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:
A 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
Copies 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.
In 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.
A 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.
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]
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].
TV viewers in the Pacific Northwest tuning in to the Winter Olympics this week have been getting an unexpected, 30-second education in America’s wartime incarceration camps, thanks to a personal testimonial I gave for the importance of the work of KING-TV’s Lori Matsukawa.
In her extended interview in our DVD special features, Gloria Kubota tells the story of how she and her husband Guntaro admired the courage of the young Gordon Hirabayashi, who contested the race-based military curfew in Seattle, and how if they ever had a son they would name him Gordon.The Kubota’s did have a son, in camp at Heart Mountain, and they did name him Gordon.
This month in Seattle, Gordon Hirabayashi is being remembered with the first local production of Hold These Truths, Jeanne Sakata’s play about Gordon and his principled resistance. After the performance tonight at the ACT Theater, August 1, we’ll talk about Gordon, his court case, and his draft resistance, in a post-play panel featuring Jeanne, University of Washington professor Stephen Sumida, and myself. See Lia Chang’s Backstage Pass blog post, and the story by Lori Matsukawa on KING-TV.
Then on Saturday, August 16 at 4:00 pm, ACT Theater and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Experience will co-host a screening of CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION in connection with the play, and with the Wing’s current exhibition, “In Struggle: Asian American Acts of Resistance.” For this program, “Acts of Resistance on Film,” I’ll also be present afterward for aQ and A. Admission is free.
Who knew that one of the unforeseen benefits of creating the first Day of Remembrance at the Puyallup Fairgrounds in 1978 would be the creation of an annual platform for the screening of our film? So it is that this year we’ll have the privilege of showing CONSCIENCE at South Seattle Community College for the college’s Day of Remembrance program, and speaking afterwards with students, faculty, staff and the larger community. It’s free and open to the public, with this eye-catching flyer:
Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, Kenji Taguma and the Nichi Bei Foundation will present the third annual Films of Remembrance on Sunday, Feb. 23rd, at New People Cinema, 1746 Post St. in San Francisco’s Japantown. The program last year featured CONSCIENCE, and one film this year has a Fair Play Committee connection:
The film ““Hiro: A Japanese American Internment Story” by Keiko Wright, winner of a Student Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences, covers how Keiko and her grandfather Hiro Hoshizaki rediscovered the painful memories of his wartime incarceration at Heart Mountain. The 30-minute film also includes a small portion on the resistance of Hiro Hoshizaki’s brother, Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee resister Tak Hoshizaki.
“Hiro” won the Gold Medal in the Documentary category at the 39th Student Academy Awards. It screens at 5:00 p.m. on Feb. 23.
Happy new year. It was a busy 2013 — so busy that we’re only now catching up to posting new video, audio and images from events of the past year: three panels at the JANM national conference and two fall screenings.
JAPANESE AMERICAN NATIONAL MUSUEUM national conference – July 5, 2013
The museum recently provided an audio recording of our panel on redress and creation of the first Day of Remembrance in Seattle. Click on the montage above to hear about the “Tangled Routes to Japanese American Redress.”
It was a great pleasure to catch up with an old friend, and my former housing officer at UC Santa Cruz, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. We enjoyed a lively discussion after a screening of her “Farewell to Manzanar,” in which I was forced to relive my on-screen character’s beating at the hands of one of Hanako Wakatsuski’s uncles, or so she says. The museum website promises an audio file will be forthcoming.
In another audio file you can hear Heart Mountain resister Tak Hoshizaki present his fascinating insider’s look at the Fair Play Committee, “Kiyoshi Okamoto and the Four Franks,” which you can also read online here. Joining him in the “Standing on Principle” panel were Professor Tets Kashima and author Mary Woodward.
Thanks to Tracy Kumono for all the sharp photographs from the JANM conference.
FIFE HISTORY MUSUEM: “Rights, Rations, Remembrance” exhibit – October 17, 2013
Of the hundreds of screenings we’ve done over the years, this one was memorable for the number of Fife residents for whom this history is a living memory, and who brought that energy and interest to the film. This Facebook photo album shows the nearly 100 who joined us for a special evening. Museum director Molly Wilmoth has since moved on, but thanks to her for choosing our film to launch their museum program series.
NAGOMI TEA HOUSE: “Nikkei Heroes” film series – November 2, 2013
Another special program this year was one aimed at the Japanese-speaking community in Seattle. This was the first time in the U..S. that we screened CONSCIENCE with the Japanese subtitles created for the Fukuoka Film Festival in 2001. It was the first event in a ”Nikkei Heroes” film series at the Nagomi Tea House, a new performance venue inside the old Uwajimaya supermarket at 6th and Weller. Our thanks for the support of Uwajimaya owner Tomio Moriguchi and Hokubei Hochi Foundation director Elaine Ko.
Two videos are posted here. The first is a link to my introduction to the film. The second video, embedded below, captures the Q and A after the screening. The second video begins abruptly after these opening words were already heard:
“As I was growing up, the party line in our community was that our response to the forced expulsion was represented by one of two catchphrases. The first was ‘Shikataganai,’ Japanese for “it can’t be helped.” Passive resignation in the face of injustice. The second was ‘Go For Broke,’ Hawaiian slang for “go all out, give 100 percent.” That just didn’t seem right…. “
The video picks up from there:
Thanks for a busy and productive 2013. Here’s looking forward to what the new year brings.
Here’s something new: a special program aimed at the Japanese-speaking community in Seattle, in which we’ll screen CONSCIENCE subtitled in Japanese. An original poster has been produced for the event.
This is the first event in a “Nikkei Heroes” film series at the Nagomi Tea House, the new performance venue inside the old Uwajimaya supermarket at 6th and Weller. We’ll be using a version of our film with Japanese subtitles that were created for the Fukuoka Film Festival in 2001.
The screening is coming up Saturday, November 2, from 2:00 to 4:00 pm, at 519 6th Avenue South. Admission is free with a donation suggested. You can register for tickets through this Eventbrite registration. The series is presented by the Hokubei Hochi Foundation, the North American Post, and Soy Source.
Two screenings coming up in the Seattle region this month and next. The first is Thursday, October 17 at 7:00 pm, at the Fife History Museum, in connection with its fine new exhibit on the home front in WW2. Full details below. Please join us and sign up on our Facebook Event page. The poster has a great caption:
A Film and Panel Discussion at Fife History Museum Bring Japanese American Internment to Light
Join the Fife History Museum for the second free event in a series related to the latest exhibit Rights, Rations, Remembrance: Fife in World War II taking place on October 17 at 7pm. The event includes a showing of the controversial World War II documentary by director Frank Abe, Conscience and the Constitution, followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker and local historian. Conscience and the Constitution reveals the long-untold story of the organized draft resistance at the American concentration camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, and the suppression of that resistance by Japanese American leaders.
A lively discussion featuring Abe, local historian Ronald Magden, Tacoma attorney Daniel C. Russ, and Puyallup Valley chapter head of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) Elsie Taniguchi will follow the showing of the film.
Magden, a highly regarded educator and author with long-time roots in Pierce Country who alto taught at Tacoma Community College for many years after graduating in 1965 with a PhD in History from the University of Washington, is known by many for spending over thirty years of his life dedicated to the telling of history and development of longshore union activity on the Pacific Coast.
He is respected for his well researched volume Furusato: Tacoma-Pierce County Japanese, 1888-1977, published by the Tacoma Longshore Book and Research Committee in 1998, which provides what may be the most comprehensive look at Tacoma’s Japanese community.
Daniel Russ graduated with his J.D. from the Seattle University School of Law. Currently, he is a partner at Britton and Russ, PLLC, with offices in Tacoma and Puyallup, and a Lt. Colonel (JAG) in the Washington Air National Guard.
Besides serving on numerous boards of directors for charitable organizations, Russ is also active with the JACL and is spearheading a collaborative effort to preserve the history of Camp Harmony at the Washington State Fairgrounds.
A distinguished member of the JACL, Elsie Taniguchi currently serves as the head of the Puyallup Valley chapter. She was interned with her family at Camp Harmony in 1942 before being sent to Camp Minidoka for the duration of the war. After being contacted by the Fife History Museum, Taniguchi was instrumental in assisting in developing the museum’s collections and exhibition of Japanese and Japanese American artifacts related to Fife’s history. The museum’s collections include numerous artifacts her family used while interned.
Former broadcast journalist and award-winning reporter for KIRO News Radio in Seattle, Frank Abe is producer/director of Conscience and the Constitution.
He is a founding member of the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association and served as national vice-president for broadcast. He first served as Director of Communications for former King County Executive Gary Locke in 1994, then for the Metropolitan King County Council and now presently serves in the same post for current King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Abe is a third-generation Japanese American whose pre-broadcast days as a pioneering actor and community activist has drawn decades of respect and admiration from his peers. He helped produced the very first “Day of Remembrance” in the country, which dramatized the campaign for redress for survivors of America’s wartime concentration camps. He helped found the Asian American Theatre Company in San Francisco and was featured in the 1976 NBC/Universal TV movie Farewell to Manzanar as a concentration camp leader.
The Fife History Museum and Dacca Barn are located at 2820 – 54th Avenue East, Fife, WA. Admission to the Fife History Museum is always free.
For additional information about the Fife History Museum or any of the programs listed here please contact Molly Wilmoth by calling the museum at (253) 896-4710, send an email to [email protected] or find us on Facebook at Fife History Museum.
See also this video preview created by Pierce County Television:
Next up: a November 2 screening in Seattle aimed at a Japanese-speaking audience.
Mako, Lawson Inada, Frank Chin, and extras recruited from the Bay Area Asian community prepare to recreate the Manzanar Riot for the 1976 NBC/Universal film, FAREWELL TO MANZANAR. Photo by Nancy Wong.
Nancy shot these on location on the grounds of the former Santa Rita state prison in the summer of 1975 while we were assembled to recreate the Manzanar Riot of December 6, 1942. Mako played “Sam Fukimoto,” the character based on Harry Ueno, the fiery leader of the Kitchen Workers Union whose arrest for the beating of Los Angeles JACL leader Fred Tayama, played in the film by myself as “Frank Nishi,” sparked the Manzanar Riot.
Three of the editors of the groundbreaking literary anthology AIIIEEEEE! with the brother of the fourth, posing on location for FAREWELL TO MANZANAR: (from left) Lawson Inada, Frank Chin, Shawn Wong, and Michael Paul Chan, who went on to perform in the cast of The Closer. Photo by Nancy Wong.
In my youthful enthusiasm I did not know that first-time film actors should not try rewriting their own lines, but that’s what I did the night before we shot the big mess hall confrontation with Mako/Sam Fukimoto/Harry Ueno — much to the dismay of scene partner Seth Sakai, whom I’d failed to notify and who cursed me after our scene and hurled his gloves in my direction, to the applause of the hundreds of extras in the scene. I have to thank director John Korty for allowing me to make the change. Among the extras were writers Toshio Mori and Shawn Wong.
But I felt compelled to make the scene more specific reading this seminal essay by Art Hansen and David Hacker that reconstructs the actual events in “The Manzanar Riot: An Ethnic Perspective” [4MB], which had recently appeared in the fall 1974 issue of Amerasia Journal.
The piece reveals that one of the fundamental causes of the Manzanar Riot was not, as simplified in the film by Korty, simply a grumbling over sugar stolen from the mess hall. It was more, as mentioned in Conscience and told more fully in Jeanne Houston’s book, a revolt against the power conferred by the government and the camp administration to the Japanese American Citizens League. As documented in Art and David’s essay, Fred Tayama and internee security chief Kiyoshi Higashi had returned the day before from an emergency meeting of the JACL in Salt Lake City attended by two delegates from each of the ten camps. In that meeting National JACL, enacting its own policies without any ratification or popular vote of the people, resolved to urge the U.S. government to reinstate Selective Service for the Nisei as a means of asserting their U.S. citizenship and proving their loyalty. As Hansen and Hacker wrote: “For the internees — Issei, Kibei, and Nisei — the time had come when something had to be done to prevent the corrosive effects of the JACLers … The events of December 6 were but a logical culmination of developments originating with the administration’s decision to bypass the community’s natural Issei leadership to deal with its own artificially erected JACL hierarchy and to embark on a program of Americanization at the expense of Japanese ethnicity.”
Watch that scene in the film in this light. The revolt against the JACL prefigured the resistance at Heart Mountain and other camps that occurred a year later, when the JACL plea for a Nisei draft was finally granted.
In a somewhat related aside, Frank Chin now claims that Bay Area radical activist and early Black Panther Richard Aoki — recently named as an FBI informant, a charge that’s also been disputed — was there with us on location. I never knew Aoki, but in an email Frank writes, “Remember the first day at Santa Rita? There was a fattish fella in a mustache and tee shirt passing out lemonade. That was Richard Aoki.” He later speculates, “Why was Richard Aoki at the Santa Rita FAREWELL TO MANZANAR shoot? … Aoki might have been getting acquainted with Yellow actors in the parts of camp activists and victims.” Or, maybe he was just there to ladle out refreshments. We may never know.
In support of our film being featured on Comcast XFINITY video-on-demand this month, Cinema Asian America curator Chi-hui Yang conducted this online interview for their TV Blog. I told him his questions were among the most thoughtful I’d ever been posed. See what you think:
Interview: ‘Conscience and the Constitution’: Talking with Frank Abe
by Chi-hui Yang | May 2, 2013 at 2:44 AM
The history of Japanese American internment is a complex one and reveals many deep contradiction and divisions both within America, and more specifically, the Japanese American community. You chose to focus on the latter in “Conscience and the Constitution” noting that in 1944, the draft resisters at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming “served two years in prison, and for the next fifty were written out of the popular history of Japanese America.” What were the stakes for you as a journalist, and a Japanese American when you decided to dig deep into this contested history?
FA: I never bought into the idea that Japanese America’s only response to this massive violation of constitutional rights was passive resignation – shikatagai, Japanese for “it can’t be helped” – or patriotic self-sacrifice as embodied by the Nisei soldiers and go for broke! But as a baby boomer born after the camps, if you asked, “gee, why didn’t you guys contest this?” you’d get a pat on the head and told that “you weren’t there, times were different, you can’t judge us with your Berkeley civil-rights activism of the Sixties.” So when I first learned of the organized resistance at Heart Mountain, which incidentally was my father’s camp, I felt like I’d found a missing link. And the more we scripted out the story, the more we could see that it would shift the paradigm of Japanese American history and show that besides cooperation and collaboration, there was protest and resistance.
Here was a classic example of civil disobedience in the American 20th century, but it threatened the party line and the popular narrative of victimization. That made it critical to me as a journalist that we get the story right and tell it fairly, to document an unassailable case, and to get it into the marketplace with the legitimacy conferred by a presenter like PBS. It must have worked because none of the dismissive “old guard” really pushed back – well, maybe one, and he can be seen near the end of the film.
Most meaningful to me was that the film provided the historical context and framework through which the children of the resisters could finally understand what their fathers and mothers did. Many of these people my age had gone through life feeling vaguely uneasy about their fathers’ time in a federal penitentiary. When they saw that there was no community backlash to the film, and instead a large audience for the recovery of this untold story, they could see that their fathers were in fact principled people who acted in the best American tradition.
You’ve said that this film in many ways, would have been very difficult to make before the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, in which the US government gave reparations to Japanese Americans who were interned during WWII. Why?
FA: Because without an accepted foundation of verified fact, anything we put out there would have been too easily dismissed as opinion or hearsay. I was jolted into action to help kick-start the redress campaign when writer Frank Chin literally came to my door and said, “If you lose Japanese American history, you can kiss Japanese American art goodbye.” At that time in 1978 every attempt to raise the issue of injustice in the newspaper or on the radio was greeted with letters to the editor and callers on the air who would snarl, “yeah, but don’t forget these guys bombed Pearl Harbor,” or “don’t forget they were put in camp for their own protection.” Whenever Frank Emi spoke in classrooms he had to bring armloads of books and court cases to first prove the case against the camps before he could begin to talk about the Fair Play Committee. Frank Chin showed us that by staging events like the first Days of Remembrance in Seattle and Portland, we could use the media to get across the simple message that the camps were wrong, and that paved the way for the first redress bills in Congress.
While pursuing redress over the next ten years, we had to show a united front with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and others. We couldn’t muddy the argument by bringing up the cooperation of JACL leaders in the eviction from the West Coast and administration of the camps, or the resistance to the draft at Heart Mountain and other camps. Once we held the government accountable for redress in 1988, we were freed to turn to holding our own leaders accountable, a movement that climaxed with the events seen at the end of Conscience.
And are there still lingering histories of the internment which have not been told which future generations of filmmakers should uncover?
FA: It’s harder now with each passing year, but there needs to be an authoritative study of the false distinctions between loyalty and disloyalty that were forced upon us by the wartime government and internalized by our own community – the no-no’s, the renunciants and the expatriates. Whether by intent or incompetence, these expressions of dissent were driven by administrators who effectively created disloyalty, anger and alienation through the implementation of loyalty oaths and segregation of families based upon their answers.
“Conscience and the Constitution” was made more than a decade ago and you’ve remained very active in screening it and making it available in classrooms. How can we connect up the history you examine in the film, with current conversations and politics in the US?
FA: The unjust eviction and incarceration of Japanese Americans based solely on their race is the single largest precedent that inhibits the power of the federal executive to profile populations on the basis of race, ethnicity and religion. We saw that in play right after 9/11, when the knee-jerk hostility and calls for roundup of Arab Americans were tempered by the acknowledgment that America made this mistake after Pearl Harbor. As historian Eric Muller put it, our memory is a precious resource in the fight against racism and scapegoating, and it’s one to which we bear special witness.
On the cultural scene, the specific story we frame of the wartime JACL’s promotion of military service and its suppression of the Heart Mountain draft resistance has found unexpected life in actor George Takei’s legacy project, a musical called Allegiance. The show premiered last fall in San Diego with aspirations for a Broadway run, and while there are certain issues with the script, which is still in development, it has certainly kept this story in front of a national audience.
You’ve been deeply involved in Asian American culture and politics for more than three decades, as a journalist covering the community, as a founding member of the Asian American Theater Company, and as a filmmaker. What was the starting point for you and what excites you about Asian America today?
FA: Coming out of college my imagination was captured by the AIIIEEEEE! Boys: the band of young writers who first proclaimed there was such a thing as an Asian American sensibility and who proved it by recovering and republishing the works of John Okada, Louis Chu and others. It was an imaginative home I never knew I had, and the works of fiction, poetry, and theater that were created were rooted in our shared history and the excitement of rediscovering a buried past.
Today I can get annoyed by the fashionable notion in some places that we’ve moved past history, past the camps, that it’s all been said and done and we’ve moved on. Then I can get excited by the emergence of former editor Naomi Hirahara as a celebrated mystery writer who can slip in references to the Fair Play Committee; or more recently the Kaya Press translation of Lament in the Night, a gritty 1925 novella written in Japanese by an Issei who authentically captures the back alleys and bathhouses of LA’s Little Tokyo before the war in a way we’ve never seen before.
What are you working on now?
FA: We’re marketing a two-disc special edition DVD of Conscience with outtakes, extensions of the interviews and new featurettes, because there was so much great material we couldn’t fit into the hour-long film. It’s a useful resource for students to enable research of the primary interviews along with the rich database of documents we put online at PBS.org/Conscience . Next is an anthology of essays that examines the postwar resettlement of Japanese America and the world into which the resisters were thrust after serving their two years in prison. That’s another lingering history that’s not been well examined, and we’ll investigate it through the lens of writer John Okada and his foundational novel, “No-No Boy.”