Friday, December 14, 2012

New Articles in the Densho Encyclopedia


The Densho Encyclopedia continues to expand with more newly written articles about the Japanese American experience during World War II. In the last month, 36 articles were added to this online resource including:

>>Segregation
>>Public Law 503
>>National Council for Japanese American Redress

Paul Nagano: Singing Hymns on the Way to Camp

Paul Nagano was ordained as a Baptist minister while incarcerated at the Poston concentration camp, ministering to fellow Japanese Americans and leading ecumenical worship services in camp. In this clip, he remembers encouraging people to sing hymns on the train ride to camp. Reverend Nagano's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

>>View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt
>>Read the Densho Encyclopedia article on Paul Nagano

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fred Shiosaki: Meeting a Member of the "Lost Battalion" After the War

Fred Shiosaki served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II, including one of the campaigns, the "Rescue of the Lost Battalion." In this clip, he remembers how he felt upon meeting a soldier from the Texan battalion after the war. Fred's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

>>View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kara Kondo: Singing Christmas Carols to a Camp Guard

Kara Kondo recalls Christmas in the Heart Mountain concentration camp and singing carols underneath a guard tower. Kara's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive, and this clip is also featured in the article on Heart Mountain in Densho's new online encyclopedia of the Japanese American experience.

>>View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt
>>Read the online encyclopedia article on Heart Mountain

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Elsa Kudo: Mother's Hardships on the Journey from Peru

Elsa Kudo was born in Canete, Peru, where her parents ran a successful store. During World War II, her father was arrested, deported to the U.S., and held at the Crystal City internment camp, Texas. In this clip, Elsa, a child at the time, describes her mother's difficulties in taking her children alone to reunite with Elsa's father in Callao, Peru, before making the trip as a family to the United States. Elsa Kudo's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

First Peek at the Densho Encyclopedia: Editor's Message

We are two months away from the launch of the Densho Encyclopedia and want your feedback. We made a beta version available for viewing and testing: encyclopedia.densho.org.



Editor's Message
Brian Niiya, Content Director, Densho

The intent of this first phase of the encyclopedia is to provide a free, easy-to-use, and reliable reference work on the World War II exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans and related topics. While not a scholarly work—and not directly intended for an academic audience—we wanted it to reflect the state of scholarship in the field and to draw on the latest research.

I selected the headwords by reviewing some of the major overview works on the Japanese American World War II experience and extracting concepts that seemed to recur in them. These included some topics related to the Japanese American experience prior to the war, since it is generally accepted now that one cannot understand the World War II period without understanding what came before. Recent overview works also cover what happened to Japanese Americans in the early postwar years as individuals and communities struggled to rebuild their lives and also cover the movement for redress and reparations that culminated with the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. So topics related to those general time periods are also a part of this encyclopedia

But beyond these basic topics—topics that one cannot really tell the story of the Japanese American World War II experience without—I also wanted to include a range of other topics that scholars have explored in recent years. Thus, I looked at the wide range of books and academic journal articles old and new—and also drew from the topics covered in print reference books including the Japanese American encyclopedia I edited for the Japanese American National Museum some twenty years ago—to select other headwords. The advisors to the project also contributed their ideas and comments as did the various authors. But whether these were the core topics or more secondary ones, the idea is that any of the topics included in this first phase of the encyclopedia could be written purely based on secondary sources.

There are a couple of specific categories of topics I wanted to discuss a bit further. One are the sites of incarceration themselves—the ten War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps (the "Big 10" as they are informally referred to in the Densho office), the so-called "assembly centers," and the confusing array of other camps run by the army, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and other entities for holding interned enemy aliens, dissidents from the WRA camps, and others. Since Densho had previously done a project titled "Sites of Shame" (SoS) a few years back that included information on a large number of these camps, we decided to import that information into the encyclopedia and create entries for each of the sites covered in SoS. I directed the authors of these entries—who are often people involved with the preservation of the sites today—to write not only about the World War II period, but also about the sites before the war and about any contemporary efforts to preserve, memorialize, or interpret the sites. Some of these articles are very brief—and need authors—since there has been little research on some of the individual camps. But over time, we hope to expand these "camp" articles with your help. And, yes, we do know that the list of camps covered in SoS is incomplete. For instance, a recently commissioned Special Resource Study by the National Park Service involves the exploration of thirteen sites just in Hawai'i; of those thirteen, just two are included in SoS and thus in this encyclopedia. Over time, we hope to add as many of these other sites as we can.

The other category of topics I wanted to expand upon a bit are the biographies. The main criterion for the biographical entries are individuals who have been the subject of scholarly inquiry, whether non-Japanese Americans who played some role in the story of exclusion and incarceration or Japanese Americans themselves. In addition to scholarly works, I also mined mainstream biographical books aimed at a general audience, such as Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation. Beyond there being some reliable body of literature on these individuals, I also made the decision to limit the biographical entries in this first phase of the encyclopedia to those who were old enough to have played some direct role in the incarceration story, as opposed to the many who were incarcerated as children and whose subsequent lives may have been shaped by that experience. Thus, there is an article on Yuri Kochiyama, but not one on Richard Aoki, to name two Japanese Americans who have been the subjects of recent academic biographies. The exception to this are younger individuals who played some role in the redress movement, such as Robert Matsui.

I should also mention the support of a grant from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Fund (CCLPEF). After the first set of headwords were selected, we received funding from CCLPEF for some additional articles about the California experience that we would not otherwise have done. Many kinds of topics may have relevance to California, which did after all have the largest Japanese American population of the 48 states in 1942; however topics that were specific to California were harder to generate. A large number of the added entries ended up being biographical, whether of individuals from California or whose life's work took place there. There are also some more fully developed articles on army or INS camps in California (which I know somewhat violates my earlier assertion that all entries could be written from secondary sources), a few legal cases based in California, and organizations based there. But this additional funding is a good part of the reason why there may be an overrepresentation of biographical figures having to do with California.

I should also mention the advisory committee for the encyclopedia and explain their role. In addition to providing input into the selection of headwords, I've also asked them review some of the articles in their areas of expertise and to make suggestions for revisions. While I have mostly taken their advice, I have in the end made the final decisions on what to include and what not to include and in the particular way the entries are edited. So you should not blame them for any deficiencies or disagreements you have with the entries and their selection. I do owe them many thanks for their frank advice and encouragement and for their direct contributions to the encyclopedia as well.

Also owed many thanks are the Densho staff: Dana Hoshide and Caitlin Oiye for selection of primary sources and copyediting, Virginia Yamada for grant management, Geoff Jost for doing the technical stuff that I don't understand, Geoff Froh for the overall project management, and Tom Ikeda for the ultimate oversight and conception of the project. The group has been genuinely a pleasure to work with—though perhaps this is because I am working from Honolulu they are mostly in Seattle! At any rate, what you see is truly a team effort.

I'd also like to acknowledge the many authors who have written one or many articles for the encyclopedia. Of course this work wouldn't have been possible without their specific expertise, adherence to deadlines (at least some of them), and openness to revision and editing.

Having worked mostly in print in the past, I find the online format both a blessing and a curse. A print encyclopedia is out of date the day it is published. In the interim between submitting a final manuscript and holding the finished book in your hands, inevitably, someone has passed away, some new article has changed the way we understand some topic, some new book has brought to light some event no one knew about before. The great advantage of the online format is that it is easy to update and to keep current. Theoretically, this encyclopedia will never be out of date. This is the blessing. On the other hand, knowing that your job was done once a book goes to print brings a sense of finality, and you can safely move on to the next project. With an online project, your work is in a sense never finished; you can never put your feet up and say, "this is it." That is the curse. I have resigned myself to having this encyclopedia be a part of my job for as long as it—or I—live/s.

But I wouldn't have it any other way. I thank Densho and its funders and supporters for the opportunity to work on this project and look forward to refining and expanding it over the next few years with your help and participation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jim Hirabayashi (1926-2012)

Jim Hirabayashi, who passed away peacefully last week at age 85, lived a remarkable life filled with accomplishment and governed by principle, a word everyone who knew him seemed to use.

He grew up in a rural largely Japanese American setting in the valley between Auburn and Kent, Washington, one of five children of Japanese immigrants who farmed and later ran a country grocery store. As a young man, Jim became enamored with baseball, an interest that would endure throughout his life. With his family, he was incarcerated at the Pinedale Assembly Center in Fresno, then at Tule Lake. (His oldest brother, Gordon, famously did not accompany the family to the concentration camps.) After the war, he returned to Washington, attending the University of Washington, then decided to pursue an academic career, getting a Fullbright fellowship to do fieldwork in a village in Nagano prefecture and eventually ending up getting a Ph.D. in anthropology at Harvard.

Married and with two children by then, he took a job at San Francisco State University in 1959 and stayed there for some thirty years. He was the second Nisei faculty member at SF State, the first being S.I. Hayakawa, who was friendly, but who later became an ideological opponent. Jim became one of the founding fathers of ethnic studies, marching with students in the strike that led to the founding of the country’s first ethnic studies department, eventually becoming dean of that department. He later became chair of the anthropology department and dean of undergraduate studies, in between teaching and research, including two lengthy stays in Africa that influenced his embrace of ethnic studies.

I first met Jim in the late 1980s when he was hired as the chief curator of the Japanese American National Museum before it opened to the public. Despite his impressive resume and stern look, he had a disarming wit, a refreshing lack of pretension, and inclusive, team-building style. He valued other people’s views, didn’t pull rank, and treated subordinates well. His intellectual framework--his insistence that the importance of a place like JANM was that it allowed Japanese Americans to tell their story in the way they wanted to tell it, as opposed to having someone else tell it--became a key in shaping that institution’s philosophy and future direction. So for those of us interested in Japanese American studies, Jim played a critical--and largely behind the scenes--role in the founding of both Asian American studies, where most of the academic research on Japanese Americans over the past forty years has come from, and in establishing arguably the most important institution of the past fifty years in interpreting the Japanese American story to the general public. For these contributions, we owe him a great debt.

In between, he continued to play softball into his 60s, seriously pursued acting and the performing arts (he used to complain about being typecast playing grouchy Issei characters, but I think he enjoyed those roles!), and raising a young daughter years after his first two children had grown up. (“I like to space my kids,” he would deadpan about the nearly forty year age gap between his children.) He also cherished collaborating with his son Lane on various academic projects, the most recent being an edited volume of Gordon Hirabayashi’s wartime diaries and letters forthcoming from the University of Washington Press.

We used to have  number of running jokes between us. One was a mock “debate” on the relative merits of the Nisei versus the Sansei. As a proud member of the latter group--one I argued had been unjustly neglected in history because of the overweening influence of the former--he defended the honor of his generation, usually by pointing out the inability of the typical Sansei to use tools, garden, kill chickens, or have other skills honed in a rural depression era upbringing. (I countered with a specific Nisei’s inability to use a computer well.) But at the same time, he was in some ways more “Sansei” than “Nisei,” if Nisei were indeed the “quiet Americans.” In his courageous stand for ethnic studies at San Francisco State, he stood mainly with Sansei and other younger people against another Nisei--the college’s president, Hayakawa. His pursuit of an academic career and his marriages to non-Japanese American women at a time that was very rare, and his later love of acting were all highly atypical of his generational peers and much more common among Sansei. He was very much ahead of his time in many ways.

I extend my sympathies to Lane, Jan, Tai-Lan, and the extended family. But even in sadness, I can’t help but smile when I think of Jim and his love of life, gentle and self-deprecating humor, and firm commitment to his principles. The world will be poorer for his passing.

--Brian Niiya, Content Director, Densho

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt from Densho's 2008 interview with Jim Hirabayashi

Monday, April 9, 2012

Richard E. Yamashiro: Witnessing the "Manzanar Riot"

Richard Yamashiro was a teenager during World War II. While in the Manzanar concentration camp, he remembers the dissent surrounding supporters of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) who were called the derogatory term inu, or "dog" in Japanese. They were accused of collaborating with the U.S. government and camp administration. In December of 1942, violence broke out at Manzanar when several JACL members were beaten up and those accused of the incident were held in the camp's jail. A large crowd gathered, including Richard Yamashiro, and in this clip he recalls observing the standoff between the Japanese Americans and the military police. Richard Yamashiro's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Archie Miyatake: Father Avoids Photography Restriction in Camp

Toyo Miyatake, well-known Issei photographer, received permission to take photographs at the Manzanar concentration camp, California. However, because of War Relocation Authority rules, Toyo was allowed to set up the shot, but then only a white photographer could actually take the picture. In this clip, Toyo's son Archie tells the story of how his father managed to get around this restriction. Archie Miyatake's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Monday, February 13, 2012

Terminology Redux

Since it had been a while, the Densho staff took some time to review our terminology policy and the “A Note on Terminology” statement on our website. Issues on terminology in general go back at least to the 1970s, when a series of landmark articles by Raymond Okamura noted the euphemistic quality of the official terms used by the government to describe the “relocation” of Japanese American aliens and “non-aliens” during World War II to “relocation centers,” all of which connoted a benign process undertaken for the benefit of the “evacuees,” “residents,” and “colonists.” Since that time, the Japanese American community has pushed to enforce the use of more fitting terminology: “mass forced removal,” “exclusion,” “inmates,” and so forth with various levels of success. There were notable battles over the use of the term “concentration camp” in the historical markers at Manzanar and Tule Lake in the 1970s and another waged by the Japanese American National Museum in 1990s when they took their “America’s Concentration Camps” exhibition on the road. In recent years, an effort called “The Power of Words” has taken on the terminology issue anew.

At Densho, the terminology policy and statement was put together when the organization started in the 1990s. When we reviewed it, we found that little really needed to be changed. The policy mostly points out the euphemistic terminology that had once been used and recommends that it not be used any longer except as part of a direct quote or when trying to make a point about the terms themselves. It also explains the distinction between “internment” and “internment camps” and what was done to the vast majority of Japanese Americans, cautioning about the proper usage of these terms. For the most part, the policy doesn’t state that this or that term must be used, as opposed to pointing out which terms should not be used or should be used with great caution.

The policy did indicate a preference for referring to both the temporary and longer-term camps in which Japanese Americans removed from their West Coast homes were held. Because no alternative term has come to be widely accepted, we had decided to use the euphemistic term “assembly center”—in quotes when referred to by itself and in capital letters when used as part of a proper noun, e.g. “Pomona Assembly Center.” For the long-term camps run by the War Relocation Authority, we had decided to use “incarceration camp” internally (most notably in the tagging of items in our archive) in part to stay away from any controversy that surrounded the use of the term “concentration camp.” We had hoped that that term would eventually be one that would become more widely used in the community.

This is the one thing we did decide to change. Since the term “incarceration camp” has not caught on the last decade plus—we seem to be the only ones using it—we have decided to go with “concentration camp” as our preferred term and the one that we will use internally. As before our “Note on Terminology” won’t be prescriptive—as in everyone connected with Densho must use it all the time—but it will move to the top of the list of the terms we prefer. We did decide to keep the policy on “assembly centers” even while recognizing the inconsistency (“Turlock Assembly Center” versus “Gila River concentration camp”) between the ways we refer to these two types of camps.

What are your thoughts on this change and on the terminology issue in general? Is there something else that we need to consider? Is there any good reason not to do this? We’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Disappointing Comparison during the 70th Anniversary of EO9066

From Densho's Executive Director, Tom Ikeda:

In 2008 I voted for President Obama hoping for comparisons with Franklin D Roosevelt, a Democratic President who entered office amid a financial crisis and who used the federal government to help working people find and keep jobs. However, I did not expect or want my comparison to extend to FDR's signing 70 years ago of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the military round-up and removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast. On December 31, 2011, after expressing some misgivings, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (the annual defense budget) with a provision that allows the President to authorize the military to imprison civilians indefinitely anywhere in the world, including American citizens, without charging or putting them on trial.

Although President Obama states he will not indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without a trial, by his authorization of the NDAA he has made it easier for future administrations to do so. Furthermore, any protections granted to an American citizen may be sidestepped if current legislation, the "Enemy Expatriation Act," making its way through Congress is passed and signed into law. This legislation would allow the government to strip citizenship from Americans "engaging in or supporting hostilities against the United States." It does not seem farfetched to imagine that criticism of our country's fight against terrorism or a contribution to a Muslim charity will one day be used as a reason to exile an American.

Join a conversation about the NDAA and Enemy Expatriation Act on Densho's Facebook page and let me know what you think. Or you can email me directly with your thoughts at [email protected].

Jim Matsuoka: An Unpleasant School Assembly in Camp

Jim Matsuoka was grade school age when he and his family were sent to the Manzanar incarceration camp, California. In this clip, he remembers feeling upset by a speech made by a school principal during a camp school assembly. Jim Matsuoka's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Terrorism, 1945 Style

One of the articles I’ve been working on for the Densho Encyclopedia on and off is a piece on the terroristic incidents that greeted the first Nisei to return to the West Coast in the early months of 1945. I had remembered reading a bit about houses being burned down, shots fired, and the like and wanted to have a short piece on that mostly forgotten topic.

In looking at the secondary literature, I was surprised to find that very few authors did more than touch on this subject. The book that devotes the most space to this topic, Audrie Girdner and Anne Loftis’s The Great Betrayal, was published over forty years ago and is itself largely forgotten. (Girdner and Loftis’s book was published in 1969, the same year as much more famous books by Bill Hosokawa and Harry Kitano.) Many subsequent books cite the stories told in The Great Betrayal.

Since the JACL has been putting digitized back issues of the Pacific Citizen online, I decided to take a look at the PC through 1945 to see how they covered these incidents. It was quite an eye-opener.

A little context: Despite growing support for the allowing “loyal” Japanese Americans to return to the West Coast among various parts of the federal government, this allowance was withheld for many months due to opposition from other sectors of the federal government and to the Roosevelt administration’s desire to table this politically unpopular issue until after the November 1944 elections. Literally hours after that election, plans were in place to open up the West Coast to Japanese Americans by the beginning of January of 1945.

To say that there was opposition to the return of the Nikkei to the West Coast is an understatement. One would think that the removal of all Japanese Americans from the West Coast would have quelled anti-Japanese sentiment for a while, and perhaps it did for a little while. But by 1943, there was renewed agitation, driven by a variety of factors including reports of unrest at some of the camps as well as the supposed “coddling” of the Nikkei, continuing reports of atrocities committed by Japanese troops in Asia, and economic interests on the coast that were benefitting from the absence of Japanese Americans, among many other factors. By 1943, seemingly dozens of new anti-Japanese organizations had sprung up to join the old ones and they competed with each other to put out more outrageous resolutions proposing to not allow Japanese Americans back to the coast, to strip Nisei of their citizenship, to deport all Issei, and so forth, with the apparent support of leading politicians and much of the population.

So it wasn’t a big surprise when one of the first families to return after the West Coast was officially opened up, the Dois of Placer County, California, saw the attempted dynamiting and burning of their packing shed as well as shots fired on their property, all while two of the Doi brothers were serving in the U.S. Army. Four locals were caught soon thereafter and were put on trial for arson and “attempted dynamiting.” One of the men subsequently confessed and implicated the others. Despite there being little doubt about their guilt, their defense attorney chose not to present any evidence of their innocence, instead using a white supremacy defense replete with references to the Japanese American disloyalty and the Bataan Death March, as if to say, “can you blame these people for their actions”? The jury agreed: after two hours of deliberations, all were acquitted.

Meanwhile, one incident after another took place. Three shotgun blasts into a Fowler home on February 10, another in Fresno on February 16, a home burned down in Selma. Shots fired into homes in Visalia and Lancaster on February 26, the Buddhist Temple in Delano burned down in February 27 followed by the Delano Japanese school going up in flames on March 11. A home outside of San Jose is set on fire on the night of March 6; when the family rushes outside to put out the fire, they are fired upon by a passing car.

There is a surreal element to the PC during this time. Each seemingly contains just two types of stories: stories about the exploits of the 442nd in Europe, replete with heroism and tragedy and stories about these terrorist incidents, with details about bullets missing sleeping children by inches and how many of the victimized are returning Nisei war veterans. It’s hard to imagine what was going through the minds of those planning on returning to the West Coast or those considering it. Would you want to return to this?

By the summer, a couple of things had started to happen. Aside from the Doi case, arrests had been almost non-existent. To their credit, most state and federal officials—including some who had led the call for mass removal—decried the violence and called on local officials to step up their investigations. California Attorney General Robert Kenney went so far as to send a state “special agent” to the central valley to “assist” local law enforcement in their investigations and offered a monetary reward (put up by the ACLU) for any arrest and conviction of perpetrators. In the summer, a spate of newspaper editorials from around the country decried the violence, nearly all of them citing the parallels with Nazi Germany and making some version of the “is this what we are fighting for?” argument. Some local groups in the affected communities went out of their way to assist returning Nikkei. By June, a couple of arrests had been made in other cases, and in the fall, the Doi defendants were back on trial on federal charges. By the end of 1945, these terror incidents had dwindled—though did not stop entirely—and the attention of the vernacular press turned elsewhere.

Though a small footnote to the larger story of forced removal and incarceration, the story of these terroristic incidents is instructive. It is a story of how rhetoric, if left unchecked, can quickly turn to violence that is largely sanctioned by the community. It is also a story of how quickly that violence and much of the negative sentiment can be counteracted by decisive governmental action, which raises the question of what might have happened if the government had taken such action in early 1942 instead of mid-1945.

It is also a reminder of what Japanese Americans faced after camp in 1945, even as the war was coming to an end. Amazingly, it appears that no Japanese Americans were killed or seriously injured in the dozens of incidents that took place in 1945. (There are accounts in the PC of Chinese and Filipino Americans who were beaten up and a Chinese American stabbed by war workers after being mistaken for being “Japanese.” There were also a couple of Nikkei who were murdered in robbery cases that didn’t have obvious racial overtones.) But it’s hard to imagine that this “welcome” back to the coast didn’t leave scars of a different kind on those who experienced it.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Gordon Hirabayashi: Receiving Support from Mother for Wartime Stand

During World War II, Gordon Hirabayashi defied the curfew and removal orders being enforced against Japanese on the West Coast. He turned himself in to the FBI, was found guilty, and served time for violating the curfew order and failing to report for "evacuation." In 1943 the Supreme Court upheld his convictions. In 1986, his case was reopened and his convictions surrounding the incarceration were vacated by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing in part that, "racial bias was the cornerstone of the internment orders." In this clip, Gordon describes how he felt upon receiving a letter from his mother who was in the Tule Lake incarceration camp. Gordon Hirabaysahi's full interview is available in the Densho Digital Archive.

View the Archive Spotlight interview excerpt