Category Archives: Nisei draft resisters

Resisters, Redress and John Okada On Display at Wing Luke Museum

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.

The difference between “no-no boys” and draft resisters

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:

text from loyalty questionnaireNo-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.

courtroom photoDraft 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.

text from loyalty questionnaire

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.

The North American Post interview

In Seattle, the North American Post is the successor to the prewar Hokubei Jiji newspaper that Fuyo Tanagi helped edit, before she wrote the letter protesting the drafting of Nisei boys from camp for the Mothers Society of Minidoka. So it is an honor to be interviewed by Elaine Ikoma Ko in this wide-ranging exchange on No-No Boy, John Okada and We Hereby Refuse for the cover of the current issue of the Post.

Read the interview in the North American Post here.
Continue reading The North American Post interview

In Memoriam: Holly Yasui

As a community we are grieving the loss of Holly Yasui, youngest daughter of Min Yasui and producer/director of the award-winning film, Never Give Up!: Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice.

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Demystifying Book Titles: Greg Robinson on the title for “No-No Boy”

No-No Boy 1957 coverAn unexpected blog post just arrived from our JOHN OKADA co-editor, Greg Robinson, on his theory of how Okada’s novel came to be published under the title of NO-NO BOY. Continue reading Demystifying Book Titles: Greg Robinson on the title for “No-No Boy”

“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

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

Okada book club & “Conscience” director’s commentary set for virtual camp pilgrimage

Tadaima imageAn 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 4 at 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-DVD coverscenes 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].

No-No Boy cover illustrationIn 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].

Continue reading Okada book club & “Conscience” director’s commentary set for virtual camp pilgrimage

Retracing the steps of the Minidoka draft resisters

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.

Ada County Courthouse, Boise

With the Friends of Minidoka — Hanako Wakatsuki, Mia Russell, and Kurt Yokoyama Ikeda — we started at the Ada County Courthouse, where Jim and Gene Ada County Courthouse interiorAkutsu 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