In 1955, Disneyland opened in California and Ray Kroc’s first McDonalds, in Illinois. James Dean died in a car crash and Elvis Presley signed with “Colonel” Parker. The Cold War continued and the civil rights movement was born.
Against this backdrop, Pan American World Airways launched its Nisei Stewardess program. The airline hired women (not always second-generation or even Japanese American) who could bring exotic appeal to attentive service. Think June Cleaver goes geisha.
In Airborne Dreams: “Nisei” Stewardesses and Pan American World Airways, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Professor of Anthropology Christine Yano explores how a marketing program designed to enhance an airline’s worldly image was also the means for young women to forge their own cosmopolitan identity.
Yano says her interview subjects were still remarkably proud of their Pan Am connection two decades after the airline’s demise. She found participants across the country who were unusually eager to share their stories.
What emerges is a picture of the excitement surrounding Jet Age dreams of global mobility that didn’t always transcend constraints of gender, class, race and ethnicity.
The book is published by Duke University Press.
Yano holds an MA in musicology and anthropology and PhD in anthropology from UH Mānoa. Interested in Japanese Americans and popular culture, she has written about Hawaiʻi’s Cherry Blossom Festival and Japanese popular song. Her next project will examine iconic cartoon figure Hello Kitty.