make the decision?
    • How do they feel about the president’s apology?  Whose argument do you agree with more?
    • Ikeda shared, “Rarely does a president of the United States apologize for any wrongdoing in this country.  And there’ve been many…”  From your perspective, who are the “many” in this sentence?   Do you think other groups deserve an apology?  Do you think they deserve monetary payment for their pain, suffering and loss?

Lesson Plans
  • Handouts
  • Entire Lesson (.pdf format -367 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
  • Resources about Japanese-American Internment
Additional ADL Programs & Resources
  • Hate on the Internet
  • A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Recommended Multicultural and Anti-Bias Books for Children Grades K-6
  • A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE Programs and Resources
  • Holocaust Awareness and Remembrance® Institute
  • Combating Anti-Semitism
A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Recommended Multicultural and Anti-Bias Books for Children
A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE Programs and Resources

 © 2007 Anti-Defamation League