As time goes by, I am struck by the enduring interest in the WWII Japanese American concentration camp experience. I am still writing an occasional book review for an Asian American newspaper in Seattle, the International Examiner, and the books usually have some connection to the camps. For instance, the last two books I’ve been asked to review are “Moving Images: Photography and the Japanese American Incarceration” by Jasmine Alinder and “Hiroshima in the Morning” by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto. They just came out, and each is interesting and absorbing in what they have to reveal about the camps.
“Moving Images” exposes the use of photography by the government at that time for assorted propaganda purposes, which we who have searched through the archives could clearly see. But in examining the work of three prominent photographers who are considered artists — Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams and Toyo Miyatake — Alinder goes deep into philosophical and psychological questions about the impact of pictures to influence the way we feel about the subject matter. By strictly controlling what could be photographed, and in the case of the War Relocation Authority’s captioning of its photos, the government only allowed its version of the story to be told and represented to the outside world.
“Hiroshima in the Morning” would not, at first, seem to be a camp book. However, Rizzuto, who says she is pursuing the story of the hibakushas, has continued to follow her interest in the camps because she wants to know about the Nikkei who were stranded in Japan during the war, and also the Nikkei who returned or were sent to Japan either during or after the war because they chose to go or were deported.
I think this persistence in the research and exploration about various aspects of the experience points to the fact that a really terrible thing was done to Japanese America, and that talking and writing about it was difficult and muffled for so long. It seems like an underground river that flowed silently for a long time, and finally came up and out into the open.
My friend Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga has written a concise piece on questions about terminology used about the camps. “Words Can Lie or Clarify: Terminology of the World War II Incarceration of Japanese Americans” deals with many of the conflicts which have arisen over the use of euphemisms and other dodgy terms to define that history. Herzig-Yoshinaga is a major researcher and her conclusions are really important for our community. Her essay can be found at the Discover Nikkei Website (www.discovernikkei.org/en/journal/article/3246) and at the National Park Service Tule Lake Website.
Which brings me to the Cherry Blossom Alumnae’s conference “Internment’s Impact on Generations of Japanese Americans.” I laud Gail Tanaka’s efforts to continue examining the subject and involving her organization in thinking about it. But I am also reminded of the fissures in our community due to the incarceration and how difficult it is to have conversations and dialogue. So, I conclude that the pain and anger and anguish resulting from the experience are so deep and great that there are some persons who are still not willing to think about it.
But for those who want to find out more, there are several recently published books that are well worth reading. And I am putting in shameless plugs for these books because they are written by friends. First, there’s Nichi Bei Weekly’s own Greg Robinson’s “A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America”; next, Eric Muller’s “American Inquisition: The Hunt for Japanese American Disloyalty in World War II”; and then, Louis Fiset’s “Camp Harmony: Seattle’s Japanese Americans and the Puyallup Assembly Center.” All are really terrific.
And then, just today, an order for our documentary, “Rabbit in the Moon,” came from Brandeis University. I receive several orders a week, usually from educational institutions, so the Rabbit rambles on, after 10 years of being around.
Chizu Omori is the co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She writes from San Francisco, and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.