RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Symposium to address Japanese American community’s fractures

bioline_Chizu Omori

I am excited about a program that is being presented at the Presidio as part of the “Then They Came For Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans During WWII and the Demise of Civil Liberties” exhibit, which features pictures of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans. If you don’t know about this exhibit, or haven’t visited yet, the good news is that the exhibit has been extended to Sept. 1, so there are another few months to go to see it. The photos are by Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake, and assorted other photographers. The exhibit is very well organized and the photos are stunning.

The particular program that I am talking about is called “A Community Fractured: Compliance and Resistance,” which will be held Saturday, May 11 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 100 Montgomery St. in the San Francisco Presidio. It will be about how the Japanese American community was confronted with very huge choices that had long-term effects on everyone’s life. There were divisions within the community from prewar times, but these divisions were the usual ones that most immigrant communities confront: between the older, immigrant parents and the younger generations who are becoming Americans.

image by David Izu

Being thrown into camps at this point in their lives exerted huge pressures on everyone, as you can imagine, and the government was quick to take advantage of the tensions to control the inmates of those camps. Long-time rivalries, personality clashes, and differences in outlook were rubbed raw in that crowded, strange environment, all spilling over into fights over political power and other arenas.

How all this played out in our history is the subject of this program. We have some great panelists: John Tateishi, who launched the Japanese American Citizens League redress campaign in 1978, and was JACL National Director when it challenged the U.S. government’s targeting of Muslim and Arab communities; Professor Emeritus Arthur Hansen, who taught Asian American Studies at California State University at Fullerton; Professor Alice Yang, who teaches history at University of California Santa Cruz, including courses on Asian American history; Takashi Hoshizaki, who is one the Heart Mountain draft resisters who challenged the government’s right to draft men into the army out of a concentration camp; lawyer Robert Rusky who worked on the coram nobis cases in the 1980s that resulted in the reversal of the Korematsu and Hirabayashi decisions; Barbara Takei, who is on the board of the Tule Lake Committee and is writing a book on the former concentration camp; Kimiko Marr, activist and leader of pilgrimages to many of the campsites; and Susan Hayase, activist in San Jose who was involved in the Redress Movement with National Coalition for Redress/Reparations.

We will end with an example of JA activism today with a showing of film from the Crystal City Pilgrimage and demonstration at Dilley, Texas, the largest of the detention centers holding families who are asylum seekers.

It is a lot to cover, but the most important part of the discussion will be how much resistance was shown by the people in the camps. We have found many documents that illustrate the many forms of active resistance, how many tried to fight the authorities by going through all the proper channels, writing and sending petitions, protesting poor work and living conditions, asking for meetings with officials to present their grievances, participating in what passed for “democratic” elections to councils and governing bodies to help run the blocks and camps, only to find that they really had little control over their lives.

The drafting of sons into the army was particularly contentious, and the many petitions and statements show that these people who had lost everything, incarcerated and trapped in these camps felt that it was unfair that they were told to give up their sons to fight for a country which had betrayed them.

The program then covers the postwar period through redress and ends with some film clips from the recent pilgrimage to Crystal City and the demonstration at Dilley, the country’s largest detention center for families seeking asylum. Our banners, our thousands of paper cranes, our shout-outs and words of encouragement went out, we hope, to those people who are now incarcerated in camps that are very much like the ones we were forced into. It’s an eerie parallel.

I’d like to invite everybody to come to the Presidio and hear our panelists talk about these subjects, and join in the discussion.

The event is free. Event organizers request that attendees RSVP. A bento lunch can be pre-ordered for $13. Scholarships for the symposium available upon request.

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

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