RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Resources aid in telling long-neglected wartime camp stories

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The other day, I checked out the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program for a look at the grants that they are giving out. I was amazed and also a little puzzled at the types of projects that are receiving these grants. When my sister and I were looking for funding for making our documentary way back in the 1990s, we had a really hard time interesting anybody in supporting our project. The National Endowment for the Humanities told us that they had already covered the subject, citing a documentary made in 1981 called “Mitsuye and Nellie.” This was the story of two Asian American poets, Mitsuye Yamada and Nellie Wong. We got a trickle of money from state humanities councils, and not much else. There were few who thought the subject of the American concentration camps was of much importance. We put in our own time and money, and were only able to complete the film with a great deal of help from friends. What kept us going was that we didn’t want to let our participants down and our personal conviction that this was important.

Today, it would seem that there is tremendous interest in the camp stories, that even seemingly small aspects are getting attention. There is a constant stream of written material and the Park Service awarded 24 grants in the 2013 fiscal year, ranging in amounts from $9,380 to $369,765. The grants are listed by states of which there were 11 and in alphabetical order. I will cite some examples to give an indication of what people are doing.

Alaska:
Recipient: City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska.
Project Title: Empty Chair
Grant Award: $80,000.
Site(s): Minidoka Relocation Center, Jerome County, Idaho and Camp Lordsburg Internment Camp, Hildalgo County, N.M.
Description: The City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska will create a memorial to honor Japanese and Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed from Juneau and sent to Camp Lordsburg (New Mexico), which was administered by the U.S Army and later to the Minidoka Relocation Center. Interviews with survivors and community members will be conducted, and educational materials will be produced relating to the wartime inmate experience.

(The largest grant) Recipient: Go For Broke National Education Center.
Project Title: Divergent Paths To a Convergent America: A 360 Degree Perspective of the Japanese American Response to WWII Incarceration.
Grant Award: $369,765.
Site(s): Multiple
Description: The Go For Broke National Education Center will plan for a permanent exhibit and accompanying Website at the Japanese American National Museum that will explore the divergent choices incarcerated Japanese Americans made. These choices included service in the military, resistance, and renunciation of U.S. citizenship. Following the planning project, the final design and installation of the exhibit will be completed through a separate funding source.

Another interesting grant Recipient: United Tribes Technical College
Project Title: Fort Lincoln Preservation and Rehabilitation
Grant Award: $45,100.
Site(s): Fort Lincoln Internment Camp, Burleigh County, N.D.
Description: United Tribes Technical College will complete a condition and feasibility assessment of two historic buildings at the former Department of Justice Fort Lincoln concentration camp for use as an educational interpretive center. The assessment will determine what is needed to bring the buildings up to current code regulations and estimate the cost of rehabilitation.

Well, as you can imagine, I was astonished by the range of the projects. Now, look where we are. They are going to install a kiosk at Nozomi Park in Ariz., a multi-use recreational park with baseball fields which will “provide an overview of the internment in Arizona, with a focus on daily life and the importance of baseball at the Gila River Relocation Center.”

Colorado Preservation Inc. will complete a visitor interpretation package for the Granada Relocation Center (Amache) which will include new wayfinding signs and podcasting tools for a driving tour, updated informational brochures, and iPods that will be made available to visitors at the Amache Museum to accompany the on-site driving tour. Almost unbelievable. You should check out the Website and see for yourself.

The thing that makes me sad is that for years, there was so little activity about digging up information and stories about our camp experience, a real lack of interest and so that the Issei died without having their ordeal acknowledged, the Nisei are also almost gone. We just won’t have the richness and complexity that this history deserves because we have neglected it for so long. And I include myself in feeling guilty that I didn’t do more.

Chizu Omori, of Oakland, is co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She can be reached at chizuomori@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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