Monday, June 29, 2009

Exhibition of Note

An art show we wish we could see in Seattle is a retrospective of work by Densho's friend Roger Shimomura, master of skewering racist stereotypes. The Return of the Yellow Peril is on display at the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas. Roger sent us a news article that contains some dismaying comments about the Japanese American camps. See the usual complaints about "whiners," false comparisons to Japan's treatment of American prisoners of war, and assertions that it was for their own protection. Here's an example:

"What about all the American sailors that were incinerated by the sucker punch attack at Pearl Harbor? Is that the following story to give a little balance?

Muslims also love the fact that we're so extremely liberal by punishing ourselves for imagined crimes. It is our undoing..."

Thank goodness other commenters lamented the bigotry and pointed to that little thing called the Constitution. Once again we are reminded that Densho has work to do.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Interviews in Minneapolis by Tom

The Twin Cities Chapter of the JACL welcomed us last week with a Monday potluck dinner. This was a fun evening of eating homemade Japanese food, talking with the Chapter oral history committee, and getting to know better the men and women we would be interviewing in the following days. My favorite food was the homemade mochi that interviewee Helen Tsuchiya made for the group!

Below are a few tidbits about the interviews I did on this trip.

On Tuesday morning I started my interviewing with Yo Matsumoto. Yo grew up in the San Diego area and was going to UC Berkeley when the war started. Yo was sent to the Tanforan “assembly center” and was one of a few Nisei selected for early release to attend school at Washington University in St. Louis. After serving in the army in Europe, Yo joined his family in Detroit and then relocated to St. Paul as an engineer with the 3M Company.

Tuesday afternoon I interviewed Joe Uemura. Joe grew up in Denver where his father was the long-time minister of the Japanese Methodist Church. Joe recounts being the son of a minister and the frightening story of the stained glass windows of the church being shattered by vigilantes during the days following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Joe also describes the many families that lived at the church during and after the war while trying to find a place to resettle.

Noon Wednesday I interviewed Yosh Matsuura. Yosh grew up in Fowler, California. As successful farmers, Yosh’s family suffered big losses when they were removed to the Gila River camp. Yosh was able to leave Gila River for Minneapolis to join the National Youth Administration (NYA) training program. A few days after arriving for the program the government expelled all Nisei youth and had them fend for themselves without room and board. Yosh was able to find employment and then was drafted into the army where he served with the Military Intelligence Service.

Wednesday evening I interviewed George Yoshino. George grew up on a farm in Bellevue, Washington. One of the jobs that George had after graduating from high school was oyster farming in the Puget Sound. George and his family were removed to Pinedale and then to Tule Lake after the war started. George described going out on temporary work crews from the camps with Issei men working on the railroad and on farms. George later served in the MIS.

Noon Thursday I interviewed Harry Umeda. Harry was the oldest interviewee I had on this trip at 94 years old. Harry grew up in the Sacramento area and was drafted into the army before WWII started. He talked about how the Nisei soldiers were segregated after the war started and how he eventually joined the MIS. Harry told gut wrenching stories about interviewing half-starved Japanese POWs in New Guinea.

At the end of Thursday we packed our gear and the very tired Densho crew of Megan Asaka, Dana Hoshide and I caught a flight back to Seattle.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Minneapolis interviews

Tom, Dana, and I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Minneapolis/St. Paul. The 10 interviews we conducted offered great insight into this significant, though lesser-known, community in the Midwest. The Twin Cities was the site of the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) language school at Ft. Snelling and drew thousands of Japanese Americans to the region during World War II. Many came to Minneapolis from camp, joining their sons and brothers who were recruited for language and intelligence training. Originally from California's central valley and incarcerated in Gila River, Helen Tsuchiya followed her brother to Minneapolis in 1943 and was joined by her Issei parents when the camps closed in 1945. Helen's family, like many, decided to remain in Minneapolis after the war because they had nothing left in California.

Others, like Mary Yoshida, came to the Twin Cities with no direct connection to Ft. Snelling. Mary answered a newspaper advertisement and worked as a domestic for a wealthy Minneapolis family while she saved up money to return to college. After college, Mary became a social worker for the YWCA and organized activities for teenagers around the city. Yet, the language school still influenced her life, as she and her Nisei friends would attend weekly dances with the MIS soldiers. In fact, that is how she first met her husband.

Many of the Minneapolis narrators also came from farming backgrounds. Helen's family operated a grape farm in Parlier, California, while Mary's family was involved with truck farming in Medford, Oregon. The Alien Land Laws prevented Japanese immigrants (who were also ineligible for citizenship) from owning property, leaving Issei farmers with no legal protection. Bill Hirabayashi recounted his family's 1920s court battle against the State of Washington, which later went to the Supreme Court, over land purchased by White River Gardens, a corporation formed by three Japanese American families in Thomas, Washington. Even though the Issei founders placed the property in the name of their eldest Nisei child (a U.S. citizen), the court still found the families in violation of the Alien Land Law and confiscated the land. Bill, younger brother of Grant Hirabayashi (interviewed by Densho in 2006), also talked about his childhood growing up in Thomas, Washington and resettling to Minneapolis after WWII. Like Helen, Mary, and other narrators, Bill told us that his family never returned to the West Coast because they lost their farm, home, and livelihood during the war.

In total, we interviewed 10 people and recorded over 17 hours of footage. Stay tuned for a recap of Tom's interviews.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

And now...Minnesota

The Densho interview team is on the move again. This week they headed for the Midwest to collect life stories of Nisei who chose to make Minnesota their home after the World War II incarceration. Tom, Dana, and Megan have set up a studio in Minneapolis and are working with the Twin Cities JACL chapter, who recruited good interviewees to document their community's history.

We hear interviewing is going smoothly, and the Minnesotans are making our Seattle crew feel at home. Densho staffers will report details. In the meantime, here are photos of a yard sale the Minneapolis folks held to raise money for recording the digital interviews. True grassroots fundraising!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Beginning our Summer Interview Trips

We’ve started our summer interview trips which means I will be on the road more than I am in the office. Last week a Densho team (Dana Hoshide, Megan Asaka, and I) were in Honolulu to do six interviews.

My first interview was with Muriel Chiyo Tanaka Onishi. Muriel is a Nisei who finished high school on Oahu and was going to college in Japan when the war started. Her mother who was the principal of a Japanese Language School on Oahu was picked up by the FBI and incarcerated at the Crystal City DOJ camp. Her brother joined the US Military Intelligence Service and served in the Pacific.
Because of Muriel’s bilingual skills she was “recruited” to help the Japanese Military by listening to American radio reports and writing down in Japanese what she heard. She did this with a small group of Nisei who were also visiting or attending school in Japan when the war started. She talks about how she talked with the other Nisei about how “horrible” it was to have to do this type of work.

My second interview was with James Nakano. He talked about how his family was removed from Honolulu to the Jerome, Arkansas camp to join his father who was picked up by the FBI in Honolulu after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. James is the brother of Bert Nakano who was a Redress activist. James talked about how Bert and he would often get into disagreements with mainland Japanese Americans because of the differences between the Hawaii boys and the “Kotonks.” The family later moved to the Tule Lake camp, where his father was then sent off to the Santa Fe camp while his mother was sick in the hospital after delivering a baby girl. James talks about how Bert and James, as teenage boys, had to quickly figure out how to take care of their newborn baby sister.

My third interview was with Paul Yempuku, the longtime publisher and president of the Hawaii Hochi, the bilingual newspaper in Honlolulu. Paul was born in Hawaii and then at six, went to Japan with his family to attend school. He talked about being a teenage boy who had to work in a Japanese weapons factory making parts for submarines while American bombs were dropping. He lived through difficult living conditions, never getting enough to eat and seeing the devastation of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima only days after it was dropped. He also talked about a dramatic family reunion with his oldest brother who served with the US Counter Intelligence Corp right after the end of the war.

Over the next few weeks we will be doing dozens of interviews in Hawaii, Minnesota, Washington and California.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Nisei Students Help Others

We're pleased to share a positive news story today. Teresa Watanabe's June 6 article in the Los Angeles Times serves as antidote to sad reports of college students having to drop out as tuition rises and student loans shrink. Fred Hoshiyama, a 94-year-old Nisei from Culver City, is helping Chimchanbo Uk, an 18-year-old Cambodian native, get through college. Fred donates to the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund along with other Japanese Americans who left incarceration camps to attend college through the intervention of the American Friends Service Committee.

Talk about giving back. Since its founding in 1980, the Nisei commemorative fund has made over $.5 million in scholarships to Southeast Asian students. Watanabe reports, "With stories of Vietnamese boat people filling the news at the time, the founders proposed that the fund help Southeast Asians displaced by war rather than their own relatively assimilated and economically comfortable community." Charity begets charity. Scholarship recipient Chimchanbo Uk wants to advance opportunities for others by working for the United Nations after graduation.