Mixed-Marriage Policy/Mixed-Blood Policy

The policy initiated by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (WCCA) and continued by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to manage which members of mixed-race families were eligible for release from confinement, who among them were allowed to return home to the restricted area designated by the Western Defense Command (WDC), and who could be released only on condition of relocating outside the restricted area. This directive was sometimes referred to as the "Mixed-Blood Policy." The policy's shifting guidelines and obsessive categorization of inmates based on race, gender, and appearance offer a unique angle on the racism and even sexism underlying the Japanese American exclusion and incarceration. In particular, the Mixed-Marriage Policy illuminates the WDC's equation of being American with looking Caucasian; their belief in the white, heterosexual nuclear family as the safeguard of loyal citizenship; and their struggles to measure and control the potential threat of those outside this family model.

Background, Scope, and Purpose

With the March 24, 1942, announcement of Exclusion Order No. 1, launching the imprisonment of the West Coast Japanese American population, WCCA officials began questioning how to apply the order to mixed-race families. The army's official position was contradictory: any quotient of Japanese blood counted as ancestry and thus targeted one for exclusion [1] , but officially families were meant to be kept together. [2] How to manage this contradiction, particularly in the case of mixed families, created confusion among administrators.

Initially, the task of categorizing and organizing these mixed-family members fell mostly to social workers at civil control stations, who made ad-hoc decisions about who should be excluded, who could be exempted, and what to do about non-Japanese people facing separation from their Japanese or mixed-Japanese spouses and children. [3] Though some families were encouraged to apply for a "Temporary Exemption Certificate for Mixed-Race Family Group," known as Form WDC PM-8, others faced immediate separation—with no uniform distinction among the two groups. In the case of Dorothy Nakamura, the Caucasian wife of a Japanese American, the WCCA first encouraged her to apply for a family exemption, though this reprieve proved only temporary. [4] Others endured the abrupt trauma of what one social worker described as "the harsh necessity of breaking up a family" when dealing with "Miscegenation Cases." Scholar Yoosun Park documents the case of one "Japanese" mother, a "Chinese" father, and their four children under eight years old—all of whom except the father were ordered forcibly removed. On the day of deportation, the father tried to keep home his seven-year-old (whom "he cared for...so much that he could not force him to go"); The Provost Martial "dispatched" a soldier "to take the child to camp." [5] In general, as documented by a 1953 court case resulting from the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act , "where a non-Japanese mother was unable to accompany her part-Japanese child, the child was sent to the Assembly Center" with their father or other relatives. [6] One control station social worker recorded a specific case in Pasadena, California, involving "the separation of a Caucasian mother from her 19-month-old baby," who was sent to camp with its father and grandmother. [7] In the event that no father or other Japanese relative was available to take a child, "the policy apparently was to take the child and place it in an institution...and later transfer it to the Children's Center [orphanage] at Manzanar, California." [8]

On May 8, 1942, WDC head John DeWitt issued a directive attempting to resolve these ad-hoc decisions and family separations, communicated four days later to all civil control stations. [9] "Japanese evacuation cases involving intermarriages between Japanese and other races and their children" would now be subject to the same fate as "all persons of Japanese ancestry, whether of the whole or part blood"; any temporary exemptions or deferments of evacuation that had been given to mixed family members were also retroactively canceled. As for resulting separations, DeWitt declared, a non-Japanese spouse or parent "may elect to accompany his or her Japanese ancestry spouse or child into an assembly or reception center." Form WDC PM-7, "Request and Waiver of Non-Excluded Person," required non-Japanese family members to "request the privilege of accompanying" their spouse or child to concentration camp, "waive the right to leave," and "agree" to "conform in all respects as if [they] were a person of Japanese ancestry," all while attesting that they had "personally solicited" this fate "without persuasion" or "duress."

The exact number of affected people remains difficult to verify [10] , but scholars generally follow historian Paul Spickard's estimate that at least 2,100 mixed-race family members were incarcerated for some length of time, [11] with an unknown number remaining outside the camps and enduring separation from imprisoned relatives. Among the in-camp population were at least 134 non-Japanese people, categorized by the WDC as either "Caucasian or "other": 63 Caucasian wives of Japanese or mixed-Japanese husbands; 8 Caucasian husbands of Japanese or mixed-Japanese wives; 3 Caucasian women who were separated or divorced from their husbands but had accompanied their mixed children to camp; 8 "other" husbands of Japanese or mixed-Japanese wives; and 31 "other" wives of Japanese or mixed-Japanese husbands. [12]

As the West Coast Japanese American community within the camps grew throughout the deportations of spring and summer of 1942, so too did the population of mixed-race children, presenting unique challenges. Some mixed-family members faced loneliness or harassment. [13] But the concern most emphasized by WCCA and WRA administrators was that part-Caucasian offspring might be unduly influenced by the Japanese atmosphere of the camps.

Implementing the Mixed-Marriage Policy

On July 3, 1942, DeWitt approved The Mixed-Marriage Policy (MMP), written by or at the direction of Karl. R Bendetsen , director of the WCCA. The policy went into de-facto effect nine days later, when Captain Herman P. Goebel communicated it to all camp managers. [14] Its "objective," as DeWitt explained later, was "protecting mixed-blood children and adults from a Japanese environment." [15]

The policy mandated, along various race and gender lines, who could be released and returned to the restricted area, who released only under the condition of resettlement outside the restricted area, and who must remain imprisoned:

• Mixed marriage families composed of a Japanese or Japanese-American husband, Caucasian wife and unemancipated mixed-race children could be released but only on condition of resettlement outside the restricted area.

• Families composed of a Caucasian, US-citizen husband; his Japanese/Japanese-American wife; and their unemancipated mixed children could be released and return to the restricted area, as long as the "environment of the family" could be proven "Caucasian." Otherwise, they would have to resettle outside the restricted area or remain imprisoned.

• "Adult individuals of mixed blood" who were citizens of the United States could be released and return to the restricted area "if their environment has been Caucasian." Otherwise, they would have to resettle outside the restricted area or remain imprisoned.

• Spouses in mixed marriages without unemancipated children had no recourse at all to release beyond those available to any inmate. under the Mixed-Marriage Policy, unless one of them was serving in the US armed forces.

In a process usually spanning months, an applicant deemed potentially eligible for release would then require Army Intelligence and FBI background checks, proof of either a job or other financial support outside camp, and approval from the sheriff or local police chief at their intended destination. Lastly, successful applicants would receive a travel permit, have pictures taken and a photo ID issued, and leave camp with an order to report monthly to an army station, bringing documentation of family births, deaths, marriages, divorces, changes of address, "or any incident bearing upon community acceptance" of—or presumably objections to—their presence outside camp. [16]

By late 1942, DeWitt and Bendetsen had begun touting the policy's success, because "1) Mixed-blood children are being reared in an American environment; 2) Families have been reunited; 3) Mixed-blood adults predominantly American in appearance and thought have been restored to their families, to their communities, and to their jobs." [17]

Problems and Revisions

DeWitt and Bendetsen's confidence notwithstanding, in actuality the MMP created new confusion. Camp administrators were initially stymied by the policy's sole focus on Japanese/Caucasian families—particularly because many mixed families lacked any Caucasian members. Administrators questioned what to do about Chinese, Mexican, Indian, and Filipino husbands: spouses who might not look white but were still citizens of friendly territories. Thus began a long series of complicated debates over and revisions to the MMP.

On July 17, just five days after the policy's announcement, the WCCA provided a supplement allowing the potential release—but not a return to the restricted area—of two new family groups: 1) those composed of a Japanese wife, non-Japanese alien husband who was citizen of a friendly nation, and their unemancipated mixed children; and 2) Caucasian mothers who were citizens of a friendly nation and her unemancipated mixed children, but excluding altogether the release of her Japanese or Japanese-American husband. [18] A November 21, 1942, letter from Karl Bendetsen to Colonel William P. Scobey mentions another MMP iteration in effect by then, establishing two new parameters: Mixed-race adults would only be eligible for release if they had a 50% or less "Japanese blood"; and a Caucasian, US-citizen wife could now be released and return to the restricted area with her unemancipated children—but only if her Japanese or Japanese-American husband were "dead or long-separated" from the family. [19] DeWitt and Bendetsen's Final Report further documents that by early 1943, "full-blooded" Japanese unemancipated children being reared by Caucasian foster or adoptive parents were eligible for release and return to the restricted area, though the initial date of this amendment remains unclear.

Throughout the MMP's transformation, as concentration camp managers compiled data about mixed family members who might be eligible for freedom, they struggled with how to define, much less prove, the "Caucasian environment" of their prisoners' former lives. Sometimes, they focused on language spoken in the home, percentage of friends who were Japanese or not, and even the type of food the family ate. Often, they deferred to the vague category of "appearance," frequently claiming that fully Japanese wives somehow took on the ethnic appearance of their non-Japanese husbands, or perhaps looked Asian but not Japanese. As one camp manager reported of a Japanese woman married to a Caucasian, "Her appearance is that of Chinese and her mannerism is more americanized [sic]." [20] Meanwhile, the Japanese wife of a US-army enlistee from the Philippines did "not appear to be Japanese," having "facial characteristics more nearly typifying persons of Spanish descent." [21] Another official supported his motion to release two mixed-race inmates by claiming they were "definitely Caucasian in appearance." [22]

Other WDC officials showed remarkable tenacity in their efforts to limit the MMP's parameters. In two documented instances of mixed-marriage women pregnant with their first child, officials balked at their release until after they gave birth; apparently, the WDC refused to consider a child unemancipated before delivery. Historian Paul Spickard cites the case of Ethel Taylor, a Japanese American who was 7 months pregnant but prevented from returning home to her husband. "This office declines to extend the mixed marriage policy to cover pregnant women," Herman Goebel replied to her release plea. "Until the child is born, Mrs. Taylor is not eligible for residence in the evacuated area." [23] In another case, Portland Assembly Center manager N.L. Bican reported doubts about an applicant's pregnancy: "We have asked her to see the center doctor today for a definite determination in this regards." [24]

Other administrators argued for a softening of the policy as it related to certain women without children. Throughout 1943, various officials urged release and return to the restricted area for childless, Japanese American women, as long as they were reuniting with "white or Caucasian" husbands with "United States or United Nations citizenship." [25] DeWitt in particular vehemently objected to this change, likely because each new iteration threatened the army's specious justification for the entire exclusion and incarceration project: that loyalty among Japanese simply could not be determined. "If the present mixed marriage policy is modified in the theory that loyalty can be determined and Japanese wives who are allegedly loyal be permitted to return to the evacuated areas," DeWitt cautioned, "there would be no real justification for not allowing any such Japanese to return." [26]

Though this modification never became official, historian Paul Spickard notes that eventually DeWitt and his successor Delos Emmons "showed an increasing willingness to grant individual exceptions." [27] While still balking at allowing large numbers of Japanese Americans to return home, in July 1943, the WDC publicly admitted for the first time that certain Japanese Americans in mixed families had been granted return to the West Coast. [28]

Consequences and Aftermath

According to the Final Report, by early 1943 the WCCA had granted release to "465 persons of Japanese ancestry" who had been allowed to return to the West Coast restricted area. These included 290 "mixed-blood children," 34 mixed-race parents, 71 Japanese mothers, and 68 mixed adults without children. Only one "full-blooded Japanese male" had been permitted residence in the restricted area with his non-Japanese wife, a "special exception" due to his "long and honorable service in the United States Navy. [29] By September 1943, after the WRA had taken over administration of the MMP, the WDC counted just over 554 people released through the policy living on the West Coast—a number which would exclude the modest portion of people who were freed and resettled East. This left approximately 1,300 intermarried Japanese and 300 people of mixed ancestry imprisoned in the camps [30] , many of whom endured long-term, traumatic separation from relatives outside.

Authored by Tracy Slater

For More Information

Ho, Jennifer Ann. Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture . New Bruswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Park, Yoosun. Facilitating Injustice: The Complicity of Social Workers in the Forced Removal and Incarceration of Japanese Americans, 1941–1946 . New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Spickard, Paul R. "Injustice Compounded: Amerasians and Non-Japanese Americans in World War II Concentration Camps." Journal of American Ethnic History 5.2 (Spring 1986): 5–22.


  1. Japanese Ancestry was defined by the WDC as "Any person who has a Japanese ancestor, regardless of degree," From "Glossary of Terms," U.S. Army, Western Defense Command, Final Report: Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1943), (hereafter Final Report ), 514, http://www.archive.org/details/japaneseevacuati00dewi (accessed February 3, 2022).
  2. According to the Final Report , the WDC's ostensible goal was "that the evacuation would not split family units or communities where this could be avoided" (77).
  3. Though not covered by the Exclusion Orders or the Mixed-Marriage Policy, mixed-race families beyond the West Coast also faced traumatic separations, particularly when composed of Issei , or first generation Japanese men, who had long been denied the right to citizenship under the Naturalization Act of 1790 , and who worked as Buddhist priests, Japanese-language teachers, business owners, and other community leaders. Over 1,000 of such Issei across the mainland US and Hawaii were taken into custody in the two days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. As the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation documents, "Caught by surprise, these men were not held under formal charges and family members were forbidden to see them. Most spent the war years in enemy alien internment camps run by the Justice Department." ("Forced Removal and Incarceration," National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, https://www.njamemorial.org/forced-removal-and-incarceration , accessed February 3, 2022.) For a particularly detailed look at how this roundup and separation affected generations of one Japanese/Black mixed family in Virginia, see "A Vanished Dream: Wartime Story of My Japanese Grandfather," NHK World-Japan On Demand, August 8, 2020, https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/ondemand/video/3004674/ (accessed February 3, 2022).
  4. Letter from Herman P. Goebel, Jr., to Mrs. George Nakamura, May 1, 1942, Project ID: sac_jaac_2493, Japanese American Archival Collection, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, California State University, Sacramento, CA, https://cdm16855.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16855coll4/id/12449 (accessed February 2, 2022). Later documentation shows that the Nakamuras were eventually sent to a camp anyway, despite their initial hope of exemption. A July 11, 1942, copy of WDC Form PM-7 shows that Mrs. Nakamura "request[ed] the privilege of accompanying" her husband to camp when he was forcibly removed. ("Request and waiver of non-excluded person, WDC Form PM 7, Dorothy Hart Nakamura," Marysville, CA, July 11, 1942, Project ID: sac_jaac_2501, Japanese American Archival Collection, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, California State University, Sacramento, https://cdm16855.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16855coll4/id/12429 accessed Feb 2, 2022). On September 8, 1942, the Nakamuras were then denied release from Lake Tule Relocation Project unless they could relocate outside the excluded area, as "it has been [the WCCA's] policy to deny requests for release to places in the prohibited military areas to mixed-marriage families in which the husband is Japanese [sic] and the wife is Caucasian." ("Letter from E.R. Fryer to Mrs. George Nakamura," September 8, 1942, Project ID: sac_jaac_2492, Japanese American Archival Collection, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, California State University, Sacramento, CA, https://cdm16855.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16855coll4/id/12537 (accessed Feb 2, 2022).)
  5. Yoosun Park, Facilitating Injustice: The Complicity of Social Workers in the Forced Removal and Incarceration of Japanese Americans, 1941-1946 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), 89 (hereafter Facilitating Injustice ).
  6. "Claim of Julius Downs, no. 146-35-3593. Decided February 26, 1953," Precedent Adjudications of the Attorney General of the United States Volume I, Precedent Decisions Under the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act, Project ID: sac_jaac_2237, Japanese American Archival Collection, Department of Special Collections and University Archives, California State University, Sacramento, CA: 316 (note 5), https://cdm16855.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16855coll4/id/12316 (accessed February 3, 2022), (hereafter, "Julius Downs").
  7. Facilitating Injustice , 93.
  8. "Julius Downs," 316 (note 5).
  9. W.K. Shaughnessy, "Memorandum on mixed marriage exemptions to evacuation," May 12, 1942, Project ID: sjs_fla_0556, John M. Flaherty Collection of Japanese Internment Records, SJSU Special Collections & Archives, San Jose State University Library, San Jose, CA, https://cdm16855.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16855coll4/id/6887 (accessed February 3, 2022).
  10. Paul Spickard gives a helpful explanation of the probable inaccuracy of the WRA's own figures, derived from their 1942 census of concentration camp inmates, especially in relation to recording mixed-marriage and mixed-race cases, and why the WRA's numbers were probably lower than the real numbers. See Paul Spickard, "Injustice Compounded: Amerasians and Non-Japanese Americans in World War II Concentration Camps," Journal of American Ethnic History 5.2 (1986): 18-19 (note 2) (hereafter, "Injustice Compounded").
  11. "Injustice Compounded," 6.
  12. These figures were compiled using the WRA's records of prisoners in Relocation camps, which were derived from their 1942 Census Form 26, mentioned in note 10, above. These records can be searched through the "Japanese-American Internee Data File, accessible directly at https://aad.archives.gov/aad/series-description.jsp?s=623&bc=,sl . Though the WRA collected data on Caucasian divorced or widowed parents who accompanied their mixed children to camp, no field in the data form was supplied for divorced or widowed parents categorized as "other" races who might have accompanied their mixed children, leaving this populations more difficult to count.
  13. "Injustice Compounded," 16.
  14. Memo, Herman P. Goebel, Jr., to W.H. Cheney, July 12, 1942, "Release of Mixed Marriage Families," General Correspondence File, Reel 54, Turlock Center Manager, Procurement of Supplies thru Release of Mixed Marriage, National Archives, San Bruno, CA. Mention of the MMP's establishment on July 3, 1942, is documented in the file "Reproduced at the National Archives: Mixed Marriage Policy," Document ID: http://hdl.handle.net/10524/62081 , 442nd Veterans Club Collection, University of Hawaii, Manoa http://hdl.handle.net/10524/62081 (accessed February 3, 2022).
  15. As cited in "Injustice Compounded," 10.
  16. Final Report , 146.
  17. Final Report , 147.
  18. Attachment to report from Frank E. Davis to Emil Sandquist, July 16, 1942, Mixed Marriage Policy Files, Folder 291.1, Box 28, Record Group 499, Central Correspondence, 1942–1946, Wartime Civil Control Administration and Civil Affairs Division, Western Defense Command and Fourth Army, Records of U.S. Army Defense Commands (WWII), National Archives, College Park, Maryland. By August 21, 1942, the army had announced another change, allowing application for release and return to the restricted area of the first group granted release but not return in the July 17 supplement. Letter from Herman P. Goebel Jr., to Captain Astrup, August 21, 1942, "Mixed Marriage Policy," "Ltrs, Memos, Rules, Regs re contraband, travel, curfews in WDC dated 1942-11-27 thru 1942-12-08 Pgs30_ck," Doc ID: 1675, Japanese American Veterans Association, Research Archive, Digitized Documents Project, Archived Documents: 26, http://www.javadc.org/java/docs/1942-11-27%20Ltrs,%20Memos,%20Rules,%20Regs%20re%20contraband,%20travel,%20curfews%20in%20WDC%20dated%201942-11-27%20thru%201942-12-08%20Pgs30_ck.pdf (accessed February 3, 2022).
  19. Letter from Karl R. Bendetsen to William P. Scobey, November 21, 1942, "Mixed Marriage Cases-Ltrs, Memos dated 1942-05-28 thru 1943-07-15 Pgs23_ck," Doc ID: 1606, Japanese American Veterans Association, Research Archive, Digitized Documents Project, Archived Documents: 8, http://www.javadc.org/java/docs/1942-05-28%20Mixed%20Marriage%20Cases-Ltrs,%20Memos%20dated%201942-05-28%20thru%201943-07-15%20Pgs23_ck.pdf (accessed February 3, 2022).
  20. Richard S. Nishimoto, n.d., "Mrs. Bettine Y. Lawson," 17. Survey of Mixed Marriages, Filename: cubanc6714_b134j06_0015_17.pdf, Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement records, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, CA: 40, http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/28722/bk0013c5x9z/FID1 ( accessed February 4, 2022).
  21. Attachment to letter from Nils Aanonson to R.L Nicholson, June 10, 1942, "IN RE: Mrs. Mitsuko Komuro Ramos, USES #28745," General Correspondence File, Reel 149, Tulare Center Manager, Mixed Marriages/Evacuee, National Archives, San Bruno, CA.
  22. Cited in "Injustice Compounded," 19n5.
  23. Cited in Injustice Compounded, 13.
  24. Letter from N. L. Bican to E. Sandquist, 14 August 1942, "Mixed Blood Individuals and Mixed-marriage Families," General Correspondence File, Reel 238, Portland Center Manager, Correspondence and Teletypes Regarding, Evacuee—Mixed Marriages—Correspondence, Instructions and Teletypes, National Archives, San Bruno, CA.
  25. Memorandum from William P. Scobey to Mr. McCloy, April 28, 1943, "1942-05-28 Mixed Marriage Cases-Ltrs, Memos dated 1942-05-28 thru 1943-07-15 Pgs23_ck copy," Doc ID: 1606, Japanese American Veterans Association, Research Archive, Digitized Documents Project, Archived Documents: 22, http://www.javadc.org/java/docs/1942-05-28%20Mixed%20Marriage%20Cases-Ltrs,%20Memos%20dated%201942-05-28%20thru%201943-07-15%20Pgs23_ck.pdf (accessed February 3, 2022).
  26. Cited in "Injustice Compounded," 10.
  27. Cited in "Injustice Compounded," 10-11.
  28. "Myer Explains Jap Civilians in Southland," Los Angeles Times , July 8, 1943.
  29. Final Report , 146-47.
  30. Injustice Compounded, 12.

Last updated Feb. 25, 2022, 11:53 p.m..