George Kurasaki was one of those fellows we wished we could have known, one of the Heart Mountain boys who did not seek attention for himself.
When we were searching for resisters to interview for our film, he was among those who sent word back that they did not wish to be interviewed. But George finally did come out to join us. He came to the JACL apology ceremony to the resisters in San Francisco in 2002. We noted his presence there at the time, and now regret we didn’t follow up with him to learn more.
George passed away just after the new year. The San Jose Mercury-News recognized his life with a fine remembrance, “George Kurasaki, prankster on farm,” (requires subscription) in which we learn of his risking arrest for violating curfew and travel restrictions after Pearl Harbor in order to propose to his sweetheart, and of their getting married before eviction so they could stay together.
My review of Frank Chin’s book on the resistance, Born in the USA, is now published in the special “A Tribute to Miné Okubo” issue of Amerasia Journal, Volume 30:2, 2004. It is available for $13 per issue plus tax and $4 handling from: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press, 3230 Campbell Hall, Box 951546, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1546. For more information, call (310) 825-2968, e-mail email@example.com or visit the center’s Web site.
By special permission, you can also read it here:
A story told in Born in the USA has journalists James Omura and Larry Tajiri prowling the hills of pre-war San Francisco late at night, dreaming about which of them would write “The Great Nisei Novel.” It would be an epic that spanned the immigration of their Issei parents and the appearance of the second-generation Nisei as a new breed of American.
Little did they know how war with Japan would soon interrupt that social progress and place them on opposite sides of Japanese America’s response to expulsion and incarceration: whether to cooperate or resist.
Read the rest of the review. I would love to hear your response to the review or the book itself. Just use the Contact Us link above or leave a Comment below.
Writer and scholar Frank Chin is offering you, as readers of this site, a series of scripts that boldly bring to life issues of Japanese American art and literature, all tied tightly around the questions of loyalty, betrayal and resistance in WW2.
Frank says the scripts can be read or performed in class, and used in conjunction with his recent compilation of oral history, research and original insight, Born in the USA. You can download them here as Adobe Acrobat files [requires free Adobe Reader] and print them out just as they came out of his Powerbook.
The first script serves as an introduction to the series. They are framed as proposals for a conference at the Japanese American National Museum. He suggests using actors for the readings.
[update July 2012: Keep in mind these are imaginative works based on facts, and as I pointed out in my review of Frank’s book, be sure you know which part is fact and which part springs from his imagination. While some sections quote actual documents, articles, and interviews, other selections may not be actual interviews. I just had to warn one writer not to quote from the Chiye Mori monologue as if they were her words from an actual interview; it is not.]
Chin is also drumming up support for publication and distribution of a resisters newsletter. He points out that 2004 is the 60th anniversary of the institution of Selective Service for the Nisei inside the camps, the rise of draft resistance inside 8 of the ten camps, the formation of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee, and their arrests, trials, convictions, and the start of their prison terms.
As he puts it, “The object is to prod Japanese America into taking over their history, art, and Japanese American criticism.”
Frank Chin delivered an animated presentation about the literature and cultural treatment of Japanese in the white press, novels and music before the war setting up pre-war racism. He discussed the early rifts between people like Mike Masaoka and James Omura over how AJAs should respond to the war and proposals for evacuation and internment.
Frank Emi delivered his own personal take on the costs (both economic and personal) of evacuation, and the events and circumstances that led him to resist the draft. He ended with his experiences in prison, mentioned others he met in prison and ended with a bit on the JACL apology, reiterating that the JACL should issue an apology to all AJAs for their role in the entire evacuation process. If the United States government could do it, why not them?
I introduced the lesser known resisters, those who resisted as individuals and posed the question — why both during the war and after did some criticize those who resisted as individuals of just dodging the draft? For wasting their time? For committing acts of lawlessness that would have no great effect at all? I compared the full range of resistance to the abolitionists before the Civil War and related the actions of all who resisted internment — no-no boys, strikers, petitioners, resisters — to the “revolutionary tradition” in America. I ended with stories about the Hopi draft resisters those Nisei resisters from Topaz and Amache and even Gordon Hirabayashi himself met in prison and explained how the Hopis welcomed the resisters into their “family” symbolically with a hair-washing ceremony.
Dean Hashimoto ended with his own personal understanding of internment as a child of a Nisei who had been interned at Amache. A Sansei himself, Hashimoto learned in school that internment was justified and just, which both disturbed and puzzled him. He worked as a law student on the Korematsu case in the 1980s and explained that despite the ruling of a lower court, the Korematsu case is still technically “good” law. He urged the audience that we should never forget that it is like a loaded weapon waiting to be used and related the importance of remembering internment and continuing the conversation to the current political situation with enemy combatants, the USA Patriot Act and the continued survival of Korematsu.
The discussion that followed was engaging and at times heated. Some high school teachers mentioned the importance of teaching the story to their students, a former internee expressed his reluctance about the tone of the panel that seemed to demonize the JACL and suggested that we all be forgiving of wartime misjudgments (this received some fairly heated responses from Chin). One audience member insisted that there were no concentration camps, only benign ” relocation centers” which turned into a shouting match which Art Hansen quickly brought back under control and redirected the conversation. And one student, who was quite taken by the story of the Hopi resisters’ alliance with the Nisei resisters wanted to know on a more personal level how much fluidity there was between those who resisted and those who served in the military which opened up interesting responses and stories where individual families were divided over their decisions and responses to the draft.
Over all, the session was quite productive and the audience stayed a full extra half hour to discuss the issues and finally had to be kicked out of the library as it had already closed.
Fred Hirasuna appears in our documentary near the end, standing at the Central California District JACL meeting speaking against any apology to the Heart Mountain resisters. Despite our differences, he graciously invited us to his home in Fresno in 1998 where he told us about his attending the very first JACL convention in 1930. We first heard last week from Martha Nakagawa:
I was just informed that Fred Hirasuna passed away last week. Fred was probably the oldest JACL member (he was in his 90s) and was staunchly against national JACL issuing an apology to the Nisei draft resisters. His feeling was that in times of war it was okay for the U.S. government to ignore constitutional rights. I think now Clarence Nishizu may be the oldest JACL member.
The Frank Chin road show evidently continues with word of another panel on the resisters now scheduled for the Boston Public Library on March 27 at the Organization of American Historians annual conference. Read the full workshop description or download a printable press release. Cherstin Lyon from the University of Arizona writes:
The Organization of American Historians has invited Frank Emi, Frank Chin, Art Hansen, Martha Minow and myself to present a roundtable discussion on the Nisei draft resisters and both the limits and possibilities of recent JACL reconciliation attempts.
Art Hansen will preside, and guide the discussion following the presentations. Frank Emi will begin with his perspective on the resistance and constitutional matters during the war as well as some of his thoughts on the limits of reconciliation. I will speak on resistance that took place in other camps, like that of the Tucsonians from Topaz and Amache, and the community of resisters that they formed by holding reunions and developing life long friendships with each other after the war. I will also comment on some of the other wartime prisoners that the Tucsonians met while in prison who had been convicted of other forms of civil disobedience, like Hopi conscientious objectors and Gordon Hirabayashi, whose case against evacuation and curfew went before the Supreme Court.
Frank Chin will be presenting work from his new book, Born in the U.S.A., as well as his thoughts on the roots of the conflict between “Americanized” JACLers and those who developed a strong, complex Nisei identity before the war, many of whom became resisters in one form or another during the war. Martha Minow will comment based on her extensive research on the Holocaust and reconciliation attempts that followed WWII. Minow is an extremely prolific author on the law and social justice, and is Professor of Law at Harvard University. A formal invitation has been extended to Floyd Mori, president of the JACL, to attend the roundtable and respond from the JACL point of view.
Congratulations to Alan Nishio of the National Conference for Community and Justice, formerly known as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, for arranging for Heart Mountain resistance leader Frank Emi to literally receive the “key to the city” at the Day of Remembrance ceremony in Long Beach.
I was surprised but pleased to hear that clips from our documentary were shown at the event. Thanks to Annette Kashiwa and Martha Nakagawa for providing the photos. Click on the photo for an enlarged view.
Thanks also to Alan for providing this other online interview with Frank Emi from the War Times, which uses photos and a story from this site.
Screenings are set this Tuesday, Feb. 3, at the Rockridge Branch Library in Oakland and around Feb. 14 in New York City for their Day of Remembrance ceremony. The Oakland screening is sponsored by the “Not In Our Name” anti-military campaign and accompanied with a group discussion.
I want to thank resister Mits Koshiyama and his wife (right) for coming to the funeral of my sister Patricia on Jan. 25 at the Berkeley Buddhist Temple. Pat passed away on Jan. 18 after a lengthy illness. Mits drove up from San Jose to offer comfort, and his presence meant so much to me.
John Streamas writes from Bowling Green that a memorial service has been set for Nisei poet Toyo Suyemoto, “on the early afternoon of Saturday, March 6, probably on the campus of the Ohio State University.”
Details are now online for the Feb. 20-21 symposium hosted by the University of Oregon’s Center for Critical Theory and Transnational Studies. The panel, “Japanese-American Internment and Its Contemporary Implications,” features an opening talk by writer Frank Chin and a panel on camp experiences with Chin, Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee leader Frank Emi, Jim Hirabayashi, younger brother of curfew violator and draft resister Gordon Hirabayashi, Ashland poet Lawson Inada, and Peggy Nagae. Chin writes that he will “be making presentations on the JACL betrayal of civil rights and the resisters who went to court in defense of civil rights.” His newest book, Born in the USA, draws from interviews conducted for Conscience and the Constitution and his other years of extensive research. The book is not carried in bookstores but you can order it online from Amazon.com by using this link. Our review of the book is scheduled for publication in the fall issue of Amerasia Journal. Incidentally, Frank’s landmark play Year of the Dragon has just been issued on DVD; the best price I’ve seen is online is nearly half off list price by using this link to Deep Discount DVD.
We start the new year by catching up to the passing of one of the earliest supporters of this project.
Brooks Iwakiri passed away on Nov. 6 in the Burbank area at the age of 82. Brooks was among the first private donors to support the initial production of our film. It was his support that, among other things, allowed us to travel to Los Angeles and film a marathon interview session with the Heart Mountain resisters and James Omura. That session in the dance studio of Jeanne Nakano and Dick Obayashi in 1994, in between stops for the planes flying overhead, provided most of the sound cuts that appear in the finished piece. In the case of Omura, Art Emi and Dave Kawamoto, those interviews came just in time.
Brooks believed in us and in the cause of restoring the good name of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. Many of the resisters attended Brooks’ funeral on Nov. 15 at Fukui Mortuary. It’s his name and that of his wife Sumi that appear in the underwriting credits at the top of our show. Brooks always enjoyed a good laugh and we were lucky to keep in touch with him over the years. Our condolences to Sumi, his son Vince, and the rest of his family. He will be missed.
Another passage to report, that of Nisei poet Toyo Suyemoto. John Streamas writes from Bowling Green State University in Ohio:
I have some sad news to pass along. I have received word from friends in Columbus that my dear friend Toyo Suyemoto has died. I don’t know many details, but I know that her health has been failing for years due to a variety of ailments. Last summer when my wife Val and I visited her, she told us that her weight had declined to 80 pounds and her height had shrunk to 4’6″. But still she was sharp and lucid as ever. On January 14 she would have turned 88 years old.
I spoke with her on the phone just last Wednesday.
I know that Lawson Inada and Frank Chin tried for years to persuade her to send them a manuscript of her poems, so that they might get them published as a book. She never managed to do this, and so she never published a book in her lifetime. People will have to take Lawson Inada’s word in the 1995 article in The Nation that Toyo is Japanese America’s poet laureate. Three or four years ago Lawson Inada spent several days in Ohio, visiting with Toyo and interviewing her. I know that Toyo felt affection and respect for them.
Even in her old age, Toyo was a feisty and strong-willed person. When I told her a few years ago that I had been approached by the Dayton chapter of JACL, she went into her anti-JACL lecture mode, denouncing the organization’s wartime politics and swearing she would never join. She saw your film and admired it very much. She also had a great sense of humor and managed to make many artist-friends, including Val.
I wish you could have met her. She was a remarkable person. Val and I will miss her very much.