Category Archives: Frank Chin

REVIEW: A jarring addition to new edition of “No-No Boy”

No-No Boy cover illustrationWhen the University of Washington Press republished one of its most enduring titles with a new cover and introduction, editor Alan Lau of the International Examiner’s Pacific Reader section asked me to critique the new edition, to report on whether the book still stands the test of time after nearly 60 years, and what it says to us now. What I found was a jarring and misguided addition made by the Press to John Okada’s text, in its otherwise fine new paperback edition.

Still the Great Japanese American Tragedy

No-No Boy by John Okada
the new University of Washington Press edition

reviewed by Frank Abe
special to the International Examiner, July 15-August 4, 2015

The appearance of the first new edition of John Okada’s No-No Boy in nearly 40 years offers the chance for re-evaluation of his work. As someone with a long connection with the novel, I find there’s much to like about the new edition – and one thing profoundly wrong.

After more than 100,000 copies in 13 printings, the University of Washington Press has republished this foundational work along with five others in its “Classics of Asian American Literature” series, with new covers and introductions.

First, the good. The new cover illustration reflects a lot of thought. I’ll miss the menace of the 1976 design by Bob Onodera of San Francisco, with the flags of the U.S. and Imperial Japan peering from the eyes of draft resister Ichiro Yamada’s surly face, partly because Bob based it on a photograph of myself taken the year before at the Asian American Theater Workshop. He designed the title with Army stencil font against a brown background that suggests the texture of a paper grocery bag of the kind used at Yamada grocery …

So here’s the problem with this new edition: At the end of the Preface, someone added the name “John Okada,” as if he had signed it as a statement from the author.

This attribution never existed in the original Tuttle hardcover overseen by Okada, or the CARP paperback reprint. It was not authorized by the Okada family. It interrupts the dream woven by Okada’s fiction, and violates Okada’s artistic intent. Read more …

page from newspaper

The first ceremonial homecoming for the Heart Mountain resisters

Boys of Mtn View-San JoseFlashback Friday: Thanks to JK Yamamoto, former editor of the Hokubei Mainichi, for reminding us that it was on this date 23 years ago that we staged the first ceremonial homecoming for the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.

Under the sponsorship of Prof. Wendy Ng at San Jose State University, the May 29, 1992 event was a special evening program for the national conference of the Association for Asian American Studies, held in the Studio Theater of Hugh Gillis Hall.

Boys of Mt View SJWe called it “The Boys of Mountain View – San Jose,” and what lent it the ceremonial feel was the readers’ theater script compiled by writer Frank Chin that threaded together the original writings of the resisters, the editorials in support of the resisters by Rocky Shimpo editor James Omura, and a warm narration provided by poet Lawson Inada. Omura, Frank Emi, Mits Koshiyama, Dave Kawamoto, and Gloria Kubota read their own words from the time, from the scripts in the music stands in front of them. For a bit of dramatics we staged part of the interrogation of Frank Emi by camp director Guy Robertson, with Emi’s words read by the current editor of the Nichi Bei Weekly, Kenji Taguma.

We shot the event with three cameras, thinking that cutting between them would provide the framework for a documentary about the resisters. But once we got the tape into the editing bay, we immediately saw the problem: all the readers were looking down at their scripts in the music stands, and making no contact with the audience. It just wasn’t visually compelling.

That began an eight-year journey to shoot new interviews and gather archival film and stills for what would eventually become Conscience and the Constitution. The San Jose State homecoming  was the first event we shot, and it turned out to provide the last shots in the finished film, with the applause from the audience and the recovery of their history providing an emotional lift to help cap our story.

While only a few moments from the evening survived in the final cut, you can get a feel for this first ceremonial  homecoming for the Heart Mountain resisters in the DVD outtake, “The Return of the Fair Play Committee.”

REVIEW: Frank Chin’s Great Chinese American Novel

Confessions coverThis 1970s-era novel by Frank Chin, published for the first time today by the University of Hawaii Press, predates his work with the Heart Mountain resisters who are the subject of this blog. But as a Friend of the Fair Play Committee, the surprise recovery and restoration of Frank’s unpublished first novel is a story as notable as his recovery of the buried history of the resisters.

For the occasion, I wrote a review of the book for International Examiner arts editor Alan Lau:

A first look at Frank Chin’s Great Chinese American Novel

The Confessions of a Number One Son by Frank Chin
edited with an introduction by Calvin McMillin

reviewed by Frank Abe
special to the International Examiner, April 1-April 14, 2015

newspaper coverThe emergence 40 years later of a tightly edited, slimmed-down version of a long-lost novel from the writer who first defined Asian American literature is an unexpected gift.

That’s because to read The Confessions of a Number One Son in 2015 is to peel back the decades and discover the creative foundation of the plays and later fiction of Frank Chin, in the moment before he became consumed with the polemics of separating the real from the fakery in the work of others.

In an early 1970s America where the postwar generation was just coming of age—where the world still celebrated the model minority, the Chinese Christian autobiographies of Betty Lee Sung and Pardee Lowe, and the movie stereotype of Charlie Chan—Frank Chin was putting a self-proclaimed Chinaman voice at the center of his stories. It was an act of self-invention he was perfecting in tandem with his better-known stage plays, The Chickencoop Chinaman and Year of the Dragon.  Read more …

Chin review

Stage adaptation of “NO-NO BOY” violates John Okada’s novel

A headline first written by Frank Chin in 2010, “Don’t F**k With No-No Boy,” captures the insistence with which audiences should reject the recent stage adaptation of John Okada’s landmark novel No-No Boy.

Pan Asian titleA New York theater company is now pitching a national tour. with stops in the Midwest and West Coast, of an adaptation of No-No Boy that violates the art of John Okada by tacking on an artificially happy ending to his story.

After more than 100,000 copies sold in 17 printings over nearly 60 years, it is well-established that much of No-No Boy‘s power and authenticity lies in its furiously violent and tragic ending. Okada cuts to the bone. He holds nothing back, and most importantly he tries to please no one.

After “two years in camp and two years in prison,” draft resister Ichiro Yamada returns to find his Seattle hometown shattered and its people divided. Parents mourn sons lost in battle; veterans return maimed and succumb to their wounds; resisters are blamed and ostracized; a woman abandoned by her soldier husband finds comfort in Ichiro’s arms; his mother goes mad when forced to admit Japan lost the war and drowns herself. Having fun yet?

At the Club Oriental (a stand-in for  the Wah Mee Club in Seattle), Ichiro and fellow resister Freddie Akimoto raise their glasses in a toast to fallen friends when the angriest of the Nisei vets, a man called Bull, yanks Freddie off his stool and shoves him out to Maynard Alley. Ichiro tries to break it up and wrestles Bull to the ground, but driven by fear he slams his fist into Bull’s face and draws blood. Freddie kicks Bull in the gut, but the enraged man lurches up. Freddie jumps into his car to flee, but Bull pulls open the door. Freddie clubs him with a wrench and hits the gas, shooting onto a cross street where his car is instantly struck by another and flips into the air, throwing him halfway out the open door and nearly severing him in half upon crashing. Numb with shock, Bull asks Ichiro for a drink. Ichiro brings a bottle of whiskey and Bull grabs it and drinks:

“Agggggggghh,” he screamed and, with the brute strength that could only smash, hurled the whiskey bottle across the alley. Then he started to cry, not like a man in grief or a soldier in pain, but like a baby in loud, gasping, beseeching howls.

Ichiro walks slowly away from the scene, desperately searching in his mind for some kind of redemption for white racism, Pearl Harbor, and the war; the mass eviction and incarceration based solely on race; and the conscience that led to his own resistance, prison, and social ostracism.

In the stage adaptation now being shopped, this vicious climax is muted and the unsettled ending is omitted.

SPOILER ALERT: Instead, after a brief knife fight, Freddie escapes. Ichiro goes out dancing — a scene from earlier in the book, with Emi the abandoned wife and Ichiro alone on the dance floor, finding momentary acceptance in the indifference of the whites around them.  And as they hold each other close on the floor, all the characters from the play, including the ghosts of those departed, REENTER the stage to offer final words, of blessing and hope for the future. Ichiro and Emi kiss. They are going to live happily ever after, doggone it.

It’s a theatrical moment. It’s probably very moving in performance. It’s also schmaltz. And it’s very wrong.

Suggesting that Ichiro is capable of romance this early in his re-entry to this world is contrary to the internal evidence we have of Okada’s intent. A close reading of the text by Floyd Cheung and Bill E. Peterson of Smith College in the journal Centennial Review establishes that the social context of late 1940s America simply did not allow for a happy ending for Ichiro. Okada shows him walking away from the crowd around Freddie’s death. If we can divine anything about Okada’s intent, it is that “He remains an outsider,” and the ideological setting surrounding Japanese American men at this time “is not yet fertile enough for Ichiro to ground his identity within it.”

The problem with reading the end of No-No Boy with a strong sense of optimism, though, lies in the fact that … the ideological setting of postwar America provides impoverished imagoes from which to choose for Japanese American men. Neither the no-no boys nor the yes-yes boys are happy…  The social context of postwar Seattle influences whether individual stories of identity will have the tone and content of a comedy, tragedy, irony, romance, or some other story form.

To convey his vision of Japanese America after Pearl Harbor, the camps, combat, prison, and resettlement, Okada carefully constructs Ichiro’s social context to end with tragedy. To substitute romance at the end violates Okada’s story form.

This is not an issue we are eager to take up. The adaptation is done by Southern California actor and dramaturg Ken Narasaki, a former comrade from the halcyon days of Garrett Hongo’s seminal Asian Exclusion Act in Seattle in 1977.  We’ve both been inspired and mentored by writer Frank Chin, who had this exchange with Narasaki in 2010 on the original Santa Monica production of this script:

Narasaki offers his reasons for rewriting Okada’s end to No-No Boy, that amount to, he’s dead. I can do what I want with the dead — “We intended to show that in the end, there was hope for Ichiro … that he would discover love and life. I’m sorry you disagreed with the ending, but I continue to believe that if John Okada were alive, he wouldn’t be quite as harsh a critic, but of course, we’ll never know.”

It’s because we’ll never know, that we should not fuck with the end as written. Okada isn’t the same rewritten, and Narasaki knows he’s violated the work he claims inspired him. If Shakespeare had lived longer he might have rewritten a happy end for Romeo and Juliet instead of one dying after the other. Then again he might not. — Frank Chin

Chin followed a further exchange with this rebuttal: “What makes his claim offensive is he is sure that had Okada lived he would have written an ending more like Narasaki’s.”

We agree. John Okada isn’t here to defend his work. This impulse to eschew the darkness that is the power of No-No Boy, and replace it with sentiment to leave the audience happy, is as old as Hollywood itself — a place where Mr. Narasaki has a background in writing coverage of screenplays for film producers.

We’ve seen this impulse in others who’ve held an option on Okada’s book. One such ill-conceived film treatment added a full page of patriotic praise for the 442 at the funeral of the Nisei veteran Kenji and then, after Ma’s funeral, we see Emi returning to the Yamada grocery in a sporty car and inviting Ichiro to go for a ride. Instead of staggering away from a Chinatown alleyway lost and alone, this movie version of Ichiro offered his final upbeat line as something like, “Say, this might be a good day after all.”

As a forthcoming study of John Okada will show, he was certainly capable of comedy, satire, and upbeat endings. If he wanted No-No Boy to end on a happy note, he would have written it that way. The evidence we have on the page extends to claimed representations of his work on the stage and the screen. Accept no substitutes.

UPDATE: This essay was reprinted April 29, 2015, on the Japanese American National Museum’s Discover Nikkei blog, where Mr. Narasaki also provides a response. Read our rebuttal, published here on June 26.

“Kiyoshi Okamoto and the Four Franks”

Tak Hoshizaki
Tak Hoshizaki at the “Standing on Principle” panel, July 6, 2013. Photo by Tracy Kumono Photography.

Tak Hoshizaki is one of the few surviving Heart Mountain resisters who continues to speak in public. At the Japanese American National Museum national conference on July 6, in a panel called “Standing on Principle,” Tak shared his first-hand account of the growing Fair Play Committee movement at Heart Mountain in 1944, and we thank him for allowing us to share it with you:

“KIYOSHI OKAMOTO AND THE FOUR FRANKS”

Kiyoshi Okamoto

“Fair play, fair play, civil rights, fair play” was what Kiyoshi Okamoto was saying as he talked to anyone who would listen in the cold, windy Wyoming concentration camp. Ten-thousand Japanese, most of them American citizens, held in a concentration camp in a desolate part of Wyoming, had little understanding of how their civil rights were violated. Kiyoshi was trying to tell the inmates that the United States government, their country, had wrongly imprisoned them. As he spoke to small groups, Kiyoshi called himself the “Fair Play Committee of One.”

In the winter of 1942-43, the Army came into Heart Mountain to recruit volunteers. This was the same time the infamous loyalty questionnaire with question 27 and 28 was being debated.

Frank Inouye

We now meet the first “Frank,” Frank Inouye. At the recruiting meeting, after the Army’s presentation, Inouye presented a manifesto demanding the U. S. government restore the rights of the men before drafting them. As a result, the Heart Mountain Congress of American Citizens was formed, represented by 2 people from each block. Inouye became the chairman. Before the Congress of American Citizens had time to develop, Inouye was able to leave the camp. With Inouye gone, the congress eventually evolved into the Fair Play Committee.

As a side note, Inouye later became a professor and an administrator at the University of Hawaii. He also was the main driving force who developed the University of Hawaii campus at Hilo. A few years ago, the University of Hawaii had a dedication and recognition for Frank Inouye’s efforts that brought about the existence of the Hilo branch. Frank Inouye passed away a few years ago.

Frank Emi

We now meet the second “Frank,” Frank Emi. Emi became one of the leaders of the Fair Play Committee. Emi played a major role in the Fair Play Committee conflicts with the camp administrators.

Emi at this time was married and had a family. He was not eligible for the draft. Again like Inouye, Emi also believed that before drafting the men, their full citizenship rights be restored.

The Fair Play Committee of One became the Fair Play Committee of Many. With Frank Inouye gone, the former members of the Congress of American Citizens joined together with Kiyoshi Okamoto, Frank Emi and others to form the Fair Play Committee. The Fair Play Committee began holding meetings, discussing the questionnaire and the draft. I attended a meeting and was surprised at the wall to wall attendance. The plan was to have our civil rights returned before we would serve. Also was surprised that I was not alone in my thinking of not answering the draft call.

By this time 1943-44, I was of draft age. When I entered the Pomona Assembly Center I was 16, not very good in history and English, understood very little of the Constitution of the United States let alone an understanding of civil rights. It was there in the Pomona Assembly Center as I listened to the older Nisei talk, I learned about how we should have contested “Evacuation” by legal action. How we were betrayed by “JACL.” The Japanese American Citizens League. Who were they? How did JACL have a role? I began to realize that something was wrong. When I heard of the financial losses of many families, and that families were broken apart by the arrest, removal and detention of their fathers, I realized more than ever, our removal was wrong. While in Pomona I wrote to my homeroom teacher at Belmont High School. The letter expressed my very bitter feelings of what had happened. She answered she was sorry that I felt so angry.

Now two years later, I had decided that I would not go if called. A few weeks later I received my draft notice. I did not appear for my physical. I continued to work at the camp engineering office. One of the nisei workers approached me and told me an administrator’s son was killed by the Japanese. The nisei worker suggested that I not work there anymore to ease the pain of his loss. I stopped working.

A few days later I was picked up early in the morning. There were 63 of us. The largest Selective Service trial on record. We hoped that the publicity of the trial would help in the return of our civil rights, release from camps and return to our homes, our neighborhood.

We, the 63, decided for a trial by a judge only. The idea was that with the war on, members selected for a jury would not be sympathetic to us. A big mistake. In his book Free to Die for Their Country, Eric Muller describes the presiding judge as a racist. Strike three. In the trial, failure to report for the draft was only considered. The fact that we were being drafted from a concentration camp was not brought up. Only that we had broken the Selective Service Act. We were found guilty and given a 3 year sentence to serve in a Federal Penitentiary.

The leaders of the Fair Play Committee were later arrested, found guilty of conspiracy to violate the Selective Service Act and sentenced to 4 years in the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary. They appealed the sentence and won. They served about 18 months. In 1947, President Truman pardoned all the Nisei draft resisters. All of us, the Fair Play Committee members and the resisters, now had our full citizenship back. The records of our imprisonment erased. We were now regular citizens.

We all returned to civilian life, going back to school or going to work, putting aside our thoughts of these experience. Except for Emi. Frank Emi gave talks before groups and at various universities telling the story of the Fair Play Committee and the draft resistance at Heart Mountain. News media and the Japanese American community gave little note and eventually swept the story “under the rug,” giving little mention of the resistance. We were written out of the Japanese American history. Our story of draft resistance to regain our civil rights buried and forgotten.

I continued my education and was studying for my master’s degree at UCLA when the Korean Conflict started. I was young enough and soon found myself drafted and in the Army. I personally know of five other Heart Mountain resisters who like myself later served. The age limit was 28 so only the youngest of the resisters were still eligible for the draft. We had our civil rights returned, our families were now out of the concentration camps. As we stated as our stand during the trial, give back our civil rights and release our families and we will gladly serve.

The story of the Fair Play Committee was seldom if ever mentioned in the vernacular papers, let alone the regular press. The exploits of the 442 were broadly and repeatedly publicized and rightly so. The Fair Play Committee was now a forbidden topic. Swept under the rug. Written out of history. The resisters, we were the bad guys.

Frank Chin

We now meet the third “Frank.” Frank Chin, a Chinese American, an outspoken playwright, novelist, and writer. Chin apparently discovered / uncovered the story of the Fair Play Committee and the Heart Mountain draft resisters and wrote in his typical manner about the Fair Play Committee and the resisters. Chin obtained copies of reports and documents on Heart Mountain, those that were written by the administrators. Chin published “The Organized Resistance” in the annual special edition of the Rafu Shimpo in December of 1981. Chin wrote a very in-detail, documented history of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.

With this story, Chin was instrumental in bringing to light the resister story. Chin’s exposé answered the question put forth by the younger Japanese Americans, “Why didn’t you resist?” We did resist but our actions were never told. Chin has supported and written much on the resister’s story.

Frank Abe

Now we meet our fourth “Frank,” Frank Abe. Frank had also wondered, “Why didn’t you resist?” When Abe learned about the resisters, he set out on a long 20-year plus journey that culminated in the famous documentary film Conscience and the Constitution. He spent many hours tracking down and interviewing the surviving resisters. Abe’s question for the Japanese Americans now is, “Why did you turn your back on those who resisted?”

We are now meeting in Seattle, Frank Abe’s present home town. Thank you all for being here and for your kind attention. Kokoro kara.

Thanks again to Tak Hoshizaki for sharing his remarks. He’s been quoted in a few books about the resistance, but we hope he continues to write about the FPC in his own words.

Revisiting “Farewell to Manzanar” and the revolt against the JACL

The screening and discussion of Farewell to Manzanar this Friday night at the Japanese American National Museum annual conference in Seattle provides an opportunity to share these newly-rediscovered photographs taken by photographer Nancy Wong.

rioters in truck
Mako, Lawson Inada, Frank Chin, and extras recruited from the Bay Area Asian community prepare to recreate the Manzanar Riot for the 1976 NBC/Universal film, FAREWELL TO MANZANAR. Photo by Nancy Wong.

Nancy shot these on location on the grounds of the former Santa Rita state prison in the summer of 1975 while we were assembled to recreate the Manzanar Riot of December 6, 1942. Mako played “Sam Fukimoto,” the character based on Harry Ueno, the fiery leader of the Kitchen Workers Union whose arrest for the beating of Los Angeles JACL leader Fred Tayama, played in the film by myself as “Frank Nishi,” sparked the Manzanar Riot.

The AIIIEEEEE boys with one actor
Three of the editors of the groundbreaking literary anthology AIIIEEEEE! with the brother of the fourth, posing on location for FAREWELL TO MANZANAR: (from left) Lawson Inada, Frank Chin, Shawn Wong, and Michael Paul Chan, who went on to perform in the cast of The Closer. Photo by Nancy Wong.

In my youthful enthusiasm I did not know that first-time film actors should not try rewriting their own lines, but that’s what I did the night before we shot the big mess hall confrontation with Mako/Sam Fukimoto/Harry Ueno — much to the dismay of scene partner Seth Sakai, whom I’d failed to notify and who cursed me after our scene and hurled his gloves in my direction, to the applause of the hundreds of extras in the scene. I have to thank director John Korty for allowing me to make the change. Among the extras were writers Toshio Mori and Shawn Wong.

But I felt compelled to make the scene more specific reading this seminal essay by Art Hansen and David Hacker that reconstructs the actual events in “The Manzanar Riot: An Ethnic Perspective” [4MB], which had recently appeared in the fall 1974 issue of Amerasia Journal.

The piece reveals that one of the fundamental causes of the Manzanar Riot was not, as simplified in the film by Korty, simply a grumbling over sugar stolen from the mess hall. It was more, as mentioned in Conscience and told more fully in Jeanne Houston’s book,  a revolt against the power conferred by the government and the camp administration to the Japanese American Citizens League. As documented in Art and David’s essay, Fred Tayama and internee security chief Kiyoshi Higashi had returned the day before from an emergency meeting of the JACL in Salt Lake City attended by two delegates from each of the ten camps. In that meeting National JACL, enacting its own policies without any ratification or popular vote of the people, resolved to urge the U.S. government to reinstate Selective Service for the Nisei as a means of asserting their U.S. citizenship and proving their loyalty. As Hansen and Hacker wrote: “For the internees — Issei, Kibei, and Nisei — the time had come when something had to be done to prevent the corrosive effects of the JACLers … The events of December 6 were but a logical culmination of developments originating with the administration’s decision to bypass the community’s natural Issei leadership to deal with its own artificially erected JACL hierarchy and to embark on a program of Americanization at the expense of Japanese ethnicity.”

Watch that scene in the film in this light. The revolt against the JACL prefigured the resistance at Heart Mountain and other camps that occurred a year later, when the JACL plea for a Nisei draft was finally granted.

In a somewhat related aside, Frank Chin now claims that Bay Area radical activist and early Black Panther Richard Aoki — recently named as an FBI informant, a charge that’s also been disputed — was there with us on location. I never knew Aoki, but in an email Frank writes, “Remember the first day at Santa Rita? There was a fattish fella in a mustache and tee shirt passing out lemonade. That was Richard Aoki.” He later speculates, “Why was Richard Aoki at the Santa Rita FAREWELL TO MANZANAR shoot? … Aoki might have been getting acquainted with Yellow actors in the parts of camp activists and victims.” Or, maybe he was just there to ladle out refreshments. We may never know.

Manzanar Committee apologizes for guest speaker Frank Chin

The bad boy of Asian American letters has done it again. The Manzanar Committee has discovered what the Organization of Chinese Americans and the Northwest Asian American Film Festival learned before them.

Frank Chin may make for a lousy guest, and I didn’t hear exactly what he said, but I think characterizing his legitimate points as “name-calling” diminishes what he had to say and the intelligence of their constituency:

The Manzanar Committee expresses their deepest apologies to those who were offended by remarks made by Frank Chin, one of the speakers at the 37th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage.

Though the intention and focus clearly communicated to Chin in the Committee’s invitation was to focus on his central role with beginning the annual Day of Remembrance and being part of a Pan-Asian movement that supported redress as well as encouraging youth today to become more politically aware and informed, Chin departed from this intention when he resorted to name calling against the Japanese American Citizens League and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

These are views which may reflect those of Chin but not the Manzanar Committee.

Read the entire, indignant news release from the Manzanar Committee.