In two forthcoming books, I try to capture the epic arc of the camp experience — whether through the voices of characters in our graphic novel on camp resistance, or in the selections we choose for a new anthology of camp literature. Producers Hana and Noah Maruyama take much the same approach with their new Densho podcast series, which expertly weaves scores of sound bites into an aural tapestry to create the effect of a single voice conveying the shared experience of camp.
Campuis a remarkable feat of knowledge and editing. Listen to the first 48-minute episode, centered around “Rocks” as an object-based theme.
I’m no lawyer, but I could not say no when the Case Western Reserve Law Review asked for a piece based on our EO9066 panel last November.
The symposium offered me the opportunity to revisit the McDonald Maternity Hospital in Cleveland where I was born, just a block from the Western Reserve campus, and explore my own pre-history of the postwar resettlement of my father out of Heart Mountain and into the Midwest. Continue reading “Resistance, Resettlement, and Redress”→
We’ll have whatever Randall Park is drinking! “Drunk History” is a weekly, half-hour series on Comedy Central where historical reenactments by A-list talent are presented by inebriated storytellers.
On June 19, tune in for a wild and woozy retelling of the resistance of Frank Emi and the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. Now millions will know the name of the FPC and its battle cry: “No more shikataganai!”
In her revelatory new book, Mira Shimabukuro sets a new standard in camp studies with her framing of what she calls “writing-to-redress.” She goes beyond Bulletin #3 from the Fair Play Committee to recover a wide range of camp writing that challenges authority, much of it by women. such as the letter from the Mothers Society of Minidoka protesting the drafting of their sons, signed by more than 100 Issei women.
Proving that “racially motivated policies and discriminatory practices are timely issues,” law students at Fordham University in New York City on April 6 re-enacted both the mass trial of the 63 Heart Mountain resisters for refusing to report for Selective Service from inside an American concentration camp, and the subsequent trial of the 7 leaders of the Fair Play Committee and journalist James Omura for conspiracy to encourage draft resistance.
SPOILER ALERT: This theater preview reveals an absurd central plot point.
The implied pact the musical Allegiance makes with its audience is that you will see an honest retelling of the Japanese American incarceration, and come away feeling comfortably uplifted. The show does entertain, through derivative songs and animated production. It achieves its effect, however, by sacrificing truth for theatricality, revising history, and offering a ludicrous portrayal of the Heart Mountain resisters.
As producer/director of the 2000 PBS film, Conscience and the Constitution – which first framed the conflict between the organized resistance led by Frank Emi, and suppression of that resistance by the Japanese American Citizens League, led by Mike Masaoka – I’ve been asked how the musical performs as history.
After seeing the first public preview October 6 at New York’s Longacre Theater, it is apparent the makers of Allegiance found the fact of civilian administration of America’s concentration camps so ordinary and banal – which it was – that they needed to heighten the obstacles to their themes of love and hope by conflating Heart Mountain with the worst of the segregation center at Tule Lake, near the California-Oregon border. They invent military rule at Heart Mountain.
Allegiance is billed as a fiction “inspired by the true-life experience of its star George Takei,” who was imprisoned as a child at Rohwer and Tule Lake. But the only events validated by his personal experience are those of every camp story – fictional family at home, Pearl Harbor, selling the farm cheap, dust and dances in camp, yes-yes/no-no, and war’s end. Once that family, here called the Kimura’s, is evicted from home and reaches the War Relocation Authority center in Wyoming, the makers of Allegiance selectively and progressively alter the reality governing Heart Mountain to more closely suggest that of a German POW camp.
In Act I for example, upon their arrival at faux Heart Mountain, a campwide PA system broadcasts directives to evacuees, while Military Police order “women to the right, men to the left.” Hannah, a white nurse, asks the women to “please remove your clothes down to your underwear” for medical exams. When an Issei woman protests, a young man explodes, “It’s not right!” and is forcibly shoved to the ground by an MP. The PA announces a curfew at sundown. When the Kimura patriarch later angrily answers no-no on his loyalty questionnaire, MP’s march to his barrack to clap him into handcuffs and haul him away: “No touching,” they bark to his family.
Camp was degrading. It was dehumanizing. But this heavy-handed treatment inflames emotion at the expense of fact:
Flashback 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.
We 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.”
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.
Seattle jazz artist Stephen Griggs is staging a series of music and spoken word concerts at the Panama Hotel Tea Room, based on the history of Japanese Americans in Seattle. The project is inspired by the music of Oscar Holden and the novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. But he was also reading John Okada’s No-No Boy and says “the powerful feelings and stories told by Okada will influence my project.” Also this:
I want you to know that your film Conscience and the Constitution served as an inspiration for my Panama Hotel Jazz project.
So many camp stories sound conciliatory and driven by fate. This film told stories of resistance and agency. I am not of Japanese ancestry and the film’s perspectives felt less alien to me. That opened a door for me to develop my project from a stance of civil injustice which is common ground for all Americans.
Two more free concerts in the series remain, at 2pm Saturday September 14 and 21. The Panama is located at 607 South Main Street in the International District. The project is funded by the 4Culture Historic Site Specific program.
Also inspired was Rob Hellebrand, who sent a nice note along with a paper he wrote entitled, “Nisei Divided: An Account of the Fair Play Committee at the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Internment Camp.”
I have really enjoyed looking through the resources at your website. I happened to first come upon it in 1999 when I was writing a paper for a class. I knew relatively little about the internment camps and wanted to know more, and just kind of fell into the story that you told there. This was when the DVD was still in production, so I only had the documents that you uploaded to go by.
About five years later, I attended a symposium about the resisters at the University of Oregon. I remember I was at the food table and I looked up and recognized Frank Emi from sixty-year-old pictures. He seemed surprised that I would know who he was.