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.

Voices of early redress activists captured in 1980 audio archive

symposium posterIf the fuse for public support of redress was lit with the first Days of Remembrance in Seattle and Portland in 1978 and ’79, the question was how to keep the momentum going into 1980. Our local congressman, Mike Lowry, had quickly introduced the first bill calling for direct and individual compensation for the government’s violation of Constitutional protections, but National JACL was going its own direction. Without a national organization of our own, we needed a vehicle to advance the discussion and keep the community engaged. 

Out of that need, Karen Seriguchi, Frank Chin, and I conceived of staging a symposium to thoughtfully consider the wartime injustice, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and then debate the case for redress pro and con. We secured the fiscal sponsorship of Jonis Davis and the American Friends Service Committee — the same local chapter of the Quaker group that backed Gordon Hirabayashi in his refusal to obey the curfew and eviction orders — and what was then called the Washington Commission for the Humanities funded us for three symposia on opposite ends of the state, one each in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane. We gave the series the lofty title of “Japanese America: Contemporary Perspectives on the Internment.” Internment was how it was called back then; now we know better and call it an incarceration. Frank Fujii designed the poster logo for us, just as he had for the Day of Remembrance.

I’ve lugged the reel-to-reel tapes of those events with me for 40 years. Thanks to audio archivist Charles Reinsch, the recordings of the first symposium, nearly five hours of panels held at Seattle Central Community College on January 19, 1980, are now digitized and posted online on the KRAB Audio Archive. KRAB-FM 107.7 was a volunteer listener-supported station (much like the old KPFA in San Francisco).  And look at this line-up:

Panel 1 – A Brief Portrait of Seattle’s Japanese American Community:  Its social, business, and family life

  • Justice Charles Z. Smith, conference moderator
  • Dr. Frank Miyamoto, sociologist and acting dean of arts and sciences, University of Washington
  • Monica Sone, clinical psychologist and author of Nisei Daughter

Panel 2 – Years of Infamy — Expulsion and Internment: The decision to intern Japanese Americans, and a look at life in the camps

  • Robert Sims, professor of history, Boise State University
  • Kimi Tambara, editor of the Minidoka Irrigator

Panel 3 – The Japanese American Vision: Japanese America as it is revealed in literature

  • Ron Mamiya, attorney and panel moderator
  • Sam Solberg, scholar, translator, and professor, University of Washington
  • Lonny Kaneko, poet and teacher
  • Frank Chin, playwright

Panel 4 – The Japanese American Vision — The Quiet American: Long-term psychological effects of the internment

  • cover of ProceedingsDr. Minoru Masuda, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, University of Washington
  • Robert Sims, professor of history, Boise State University
  • Monica Sone, clinical psychologist and author of Nisei Daughter
  • Joanne Fujita, sansei activist

Separate audio files for each panel are posted at the KRAB Audio Archive, with bookmarks for each speaker. Densho has also scanned and posted our published Proceedings from the conferences, edited by Karen and me.

reel-to-reel tape boxMy first attempt at radio broadcasting was to produce a half-hour summary of the Seattle symposium, which KRAB aired on February 19, 1980. That program featured my pre-KIRO Radio voice and is linked at the bottom of the Archive page.

Check back later for an update to hear the tapes from the symposium held at Gonzaga University on March 1, 1980.

Sharing “NO-NO BOY” with teachers in six cities

The story of No-No Boy and John Okada is being shared this summer with middle and secondary teachers of history and the humanities in six cities across the nation, as part of a series of place-based online workshops sponsored by the National Japanese American Historical Society of San Francisco and the National Park Service. Continue reading Sharing “NO-NO BOY” with teachers in six cities

Okada book club & “Conscience” director’s commentary set for virtual camp pilgrimage

Tadaima imageAn ambitious nine-week online event kicks off today,  a virtual camp pilgrimage designed to make up for all the summer site visits cancelled by the pandemic. Among the plethora of programs are two that we’ve agreed to host.

In Week 3, on Saturday, July 4 at 2:00 pm PDT, join me and moderator Erin Aoyama for a live group viewing of Conscience and the Constitution with a twist: while the film is streaming, I will offer the kind of director’s commentary on the making of the film that we were never able to include on the DVD. Tune in for behind-the-DVD coverscenes stories about the Heart Mountain draft resisters, and leave questions in the chatroom for discussion afterwards. Erin brings her own experience of working on building a forthcoming database with the biographies and archival files of all 63 defendants in the largest mass trial in Wyoming history [UPDATE: Here’s the YouTube video of the Director’s Commentary].

No-No Boy cover illustrationIn Week 4, on Friday, July 10 at 5:00 pm PDT, we will have a live book club presentation and discussion of the novel No-No Boy and the story of the author behind it.  If you missed our book release events last year for our biography of John Okada, we’ll reprise that presentation while mixing in a fuller discussion of the themes of the novel. Vince Schleitwiler will moderate.  [UPDATE: Here’s the  YouTube video of the Book Club].

Continue reading Okada book club & “Conscience” director’s commentary set for virtual camp pilgrimage

John Okada’s MIS service shared in new PBS film

The story of John Okada’s wartime work in the U.S. Military Intelligence Service is now airing nationwide in a new film on PBS.

Frank Abe in office
photo: Steve Ozone

The filmmakers of The Registry, Bill Kubota and Steve Ozone, flew out from Detroit seven years ago to speak with me about the author of No-No Boy. In particular we focused on the two years Okada spent training at the MIS Language School at Camp Savage, Minnesota, and then flying in the belly of a B-24 out of Guam to intercept and translate Japanese air-to-ground radio transmissions. If my words seem to falter it was because this interview was conducted in 2013, well before I had begun the final round of research and writing on the featured biography in our recent volume, John Okada.
Continue reading John Okada’s MIS service shared in new PBS film

In the pandemic of 2020, echoes of 1942

Greetings from the social distance of Seattle, ground zero for COVID-19 in the U.S. Thanks to those who have checked in to see how we’re doing. We’re all fine, and I certainly hope you and those you know are well — like you, continually checking the phone for the latest domino to fall, unable for these first ten days or so to focus on much of anything besides the massive disruption that has upended our world.

closeup of president's remarks
photo: Jabin Botsford, Washington Post

And in this moment, as we wait for the peak of infections to crest, we are starting to see echoes of 1942 in the great pandemic of 2020. We have a nation under attack from a threat which originated in Asia, and which hit America on the Pacific Coast. Anyone with an Asian face becomes a target for racial retaliation. The occupant of the White House belatedly declares himself to be a “wartime president,” and tries to deflect responsibility for his early disease-denial by inflaming the xenophobia of his base and deliberately  branding COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus.” Continue reading In the pandemic of 2020, echoes of 1942

A Day of Remembrance = A Day of Action

The first Day of Remembrance in 1978 was political. We staged it as a car caravan from Seattle to a family potluck and program at the Puyallup Fairgrounds, but it was only to create a safe space for the Nisei to begin to express their long-suppressed rage at expulsion and incarceration, and channel it into a long-overdue petition for redress of grievances and a call for our elected leaders to right a wrong. Continue reading A Day of Remembrance = A Day of Action

Shawn Wong’s 49-year journey with “NO-NO BOY”

Shawn Wong with photo of himself at typewriterAdd performance art to the resume of novelist and professor Shawn Wong.  audience at Kane Hall, University of Washington

Before an audience of 500 for the Friends of the Libraries annual lecture at the University of Washington on January 30, he acted out what he called the “mostly true” story of how he brought John Okada’s No-No Boy from 1,500 copies in print to selling more than 160,000. Continue reading Shawn Wong’s 49-year journey with “NO-NO BOY”

In Memoriam: Hiroshi Kashiwagi — poet, playwright, no-no, and renunciant

Hiroshi with Frank AbeHiroshi Kashiwagi once confided that when he was young he felt his real calling was as an actor. He had the soul of a poet, modest and soft-spoken, until he got on stage. Then he could command a voice that was measured and determined, almost Shakespearean in tone. He held a strong sense of right and wrong, and pushed himself to write and to study public speaking in order to be heard. Continue reading In Memoriam: Hiroshi Kashiwagi — poet, playwright, no-no, and renunciant

“NO-NO BOY” and “JOHN OKADA” in NY Times and American Book Awards

You’d never expect John Okada and the entire literature of Japanese American incarceration to be featured in the Style magazine of the New York Times … but thanks to the passionate interest of Thessaly La Force, features director for T: The New York Times Style Magazine, her deeply felt essay is now online. It will appear in print in the Sunday Times edition on November 17th.T: The New York Times Style Magazine

Many thanks to Thessaly for reaching out to Shawn Wong and myself to learn more about this history, and the life and work of John Okada in particular. The literature of Japanese American incarceration is a field that JOHN OKADA co-editor Floyd Cheung and I are researching for a new anthology scheduled for 2021.

Floyd was not present, but Greg Robinson and I were, when our volume on John Okada was honored Friday with an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.

American Book Award recipients onstage

Here are my prepared remarks for the acceptance: Continue reading “NO-NO BOY” and “JOHN OKADA” in NY Times and American Book Awards