In Memoriam: Henry Miyatake, visionary for redress

photo: Densho EncyclopediaHenry Miyatake did not appear in our film, but we could not have told the story of the Heart Mountain resisters without first establishing a common foundation of understanding about the underlying facts of the incarceration. And we could never have those facts acknowledged without Henry’s vision of winning an apology and compensation for constitutional violations from the U.S. government.

It’s no exaggeration to call Henry the father of Japanese American redress. In the 70s he railed against Mike Masaoka’s “Japanese American Creed” when its words were used against him by a Boeing Company manager to levy a 25 percent pay cut. He researched and wrote the “American Promise,” apologizing for and rescinding FDR’s Executive Order 9066, which was signed by President Ford in 1976. Henry oversaw production of the very first Day of Remembrance in the nation. And he conceived the innovative “Seattle Plan” for redress and reparations, the essence of which was signed a decade later by President Reagan.

Henry passed away quietly in Federal Way, WA, on September 16. But the Seattle community would not let him go without some closure, as Bob Shimabukuro expressed so well in the International Examiner, “Remembering Henry Miyatake: A man with the plan.” So we held a community memorial service for Henry on Saturday, Dec. 6, at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Hall in Seattle. I said a few words, which were preceded by clips from Henry’s video interview for the Densho Project, which you can watch with a free registration.

“Day of Remembrance and Henry’s Impact on Redress”
Saturday, December 6, 2014

photo: Eileen Yamada-LamphereWe just saw the great value of The Densho Project. Thanks to Densho we will always have Henry’s image and words to remember him by. And seeing him again, I am reminded how that man could talk. Once you got him started, look out. Like Tom said, he had to interview Henry six different times to get his whole life story.

That was part of Henry’s charm. He could talk, and this was a time when we needed people who could talk. But he was also about action.

You have to remember that in the late 70s, the very subject of the camps was open to argument in the newspaper and radio. For every one of us who just mentioned incarceration, there was a war veteran quick to remind people that we attacked Pearl Harbor, or we were put in camp for our protection.

But Henry had a vision. He created a set of flip charts, as you saw in that photo. If we’d had PowerPoint back then, Henry would have made a PowerPoint presentation. But this was the 70s, all he had was paper, and he was a brilliant engineer, so he created flip charts. And he shopped his flip charts all over town. He’d talk to any group that would listen.

I was a young kid fresh from California, and Henry was unlike any Nisei I had ever met. He was unafraid. He thought nothing of going to a Congressman like Brock Adams to get his support, or of working his connections with Governor Dan Evans, or with State Supreme Court Justice Charles Z. Smith, who we are honored to have with us today.

I met Henry through Frank Chin. Frank was writing a piece for the Seattle Weekly about Henry’s flipchart plan. Frank thought the move for redress was bold, and he wanted to help publicize it.

Now Frank was big on ideas. He said let’s call it a Day of Remembrance. His first idea was for us to recreate the eviction and form a car caravan down to the Puyallup Fairgrounds, to go down on Thanksgiving Day, and once we got there, we’d get out and all chain ourselves to the fence. He thought that would be great television.

Henry screamed that Frank was nuts. No one’s gonna go out on Thanksgiving. It had to be a family event, he said, and people want to be with their families on Thanksgiving. So between the two of them we arrived at the program you see on the poster, framed as a formal invitation for the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  And not a protest, but a family potluck.

We nailed those posters to telephone poles, just like in 1942.  Just using the words “Remember the camps / Stand for redress with your family” was touchy with a lot of people. We took the poster to Imperial Lanes, and the manager refused to let us put it up. “I have a lot of white customers here. I don’t want any trouble.”

The signs invited people to assemble in a vacant lot next to the old Seattle Pilots baseball park, where Lowe’s is now. And on the morning of Nov. 25, we were stunned when we arrived at Sick’s Stadium and found a thousand people waiting in line with cars. People were ready for this to happen.

Ben Nakagawa arranged for the use of some National Guard trucks and buses. The driver didn’t know how to get to the Puyallup Fairground, so Henry had to sit in the first vehicle as a guide. And Diana, you may not remember this but you wanted to ride up front with him. But Henry saw another friend of mine from San Francisco,. Benjamin Tong, sitting in the cargo bed of a big 6-wheel-drive Army truck. And Henry says, “How come you’re riding in this truck?” And Ben says, “I want to know how it felt to be taken to camp in a truck, I want to go through the same experience that you guys did.”

So Henry says, “Well, Diana, you ride with Dr. Tong so you can experience what we went through.” And that’s what Diana did, riding in the back of Army truck in the cold November wind, at the head of a 2-and-a-half mile-long car caravan snaking down southbound I-5. And like he said in the video, inside the cars, parents opened up to their kids for the first time. Yasuko Takezawa calls it, “the event that burst open the tomb of Japanese American history.

And every newspaper and TV station was there to see the largest gathering of Japanese Americans in one place in Seattle since, well, since World War 2. We showed we could get the media on our side. And what people had feared most, never happened. There was no white backlash. No angry mob. No “rekindling of old resentments and racism.”

Day of Remembrance made it safe for people across the country to step out of the shadow. We sparked the popular movement for redress and reparations that led ten years later to President Reagan signing the Civil Liberties Act for an apology and individual compensation. Today Days of Remembrance are an invented tradition, observed wherever Japanese Americans live.

But taking credit, being in the limelight, was never for Henry.

For one of our newsletters Karen Seriguchi interviewed Henry and asked him, “Do you see yourself as a leader?” “No, I do not,” said Henry. “I ‘m one of the ditch-diggers. Hopefully, all the others will be digging the same way.”

Henry was not there when President Ford signed his American Promise. He was not in the photo when President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act. But neither of those turning points that fundamentally changed our history would have been imaginable without the dogged persistence, the selfless commitment, and the unassuming courage of Henry Miyatake.

And that’s why we’re all here today, to remember Henry and to let his family know that as long as our voices are heard, we will never let Henry’s life and achievements be forgotten. Henry taught us to look our history in the eye, with the passion of a professor and the inescapable logic of an engineer.

Henry was a great ditch-digger. He was the conscience of our community. He was my hero, my mentor, and my friend, and I, like you, will deeply miss him.

Two imaginative works relating to Japanese Americans in WW2

September sees the emergence of two works of popular fiction, by two masters of their respective genres, that each touch on the Japanese and Japanese American experience in World War II. Both will bear watching.

Perfidia book coverFirst, you are invited to join a Facebook book discussion group I will be helping to lead Oct. 2 on the power of fiction to address Japanese American history and either uphold or distort it. We’ll find out which upon publication Sept. 9 of the new novel from the master of noir, James Ellroy.

PERFIDIA, meaning betrayal, is believed to show how race hatred grew in the 21 days after Pearl Harbor. Ellroy knows this WW2 L.A. material cold, and he brings back the perfect crooked cop, Dudley Smith, from one of my favorites, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. I’ll be joined by Edgar Award-winning mystery writer Naomi Hirahara, author of MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE and the acclaimed Mas Arai series. This is an open group so join now and then check in on Facebook on Thursday, October 2, from 6 PM to 9 PM Pacific time.

map graphicLater this month a pilot begins filming in Seattle for a proposed TV series based on an alternate history novel by science-fiction pioneer Phillip K. Dick.  THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE imagines it is 1962 and Japan occupies the West Coast, years after a successful takeover in WW2.  Instead of Japanese Americans collaborating with the U.S. government in their own incarceration, in this story resistance fighters flee the  puppet “Pacific States of America” to a safe zone in the Midwest — a kind of Fair Play Committee in reverse — while Germany makes moves on the Japanese-held territory.

The pilot is a Ridley Scott production that has bounced from BBC One to SyFy and landed at Amazon Prime. The producers are casting about for local Japanese and Japanese Americans to serve as extras for 15 days of filming in and around Seattle in September and October.  Through happenstance I was able to meet with one of the producers, who expressed her sensitivity to the wartime images the show will present (see above).

One thing about alternate histories: in a world where President-elect Franklin Roosevelt is assassinated in 1933 before he can take office, where the isolationists who follow him fail to enter WW2, where the attack on Pearl Harbor was decisive, and where the U.S. surrenders to the Axis Powers in 1947, who’s to say there was anyone to put us in camp! Still, this is one we will have to keep an eye on over the coming months.

Gordon Hirabayashi: post-play panel and a screening

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.

ACT Theater logoThis 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.

Wing Luke logoThen 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 a Q and A. Admission is free.

James Omura and Frank Emi included in new exhibits

The legacies of journalist James Omura and the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee live on in two new museum exhibits opening this month in Washington, DC and Seattle.

Newseum exhibit graphicOn May 16, the Newseum, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, opened “One Nation With News for All,” an exhibition on the origins and influence of the ethnic media in the U.S.  One section discusses free speech during WWII, specifically highlighting this photo of James Omura as the editor of Denver’s Rocky Shimpo, with this description:

Fighting for Free Speech During World War II

Omura_NewWorldDaily watermarkedShortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were forced into internment camps by the U.S. government. Despite this, the men in the camps were still called up for American military service. James Omura, editor of Denver’s Rocky Shimpo newspaper for Japanese Americans, risked jail by publishing stories about a draft resistance movement at a Wyoming internment camp. Charged with conspiracy to counsel draft evaders, Omura was acquitted on free speech grounds.

The Omura photo is also used on an interactive kiosk featuring 100 pioneering ethnic media outlets from Colonial America to today. Visitors can touch the map and find out more about those news organizations.

The mission of the Newseum in Washington, DC, is to champion the five freedoms of the First Amendment through education, information and entertainment. It blends news history with technology and hands-on exhibits. “News for All” will be on display there through Jan. 4, 2015.

in struggleThe mug shot of Frank Emi at Leavenworth is included in the program for a new exhibit in Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum  of the Asian Pacific Experience, “In Struggle: Asian American Acts of Resistance.”  We uncovered the prison mug shot in time for inclusion on the menu animation for Disc Two of our DVD.  The exhibit is on view through January 18, 2015.

in struggle

 

In memoriam: Joe Yamakido, the lone resister at Jerome

Joe Yamakido
Joe Yamakido, 1922-2014 (photo courtesy of Matt Sanchez)

Very saddened to receive news over the weekend of the passing of Joe Yamakido. Joe was a good guy. He is featured on Disc 2 of our DVD receiving a tearful hug from his daughter Laureen at the JACL apology ceremony in 2002.

Joe gave a memorable interview many years ago to Martha Nakagawa in the Pacific Citizen, about using his judo skills to fend off an attack from other inmates in federal prison. He said he knew if he were to lose his footing and go down, he would not survive.

Joe was the only Nisei to resist the draft from the camp at Jerome. It took a lot to stand up against the government, without support from one’s community. To do it completely alone, without the backing of an organized group like the one at Heart Mountain, says a lot about his character. Learn more about Joe by watching his interview archived at Densho (free registration required).

Our deepest condolences to his family and friends. Thanks to one of Joe’s grandson’s, Matt Sanchez, for sharing the news:

Mr. Abe,

My Jichan, Joe Yamakido, passed away yesterday (February 21) at the age of 91. He was the lone resister at Jerome.

What an amazing life and legacy he left behind. He taught me what it means to stand up for what you believe in. Interned unjustly along with his entire family during WWII for being nothing more than an American citizen with Japanese ancestry, he was sent to camps first at the horse tracks in Santa Anita and later in Tule Lake and then Jerome. In a show of principle, he refused to be drafted until the American government gave back his family’s Constitutional rights. He was the “lone resister” at Jerome. For his stand, he was thrown in federal prison where he escaped at least one attempt on his life. He later relocated to Montana to work on sugar beet farms and then had to reunite with his family after the war and start from scratch. As a teen, I heard the stories constantly. Even if he repeated himself, which was often, I rarely tired of hearing them. As an almost middle-aged man now, I am so grateful that he shared them with us.

My Jichan had a work ethic unequaled. He could outwork men half his age. If something was broken, he could fix it. If something needed building, he would build it. Even at 80 years old, he could be seen walking three miles to town and back or even trying to ride his bicycle. In his mind, he was still a young judoka black belt who could do anything. His gardens were his pride and joy … second only to his full head of hair. He had a sense of humor you’d never expect, but if you tried to take his candy or cookies it was at risk of your own life and limb. Seriously. For a man who went through so much, he was tender and loved his kids and grandkids dearly. He was surrounded by three generations as he passed on. He will be missed.

The Nisei generation has lost a great one. And I just wanted to pay tribute to him here.

— Matt Sanchez

Update: March 11, 2014

Day of Remembrance screening at South Seattle Community College

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:  Day of Remembrance 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:

HiroThe 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.

Video and audio of the year in review

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

Arlene Oki, Frank Abe, Yasuko Takezawa
Click on the montage to hear audio from our redress panel, featuring (L to R) Arlene Oki, Frank Abe and Yasuko Takezawa

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.”

Frank Abe and Jeanne Houston

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.

Tak Hoshizaki
Click on the image to hear audio of the panel, “Standing on Principle,” with Heart Mountain resister Tak Hoshizaki (above), Professor Tets Kashima, and author Mary Woodward

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

Fife History Museum audienceOf 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

Nagomi Tea House posterAnother 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.

Screening in Seattle with Japanese subtitles

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.
Nagomi Tea House poster

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.

Screening with panel at Fife History Museum

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:

Fife History Museum poster

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 fifehistorymuseum1957@gmail.com 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.

“Conscience” inspires Panama Hotel jazz project

doors to historic Panama HotelSeattle jazz artist Stephen Griggs is staging a series of music and spoken word concerts at the Panama Hotel Tea Room, based on the history of Japanese Americans in Seattle.  The project is inspired by the music of Oscar Holden and the novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. But he was also reading John Okada’s No-No Boy and says “the powerful feelings and stories told by Okada will influence my project.” Also this:

I want you to know that your film Conscience and the Constitution served as an inspiration for my Panama Hotel Jazz project.

So many camp stories sound conciliatory and driven by fate. This film told stories of resistance and agency. I am not of Japanese ancestry and the film’s perspectives felt less alien to me. That opened a door for me to develop my project from a stance of civil injustice which is common ground for all Americans.

Two more free concerts in the series remain, at 2pm Saturday September  14 and 21. The Panama is located at 607 South Main Street in the International District. The project is funded by the 4Culture Historic Site Specific program.

Also inspired was Rob Hellebrand, who sent a nice note along with a paper he wrote entitled, “Nisei Divided: An Account of the Fair Play Committee at the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Internment Camp.”

I have really enjoyed looking through the resources at your website. I happened to first come upon it in 1999 when I was writing a paper for a class. I knew relatively little about the internment camps and wanted to know more, and just kind of fell into the story that you told there. This was when the DVD was still in production, so I only had the documents that you uploaded to go by.

About five years later, I attended a symposium about the resisters at the University of Oregon. I remember I was at the food table and I looked up and recognized Frank Emi from sixty-year-old pictures. He seemed surprised that I would know who he was.

Thanks for getting in touch Rob.

PBS film and two hours of new bonus features on the largest organized resistance to the WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans