Two separate Day of Remembrance events in San Francisco next weekend feature the memory and the legacy of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.
All forms of camp resistance, including that of the draft resistance at Heart Mountain, will be recognized at the 2015 Bay Area Day of Remembrance, Sunday, February 22, at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas. The theme of the event sponsored by the National Japanese American Historical Society is “Out of the Shadows of Infamy: Resistance Behind Barbed Wire.” Their promotional film produced by Cary Matsumura presents voices from the community, including archived outtakes from CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION that feature Fair Play Committee leader Frank Emi and Professor Roger Daniels:
It’s a pleasure to see that Cary included video of Seattle Issei redress visionary Shosuke Sasaki that we shot for Densho. UPDATE: Here’s a link to Sunday’s DOR 2015 Program. Thanks for mentioning Resisters.com as a source for some clips and including two versions of the courtroom photo in the printed program.
The day before, on Saturday, February 21, the notable Films of Remembrance series will include “The Legacy of Heart Mountain,” which also features a sequence on the Fair Play Committee. This series too has a trailer. Catch a glimpse of the Wyoming courtroom photo at the 1:17 mark:
Films of Remembrance screens at the New People Cinema in San Francisco Japantown. It’s curated by Kenji Taguma and sponsored by the Nichi Bei Foundation.
The legacies of journalist James Omura and the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee live on in two new museum exhibits opening this month in Washington, DC and Seattle.
On May 16, the Newseum, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, opened “One Nation With News for All,” an exhibition on the origins and influence of the ethnic media in the U.S. One section discusses free speech during WWII, specifically highlighting this photo of James Omura as the editor of Denver’s Rocky Shimpo, with this description:
Fighting for Free Speech During World War II
Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were forced into internment camps by the U.S. government. Despite this, the men in the camps were still called up for American military service. James Omura, editor of Denver’s Rocky Shimpo newspaper for Japanese Americans, risked jail by publishing stories about a draft resistance movement at a Wyoming internment camp. Charged with conspiracy to counsel draft evaders, Omura was acquitted on free speech grounds.
The Omura photo is also used on an interactive kiosk featuring 100 pioneering ethnic media outlets from Colonial America to today. Visitors can touch the map and find out more about those news organizations.
The mission of the Newseum in Washington, DC, is to champion the five freedoms of the First Amendment through education, information and entertainment. It blends news history with technology and hands-on exhibits. “News for All” will be on display there through Jan. 4, 2015.
The mug shot of Frank Emi at Leavenworth is included in the program for a new exhibit in Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific Experience, “In Struggle: Asian American Acts of Resistance.” We uncovered the prison mug shot in time for inclusion on the menu animation for Disc Two of our DVD. The exhibit is on view through January 18, 2015.
Who knew that one of the unforeseen benefits of creating the first Day of Remembrance at the Puyallup Fairgrounds in 1978 would be the creation of an annual platform for the screening of our film? So it is that this year we’ll have the privilege of showing CONSCIENCE at South Seattle Community College for the college’s Day of Remembrance program, and speaking afterwards with students, faculty, staff and the larger community. It’s free and open to the public, with this eye-catching flyer:
Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, Kenji Taguma and the Nichi Bei Foundation will present the third annual Films of Remembrance on Sunday, Feb. 23rd, at New People Cinema, 1746 Post St. in San Francisco’s Japantown. The program last year featured CONSCIENCE, and one film this year has a Fair Play Committee connection:
The film ““Hiro: A Japanese American Internment Story” by Keiko Wright, winner of a Student Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, covers how Keiko and her grandfather Hiro Hoshizaki rediscovered the painful memories of his wartime incarceration at Heart Mountain. The 30-minute film also includes a small portion on the resistance of Hiro Hoshizaki’s brother, Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee resister Tak Hoshizaki.
“Hiro” won the Gold Medal in the Documentary category at the 39th Student Academy Awards. It screens at 5:00 p.m. on Feb. 23.
Happy new year. It was a busy 2013 — so busy that we’re only now catching up to posting new video, audio and images from events of the past year: three panels at the JANM national conference and two fall screenings.
JAPANESE AMERICAN NATIONAL MUSUEUM national conference – July 5, 2013
The museum recently provided an audio recording of our panel on redress and creation of the first Day of Remembrance in Seattle. Click on the montage above to hear about the “Tangled Routes to Japanese American Redress.”
It was a great pleasure to catch up with an old friend, and my former housing officer at UC Santa Cruz, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. We enjoyed a lively discussion after a screening of her “Farewell to Manzanar,” in which I was forced to relive my on-screen character’s beating at the hands of one of Hanako Wakatsuski’s uncles, or so she says. The museum website promises an audio file will be forthcoming.
In another audio file you can hear Heart Mountain resister Tak Hoshizaki present his fascinating insider’s look at the Fair Play Committee, “Kiyoshi Okamoto and the Four Franks,” which you can also read online here. Joining him in the “Standing on Principle” panel were Professor Tets Kashima and author Mary Woodward.
Thanks to Tracy Kumono for all the sharp photographs from the JANM conference.
FIFE HISTORY MUSUEM: “Rights, Rations, Remembrance” exhibit – October 17, 2013
Of the hundreds of screenings we’ve done over the years, this one was memorable for the number of Fife residents for whom this history is a living memory, and who brought that energy and interest to the film. This Facebook photo album shows the nearly 100 who joined us for a special evening. Museum director Molly Wilmoth has since moved on, but thanks to her for choosing our film to launch their museum program series.
NAGOMI TEA HOUSE: “Nikkei Heroes” film series – November 2, 2013
Another special program this year was one aimed at the Japanese-speaking community in Seattle. This was the first time in the U..S. that we screened CONSCIENCE with the Japanese subtitles created for the Fukuoka Film Festival in 2001. It was the first event in a ”Nikkei Heroes” film series at the Nagomi Tea House, a new performance venue inside the old Uwajimaya supermarket at 6th and Weller. Our thanks for the support of Uwajimaya owner Tomio Moriguchi and Hokubei Hochi Foundation director Elaine Ko.
Two videos are posted here. The first is a link to my introduction to the film. The second video, embedded below, captures the Q and A after the screening. The second video begins abruptly after these opening words were already heard:
“As I was growing up, the party line in our community was that our response to the forced expulsion was represented by one of two catchphrases. The first was ‘Shikataganai,’ Japanese for “it can’t be helped.” Passive resignation in the face of injustice. The second was ‘Go For Broke,’ Hawaiian slang for “go all out, give 100 percent.” That just didn’t seem right…. “
The video picks up from there:
Thanks for a busy and productive 2013. Here’s looking forward to what the new year brings.
Here’s something new: a special program aimed at the Japanese-speaking community in Seattle, in which we’ll screen CONSCIENCE subtitled in Japanese. An original poster has been produced for the event.
This is the first event in a “Nikkei Heroes” film series at the Nagomi Tea House, the new performance venue inside the old Uwajimaya supermarket at 6th and Weller. We’ll be using a version of our film with Japanese subtitles that were created for the Fukuoka Film Festival in 2001.
The screening is coming up Saturday, November 2, from 2:00 to 4:00 pm, at 519 6th Avenue South. Admission is free with a donation suggested. You can register for tickets through this Eventbrite registration. The series is presented by the Hokubei Hochi Foundation, the North American Post, and Soy Source.
Two screenings coming up in the Seattle region this month and next. The first is Thursday, October 17 at 7:00 pm, at the Fife History Museum, in connection with its fine new exhibit on the home front in WW2. Full details below. Please join us and sign up on our Facebook Event page. The poster has a great caption:
A Film and Panel Discussion at Fife History Museum Bring Japanese American Internment to Light
Join the Fife History Museum for the second free event in a series related to the latest exhibit Rights, Rations, Remembrance: Fife in World War II taking place on October 17 at 7pm. The event includes a showing of the controversial World War II documentary by director Frank Abe, Conscience and the Constitution, followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker and local historian. Conscience and the Constitution reveals the long-untold story of the organized draft resistance at the American concentration camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, and the suppression of that resistance by Japanese American leaders.
A lively discussion featuring Abe, local historian Ronald Magden, Tacoma attorney Daniel C. Russ, and Puyallup Valley chapter head of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Elsie Taniguchi will follow the showing of the film.
Magden, a highly regarded educator and author with long-time roots in Pierce Country who alto taught at Tacoma Community College for many years after graduating in 1965 with a PhD in History from the University of Washington, is known by many for spending over thirty years of his life dedicated to the telling of history and development of longshore union activity on the Pacific Coast.
He is respected for his well researched volume Furusato: Tacoma-Pierce County Japanese, 1888-1977, published by the Tacoma Longshore Book and Research Committee in 1998, which provides what may be the most comprehensive look at Tacoma’s Japanese community.
Daniel Russ graduated with his J.D. from the Seattle University School of Law. Currently, he is a partner at Britton and Russ, PLLC, with offices in Tacoma and Puyallup, and a Lt. Colonel (JAG) in the Washington Air National Guard.
Besides serving on numerous boards of directors for charitable organizations, Russ is also active with the JACL and is spearheading a collaborative effort to preserve the history of Camp Harmony at the Washington State Fairgrounds.
A distinguished member of the JACL, Elsie Taniguchi currently serves as the head of the Puyallup Valley chapter. She was interned with her family at Camp Harmony in 1942 before being sent to Camp Minidoka for the duration of the war. After being contacted by the Fife History Museum, Taniguchi was instrumental in assisting in developing the museum’s collections and exhibition of Japanese and Japanese American artifacts related to Fife’s history. The museum’s collections include numerous artifacts her family used while interned.
Former broadcast journalist and award-winning reporter for KIRO News Radio in Seattle, Frank Abe is producer/director of Conscience and the Constitution.
He is a founding member of the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association and served as national vice-president for broadcast. He first served as Director of Communications for former King County Executive Gary Locke in 1994, then for the Metropolitan King County Council and now presently serves in the same post for current King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Abe is a third-generation Japanese American whose pre-broadcast days as a pioneering actor and community activist has drawn decades of respect and admiration from his peers. He helped produced the very first “Day of Remembrance” in the country, which dramatized the campaign for redress for survivors of America’s wartime concentration camps. He helped found the Asian American Theatre Company in San Francisco and was featured in the 1976 NBC/Universal TV movie Farewell to Manzanar as a concentration camp leader.
The Fife History Museum and Dacca Barn are located at 2820 – 54th Avenue East, Fife, WA. Admission to the Fife History Museum is always free.
For additional information about the Fife History Museum or any of the programs listed here please contact Molly Wilmoth by calling the museum at (253) 896-4710, send an email to [email protected] or find us on Facebook at Fife History Museum.
See also this video preview created by Pierce County Television:
Next up: a November 2 screening in Seattle aimed at a Japanese-speaking audience.
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”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Best wishes to actor George Takei and the cast, creatives, and crew of the musical Allegiance, on the private performance today near Times Square to present the results of their three-week developmental lab to industry reps and investors. A successful production, they hope next year, holds the promise of drawing thousands of new eyes to the story of the draft resistance at Heart Mountain and the clash of ideas between cooperation and resistance.
For Japanese Americans the thing to watch will be the “book,” or the script of the show that connects the songs. Rewrites are reported through Twitter to be part of the lab. The final book will be scrutinized by those whose history would be appropriated for the stage: the Heart Mountain resisters, the Nisei war veterans, and the Japanese American Citizens League as embodied in the show by the real-life Mike Masaoka. They are among those who look for rewrites to cure some of the fundamental script issues that have been identified here and elsewhere. But for now, break a leg.
In support of our film being featured on Comcast XFINITY video-on-demand this month, Cinema Asian America curator Chi-hui Yang conducted this online interview for their TV Blog. I told him his questions were among the most thoughtful I’d ever been posed. See what you think:
Interview: ‘Conscience and the Constitution’: Talking with Frank Abe
by Chi-hui Yang | May 2, 2013 at 2:44 AM
The history of Japanese American internment is a complex one and reveals many deep contradiction and divisions both within America, and more specifically, the Japanese American community. You chose to focus on the latter in “Conscience and the Constitution” noting that in 1944, the draft resisters at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming “served two years in prison, and for the next fifty were written out of the popular history of Japanese America.” What were the stakes for you as a journalist, and a Japanese American when you decided to dig deep into this contested history?
FA: I never bought into the idea that Japanese America’s only response to this massive violation of constitutional rights was passive resignation – shikatagai, Japanese for “it can’t be helped” – or patriotic self-sacrifice as embodied by the Nisei soldiers and go for broke! But as a baby boomer born after the camps, if you asked, “gee, why didn’t you guys contest this?” you’d get a pat on the head and told that “you weren’t there, times were different, you can’t judge us with your Berkeley civil-rights activism of the Sixties.” So when I first learned of the organized resistance at Heart Mountain, which incidentally was my father’s camp, I felt like I’d found a missing link. And the more we scripted out the story, the more we could see that it would shift the paradigm of Japanese American history and show that besides cooperation and collaboration, there was protest and resistance.
Here was a classic example of civil disobedience in the American 20th century, but it threatened the party line and the popular narrative of victimization. That made it critical to me as a journalist that we get the story right and tell it fairly, to document an unassailable case, and to get it into the marketplace with the legitimacy conferred by a presenter like PBS. It must have worked because none of the dismissive “old guard” really pushed back – well, maybe one, and he can be seen near the end of the film.
Most meaningful to me was that the film provided the historical context and framework through which the children of the resisters could finally understand what their fathers and mothers did. Many of these people my age had gone through life feeling vaguely uneasy about their fathers’ time in a federal penitentiary. When they saw that there was no community backlash to the film, and instead a large audience for the recovery of this untold story, they could see that their fathers were in fact principled people who acted in the best American tradition.
You’ve said that this film in many ways, would have been very difficult to make before the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, in which the US government gave reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned during WWII. Why?
FA: Because without an accepted foundation of verified fact, anything we put out there would have been too easily dismissed as opinion or hearsay. I was jolted into action to help kick-start the redress campaign when writer Frank Chin literally came to my door and said, “If you lose Japanese American history, you can kiss Japanese American art goodbye.” At that time in 1978 every attempt to raise the issue of injustice in the newspaper or on the radio was greeted with letters to the editor and callers on the air who would snarl, “yeah, but don’t forget these guys bombed Pearl Harbor,” or “don’t forget they were put in camp for their own protection.” Whenever Frank Emi spoke in classrooms he had to bring armloads of books and court cases to first prove the case against the camps before he could begin to talk about the Fair Play Committee. Frank Chin showed us that by staging events like the first Days of Remembrance in Seattle and Portland, we could use the media to get across the simple message that the camps were wrong, and that paved the way for the first redress bills in Congress.
While pursuing redress over the next ten years, we had to show a united front with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and others. We couldn’t muddy the argument by bringing up the cooperation of JACL leaders in the eviction from the West Coast and administration of the camps, or the resistance to the draft at Heart Mountain and other camps. Once we held the government accountable for redress in 1988, we were freed to turn to holding our own leaders accountable, a movement that climaxed with the events seen at the end of Conscience.
And are there still lingering histories of the internment which have not been told which future generations of filmmakers should uncover?
FA: It’s harder now with each passing year, but there needs to be an authoritative study of the false distinctions between loyalty and disloyalty that were forced upon us by the wartime government and internalized by our own community – the no-no’s, the renunciants and the expatriates. Whether by intent or incompetence, these expressions of dissent were driven by administrators who effectively created disloyalty, anger and alienation through the implementation of loyalty oaths and segregation of families based upon their answers.
“Conscience and the Constitution” was made more than a decade ago and you’ve remained very active in screening it and making it available in classrooms. How can we connect up the history you examine in the film, with current conversations and politics in the US?
FA: The unjust eviction and incarceration of Japanese Americans based solely on their race is the single largest precedent that inhibits the power of the federal executive to profile populations on the basis of race, ethnicity and religion. We saw that in play right after 9/11, when the knee-jerk hostility and calls for roundup of Arab Americans were tempered by the acknowledgment that America made this mistake after Pearl Harbor. As historian Eric Muller put it, our memory is a precious resource in the fight against racism and scapegoating, and it’s one to which we bear special witness.
On the cultural scene, the specific story we frame of the wartime JACL’s promotion of military service and its suppression of the Heart Mountain draft resistance has found unexpected life in actor George Takei’s legacy project, a musical called Allegiance. The show premiered last fall in San Diego with aspirations for a Broadway run, and while there are certain issues with the script, which is still in development, it has certainly kept this story in front of a national audience.
You’ve been deeply involved in Asian American culture and politics for more than three decades, as a journalist covering the community, as a founding member of the Asian American Theater Company, and as a filmmaker. What was the starting point for you and what excites you about Asian America today?
FA: Coming out of college my imagination was captured by the AIIIEEEEE! Boys: the band of young writers who first proclaimed there was such a thing as an Asian American sensibility and who proved it by recovering and republishing the works of John Okada, Louis Chu and others. It was an imaginative home I never knew I had, and the works of fiction, poetry, and theater that were created were rooted in our shared history and the excitement of rediscovering a buried past.
Today I can get annoyed by the fashionable notion in some places that we’ve moved past history, past the camps, that it’s all been said and done and we’ve moved on. Then I can get excited by the emergence of former editor Naomi Hirahara as a celebrated mystery writer who can slip in references to the Fair Play Committee; or more recently the Kaya Press translation of Lament in the Night, a gritty 1925 novella written in Japanese by an Issei who authentically captures the back alleys and bathhouses of LA’s Little Tokyo before the war in a way we’ve never seen before.
What are you working on now?
FA: We’re marketing a two-disc special edition DVD of Conscience with outtakes, extensions of the interviews and new featurettes, because there was so much great material we couldn’t fit into the hour-long film. It’s a useful resource for students to enable research of the primary interviews along with the rich database of documents we put online at PBS.org/Conscience . Next is an anthology of essays that examines the postwar resettlement of Japanese America and the world into which the resisters were thrust after serving their two years in prison. That’s another lingering history that’s not been well examined, and we’ll investigate it through the lens of writer John Okada and his foundational novel, “No-No Boy.”