Let’s face it, 2017 has been a real kick in the teeth for woke folks everywhere. Whether you’re suffering from bad news blues or worn out from the seemingly endless calls to action, the year has us all feeling a little weary. But we keep returning to Megan Ming Francis’s words from the recent Densho Dinner. Despite all that we’re up against, she told the audience: “I’ve never been more hopeful.” And as strange as it may seem, we totally get it. That’s because we’ve seen more people awake and mobilized than we can remember in recent history. And we’ve proven time and time again that when we organize, we get sh*t done. As we gear up to be our best social justice warriors (…and worriers) in 2018, let’s take a look back at all the times in the past year Japanese Americans and allies stood up and said, “HELL NAW!”
Here at Densho, we often draw parallels between the forced removal and subsequent incarceration of Japanese Americans from the West Coast and the treatment of marginalized groups today. Sadly, the need to do this has only increased in recent months. However the current crackdown on and scapegoating of immigrants—particularly those deemed “illegal”—should remind us about an earlier period of Japanese American history: that of the Issei pioneers who came to the U.S. over one hundred years ago and laid the foundation of today’s Japanese American community. But did you know that a good number of those pioneering Issei came came over illegally?
December 5, 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the best known instance of mass unrest in the one of the WWII concentration camps. The Manzanar Riot, as it was called, was also one of a handful of times in which military police killed inmates in the camps and was a key event in leading the War Relocation Authority down the road of the “loyalty questionnaire” and segregation. Coming one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, sensationalist coverage of the event inflamed anti-Japanese sentiment outside the camps. And the episode exposed deep divisions within the inmate population and with the camp administration.
There is a certain narrative of “success” that punctuates the history of the Japanese American incarceration camps. Whether it is in books or at pilgrimages to these sites, or the museums that commemorate them, stories of perseverance, fortitude, and “making it” against this terrible backdrop are always there. And it is necessary, this narrative, because it gives folks pride. But at the same time, we must ask ourselves, especially as Asian Americans, what does a history and community built on pride of “success” leave out, and more importantly, who does it forget?
The Vietnam War, which officially commenced on November 1, 1955 and lasted for nearly twenty years, cost the lives of over 58,000 Americans and more than 3 million Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Lao soldiers and civilians. The peace movement that gradually turned public opinion against the war is often remembered as an affair led by white college students, white flower children, white pastors, and white mothers, with perhaps a smattering of black and brown faces somewhere in the background. But Asian Americans and other people of color played an integral, and frequently independent, role in the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
When we think about literary works that incorporate the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans, most of us probably think of either one of the bestsellers by non-Japanese authors (e.g. Snow Falling on Cedars or The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet) or older “classic” works by Japanese American authors such as the recently re-issued No-No Boy and Citizen 13660 or Farewell to Manzanar and Obasan. But there have actually been a good number of more recent works by Japanese American authors, many of which are not as well-known as they should be. We’ve put together a list of a dozen novels with an interesting take on the forced removal and incarceration during World War II.
While the photographs of Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange have helped shape visual understandings of World War II incarceration, there are many lesser known photographers who documented the Japanese American experience during era. One of those photographers, Hikaru “Carl” Iwasaki, captured intimate family moments in camps like Heart Mountain and Jerome, as well as the resettlement process in cities from Bellevue to Buffalo and beyond.
In this American Archives Month guest post, Densho Digital Archivist Caitlin Oiye Coon looks at a recently published collection of photos by Gerald Kajitani. The photos document the second pilgrimage to the site of California’s Tule Lake concentration camp in 1974. Today, the site is being threatened by the proposed construction of a fence through the property. Please write to Modoc County by October 10 to let them know why you oppose the fence and support continued access to and preservation of Tule Lake, now and in the future.
Stereotypes of archivists as bespectacled introverts navigating unending caverns of file cabinets and stacks are largely exaggerated. But it’s true that, as a lot, we generally enjoy our quiet time and relative introversion. That said, our staff trip to the 2017 Society for American Archivists Conference in Portland, Oregon was both a delightful change of pace and, even more importantly, a powerful catalyst for reflection on goals and strategies for Densho’s own archival practices.
On December 7, 1941, Sumi Okamoto, then 21, was busy getting ready for her wedding. Oblivious to the reports of bombs falling on faraway Pearl Harbor, Sumi put on her white dress and headed to the Grant Street Methodist Church in Spokane, Washington. Her family and friends, hoping not to spoil her wedding day, tried to keep the bad news from her—that is, until FBI agents crashed the reception to arrest several of her Issei guests.
- book review
- camp life
- current events
- Densho statement
- film review
- hidden histories
- In memoriam
- open letter
- oral history
- Pacific Northwest
- photo essay
- popular culture