At Frank Emi’s memorial service

Emi family headstoneFrank Emi was buried Friday at Evergreen Cemetery in East Los Angeles. He comes to rest just several hundred yards from the paupers’ grave where the founder of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, Kiyoshi Okamoto, is interrred. Together they made history, and it fitting that their lives and legacies remain intertwined to the end.

Frank goes to his final rest dressed in his white judo gi, a Buddhist ojuzu prayer bracelet wrapped around his left hand and his judo medals set next to him. More than 250 mourners attended his service at Nichiren Buddhist Temple for an hour of sutra chanting (click on the images to see enlarged images).

Frank Chin reads at Emi funeral serviceFor his eulogy, writer Frank Chin announced “Superman is dead!” He then drew chuckles reading an excerpt from his book, Born in the USA. You can follow along, it’s the “Brothers and Sisters” exchange between Frank, brother Art, and sister Kaoru on pages 163 to 166.

Bob Iwasaki from the Hollywood Judo Dojo knew Frank as “Emi-sensei.” Heart Mountain resister Yosh Kuromiya had this:

Frank Seishi Emi was a fighter. The word “retreat” was not in Frank’s vocabulary. He and he alone, would decide when it was time to move on. Sadly, that time has arrived. Read more…

Momo Yashima reading at Frank Emi gravesiteAt the interment service at Evergreen, actress and soon-to-be filmmaker Momo Yashima gave a dramatic reading at the gravesite.

 The Los Angeles Times published a thoughtful and prominent obituary for Frank Emi on page B-1 of their local section, conferring on him the honor he deserves.

Kiyoshi Okamoto marker with photoBefore we left for the reception, a few of us adjourned to the adjacent “Potter’s Field” section of Evergreen Cemetery, where we lit incense at the recently installed marker for FPC founder Kiyoshi Okamoto. Relative Marie Masumoto located Okamoto’s remains last year in a mass grave for paupers from the year 1975, and a ceremony was held to dedicate the new marker. On this day Okamoto’s great-nephew Earnest Masumoto read some new remarks on the occasion of Frank Emi’s passing. And from our discovery of the resisters, we’ve come full circle to the interment of both leaders in the same city, in the same cemetery.

Frank Emi issuing a challenge to JACL

Frank Emi’s funeral will be held on Friday, Dec. 10 at 10:00 am, at the Nichiren Temple, 2801 Fourth Street, in Boyle Heights. Thanks to Martha Nakagawa for the tip. Here’s another video clip from the forthcoming DVD, Frank Emi issuing a challenge to the JACL even as the group apologizes to him and the others for persecuting them during the war.

In memoriam: Frank Emi

These are the words I have long dreaded having to write: Frank Emi died today. We’ve lost a giant. That’s him in the poster above, standing squarely with his arms crossed, defying the government and our own Japanese American leadership, by organizing a movement inside an American concentration camp to refuse to report for draft induction in order to protest mass incarceration based solely on race. It was an honor to know him and to be able to document his story on film. Here’s an outtake from our film of Frank descibing how he and the other Fair Play Committee leaders earned the respect of other inmates and officials inside Leavenworth federal penitentiary in WW2.

Frank Emi was a man 40 years ahead of his time. He was an ordinary young man, but a man of conviction who rose to the occasion when faced with the injustice of the camps. With a wife and two kids he was not even eligible to be drafted out of camp, but he risked his freedom and the welfare of his family to help lead the largest organized resistance inside the camps. It was a classic example of civil disobedience in the American twentieth century, and he and others paid the prce: two years in federal prison.

By his words and his deeds, Frank Emi leaves a legacy for those who seek evidence that Japanese America did not endure the loss of all their rights, and three years in camp, without some kind of protest or resistance.

Martha Nakagawa warned me that Frank had recently been taken to the ICU. She was gracious enough to bring her portable DVD player to the hospital and play Frank this clip and other outtakes from the film. I’m glad he was able to see the work and know that a DVD is soon coming out. Martha said Frank was moved to a hospice last Saturday. It is still sinking in that Frank is gone. Rest in peace Frank, and thanks for marking your place in Japanese American history.