Category Archives: News

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:

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.

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.

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]

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]

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 and get tickets here.

A busy weekend. This page will be updated with the videos when they become available.

How “JOHN OKADA” was born

The Unsung Great coverThe moment I saw the portrait of a young John Okada gazing at me from the cover of Greg Robinson’s new book, The Unsung Great: Stories of Extraordinary Japanese Americans, I ordered a copy. It’s a photo used in the eponymous book we wrote and edited called John Okada.

Then when I opened Greg’s book I was floored to discover not one but two chapters devoted to the author of No-No Boy:  Greg’s essay on the reviews of the novel upon its first publication in 1957 (previously published by Discover Nikkei), and a new section on the origins of our own 2018 collaboration, together with Floyd Cheung, in a piece called “How John Okada Was Born.”

Greg’s chapter on the early reviews of the novel was a last-minute cut from our book, and looking back the omission seems inexplicable. We were asked to tighten the manuscript, but I for one should have found a way to make room for this fine essay. I’m glad it’s found a home between the covers of this new volume. (Incidentally, in our anthology we credit the source of Okada’s high school graduation photo to John’s childhood friend Roy Kumasaka, who shared it with me before his death. For its use in Greg’s book, the credit names Joanne Mock, Roy’s daughter, who has kept her father’s collection.)

In his new chapter Greg details the origins of our anthology, and it reminds me how his discovery of the full texts of Okada’s short stories and magazine satires helped me break through a wall I’d hit on a proposed documentary film on Okada. I didn’t know it at the time, but I found myself unable to tell Okada’s story without fully understanding the sources and inspirations for his one great novel. It was like driving in the dark without headlights, peering uncertainly through the windshield. It took the work of writing the biography to make all the connections, and those early writings that Greg found helped fill in the gaps in Okada’s path to No-No Boy.

It’s a little embarrassing to see one’s spontaneous email outbursts from late at night appear in print, but I let Greg quote them anyway. He writes of his search at the University of Washington Libraries through microfilms of Seattle’s postwar Nisei vernacular, the Northwest Times:

“On looking through the first issues, dated January 1947, I discovered a one-act play and several short stories written by John Okada (described in a headnote as being a UW student). Once back in Vancouver, I wrote to Frank Abe, attaching a sample, and asked whether he was aware of these writings. His response was enthusiastic: ‘This is amazing … Okada scholars are going to go nuts. Steve Sumida and Shawn Wong will go nuts when they hear this.'”

Greg later wrote me after his visit to the University of British Columbia to research “a little-known Nisei newspaper from Toronto, the Continental Times“:

“In its pages from 1957 I had found a long review of the original edition of No-No Boy. Again Frank was rapid and enthusiastic in his reply. He explained that the text of this review was so positive that the publisher had excerpted it for use as part of the book’s publicity package, but he said the source of the review had remained obscure: “OH MY GOD. I thought I would never ever see this, being such (to me) an obscure paper. Thank you!”

These research discoveries are just a few of the dozens that Greg recounts in The Unsung Great. It’s well worth picking up a copy from the UW Press and reading. You can hear him describe a few more of the figures from Nikkei history that he brings back to life in this Densho video from January 21:

Interview with the French translator of “No-No Boy”

cover of French translationMerci beaucoup  to the readers and independent bookstores in France now discovering the work of John Okada through a new translation of No-No Boy.

Published on October 29 by Valérie Millet of Les Éditions du Sonneur, the new translation is by Paris-based writer Anne-Sylvie Homassel. She reports that bookstores across France reopened last Saturday from the pandemic and they’re eagerly welcoming the new edition, as can be seen in this Facebook post from La Geosphere of Montpelier on the south coast of France.

This is the third international edition of No-No Boy, joining the German and Japanese translations.  As with those versions, I had a delightful correspondence  with the translator to help untangle a few of Okada’s more idiomatic phrases and Nisei colloquialisms. Thanks to Le Sonneur for the nice acknowledgement and reference back to this website.

Homassel is a Paris-based writer and translator. She co-directs The Green Face (Le Visage vert), a literary magazine and small press devoted to supernatural fiction, and has translated close to 100 volumes, including those of Max Beerbohm,  Henry Darger, Willa Cather, John Buchan, Zane Gray, Herman Melville and L. Frank Baum. Under the name Anne-Sylvie Salzman,  she’s written the novels and collections Sleep (Sommeil); On the Edge of a Slow Black River (Au bord d’un lent fleuve noir); Lamont; Feral (Vivre sauvage dans les villes);  and Zelenka (Dernières nouvelles d’Œsthrénie).

We were fascinated to know more, so here is an edited trans-Atlantic interview conducted via e-mail: What was the origin for the French edition? Were you commissioned by the publisher or did you bring the idea to them? 

Anne-Sylvie Homassel
Anne-Sylvie Homassel

Anne-Sylvie Homassel: I frequently travel to Japan, where I have many friends, and In September 2018, I read an article about No-No Boy in The Japan Times.  I soon ordered the book—and when I finished reading it I knew I would want to translate and offer it to French-speaking readers. I mentioned it to publisher Valérie Millet, who runs an independent press called Les Éditions du Sonneur, and she was as thrilled as I was by the novel. Le Sonneur has been publishing for more than 15 years books of all description—works of fiction, travel literature, essays—with a focus on literary quality. So Le Sonneur acquired the rights to No-No Boy—and two years and a pandemic later, here we are.
Continue reading Interview with the French translator of “No-No Boy”

YouTube preview of forthcoming graphic novel, “We Hereby Refuse”

“Three voices …  Three acts of defiance …  One mass injustice.” That’s one of the taglines for our forthcoming graphic novel which presents an original vision of America’s past with disturbing links to the American present. We had a fast-moving conversation about it on Black Friday, with a special look inside the 3-D modeling by  one of our two artists, Ross Ishikawa, to recreate key scenes based on  historical reality.

Here’s the one-hour JAMP YouTube channel event moderated by Erin Aoyama,  to get you ready for publication on February 9, 2021.

Continue reading YouTube preview of forthcoming graphic novel, “We Hereby Refuse”

“Setsuko’s Secret” and Paul Tsuneishi’s fight for our film

Setsuko's Secret coverThe story of camp resistance is now recognized as part of our wartime experience, but a new book reminds us that it’s only been 20 years from a time when the subject was taboo.

Here’s how I describe Shirley Higuchi’s new book, Setsuko’s Secret: Heart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Incarceration, when given the chance to read an early version of it last year.

“A rich and original story. Shirley Higuchi captures the sweeping narrative of incarceration through the lens of a single camp and ties it to our present reality. Her resolve as a daughter of the camps is Setsuko’s real legacy.”  — Frank Abe, director of Conscience and the Constitution

Continue reading “Setsuko’s Secret” and Paul Tsuneishi’s fight for our film

Interview with producers of new Densho podcast series

podcast logoIn 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.

Campu is a remarkable feat of knowledge and editing. Listen to the first 48-minute episode, centered around “Rocks” as an object-based theme.

Continue reading Interview with producers of new Densho podcast series

First public panel for forthcoming graphic novel

Our graphic novel on Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration,  WE HEREBY REFUSE, is not due for publication until February — but when doing a project like this, you can’t pass up the opportunity when asked to be part of a panel titled, “Japanese American Voices in Graphic Novels.”

UPDATE October 27: Here is the YouTube program, cued to start with our 5-minute debut of the artwork and story, followed by the panel moderated by librarian Jessica Buck and featuring Mari Nomi, Sarah Kuhn, Kiku Hughes, and Yuko Ota. [The screen is blank but the video does play.]

Continue reading First public panel for forthcoming graphic novel

The “Frank Abe Collection” expanded at Densho

With the 32nd anniversary this week of the signing of the Civil Liberties Act, this is a good time to belatedly acknowledge one year’s worth of work by the good people at  Densho to scan and archive seven bankers’ boxes full of archival Day of Remembrance and redress materials from the decade that spanned 1978 to 1988, along with the raw materials that went into production of  Conscience and the Constitution from 1992 to 2000.
Continue reading The “Frank Abe Collection” expanded at Densho

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. 

Continue reading Voices of early redress activists captured in 1980 audio archive

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