Book recalls Pan Am’s nisei stewardesses

April 26th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Research News  |  3 Comments

book cover airborne dreams by Christine Yano

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.

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  1. B says:

    April 28th, 2011at 12:35 pm(#)

    James Dean did not die in a plan crash, it was a car crash. Accident was due to him spreeding, driving a Porsche on a remore road in California.

  2. Cheryl Ernst says:

    April 28th, 2011at 1:53 pm(#)

    It was, indeed, a car crash that claimed James Dean’s life. Mālamalama regrets the error and has corrected the article.

    Cheryl Ernst,

  3. Bert Thomas says:

    April 29th, 2011at 4:54 am(#)

    I began my career (Mgt Trainee) in 1953 in Honolulu with Pan American World Airways (PAA), and remember when PAA began to hire “local Japanese girls” to fly with them on their Asian routes. It was their way of “brideging the void” (translation/paper forms needed on arrival, language/cultural issues, food, and other personal needs etc)that existed when passengers were flying from Hawaii to Tokyo and other Asian destinations. Also, Bill Mullahey, and Ernest Albrecht (Top PAA EXECS in Honolulu) were also heavily involved with the creation and early successes/challenges of PATA (Pacific Area Travel Association), and PAA was a leader in Aviation in Asia/Pacific.

    I spent less than dozen years with PAA, and they changed their name to Pan Am with the arrival of their new Boeing 707 Jets in Asia/Pacific.

    Aloha and Domo.