This weekend, a group of scholars working on World War II Japanese American incarceration history convened in Seattle for a roundtable event hosted by Densho and co-convened by Eric Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law. Here, Densho content director Brian Niiya recounts the origins of this event and some of the weekend’s highlights.
Minoru “Min” Yasui was one of four Japanese Americans who fought the legality of exclusion and/or detention during World War II all the way to the Supreme Court. While he is best known for his own legal battle, Yasui remained deeply committed to advancing civil rights and justice until his death in 1986. In November 2015, he was posthumously awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his actions. On the October 19, 2016 centennial anniversary of his birth, we take a moment to honor Yasui’s life and legacy.
During WWII, Japanese Americans were stripped of many civil rights but maintained their right to vote, leaving states to make mass provisions for civilian absentee voting. Even so, many accounts point to widespread race-based voter disenfranchisement, echoes of which are anticipated in the 2016 election.
By Brian Niiya, Densho Content Director
I had intended to contribute to this blog a lot more, and one of the types of pieces I hoped to do were essays on prominent figures in Japanese American history on the 100th anniversary of their births. By 1916, we see the start of the peak period of Nisei births, so there are many to choose from. But alas, my ambition out-stripped my ability to do these, and most of the anniversaries have come and gone. But since Densho is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary, I thought I’d dust off this idea and quickly note those who would have turned 100 this year.
This weekend, Seattle lost two pioneering figures in the city’s civil rights history, Robert Santos and Charles Z. Smith. Densho Executive Director Tom Ikeda pays tribute to them both.
What I will remember most are the bright smiles each of them had when they greeted friends. Even as their bodies aged, their faces would light up when they saw you, showing their passion and joy for life.
And the stories they could tell.
There are now literally a couple of hundred documentary films about some aspect of the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Unfortunately, many of them are difficult to view, requiring some effort to track down a DVD or even VHS, with few available through streaming services. This is particularly true some of the older films that were made in the 80s and 90s, many of which are among the best such films. Thankfully, there are some good ones that can be viewed online without charge.
“Nineteen forty-two, how full of events it has been. So many turning points, crisises [sic], days of anxiety and disappointment, yet some happy moments, too. It was like a goodbye to carefree days and a hello to reality.” Fifteen-year-old Amy Mitamura wrote these words in a school essay, “A Review of 1942,” during her fourth month of incarceration at Minidoka concentration camp.
Twenty years ago when Densho started, I began interviewing Japanese Americans about what it was like being incarcerated during World War II. To help me become a better interviewer I sat in the office reviewing others’ newly conducted interviews. On the computer monitor was Frank Fujii. I knew Frank as the popular Franklin High School art teacher and basketball coach from the school I attended back in the early 1970s.
As the 2016 election cycle ramps up – with a Republican nominee who has described Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers, and a Democrat who supports deporting child migrants to send a “responsible message” to future refugees – Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are bracing themselves for another round in the sometimes (okay, always) heated debate around immigration.
Shiuko Sakai was twenty three years old when she decided to join a friend to work for the Department of the Army in Occupied Japan. At the time of this big life decision, having been released from the Minidoka concentration camp in 1945, Sakai was living in New York City in a place the War Relocation Authority had arranged for her to stay.
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