All forms of camp resistance are focus of Suyama Project

A new project out of UCLA has an ambitious goal: to preserve the history of the entire range of dissidence and resistance to the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.

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The full title is a mouthful: The Eji Suyama, 100th Battalion/442nd RCT Draftees, No-Nos, Draft Resisters and Renunciants Archival Collection Endowment. Eji himself was a  Nisei vet who survived the rescue of the Lost Battalion, a chief of surgery in Maine, and a frequent voice in the vernacular press who would caution against the super-patriotism of the postwar JACL and many veterans’ groups while championing the principled stands of the draft resisters and others. We received several letters from him in support of our film while in production.

The Suyama Project has an interesting take in recognizing that even small acts of defiance, like stealing lumber to make furniture or sneaking out of camp to go fishing, could be considered acts of everyday resistance to government authority. The project’s mandate, however, is to collect archival material on all dissent, including the various riots and civil unrest, the military resisters, the Moab and Leupp Citizen Isolation Centers, and the focus of a community forum March 7 in San Francisco: the unique story of the men in Block 42 at Tule Lake.

audienceA full house at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center turned out to hear the story of Block 42, where  in February of 1943 military police illegally rounded up three dozen men for refusing to answer either a Selective Service questionnaire or an Application for Leave Clearance, both of which included a troubling loyalty oath.

kashiwagiPlaywright Hiroshi Kashiwagi testified to what he witnessed: the ringing of the mess hall bells at 5pm sounding the alarm of the arrests, the military police hauling out the men from  Block 42, the mothers and sisters screaming for the men not to be taken.

brothers2Mamoru “Mori” and James Tanimoto of Gridley told how they were sent to an outside jail and then held without charge at a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp. There they were interrogated, rousted at night under bright lights, and made to hear the clicks of guards ominously loading their rifles as if ready to shoot, making the men believe they were going to be executed. Then from the darkness a voice shouted no one was going to escape under his watch, and the men were returned to their barrack.

From the audience, Ben Takeshita shared a similar story of mental torment, of how his brother Spencer had been taken to the CCC camp, put before a firing squad, offered a blindfold, and watched helplessly as the soldiers were given the commands “ready, aim … fire,” as blanks were fired.

After one month, the War Department and FBI told the Tule Lake camp director that he had no legal authority to arrest people for failing to sign an administrative form, and the men of Block 42 were returned to camp. Hiroshi joked that he always thanked the Block 42 boys for “taking the rap” for other no-no’s in camp, as he in Block 40 and others at Tule were never themselves arrested.

The Tanimoto’s have told their story before, at Tule Lake Pilgrimages past, but as Barbara Takei observed the story was not documented outside that circle. The Suyama Project is looking for more stories and materials of this kind for its archival collection, and we urge your support. Its website provides several links to this site and our film.

And thanks to project coordinator dvdsMartha Nakagawa for recognizing CONSCIENCE and RABBIT IN THE MOON in her remarks as “the two films that together led JACL to apologize” for its wartime suppression of camp resistance.

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