All posts by Frank Abe

Producer/director of CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION, now available as a Two-Disc Collector's Edition DVD with two hours of new bonus features on the largest organized resistance to the WW2 incarceration of Japanese Americans.

Hirabayashi jail cell memorialized at King County Courthouse

plaqueSeventy-five years ago, University of Washington student  Gordon Hirabayashi said enough was enough and simply refused to obey an 8pm curfew aimed only at persons of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast. He got himself arrested and was held in a jail cell on the top floor of the King County Courthouse for nine months. He took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jay Hirabayashi with plaque

For decades I worked in that courthouse,  covering trials for the all-news radio station in Seattle, then directing communications for a series of County Executives and the County Council. I was always aware that Gordon’s cell was somewhere on the 10th floor, in the old jail near the Council chambers. Gordon’s stay there is now memorialized by the plaque above, dedicated on May 15. Gordon’s son Jay came down from Vancouver, BC, to speak and help unveil the plaque in a ceremony sponsored by King  County Councilmember Rod Dembowski. He was joined by Councilmember Larry Gossett, “the conscience of the council,” who was also jailed there in the civil rights struggle of the 60s.

Jay Hirabayashi in Tank 3-C
Photo: Angela Van Liew, King County Sheriff’s Office

Coram nobis attorney Rod Kawakami read from Gordon’s letters from jail, which Densho director Tom Ikeda likened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail — both acts of civil disobedience in pursuit of justice. Jay was taken back to see the old Tank 3-C, which has since been repurposed as a holding cell for Superior Court as well as offices and a lunch room. From a nearby window you can look out to  see a new affordable housing project named Hirabayashi Place.

Here is the TV story on the local Fox affiliate. And here is the real-time video of the entire 38-minute plaque dedication ceremony from King County TV, sort of the C-SPAN of local county government.

Jeanne Sakata’s outstanding play based on Gordon’s words, HOLD THESE TRUTHS, opens May 30 at the Pasadena Playhouse for a four-week run.

plaque dedication notice

Film mentioned as an #inspirASIAN

Humbled and a little embarrassed by this online recognition from the Asian American Journalists Association and friend Lori Matsukawa — but worthwhile if it encourages AAJA members to embrace their role in the newsroom and pitch stories that shine a light on our diverse communities — just as Lori has done so effectively in her position on air. Also worth it if it helps call attention to the film and the story of the Heart Mountain resisters and all the resisters in camp and the courts.

graphic image of Frank AbeFRANK ABE
Frank Abe is a film director and producer, who also serves as director of communications for the King County Executive in Washington.

Abe worked as a reporter for KIRO Newsradio, the CBS affiliate in Seattle, and also helped start the Asian American Journalists Association in Seattle. He was also a founding member of the Asian American Theater Workshop in San Francisco.

He also works in film, and served as the producer and director of the award-winning PBS documentary, “Conscience and the Constitution.”

“Don’t let his pleasant demeanor fool you. Behind the smile is a volcanic force for justice.

Frank Abe continues to inspire me decades after I met him because he will not let injustice stand.

He never got over the fact that Japanese American men who resisted wartime incarceration during WW2 had their history wiped out.

Radio reporter/producer by day, documentary producer by night, Abe helped organize the first “Day of Remembrance” media event and went on to direct “Conscience and the Constitution” a labor of love that took him ten years.

‘Between ‘shikata ga nai’ It Can’t Be Helped and ‘Go for Broke’ Give 110 Percent, there was no tolerance for a third option, resistance,’ says Abe.

Long shunned by some in the Japanese American community as cowards who wouldn’t volunteer for the Army, Abe discovered resisters were men who stood against oppression and violation of their constitutional rights. For that, they were imprisoned for the duration of the war.

Abe went on to work as director of communications for two County Executives, co founded the Seattle Chapter of AAJA and served as national vice president for broadcast for National AAJA.

Even today, he continues to organize workshops and work with academics to tell the resisters’ stories. Abe feels the question for Japanese Americans is not ‘Why didn’t you resist,’ but ‘Why did you turn your backs on those who resisted?’”

— Lori Matsukawa, KING TV Anchor

New translation of “NO-NO BOY” for the 21st century

Ryusuke KawaiJournalist Ryusuke Kawai says he decided to re-translate John Okada’s No-No Boy because readers found the previous rendering in Japanese to be filled with archaic words and incorrect grammar that made them put down the book. Kawai spoke to an attentive audience in Seattle on March 11, as a guest of former Uwajimaya CEO Tomio Moriguchi.

Steve Sumida, Gail Nomura, Ryusuke Kawai, Frank Abe

Also at the Nagomi Tea House event were longtime Okada scholars Stephen Sumida and Gail Nomura (left). Read the review of Kawai’s translation, “A No-No Boy for the 21st Century,” in the International Examiner.newspaper article

Ryusuke Kawai with Frank Abe

Tai Tung RestaurantAfter his remarks, Kawai enjoyed our nickel tour of John Okada’s historic Chinatown, starting with Maynard Alley and the vacant spot of the old Wah Mee Club. which regrettably burned down in a 2013 fire. He posed at the Wing Luke Museum’s restoration of the kind of storefront grocery Ichiro’s parents would have operated. And we enjoyed the classic Combination No. 1 lunch at Tai Tung, “Seattle’s Oldest Chinese Restaurant,” where Okada and draft resister Jim Akutsu passed through the 82-year old inner swinging doors and sat at the same counter to eat after John finished work at his family’s Pacific Hotel at 6th and Weller, and Jim was done with his grimy ironwork at the Olympic Foundry in SoDo.

Kawai’s translation is said to be well-received in the Japanese-language press. His work enables a new generation overseas to enjoy what we here already know to be a classic of the Pacific Northwest, and arguably “The Great Nisei Novel.”

poster for Japanese translation

Guardian of history challenges historical integrity of “Allegiance”

Only four weeks, and we are already fatigued with the daily barrage of demonstrable lies and outright propaganda coming from the new Administration. Terms like “alternative facts” and “fake news” have suddenly entered the lexicon. In his climate of misdirection, it’s more critical than ever to hold tight to a sense of reality and a common set of facts.

Densho logoIn that regard the Densho Project in Seattle has been a leader in the documentation of facts about the WW2 incarceration of Japanese Americans, both through the video capture of first-person narratives and the preservation of photos and documents. So it is worth taking note when Densho addresses the question we’ve raised before of the historical integrity of the musical Allegiance, screening again today on this Day of Remembrance.

Continue reading Guardian of history challenges historical integrity of “Allegiance”

What #Resistance Means Now

Smokey the Bear raising a fistDocumenting the history of Japanese American incarceration, and the resistance to incarceration, was always important, but it remained just that — history, something good to know about, to make sure that mass exclusion on the basis of race “never happens again in America.” But when rangers in the National Park Service have to go undergound, and Smokey the Bear is raising a fist in flames, you know something has gone terribly wrong.

We have just passed the tipping point and now live with an authoritarian American government. #Resistance is a trending hashtag. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich posts a daily “Resistance Report” on YouTube. Former sportscaster Keith Olberman rebrands his show on GQ as “The Resistance.” Reuters is instructing its reporters how to cover the new Administration as if it were a banana republic. And the story of the Heart Mountain resisters is getting renewed attention.

KUOW logoThanks to host Bill Radke and producer Shane Mehling for having me on Seattle’s NPR affiliate today, on KUOW’s “The Record,” to connect the Japanese American resistance to the current actions in the streets. Here’s a link to the full 11-minute conversation, which has been well-received. As I said to Bill, I feel both validated that the Fair Play Committee is getting recognized, and appalled that we are now talking about a very real threat to Muslim Americans and Mexican Americans for the purpose of fulfilling a campaign promise to a resurgent white nationalism.
Continue reading What #Resistance Means Now

Access needed to site of the barracks at Tule Lake

None of the 24,000 Japanese Americans sent to live in the shallow volcanic lakebed of Tule Lake for the duration of World War II wanted to be there, but their presence makes this a National Historic Landmark.

In hindsight, an airstrip operating on a site of this historic significance is not an appropriate or compatible use, but before anyone could know that, the government after the war granted homestead rights to farmers, and in 1951 granted two-thirds of the main detention and barracks site to the city of Tulelake for an airstrip, which today hosts just one business, a crop-dusting service. It’s not easy to see without an aerial view, but the airstrip runs left to right in the photo below.

airstrip at Tule Lake Continue reading Access needed to site of the barracks at Tule Lake

Adopt “Alternative C” for public access to Tule Lake

Tule Lake aerial photoYour voice is needed to create a record for the National Park Service that will help Stop the Fence at Tule Lake.

Our friends at the NPS have a preferred plan — Alternative C — which will provide for stabilization of structures at the CCC isolation camp, reconstruction of the notorious Tule Lake Stockade and a replica guard tower, and open the site for year-round visitation.
Continue reading Adopt “Alternative C” for public access to Tule Lake

What resistance means now: “Has the Gestapo come to America?”

The Heart Mountain resisters refused induction in 1944 as a last-ditch attempt to clarify their status as American citizens and challenge the constitutionality of the American concentration camps in which they were held. With the actions being threatened by a new Administration, a new kind of resistance is now being called for in the 21st century.

It’s only been one week since the election, and an adviser to the President-elect is testing the public’s willingness to go along with creation of a national registry of all Muslims in America — a database whose only useful purpose would be to make it possible to round them all up for some kind of mass action.

Journalist James Omura saw the dangers of mass registration in February 1942, in his testimony to the Congressional Tolan Committee, which was preparing the public for acceptance of the mass exclusion of a feared racial minority perceived as the enemy. “Has the Gestapo come to America?,” he asked.


Continue reading What resistance means now: “Has the Gestapo come to America?”

Tule Lake preservation gains national support

The irony was not lost on some, but kudos must go tonight to the JACL National Council meeting in Las Vegas, for providing the first national resolution in support of preserving the Tule Lake Segregation Center as a National Historic Site.delegates to National JACL convention Continue reading Tule Lake preservation gains national support

REVIEW: Writing in the camps as an act of defiance

Relocating Authority In 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.”
Continue reading REVIEW: Writing in the camps as an act of defiance