Review: City Girls

One of the many interesting things about living in Los Angeles is how much Japanese and Hawaiian history permeates the environment.  Incidents and trends that are completely alien outside are part of the local cultural landscape.  Intellectually I know this is true, and I’ve read other hidden histories. There’s something about the combination of the uniqueness of the Japanese culture and the locality of the references that makes hidden Japanese history particularly compelling to me.

Valerie J. Matsumoto’s City Girls is a slice of the Nisei life rooted in WWII and women’s lives.  It chronicles the rise and influence of girls’ social groups in Los Angeles from the 20’s and 30’s through the Second World War and Japanese-American internment through the early 1950s.  Part social clubs, part support groups, part cross cultural meme breeding grounds, these clubs shaped and reflected women’s experiences as Japanese groups became Nisei groups.  There’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot to learn.

While the groups are vivid and lively, and their evolution and influence fascinating, Matsumoto’s presentation is unflaggingly scholarly.  This is completely understandable.  Her goal is to document these groups for posterity.  This is a serious work of scholarship and journalism, and the tone is entirely correct for it. It can make parts of the read slow going for an outsider to the time and the culture, but more than makes up for it in clarity and completeness.

Matsumoto brings the full picture of the groups and people who made them up out sharply.  It’s enlightening and compelling history in both the large and the small.

Strongly recommended.

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