In memoriam: Brooks Iwakiri and Toyo Suyemoto

We start the new year by catching up to the passing of one of the earliest supporters of this project.

Brooks Iwakiri passed away on Nov. 6 in the Burbank area at the age of 82. Brooks was among the first private donors to support the initial production of our film. It was his support that, among other things, allowed us to travel to Los Angeles and film a marathon interview session with the Heart Mountain resisters and James Omura. That session in the dance studio of Jeanne Nakano and Dick Obayashi in 1994, in between stops for the planes flying overhead, provided most of the sound cuts that appear in the finished piece. In the case of Omura, Art Emi and Dave Kawamoto, those interviews came just in time.

Brooks believed in us and in the cause of restoring the good name of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. Many of the resisters attended Brooks’ funeral on Nov. 15 at Fukui Mortuary. It’s his name and that of his wife Sumi that appear in the underwriting credits at the top of our show. Brooks always enjoyed a good laugh and we were lucky to keep in touch with him over the years. Our condolences to Sumi, his son Vince, and the rest of his family. He will be missed.

Another passage to report, that of Nisei poet Toyo Suyemoto. John Streamas writes from Bowling Green State University in Ohio:

I have some sad news to pass along. I have received word from friends in Columbus that my dear friend Toyo Suyemoto has died. I don’t know many details, but I know that her health has been failing for years due to a variety of ailments. Last summer when my wife Val and I visited her, she told us that her weight had declined to 80 pounds and her height had shrunk to 4’6″. But still she was sharp and lucid as ever. On January 14 she would have turned 88 years old.

I spoke with her on the phone just last Wednesday.

I know that Lawson Inada and Frank Chin tried for years to persuade her to send them a manuscript of her poems, so that they might get them published as a book. She never managed to do this, and so she never published a book in her lifetime. People will have to take Lawson Inada’s word in the 1995 article in The Nation that Toyo is Japanese America’s poet laureate. Three or four years ago Lawson Inada spent several days in Ohio, visiting with Toyo and interviewing her. I know that Toyo felt affection and respect for them.

Even in her old age, Toyo was a feisty and strong-willed person. When I told her a few years ago that I had been approached by the Dayton chapter of JACL, she went into her anti-JACL lecture mode, denouncing the organization’s wartime politics and swearing she would never join. She saw your film and admired it very much. She also had a great sense of humor and managed to make many artist-friends, including Val.

I wish you could have met her. She was a remarkable person. Val and I will miss her very much.

— John

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