REVIEW: Writing in the camps as an act of defiance

Relocating AuthorityIn her revelatory new book, Mira Shimabukuro sets a new standard in camp studies with her framing of what she calls “writing-to-redress.” She goes beyond Bulletin #3 from the Fair Play Committee to recover a wide range of camp writing that challenges authority, much of it by women. such as the letter from the Mothers Society of Minidoka protesting the drafting of their sons, signed by more than 100 Issei women.

Our review in the International Examiner calls this a significant act of redress that once again changes the way we look at the Japanese American response to incarceration, and belies the claim of Mike Masaoka in our film that resistance in the camps was limited to “a relatively small number of dissidents.” 

“Resistance Capital:” Writing in the camps as an act of defiance

Relocating Authority: Japanese Americans Writing to Redress Mass Incarceration by Mira Shimabukuro
University Press of Colorado, 250 pages. Paper, $26.95

reviewed by Frank Abe
special to the International Examiner, May 18-31, 2016

I want to thank the author of this study for putting a name to the sense of purpose I felt in writing an essay for the old Northwest Nikkei in 1992, on my feelings upon first reading the manifestos of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. What I was obeying, she says in citing that piece, was my “inheritance of resistance capital” – the idea that writing by Japanese American camp resisters in 1944 created a kind of currency that can be grown and reinvested generations later by their spiritual descendants.

It’s one of several useful rhetorical constructs framed by Mira Shimabukuro, poet and lecturer at the University of Washington, Bothell, in her revelatory new work cleverly called Relocating Authority. Her title plays upon the name of the civilian War Relocation Authority that was created to imprison Japanese Americans in ten wartime incarceration camps, while subverting euphemism to put the authority back where it belongs: in those incarcerees, especially the women, who used the written word to “talk back” as a means to take back some measure of power and self-worth. Read more …

Mira_FPC bulletin
At the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle on May 5, Mira Shimabukuro points to Bulletin #3 of the Fair Play Committee, which crosses the line from protest to resistance, as a vehicle by which the resisters amassed authority in camp by what she calls “writing to redress.” (Photo by the author).

When was the term “No-No Boy” first used?

Thanks to theSuyama Project panelists 60 who joined us on March 12 at the Suyama Project panel to hear about the life of John Okada and how he wove his experiences into his landmark novel NO-NO BOY.

At the panel, historian Roger Daniels asked a provocative question: “When does the term ‘no-no boy’ first appear in print?” No one in the room could say.  Continue reading When was the term “No-No Boy” first used?

“Collaborative discussions” begin over fate of airport fence that threatens Tule Lake

outline of Tulelake AirportTule Lake is unique among all ten American concentration camps as a Segregation Center and a government deportation center. A local airport should never have been allowed to be built there in the 1950s, right on top of this site of historic significance.

Kudos must go to the Federal Aviation Administration for underwriting a series of “collaborative discussions” with local and government stakeholders to share views about to resolve the problem of the airport’s presence. These talks are held under what’s known as a Section 106 process under the National Historic Preservation Act, and are being managed by the Udall Foundation, an independent Federal agency promoting conflict resolution in the areas of environment, public lands, and natural resources. They’re underwritten by an FAA grant of about $125,000 that is being administered by Modoc County, California.
Continue reading “Collaborative discussions” begin over fate of airport fence that threatens Tule Lake

Fordham Law students re-enact “Conscience, Loyalty, and the Constitution”

Fordham students

Proving that “racially motivated policies and discriminatory practices are timely issues,” law students at Fordham University in New York City on April 6 re-enacted both the mass trial of the 63 Heart Mountain resisters for refusing to report for Selective Service from inside an American concentration camp, and the subsequent trial of the 7 leaders of the Fair Play Committee and journalist James Omura for conspiracy to encourage draft resistance.

A photo gallery and summary are now posted on the Fordham Law News blog, “APALSA Students Give Heart to Heart Mountain.
Continue reading Fordham Law students re-enact “Conscience, Loyalty, and the Constitution”

Re-enactment of two trials of Heart Mountain resisters

A report is just in from Japan Culture NYC that students at Fordham Law School in New York City on April 6 will re-enact two of the trials of members of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, evidently as a moot court study in Constitutional law and incarceration history.

Heart-Mountain-trial-reenactment
Photo ©George and Frank C. Hirahara Collection, Washington State University Libraries Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections.

Continue reading Re-enactment of two trials of Heart Mountain resisters

Tule Lake closed 70 years ago today

montage of 5 Tuleans

Right now, the Tule Lake Committee is in the middle of a fight to save the Tule Lake National Historic site from a destructive airport located in the center of this hallowed ground.  We’ll have more to report on this in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, NBC Asian America has posted a special magazine piece to mark the 70th anniversary of the closing of Tule Lake, which is today, March 20th. Of the five surviving Tuleans interviewed, one was a draft resister, one a no-no boy, and one is the sole surviving member of the resistance at Block 42. 

Read the full story here:  “Behind Barbed Wire: Remembering America’s Largest Internment Camp.”

Continue reading Tule Lake closed 70 years ago today

When was the term “No-No Boy” first used?

Thanks to theSuyama Project panelists 60 who joined us on March 12 at the Suyama Project panel to hear about the life of John Okada and how he wove his experiences into his landmark novel NO-NO BOY.

At the panel, historian Roger Daniels asked a provocative question: “When does the term ‘no-no boy’ first appear in print?” No one in the room could say.  Continue reading When was the term “No-No Boy” first used?

Upcoming program on no-no boys and “NO-NO BOY,” the novel

Suyama panel flyerPreparing my remarks now for a discussion in Seattle on March 12 with noted historians Roger Daniels and Barbara Takei on a topic that still opens wounds today. Register for free here.  

As we’ve written before, the goal of  the Eji Suyama, 100th Battalion/442nd RCT Draftees, No-Nos, Draft Resisters and Renunciants Archival Collection Endowment at UCLA is to preserve the history of the entire range of dissidence and resistance to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.

The project is coming to Seattle for Roger and Barbara to preview their much-anticipated new book on Tule Lake and the notorious Segregation Center, while I will talk about the life of novelist John Okada, author of the foundational novel, No-No Boy, and how he drew upon the story of the draft resisters and set it against the places he grew up in here in postwar Seattle. Read more in the Suyama Project news release. I’ll share new research and insights into the life of Okada, and some of the inspirations that went into his work.

Continue reading Upcoming program on no-no boys and “NO-NO BOY,” the novel

ALLEGIANCE fabrications just part of larger problem, critics say

Part Three of a continuing conversation. See Parts One and Two.

Guardian headline

Fabrication of the story of the Heart Mountain resisters is not high on the list of problems identified by critics of the musical Allegiance — although the most important of them did single out issues raised by our first critique and linked to this blog. No, foremost among their complaints is the other failing we pointed out: the derivative book, lacking  in authentic sensibility, devoid of artistic merit, and wrapped around bombastic songs stuffed with platitudinous lyrics and generic melodies. The mostly tepid reviews could depress the show’s box office and dampen the length of its run on Broadway.

review blurbsYou won’t see blurbs from these reviews touted in any Facebook ads. So here is a highly selective look at the bad reviews that back up our take on the show. As rated by the trade journal Broadway World, they add up to a cumulative reception of just 6.8 on a scale of 10.

The most-watched reaction on Broadway remains the review in the New York Times. Critic Charles Isherwood asked for a copy of our DVD, and recognized there is a real story lurking here:NY Times review

As we said before, the problem with Alleigiance is not one of inexactness but the fundamental fabrication of events that were impossible to occur in the real world and which cheapen the integrity of the Heart Mountain resistance. Nevertheless, it’s enough that the point is raised in the newspaper of record, leading more than a thousand curious readers to follow the link and discover this blog.

Continue reading ALLEGIANCE fabrications just part of larger problem, critics say

Now appearing nightly: Mike Masaoka!


Part Two of a continuing conversation. Part One is here.

The problem with the new Broadway musical Allegiance is not just its historical inaccuracies, although it is riddled with them. It’s the fabrication of events that were impossible within the reality of America’s concentration camps. Unexpectedly, the one reality this show gets right is its portrayal of Mike Masaoka and the wartime Japanese American Citizens League — although making him the villain of the piece diverts attention from other, more uncomfortable truths.

Paolo Montalban as Mike Masaoka at Old Globe Theater, Sept. 2012 - photo: xxx
Singer/actor Paolo Montalban as Mike Masaoka at Old Globe Theater, Sept. 2012 (Photo by Henry DiRocco)

Some background: In its tryout at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater in 2012, audiences reported their dismay at seeing Masaoka burlesqued as “sleazy” and a “scheming villain” who plotted for Nisei boys to die in suicide battalions as a means of proving Japanese American loyalty. This first-draft “Masaoka” joined in on an all-singing, all-dancing production number (“Better Americans in a Greater America”) that parodied his accommodationist stand with such lyrics as “It’s not too late / Come celebrate / America and assimilate!” The show climaxed with the Nisei vet Sammy, played by George Takei, in full dress uniform screaming at the spirit memory of Masaoka, “You had me lead them to their deaths, you son of a bitch!”

Continue reading Now appearing nightly: Mike Masaoka!