Fred Hirasuna appears in our documentary near the end, standing at the Central California District JACL meeting speaking against any apology to the Heart Mountain resisters. Despite our differences, he graciously invited us to his home in Fresno in 1998 where he told us about his attending the very first JACL convention in 1930. We first heard last week from Martha Nakagawa:
I was just informed that Fred Hirasuna passed away last week. Fred was probably the oldest JACL member (he was in his 90s) and was staunchly against national JACL issuing an apology to the Nisei draft resisters. His feeling was that in times of war it was okay for the U.S. government to ignore constitutional rights. I think now Clarence Nishizu may be the oldest JACL member.
The Frank Chin road show evidently continues with word of another panel on the resisters now scheduled for the Boston Public Library on March 27 at the Organization of American Historians annual conference. Read the full workshop description or download a printable press release. Cherstin Lyon from the University of Arizona writes:
The Organization of American Historians has invited Frank Emi, Frank Chin, Art Hansen, Martha Minow and myself to present a roundtable discussion on the Nisei draft resisters and both the limits and possibilities of recent JACL reconciliation attempts.
Art Hansen will preside, and guide the discussion following the presentations. Frank Emi will begin with his perspective on the resistance and constitutional matters during the war as well as some of his thoughts on the limits of reconciliation. I will speak on resistance that took place in other camps, like that of the Tucsonians from Topaz and Amache, and the community of resisters that they formed by holding reunions and developing life long friendships with each other after the war. I will also comment on some of the other wartime prisoners that the Tucsonians met while in prison who had been convicted of other forms of civil disobedience, like Hopi conscientious objectors and Gordon Hirabayashi, whose case against evacuation and curfew went before the Supreme Court.
Frank Chin will be presenting work from his new book, Born in the U.S.A., as well as his thoughts on the roots of the conflict between “Americanized” JACLers and those who developed a strong, complex Nisei identity before the war, many of whom became resisters in one form or another during the war. Martha Minow will comment based on her extensive research on the Holocaust and reconciliation attempts that followed WWII. Minow is an extremely prolific author on the law and social justice, and is Professor of Law at Harvard University. A formal invitation has been extended to Floyd Mori, president of the JACL, to attend the roundtable and respond from the JACL point of view.
Screenings are set this Tuesday, Feb. 3, at the Rockridge Branch Library in Oakland and around Feb. 14 in New York City for their Day of Remembrance ceremony. The Oakland screening is sponsored by the “Not In Our Name” anti-military campaign and accompanied with a group discussion.
I want to thank resister Mits Koshiyama and his wife (right) for coming to the funeral of my sister Patricia on Jan. 25 at the Berkeley Buddhist Temple. Pat passed away on Jan. 18 after a lengthy illness. Mits drove up from San Jose to offer comfort, and his presence meant so much to me.
John Streamas writes from Bowling Green that a memorial service has been set for Nisei poet Toyo Suyemoto, “on the early afternoon of Saturday, March 6, probably on the campus of the Ohio State University.”
Details are now online for the Feb. 20-21 symposium hosted by the University of Oregon’s Center for Critical Theory and Transnational Studies. The panel, “Japanese-American Internment and Its Contemporary Implications,” features an opening talk by writer Frank Chin and a panel on camp experiences with Chin, Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee leader Frank Emi, Jim Hirabayashi, younger brother of curfew violator and draft resister Gordon Hirabayashi, Ashland poet Lawson Inada, and Peggy Nagae. Chin writes that he will “be making presentations on the JACL betrayal of civil rights and the resisters who went to court in defense of civil rights.” His newest book, Born in the USA, draws from interviews conducted for Conscience and the Constitution and his other years of extensive research. The book is not carried in bookstores but you can order it online from Amazon.com by using this link. Our review of the book is scheduled for publication in the fall issue of Amerasia Journal. Incidentally, Frank’s landmark play Year of the Dragon has just been issued on DVD; the best price I’ve seen is online is nearly half off list price by using this link to Deep Discount DVD.
We start the new year by catching up to the passing of one of the earliest supporters of this project.
Brooks Iwakiri passed away on Nov. 6 in the Burbank area at the age of 82. Brooks was among the first private donors to support the initial production of our film. It was his support that, among other things, allowed us to travel to Los Angeles and film a marathon interview session with the Heart Mountain resisters and James Omura. That session in the dance studio of Jeanne Nakano and Dick Obayashi in 1994, in between stops for the planes flying overhead, provided most of the sound cuts that appear in the finished piece. In the case of Omura, Art Emi and Dave Kawamoto, those interviews came just in time.
Brooks believed in us and in the cause of restoring the good name of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee. Many of the resisters attended Brooks’ funeral on Nov. 15 at Fukui Mortuary. It’s his name and that of his wife Sumi that appear in the underwriting credits at the top of our show. Brooks always enjoyed a good laugh and we were lucky to keep in touch with him over the years. Our condolences to Sumi, his son Vince, and the rest of his family. He will be missed.
Another passage to report, that of Nisei poet Toyo Suyemoto. John Streamas writes from Bowling Green State University in Ohio:
I have some sad news to pass along. I have received word from friends in Columbus that my dear friend Toyo Suyemoto has died. I don’t know many details, but I know that her health has been failing for years due to a variety of ailments. Last summer when my wife Val and I visited her, she told us that her weight had declined to 80 pounds and her height had shrunk to 4’6″. But still she was sharp and lucid as ever. On January 14 she would have turned 88 years old.
I spoke with her on the phone just last Wednesday.
I know that Lawson Inada and Frank Chin tried for years to persuade her to send them a manuscript of her poems, so that they might get them published as a book. She never managed to do this, and so she never published a book in her lifetime. People will have to take Lawson Inada’s word in the 1995 article in The Nation that Toyo is Japanese America’s poet laureate. Three or four years ago Lawson Inada spent several days in Ohio, visiting with Toyo and interviewing her. I know that Toyo felt affection and respect for them.
Even in her old age, Toyo was a feisty and strong-willed person. When I told her a few years ago that I had been approached by the Dayton chapter of JACL, she went into her anti-JACL lecture mode, denouncing the organization’s wartime politics and swearing she would never join. She saw your film and admired it very much. She also had a great sense of humor and managed to make many artist-friends, including Val.
I wish you could have met her. She was a remarkable person. Val and I will miss her very much.