There was no reason on earth for me to have been born in Cleveland, Ohio, other than the policy of the War Relocation Authority to disperse families released from camp to cities in the East and Midwest.
That’s the untapped history explored by Edgar Award-winning mystery novelist Naomi Hirahara in her groundbreaking new book CLARK AND DIVISION, centered on the postwar resettlement of Japanese Americans in Chicago. We had a delightful virtual conversation for the Elliott Bay Book Company on August 16:
When we staged the first Day of Remembrance 43 years ago, we had no idea how it would persist to become an invented tradition to be observed wherever Japanese Americans live. This year it’s a weekend more crowded than ever with five events at which I’ve been asked to speak. One consequence of pandemic isolation is the ability to be anywhere with Zoom, so I agreed to two events on Saturday and three on Sunday, covering all angles of resistance to wartime incarceration and the echoes to today:
A key scene in our graphic novel We Hereby Refuse takes place inside the U.S. Immigration Station, on the edge of Seattle’s Chinatown, where 100 immigrant Issei were held after their arrest by the FBI two months after Pearl Harbor. I’ll join the virtual tour as a guest speaker to show scenes from our book of the detention of Jim Akutsu’s father inside the Immigration Station, and also read from my father’s own memoir about his detention there in the 1930’s. Register here.
SEATTLE, WA Saturday, February 20, 2021, 2:00 pm PT Wing Luke Museum online book launch
Copies of our graphic novel won’t be ready for sale until March, but we’re going ahead with the Day of Remembrance launch of We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration. I’ll unpack how the structure of the book and its narrative arc upend the usual expectations around camp stories, Tamiko Nimura will read from a scene with her uncle Hiroshi Kashiwagi, and artists Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki will break down their process. To get the Zoom link to watch, you’ll need to register here.
In advance of a Day of Remembrance car caravan from the Puyallup Fairgrounds to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, I’ve recorded a video greeting that links the first Day of Remembrance at the fairgrounds in 1978 to the ongoing need to press for release of asylum-seekers still held at the GEO Group private prison operated on behalf of ICE. “Another Time, Another Place” is sponsored by Tsuru for Solidarity, La Resistencia, Densho, the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee, Seattle JACL, and Puyallup Valley JACL.
A Twin Cities coalition is screening Conscience and the Constitution for its Day of Remembrance, after which I’ll join an online discussion with Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and Japanese American and Muslim students from the University of Minnesota. Moderated by Twin Cities JACL chapter president Vinicius Taguchi.
Saving the fun one for last: I was a featured actor in the 1976 TV-movie, Farewell to Manzanar, and was prevailed upon by publisher Kenji Taguma to organize and moderate a virtual cast and crew reunion prior to the COVID-safe screening of the film at a San Jose drive-in theater. We just recorded the Zoom gathering and those in their cars at the screening will hear some truly great stories. It’s sponsored by the Nichi Bei Foundation as the closing night event of its 10th anniversary Films of Remembrance series. Read the Nichi Bei Weekly article about it.
[UPDATE: For the live audience at the drive-in, a 20-minute video was screened. Here is the 28-minute “director’s cut,” produced and edited by Greg Viloria, courtesy of the Nichi Bei Foundation YouTube channel]
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.
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.