About 40 people turned out on March 27 at the Boston Public Library for what sounds like a spirited panel on the resisters, as part of the Organization of American Historians annual conference.
Click on the images to see enlarged views of the panel and of Frank Emi speaking. Frank Emi’s daughter, Kathleen, provided the photos.
Read the full workshop description or download a printable press release. Thanks to Cherstin Lyon from the University of Arizona for distributing our posters and fliers there and for sending this update:
Frank Chin delivered an animated presentation about the literature and cultural treatment of Japanese in the white press, novels and music before the war setting up pre-war racism. He discussed the early rifts between people like Mike Masaoka and James Omura over how AJAs should respond to the war and proposals for evacuation and internment.
Frank Emi delivered his own personal take on the costs (both economic and personal) of evacuation, and the events and circumstances that led him to resist the draft. He ended with his experiences in prison, mentioned others he met in prison and ended with a bit on the JACL apology, reiterating that the JACL should issue an apology to all AJAs for their role in the entire evacuation process. If the United States government could do it, why not them?
I introduced the lesser known resisters, those who resisted as individuals and posed the question — why both during the war and after did some criticize those who resisted as individuals of just dodging the draft? For wasting their time? For committing acts of lawlessness that would have no great effect at all? I compared the full range of resistance to the abolitionists before the Civil War and related the actions of all who resisted internment — no-no boys, strikers, petitioners, resisters — to the “revolutionary tradition” in America. I ended with stories about the Hopi draft resisters those Nisei resisters from Topaz and Amache and even Gordon Hirabayashi himself met in prison and explained how the Hopis welcomed the resisters into their “family” symbolically with a hair-washing ceremony.
Dean Hashimoto ended with his own personal understanding of internment as a child of a Nisei who had been interned at Amache. A Sansei himself, Hashimoto learned in school that internment was justified and just, which both disturbed and puzzled him. He worked as a law student on the Korematsu case in the 1980s and explained that despite the ruling of a lower court, the Korematsu case is still technically “good” law. He urged the audience that we should never forget that it is like a loaded weapon waiting to be used and related the importance of remembering internment and continuing the conversation to the current political situation with enemy combatants, the USA Patriot Act and the continued survival of Korematsu.
The discussion that followed was engaging and at times heated. Some high school teachers mentioned the importance of teaching the story to their students, a former internee expressed his reluctance about the tone of the panel that seemed to demonize the JACL and suggested that we all be forgiving of wartime misjudgments (this received some fairly heated responses from Chin). One audience member insisted that there were no concentration camps, only benign ” relocation centers” which turned into a shouting match which Art Hansen quickly brought back under control and redirected the conversation. And one student, who was quite taken by the story of the Hopi resisters’ alliance with the Nisei resisters wanted to know on a more personal level how much fluidity there was between those who resisted and those who served in the military which opened up interesting responses and stories where individual families were divided over their decisions and responses to the draft.
Over all, the session was quite productive and the audience stayed a full extra half hour to discuss the issues and finally had to be kicked out of the library as it had already closed.