We have collected some really great interviews so far. The narrators (most of whom are conference attendees) come from such different backgrounds and consequently their stories are very diverse. Yesterday I interviewed Yae Aihara who is originally from Seattle, but currently lives in Los Angeles. Her father was picked up by the FBI on December 7, 1941, and was sent to Missoula internment camp. During this time he decided he wanted the family to repatriate to Japan. Yae and her family took the train to Ellis Island to meet her father and go on the ship SS Gripsholm, which was part of the prisoner of war exchange with Japan. The ship was full, so they stayed in Ellis Island for 4 days and then were transfered to Crystal City internment camp in Texas. They stayed in Crystal City for the duration of the war and then resettled to Boyle Heights in LA.
I just finished my interview with James Hirabayashi, Professor Emeritus at San Francisco State University (SFSU). Professor Hirabayashi was Dean of the nation’s first school of Ethnic Studies, which started at SFSU after the longest student strike in US history. Unlike most Densho interviews, which take a life-history approach, my interview with Professor Hirabayashi (or Jim, as he insisted on being called) began with his experiences in academia, as an undergraduate at the University of Washington. Our interview touched on several milestones in his professional life – as a Fulbright Fellow conducting fieldwork in Japan; his PhD studies at Harvard; working in rural Nigeria; involvement with the Asian American Political Alliance and student strike at SFSU; his tenure as Dean of Ethnic Studies; the influence of his brother, Gordon Hirabayashi, on his own activism.
We arrived in Denver today for another series of interviews, this time at the Japanese American National Museum’s “Whose America? Who’s American? Diversity, Civil Liberties, and Social Justice” conference. We’re shooting the interviews at the Hyatt Regency, a beautiful hotel with enormous furniture in the lobby…
The last couple of days have been spent thinking about and answering questions about my Japanese American identity. A film crew from NHK, the Japanese public television station, is visiting west coast cities to produce a documentary about Japanese Americans. They are in Seattle trying to find out why it is so important for Japanese Americans to document their own history, and how doing this work affects perceptions of identity. They will be following the Densho staff to Denver as we conduct interviews during the Denver JANM conference. Being asked these types of questions on camera is not that easy and I have to admit I feel a lot more comfortable being the person behind the camera asking the questions. Yesterday, after finishing a session with my parents and me, it was fun to relax with the Japanese film crew over a simple dinner and some good wine to continue the conversation, and to watch the Japanese try to understand my dad’s golf jokes!
I returned this week to Seattle from the annual Minidoka Symposium and Minidoka Pilgrimage. This was the sixth year for the pilgrimage and the 3rd year for the symposium. Although both events are centered in Twin Falls (Idaho) at about the same time, the symposium and pilgrimage are separate events with only about a dozen or so folks who attend both.
We just finished our first day of interviews here in Salt Lake City. I interviewed Alice Hirai and Ted Nagata, while Tom interviewed Nelson Akagi. Alice was the first interview of the day. She was born in San Francisco and only 2 years old when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A small child in Topaz, her reflections on camp came from a perspective that often goes unnoticed in discussions about the WWII incarceration. Alice also talked about her lifelong activism in the Salt Lake City public schools, and the sacrifices and struggles of her parents and the issei generation. Ted, who I wrote about in a previous message, told a fascinating story. Among other topics, he discussed the hardship that his family endured after camp and the origins and current preservation efforts of the Topaz Museum (of which he was a founding board member). An artist and graphic designer, he also gave us two books on Japanese Americans in Utah that he designed. It was quite a successful day!
One of the challenges facing us when we interview on the road is setting up studios in hotel rooms. Although we often shoot interviews against a black background, whenever possible (and room decor permits) we like to shoot using whatever’s available in the room. This usually involves moving lots of heavy furniture around, and sometimes making a few alterations. For those of you who enjoyed hearing about my ironing woes on our trip to Denver, I’ve got a new one: tassels. Whoever designed the drapes in this hotel room apparently adores little pastel-colored tassels, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time last night laboriously taping them back so they are not quite so visible…
- book review
- camp life
- current events
- Densho statement
- film review
- hidden histories
- In memoriam
- oral history
- Pacific Northwest
- photo essay
- popular culture