Let’s face it. It’s hard to find queer voices within Asian American history. They’re often erased from both mainstream (read: white) LGBTQ and Asian American narratives — but thanks to the work of some brilliant historians and community activists, that’s beginning to change. In recent years, more of these stories have become available online in the form of archives, films, and other digital projects.
Do you have a burning question about Japanese American history? A piece of family lore you’re not sure is myth or fact? Brian Niiya, Densho’s Content Director and basically a walking encyclopedia of all things related to WWII incarceration, has got you covered. He’ll be answering real questions from real people in this new, recurring series—so ask us anything!
The resistance of nearly 300 young men who refused to be drafted into the U.S. military out of U.S. concentration camps has become a prominent part of the Japanese American WWII incarceration story. Maligned as disloyal troublemakers for decades after the war, members of the Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee and other draft resisters are rightfully recognized as civil rights heroes today. But there is an equally inspiring — and largely forgotten — story about hundreds of Issei mothers who also protested the draft from within the camps.
The first of America’s WWII concentration camps to be built, Manzanar was first at a lot of other things as well: the first to have an official historic marker, the site of the first public camp pilgrimage, the first to become a unit of the National Park Service, among other things. In addition to its extensive parks and gardens, and the iconic “Ireito” monument, Manzanar is also well known for the infamous “riot” (now more commonly referred to as an uprising) of December 1942, as the site of the Manzanar Children’s Village orphanage, and of an experimental guayule (a rubber substitute) project as well as one of three WRA camps to have a camouflage net factory.
Fred Shiosaki was a remarkable man who led a remarkable life. We are deeply saddened to learn that he recently passed away — but incredibly grateful for the legacy he left behind and his generosity in sharing his story with us and so many others. We offer this tribute in honor of Fred’s memory and in celebration of his life.
Earlier this year, Densho artist-in-residence Lauren Iida sat down with Erin Shigaki — a longtime Densho friend, designer, and artist — for a conversation about how their art is influenced by their shared lineage as descendents of WWII incarceration. Since they couldn’t safely sit in the same room together due to COVID, this interview was conducted via Zoom with creative workarounds engineered by Common AREA Maintenance, a beloved Seattle art space. Lauren’s work is currently featured in their storefront as part of their Second Avenue Sign Project, and is safely viewable from the street. If you’re in the Seattle area, we encourage you to stop by and check it out (2125 2nd Ave. in Belltown)!
One of two camps located in southeastern Arkansas—and less than thirty miles from Rohwer, the other such camp—Jerome was the earliest WRA camp to close, shutting down at the end of June 1944. But it was unique in other ways, including a high number of inmates from Hawai`i, a severe flu epidemic in late 1943, and popular local “delicacies” like grilled rattlesnake.
In the wake of the heinous murders in Atlanta and a sharp uptick in anti-Asian hate crimes, Congress held its first hearings on discrimination against Asians in more than 30 years. Among those testifying was Erika Lee, a historian whose books on Asian America and xenophobia have brought deeper understanding to scores of readers (and provided the historical foundation for Densho’s own short film on xenophobia).
In a moment when the need for healing and education has been made painfully obvious, Dr. Lee delivered an incisive history lesson to our Congressional leaders — and she gave us permission to reprint her testimony in full here.
Activist and filmmaker Chizu Omori has spent most of her life advocating for the rights of marginalized peoples. And at the age of 90, she shows no sign of slowing down. Even through the past year of the pandemic, she has shown up to weekly Black Lives Matter protests in Oakland and countless Zoom meetings as part of her work with Tsuru for Solidarity. Densho communications and public engagement director Natasha Varner caught up with Omori when she was just days away from being fully vaccinated against COVID to talk about her involvement with the redress movement and her ongoing activism.
This past weekend, we joined our friends at Tsuru for Solidarity for a Day of Remembrance caravan from the Puyallup Fairgrounds to Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center. About 60 cars bearing signs, tsuru, and protest artwork showed up to remember Japanese American WWII incarceration, and demand freedom and justice for immigrants who are unjustly detained today.
- Where to Learn the Queer Asian American History You Absolutely Missed in School
- Ask a Historian: How Many Japanese Americans Were Incarcerated During WWII?
- Issei Mothers Played an Important—and Largely Forgotten—Role in the Japanese American Draft Resistance Movement
- A Mattress Factory, Female Administrators, and Other Unusual Things About Manzanar
- A Tribute to Fred Shiosaki’s Remarkable Legacy
- after camp
- Ask a Historian
- book review
- camp life
- current events
- Densho statement
- film review
- guest post
- hidden histories
- In memoriam
- open letter
- oral history
- Pacific Northwest
- photo essay
- popular culture