This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to contemplate writing. These In Memoriam posts have mostly been devoted to celebrating the lives and marking the passage of Nisei wartime resisters and those whose lives they’ve touched. I know I’m not alone in still being in a state of shock at having to memorialize the life of someone so young and vital as Martha Nakagawa of Los Angeles. Continue reading In Memoriam: Martha Nakagawa, resistance storyteller→
A belated post to catch up on the October 14 opening of the RESISTERS: A Legacy of Movement From the Japanese American Incarceration at the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle. It’s certainly my kind of subject, so I’m grateful to Mikala Woodward and her team at the Wing for accepting some of my suggestions for display out of our discussions on the Citizens Advisory Committee. Some things pulled off my wall and bookshelf for this show, but keep reading to learn about one exceptional hidden gem in this exhibit.
It’s common in books and articles to see the term “no-no boy” conflated with the Nisei draft resisters of WW2. These are two seperate and distinct groups. A quick primer:
“No-no boys” were among the 12,000 from all ten camps who answered “no” or refused to answer the final two questions on a notoriously misleading government questionnaire in early 1943. This led to their removal from camp and transfer under an administrative process to a War Relocation Authority Segregation Center established as a kind of penal colony at Tule Lake.
“Draft resisters” were the roughly 315 young men from all ten camps who in general answered “yes” or a qualified “yes” to the questionnaire but who, a year later in 1944, refused to be drafted from inside an American concentration camp until their rights were first restored and their families freed to return home. All but 22 were criminally convicted in U.S. District Court of violating the Selective Service Act. The older men were sent to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas; the younger ones were sent to McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary south of Seattle.
What blurs this distinction is the title of John Okada’s 1957 novel. It’s titled No-No Boy but it’s clearly about a protagonist who refuses the draft at Minidoka and serves two years at McNeil Island before arriving on a bus back in Seattle at the start of the novel. Despite the book’s title, he’s a draft resister, not strictly speaking a “no-no boy.” However, the term is used in the novel and in conversation at the time as a dismissive slur for any kind of camp dissident.
Please keep these distinctions in mind when writing about this history.
“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
An 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 4at 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-scenes 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].
In 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].
While in Idaho for a symposium, I took the opportunity to research settings for the forthcoming graphic novel on camp resistance, in particular the places where the draft resisters from Minidoka were jailed and put on trial in September, 1944.
With the Friends of Minidoka — Hanako Wakatsuki, Mia Russell, and Kurt Yokoyama Ikeda — we started at the Ada County Courthouse, where Jim and Gene Akutsu and the other draft resisters were brought from camp and held in the old jail on the top floors. We could still see the iron grates over the windows, from where they could look out. The top floors are now sealed off from the public. Continue reading Retracing the steps of the Minidoka draft resisters→