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.

The first Day of Remembrance, Thanksgiving Weekend 1978

Forty years ago on Thanksgiving weekend, we gathered at Sick’s Stadium in Seattle’s Rainier Valley to kick-start the popular campaign for Japanese American redress.

Here’s the inside story of how it all came together, and where it led. Thanks to Natasha Varner for commissioning this piece for the Densho Blog.

The First Day of Remembrance, Thanksgiving Weekend 1978

Retracing the steps of the Minidoka draft resisters

While in Idaho for a symposium, I took the opportunity to research settings for the forthcoming graphic novel on camp resistance, in particular the places where the draft resisters from Minidoka were jailed and put on trial in September, 1944.

Ada County Courthouse, Boise

With the Friends of Minidoka — Hanako Wakatsuki, Mia Russell, and Kurt Yokoyama Ikeda — we started at the Ada County Courthouse, where Jim and Gene Ada County Courthouse interiorAkutsu and the other draft resisters were brought from camp and held in the old jail on the top floors. We could still see the iron grates over the windows, from where they could look out. The top floors are now sealed off from the public.

Borah Building stepsTo get to the old federal courthouse two blocks away, the prisoners would have to have been marched across what is now Cecil Andrus Park, where they would have seen the grand dome of the old federal courtroom, BoiseIdaho State Capitol to their right, and brought into what’s now known as the Borah Buiding, at 304 N. Eighth St.

They they were tried in what Jim Akutsu called the kangaroo court of U.S. District Court Judge Chase Clark. I was lucky to be with Hanako as she talked our way into getting the courtroom unlocked so that we could photograph every square inch for the graphic novel. The full story of the trial is vividly retold in Eric Muller’s Free to Die For Their Country.

Civil Liberties Symposium ad

Symposium panelists
(L to R) Kurt Yokoyama Ikeda, Hanako Wakatsuki, Dr. Ross Burkhart, Frank Abe, Sharon Yamato, Mia Russell

The occasion for my being in Idaho was to deliver the keynote address for the 13th annual Minidoka Civil Liberties Symposium, as we approach the 40th anniversary of Symposium stagethe very first “Day of Remembrance” at the Puyallup Fairgounds.  Look for a blog post coming up closer to the actual anniversary of the first DOR, which took place on November 25, 1978.

See video of Seattle book launch for “JOHN OKADA”

The Seattle book launch for JOHN OKADA was a fun one, thanks to the 85 people who joined us to celebrate the legacy of the Seattle novelist and help launch our new book on his life and unknown works.

speakers on panel

Shawn WongThis was a special event, on the occasion of the 95th anniversary of Okada’s birth in Pioneer Square, held on the site where he got his professional start as a reference librarian at the old Carnegie-era Seattle Central Library.

Stephen SumidaFrank AbeKaren Maeda Allman of the Elliott Bay Book Company was on hand to introduce the afternoon and sell books afterward. Tom Ikeda introduced the speakers by sharing his own story of being introduced to the novel while a student at Franklin High in Seattle.

Novelist Shawn Wong, who contributed the chapter, “Republishing and Teaching No-No Boy,” told of the place of No-No in the emergence of the then-new field of Asian American studies. Prof. emeritus Stephen Sumida, who contributed the chapter, “Questioning No-No Boy: Text, Contexts, and Subtexts,” outlined his findings from a 40-year career of teaching the novel, and even broke out his actor’s voice in telling the folk tales of Momotaro and Urashima Taro that Okada subtly weaved into his story.
from left: Roy Okada, his wife Mary, John Okada's niece Cathy Okada, Frank Abe, and Okada's niece Pam Okada Grubbs

As special guests, we were honored to be joined by John’s younger brother Roy, his wife Mary and their daughter Pam Grubbs, and Cathy Okada, the daughter of Yoshitaka Robert and Jane Okada, and John’s niece. It was the patience and grace of the Okada family that helped make the biography of John possible. 

Thanks to Stesha Brandon and Karen Maeda Allman for making this event happen in such a great space, and our editors and staff from the University of Washington Press to come listen: Larin McLaughlin, Mike Baccam, Mike Campbell, and Beth Fuget.

Thanks also to Emily P. Lawsin, David Nguyen, Mike Baccam for sharing their photos above. The TV lighting came from the Seattle Channel, our municipal cable station, which recorded the entire one-hour, 20-minute program for you to watch here.

Seattle Public Library logoThe Seattle Public Library also recorded the event for an audio podcast, which you can download here for listening [mp3 file size: 38.86MB, play time: 1 hr 24 min].

Speaking of audio, you can listen to the 13-minute radio conversation with Shawn Wong and myself with our good friend Bill Radke, host of “The Record,” weekdays at noon on KUOW 94.9 FM, the NPR station in Seattle. And below is the display ad that ran in The Seattle Times, courtesy of a great partnership between the Times and the Seattle Public Library Foundation to promote literacy.Seattle Times display ad



“Resistance, Resettlement, and Redress”

Frank Abe at podiumI’m no lawyer, but I could not say no when the Case Western Reserve Law Review asked for a piece based on our EO9066 panel last November.

The symposium offered me the opportunity to revisit the McDonald Maternity Hospital in Cleveland where I was born, just a block from the Western Reserve campus, and explore my own pre-history of the postwar resettlement of my father out of Heart Mountain and into the Midwest. Continue reading “Resistance, Resettlement, and Redress”

The first reviews are in for “JOHN OKADA”

Two early reviews, a podcast, and a Facebook Live video. First, thanks go to Edgar-Award winning novelist Naomi Hirahara for taking the time to comment on our book.

cover of Nichi Bei Times Nikkei literary pioneer re-examined reviewed by Naomi Hirahara, Nichi Bei Weekly, July 19. 2018

It’s an extremely readable book, a must-have companion piece to Okada’s novel … Abe, who lives in Okada’s early stomping grounds of Seattle, wrote the precise, well-researched 100-page biography of the author.

It was an honor to be recommended by Jeff Fleischer at “Foreword Reviews.” a journal for the independent book trade that is dedicated to the “art” of book reviewing. “Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love,” they say, and they cater to independent bookstores; the small press buying department at Barnes & Noble; the small press buyers at Costco; and librarian subscribers including those in LA, San Francisco, New York, Dallas, Denver, Chicago, and Detroit.  

screencap of Foreword ReviewJohn Okada,” reviewed by Jeff Fleischer, Foreward Reviews magazine, summer 2018

The book begins with a detailed biography of the author by Frank Abe … This is a strong compilation, mixing Okada’s writing with copious analysis of it, and telling a story of his life that both echoes and informs his best-known work.”

Podcast fans can hear the story of how Frank Chin, Shawn Wong, Lawson Inada, and Jeff Chan first rediscovered and republished No-No Boy, and how that set us on the four-decades-long journey in search of John Okada. I had a fun conversation with Stephanie Bastek at The American Scholar, a quarterly journal of literature, science and culture published for a general readership since 1932. “Who saved the book—and what was lost—is a story fit for legend. Listen to Frank Abe—who was there!—tell the tale on our podcast.” 

No-No Novel

Finally,  here is the saved Facebook Live video of my Aug. 8 performance at Hing Hay Park in Seattle Chinatown for the Wing Luke Asian Museum’s “It Happened Here” series — weaving together the real events from the life of John Okada with the imagined world of postwar Seattle in No-No Boy. Thanks to all who came out to listen on a hot day at the heart of Maynard and King, where so many of the events in the novel collide.

Lawsuit filed to block transfer of Tule Lake Segregation Center land

UPDATE: On August 27, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California denied, without prejudice, the Tule Lake Committee’s motion for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO).  The order allows the Tule Lake Committee to file a renewed motion for
a TRO, which the Tule Lake Committee is preparing to file, and directs additional support on particular issues, according to a TLC news release, which added:

Continue reading Lawsuit filed to block transfer of Tule Lake Segregation Center land

In Memoriam: Yosh Kuromiya, the man who drew the line

Yosh Kuromiya

The last major Nisei figure interviewed in our film is gone. We are mourning the loss of Heart Mountain resister Yosh Kuromiya at the age of 95. Continue reading In Memoriam: Yosh Kuromiya, the man who drew the line

“JOHN OKADA” and graphic novel presentations at Tule Lake and Minidoka

graphic novel presentation at Tule Lake PilgrimageTule Lake and Minidoka were two very different experiences for inmates, as I discovered after spending a week on the road at each of their camp pilgrimages.  But one thing stayed the same, and that was the warm reception given to our dual presentations on both JOHN OKADA and our graphic novel on camp resistance with the working title, We Hereby Refuse. Continue reading “JOHN OKADA” and graphic novel presentations at Tule Lake and Minidoka

Family separations nothing new for Japanese Americans

John Okada at desk in New York City, 1949As documented in our new book, JOHN OKADA: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy, the Japanese American experience was in some ways the reverse of this week’s child separations on the southern border. In our case it was the fathers — harmless men like the fathers of both John Okada and Jim Akutsu — who were ripped from their children and wives in Seattle on Feb. 21, 1942, locked up in the Immigration Detention Center on Airport Way, and then paraded out at King Street Station the morning of March 19, 1942, and put on a train for the Justice Department alien internment camp at Fort Missoula, Montana. Their children and wives reached through an iron fence and screamed out to the men in English and Japanese, not knowing if they would ever see them again.

I shared this story yesterday with this five-minute interview with the BBC World Service that aired in London and worldwide on June 20.

Continue reading Family separations nothing new for Japanese Americans

The “Drunk History” of the Fair Play Committee

We’ll have whatever Randall Park is drinking! “Drunk History” is a weekly, half-hour series on Comedy Central where historical reenactments by A-list talent are presented by inebriated storytellers.

On June 19, tune in for a wild and woozy retelling of the resistance of Frank Emi and the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. Now millions will know the name of the FPC and its battle cry: “No more shikataganai!”

Continue reading The “Drunk History” of the Fair Play Committee