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…
After a thankfully short and uneventful plane trip, we arrived in Salt Lake City today. The weather is wonderful, mostly sunny and 75 degrees. After checking in to our hotel, we explored the city by car and ended up at Temple Square in the heart of downtown. We went on a guided tour of the square and were able to see the beautiful Salt Lake Temple as well as the interior of the tabernacle.
I just finished my pre-interview with Ted Nagata. He is a founding member of the Topaz Museum and is active in all sorts of projects around the city. Born in Santa Monica and raised in Berkeley, Ted was removed with his family to Tanforan, and later, Topaz, when he was a young child. Ted’s mother had a particularly hard time in camp, with two young children and a husband who was gone most of the year working in the sugar beet fields. Like many Topaz detainees, Ted’s family resettled to Salt Lake City after the war. His parents struggled financially and emotionally during this time, which Ted remembers as a particularly difficult period of his life. Ted has many insights about Salt Lake City’s Japanese American community and history. I am looking forward to the interview!
After 3 days of chilly, wet weather in Denver, we returned to sunshine and 70 degrees in Seattle! Our trip to Denver was a big success. We returned with 13 interviews, 3 photo collections, new friendships, and wonderful memories. We also strengthened our working partnership with the National Park Service staff at the Manzanar National Historic Site (Richard Potashin and Kirk Peterson) with three days of solid interviewing.
Wednesday evening we had a fun dinner with Daryl Maeda, Kara Miyagishima, Gil Asakawa and Erin Yoshimura at a great place called Domo Restaurant. They specialize in country-style Japanese food, and they also have a Japanese garden (where the photo was taken). Today we’re conducting a few more interviews before packing up and making our way back to Seattle. Here’s hoping the flight is smoother than on the way in!
- Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority and Ahead of Her Time
- Surviving Racism, Toxic Masculinity, and Some Gruesome Medical Ordeals
- Smashing the Patriarchy since 1895: The Anti-Violence Advocacy of Issei Pioneer Yeiko Mizobe So
- From Poston to the Prison Industrial Complex: Mia Yamamoto’s Unwavering Fight for Justice
- How We Remember
- book review
- camp life
- current events
- Densho statement
- film review
- hidden histories
- In memoriam
- open letter
- oral history
- Pacific Northwest
- photo essay
- popular culture