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→
The Tule Lake Stockade was “an instrument of terror in camp. You could be arrested with no hearing and no charge, just picked up. You didn’t know who you could talk to safely, or what to say. If you were picked up, what you said was the reason. And whoever heard that might be the inu who informed on you. This created real paranoia in camp.” Continue reading Finding the true location of the Tule Lake Stockade→
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.
For three years, Floyd Cheung of Smith College and I have been gathering pieces and building the outline for a new anthology of camp literature commissioned by the publisher of Penguin Classics. On Sunday I presented a preview of our work on translations of Issei writing in camp in Japanese, part of what the late Yuji Ichioka called “our buried past.” This video screen is cued to the start of that discussion:
“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.
Hiroshi Kashiwagi once confided that when he was young he felt his real calling was as an actor. He had the soul of a poet, modest and soft-spoken, until he got on stage. Then he could command a voice that was measured and determined, almost Shakespearean in tone. He held a strong sense of right and wrong, and pushed himself to write and to study public speaking in order to be heard. Continue reading In Memoriam: Hiroshi Kashiwagi — poet, playwright, no-no, and renunciant→
You’d never expect John Okada and the entire literature of Japanese American incarceration to be featured in the Style magazine of the New York Times … but thanks to the passionate interest of Thessaly La Force, features director for T: The New York Times Style Magazine, her deeply felt essay is now online. It will appear in print in the Sunday Times edition on November 17th.
Many thanks to Thessaly for reaching out to Shawn Wong and myself to learn more about this history, and the life and work of John Okada in particular. The literature of Japanese American incarceration is a field that JOHN OKADA co-editor Floyd Cheung and I are researching for a new anthology scheduled for 2021.
Floyd was not present, but Greg Robinson and I were, when our volume on John Okada was honored Friday with an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation.
Little news emerged in the past year from the effort to stop the fence at Tule Lake — a three-mile long airport fence that would block access to the “hallowed ground” of America’s worst concentration camp.