Category Archives: Media issues

Five events for Day of Remembrance 2021

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:

SEATTLE, WA
Saturday, February 20, 2021, 11:00 am PT
Wing Luke Museum virtual tour of INS Building 

Wing Luke DOR tour logoA 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

Wing Luke book launchCopies 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.

PUYALLUP, WA
Sunday, February 21, 2021, 1:00 pm PT
Tsuru for Solidary car caravan for Seattle’s Day of Remembrance

Tsuru Seattle 2021 graphicIn 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.

[UPDATE: Here’s the four-minute video greeting from the blog’s YouTube channel]

MINNEAPOLIS-ST. PAUL, MN
Sunday, Feb.  21, 2021, 4:00 – 6:00 pm CT
Twin Cities JACL Day of Remembrance

Twin Cities DOR graphicA 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.

[UPDATE: Watch my opening comments and the post-screening discussion, courtesy of the East Freedom Library YouTube channel]

SAN JOSE, CA
Sunday, February 21, 2021, 6:00 pm PT
45th anniversary screening of Farewell to Manzanar
West Wind Capitol Drive-in Theater
3630 Hillcap Avenue

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]

“Resistance, Resettlement, and Redress”


Frank Abe at podiumI’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”

Family separations nothing new for Japanese Americans

John Okada at desk in New York City, 1949As documented in our new book, JOHN OKADA: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy, the Japanese American experience was in some ways the reverse of this week’s child separations on the southern border. In our case it was the fathers — harmless men like the fathers of both John Okada and Jim Akutsu — who were ripped from their children and wives in Seattle on Feb. 21, 1942, locked up in the Immigration Detention Center on Airport Way, and then paraded out at King Street Station the morning of March 19, 1942, and put on a train for the Justice Department alien internment camp at Fort Missoula, Montana. Their children and wives reached through an iron fence and screamed out to the men in English and Japanese, not knowing if they would ever see them again.

I shared this story yesterday with this five-minute interview with the BBC World Service that aired in London and worldwide on June 20.

Continue reading Family separations nothing new for Japanese Americans

Making February 19 a Day of Resistance

I realize there’s too much to focus on right now, between keeping kids safe from guns, the Russian indictments, and more, but February 19 is coming up. Please join Dale Minami and others in making this Day of Remembrance a Day of Resistance as well by signing this open letter. This is part of a national strategy for Japanese Americans who remember the camps to formally stand with Muslim Americans, led by the one-time coram nobis attorneys who are getting the band back together to file an amicus brief in the names of Korematsu, HIrabayashi, and Yasui as the Supreme Court rules on the Muslim travel ban.

hands cutting barbed wire

Add Your Name to an Open Letter to the Country
Continue reading Making February 19 a Day of Resistance

ALLEGIANCE uplifts by doctoring Japanese American history

Thanks for finding this post via links from Wikipedia, the New York Times and other reviews. See the real story of the Heart Mountain resisters as told in our PBS film, Conscience and the Constitution. Order here.

SPOILER ALERT: This theater preview reveals an absurd central plot point.Curtain call on Oct. 6

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:

Continue reading ALLEGIANCE uplifts by doctoring Japanese American history

Two imaginative works relating to Japanese Americans in WW2

September sees the emergence of two works of popular fiction, by two masters of their respective genres, that each touch on the Japanese and Japanese American experience in World War II. Both will bear watching.

Perfidia book coverFirst, you are invited to join a Facebook book discussion group I will be helping to lead Oct. 2 on the power of fiction to address Japanese American history and either uphold or distort it. We’ll find out which upon publication Sept. 9 of the new novel from the master of noir, James Ellroy.

PERFIDIA, meaning betrayal, is believed to show how race hatred grew in the 21 days after Pearl Harbor. Ellroy knows this WW2 L.A. material cold, and he brings back the perfect crooked cop, Dudley Smith, from one of my favorites, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. I’ll be joined by Edgar Award-winning mystery writer Naomi Hirahara, author of MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE and the acclaimed Mas Arai series. This is an open group so join now and then check in on Facebook on Thursday, October 2, from 6 PM to 9 PM Pacific time.

map graphicLater this month a pilot begins filming in Seattle for a proposed TV series based on an alternate history novel by science-fiction pioneer Phillip K. Dick.  THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE imagines it is 1962 and Japan occupies the West Coast, years after a successful takeover in WW2.  Instead of Japanese Americans collaborating with the U.S. government in their own incarceration, in this story resistance fighters flee the  puppet “Pacific States of America” to a safe zone in the Midwest — a kind of Fair Play Committee in reverse — while Germany makes moves on the Japanese-held territory.

The pilot is a Ridley Scott production that has bounced from BBC One to SyFy and landed at Amazon Prime. The producers are casting about for local Japanese and Japanese Americans to serve as extras for 15 days of filming in and around Seattle in September and October.  Through happenstance I was able to meet with one of the producers, who expressed her sensitivity to the wartime images the show will present (see above).

One thing about alternate histories: in a world where President-elect Franklin Roosevelt is assassinated in 1933 before he can take office, where the isolationists who follow him fail to enter WW2, where the attack on Pearl Harbor was decisive, and where the U.S. surrenders to the Axis Powers in 1947, who’s to say there was anyone to put us in camp! Still, this is one we will have to keep an eye on over the coming months.