150 years of documenting JA history

Umeya. courtesy of Zentoku Foundation.

Poet and author Maya Angelou is said to have said, “You can’t really know where you’re going until you know where you have been.”

These words ring true in “Paper Chase,” a documentary film that takes us on a 150-year journey of where Japanese Americans have been through the lens of the community newspapers that have served as witnesses and tellers of the Japanese American story.

Produced by the Southern California-based Zentoku Foundation and directed by Cole Koyanagi and Brett Kodama, “Paper Chase” points toward our future by taking a comprehensive look at our past as community publishers, editors, journalists and historians explain the role of newspapers such as the Nichi Bei Times, Rafu Shimpo and the Pacific Citizen throughout our history.

These are among the six remaining Nikkei vernaculars the film mentioned, including the Nichi Bei Weekly, Hokubei Hochi (North American Post), Hawai‘i Hochi / Hawai‘i Herald and the Chicago Shimpo.

“I always saw the newspaper as the glue that holds the community together whether it’s culturally, spiritually, historically and emotionally,” says Kenji G. Taguma, editor-in-chief of the Nichi Bei News. “It was the one thing that tied the community together no matter where they lived.”

Since 1895, community newspapers have reflected the people and events of the Japanese in America. “Paper Chase” reveals how the early Issei recognized a need for the immigrant population to learn about and connect with each other, and started newspapers on the mainland and in Hawai‘i to meet this need.

The film then takes us through World War II and how camp newspapers were either heavily censored or used as propaganda tools for camp administrations; it covers the post-war resettlement era, the emergence of Japanese Americans in politics and sports, the Asian American Movement of the late 1960s, and the community’s fight for redress and reparations in the late ‘70s and ‘80s.

Emotional moments like Rep. Robert Matsui and Sen. Spark Matsunaga breaking down during their redress testimonies are also featured, and reveal who we are as a people through the sharing of our history. “Paper Chase” does all this in just 53 minutes and also asks what we as a community can do in the future.

Chris Komai, former editor of the Rafu Shimpo, shared this about carrying on the legacy left by the Issei and Nisei: “The question for me is what is it we can do? Our greater Japanese American community needs to be awakened to the fact that we have to come together just to protect what our Issei ancestors created and founded, and what our Nisei recreated in the post-war. These things were given to us and it’s a great responsibility.”

For Mark Nakakihara, director and president of the Zentoku Foundation, this film and the foundation are all about passing on our stories to younger generations. “I think it’s important to preserve our stories and culture because some of our younger generations don’t realize that there is a JA culture and tradition. I think preserving these traditions will allow children years from now to say, “OK, now I know why Grandma and Grandpa did this, and those are the reasons why we want to do this because it allows us to pass these stories on to younger generations.”

So they’ll know where they’re going, without looking back.

“Paper Chase” will screen Saturday, Jan. 21, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center at 12953 Branford St., Arleta, Calif. Free admission, but pre-registration is required. Call (818) 472-3454 to register. Bento lunch available for $15.

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