8Books Review: “The Hope of Another Spring: Takuichi Fujii”

The Hope of Another Spring: Takuichi Fujii, Artists and Wartime Witness brings Fujii’s art to a broader audience with the stunning pages from a diary he kept while incarcerated during World War II. Written by Barbara Johns and with an introduction by the artist’s grandson Sandy Kita, this book offers a historical, art historical, and also deeply personal insight on to Takuichi Fujii. The first half delves into Fujii’s biography, providing an overview of his life in Seattle and the position of Japanese issei artists within the West Coast art scene, before delving into his family’s forced relocation first to the detention camp in Puyallup, Washington, and then to Minidoka, Idaho. The author also provides a as thorough an accounting of Fujii’s career and life work as possible.

But the gem of this book is the reproduction of Fujii’s diary that takes up the second half. His sketches and their accompanying notes (diary entires of a sort) provide a detailed look at life inside a Japanese internment camp and the emotional turmoil of that experience. The text ranged from a simple description to more of a thought out musing. It’s very poetic in styling and voice. All told, the works provide an intimate portrait of this life behind barbed wire fences. The Hope of Another Spring offers an issei artist’s perspective to our understanding of Japanese American’s wartime incarceration, while also bringing a valuable study of Fujii and his artistic journey and long career.

My Father’s Lost Concentration Camp (Pt. 2 of 2)

In April of this year, I was asked by Southern California Public Radio to do a presentation about my family as part of their new series called, Unheard LA. The following is the video from my talk, followed by my original speech (broken into two parts). Please note, the text is from the original draft of the speech, so at points is considerably different than the actual talk I gave.

https://www.facebook.com/KPCCInPerson/videos/1461691680518601/

Be sure to read, Part 1. 

CHAPTER 5: The story (cont.)

The “camp” my family was sent to was in Topaz, Utah.

Now imagine: People going from sunny and WARM Hawaii to the high deserts of Utah—where in the winter there was a snow on the ground and in the summer it was often over 100 degrees. They couldn’t have been prepared for that.

It is important not only to know where they were but why. In 1943, America needed soldiers and people to help the war effort. And there were 120,000 Japanese Americans sitting idly in these “camps.” But the problem was that the government couldn’t tell the “good” Japanese Americans versus the “bad” Japanese Americans. So, they created a loyalty questionnaire.

The two most important questions were questions 27-28.

There were only two possible answers to these questions. Yes, Yes and No, No. Answering one of them no, meant you were answering them both no. These two questions literally divided my community and its effects can still be felt today.

So why did people answer yes-yes? It’s pretty simple actually. They were loyal and willing to prove it. And they had no allegiances to any other country. The No-Nos were a bit more complicated. Some said, take me out of camp, take me out of this prison, I’m willing to answer yes, until then: No. And they believed Question 28 was a trick question, because the basic underlying assumption was that you had allegiances to another country.

How did my grandfather answer these questions? No Question 27 and No to Question 28.

Here are my grandfather’s words on why he answered the way he did:

  1. As an American citizen, he was insulted.
  2. He thought if he answered yes-yes, he and his family would be released on the mainland where they had no friends and family and into communities where anti-Japanese sentiment prevailed.
  3. If they were going to be deported anyway – as my grandfather believed – a ‘yes’ answer would not look good.

And, because of his answer, they were sent to Tule Lake.

…where all the “bad” Japanese were sent.

In 1944, the US government passed a law that allowed American born citizens to renounce their citizenship voluntarily during wartime. The bill was designed to pave the way for the mass deportation of Japanese Americans after the war.

It was under this law that my grandfather (and other Japanese Americans like him) renounced his citizenship. He said he did this because he was convinced that Japanese Americans were going to be deported to Japan and it’s better to be first rather than last in line. Secondly, there were pro-Japanese factions in camps that threatened him and his family if he didn’t renounce his citizenship.

Once Tule Lake closed, they were sent to Crystal City, Texas.

This camp was for an “enemy aliens” and had to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, meaning better food and shelter than the “regular camps”. And when I looked into it, there was a swimming pool in Crystal City

After the war, my grandfather and other Japanese Americans realized renouncing their citizenship was a mistake. They worked with Wayne Collins, a wonderful lawyer from San Francisco, who said, “You can no more resign your citizenship in a time of war than you can resign from the human race.” He argued their renunciations had been the result of the unlawful detention and the terrible conditions in Tule Lake and not their decision.

My grandfather argued he was an American by birth. His rights had been violated. But he wanted to remain in the country.

After much hand wringing, my grandfather and his family were allowed to stay…

… they were given $25 dollars each and one way tickets back to Hawaii. Their citizenship was returned to them 10 years later.

I don’t look at my grandfather’s story through rose-colored glasses. There are many disturbing things about his story. In fact, the first time I read it I thought he was a spy. Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away before I was born. I have so many questions I wish I could ask him. The most important being, did he know about Pearl Harbor.

But even without those answers, I no longer believe he was a spy. He just got caught in a wave of hysteria and was making the decisions he thought was best for him and his family. Blaming my grandfather also takes blame away from the government, who incarcerated 120,000 based entirely on their ethnicity.

Now that I know the story, I use every opportunity to pass the story to my son.

CHAPTER 6: Passing the story

It started with a trip to Manzanar when he was four.

But this was not just a one-time thing. Every time we pass places where Japanese Americans were incarcerated here in Southern California, I make sure to remind him. So that includes Santa Anita Race track, Griffith Park, Pomona Fair Grounds, and Tuna Canyon. I tell him, “this is where they locked up our people.”

This is my life’s work, to share the story of my family and others who were locked up. In fact, I constantly tell my son that we, as decadents of people who were locked up in these “camps,” have a moral responsibility to make sure that it never happens again to anyone ever. And I share it with all of you in the hopes we don’t let history repeat itself again.

Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1.

My Father’s Lost Concentration Camp (Pt. 1 of 2)

In April of this year, I was asked by Southern California Public Radio to do a presentation about my family as part of their new series called, Unheard LA. The following is the video from my talk, followed by my original speech (broken into two parts). Please note, the text is from the original draft of the speech, so at points is considerably different than the actual talk I gave.

https://www.facebook.com/KPCCInPerson/videos/1461691680518601/

CHAPTER 1: My hero

My father’s name was Walter Sakai. He was my hero. I know a lot of people say that about their dad’s, and I’m sure they mean it, but I had a special relationship with him. You see, he had a stroke when I was born that left him unable to work. Because of it, he took care of me and we got to be very close.

The one part of him that I never understood was what happened to him when he was in “camp.”

CHAPTER 2: My understanding of what happened

“Camp” is shorthand in Japanese American for the “internment camp” or more accurately, “concentration camp.” I know people always freak out when they hear that word. This is no disrespect to what happened in Europe, because those were much worse, those were death camps. What happened here is the picture book definition of a concentration camp. In fact, the people in government originally called it a concentration camp. Calling it an internment camp is a euphemism. Another euphemism from that time is “relocation” instead of what it really was an “incarceration.”

One of the earliest memories I have of my father was him trying to make sense of what happened to him when he was a child. Time, sickness, and age had worn down his memory until he had only three left of his time in camp.

  1. His dad worked for the “Japanese government” and that’s why they were taken.
  2. That they had been in the Tule Lake, Northern California camp.
  3. That the food was really bad.

No one else in the family seemed to remember much more. When I asked my uncle, the oldest child in my father’s family, he told me they were in Topaz, Utah. And my aunt, my dad’s older sister, said they were Crystal City, Texas. My aunt also remembered a swimming pool at Crystal City! A swimming pool? In a concentration camp? What’s unusual about all of this was that most Hawaiian Japanese were not taken to the camps. So why them?

The one thing everyone said was that neither of my grandparents wanted to discuss what happened and that my grandmother would have a visceral reaction when she thought about her time in “camp.”

CHAPTER 3: Trying to find his story

Just because my father wasn’t sure what happened to him, didn’t mean “camp” didn’t keep popping up in our lives.

In 1988, my father received his twenty thousand dollars and an official apology from the government. I remember how much it meant to him when he got it. It was vindication that what happened was wrong.

A few years after that, my father took me to the Japanese American National Museum, which was relatively new when we went. I only remember one thing from the trip, my father looking up his father (my grandfather) in the library. The records indicated that my grandfather was a mechanic. My father didn’t like that! He said he wasn’t a mechanic and we left.

I didn’t see this at the time but my father was yearning to find out answers as to what happened and why.

CHAPTER 4: My path to the story

It wasn’t until I started working at the Japanese American National Museum in my mid-twenties that I started to ask questions about what happened. Being around Japanese American history and culture as well as people who had been in camp, I suddenly needed to know my family’s story. Everyone who knew—including my father—had passed away or didn’t remember much, so I started to do research. I wrote to the National Archives, Dept. of Justice, and the FBI…

CHAPTER 5: The story

… and this is the story I found…  I hope this puts my father’s soul to rest.

My grandfather was a NISEI, a second generation, or in other words an American citizen.

My father had been right, my grandfather worked for the Japanese government. He was a clerk in the consulate’s office in Honolulu which was the equivalent of working for the Taliban in New York City right before 9/11. Not a great place for him to have been.

The FBI believed my grandfather was pro-Japanese with anti-American sentiment, more “old-time Japanese” than anything else.

My grandfather was taken by the FBI and sent to Sand Island in Hawaii. He was accused of three things:

1. In 1937, he and another consulate official took a camera from a naval intelligence officer who was taking a picture of a Japanese ship.

2. During a hearing, he admitted seeing other consulate officials acting suspiciously and did not report it to the proper authorities.

3.  And probably most damming, he was paid to burn paperwork on August 1, 1941.

The charges were vacated but the government considered him so much of a danger thhat he could not be released. So, they sent him (and my family) to the camps on the mainland.

To be continued…

Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1.

NPR: His Life Cut Short, Vincent Chin Is Remembered For What Might Have Been – 35 Years Later

Recently, NPR interviewed Vincent Chin’s best friend and best nan, Gary Koivu, to remember Chin, on the 35th anniversary of his death:

 

“Gary Koivu met Chin when they were in the first grade and their teacher introduced Chin to the rest of the class. They were friends for more than 20 years and Chin asked Koivu to be the best man in his wedding.

There was an auto worker,” Koivu says. “He said to Vincent, ‘Because of little mother f****** like you, a lot of Americans are losing their jobs.’ Vincent wasn’t Japanese. He was Chinese [American], but that didn’t matter. … He was Asian.”


Chin died four days later on June 23, 1982.

Ebens and Nitz were sentenced to three years’ probation and fined $3,000.

After his death 35 years ago [today], the federal case against Ebens and Nitz was the first time the Civil Rights Act was used in a case involving an Asian-American victim. Chin’s death went on to become a rallying cry for stronger federal hate crime legislation.”

 

I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since I first blogged about remembering the 25th anniversary of Chin’s death.

In the age of Trump and his hateful rhetoric, it’s no surprise that violence against Muslims and Hispanics is way up. I grew up in the Eighties, so I do remember the rhetoric against the Japanese as Americans feared that Japan was overtaking the United States as an economic superpower (how did that turn out?)

If you want to learn more about Vincent Chin and the trial, the award winning Who Killed Vincent Chin can be found on YouTube:

https://youtu.be/rYY3nehKOBU

A must watch for anybody interested in Asian American history.

Asian American Conspiracy Files: Senator Daniel Inouye

I’ve mentioned before that I pretty much love anything paranormal or conspiracy related. Give me a good alien abduction, or haunting, or JFK assassination story and I will be happy for hours. Not that I believe most of it—or any of it for that matter. I find the stories fascinating, especially what they say about us as humans and society itself.

The two areas of my life that rarely meet are my love for the paranormal/conspiracy and my passion for Asian American history and culture. Although, this is not to say they haven’t met before. For example, I’ve written in the past about how some idiots believe the Gray aliens are descendants of Asians and the intriguing theory that what crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in the late 1940s weren’t aliens from outer space but were really from Japan.

As I was figuring out what to write about next, I wanted to find another paranormal story that had something to do with Asian Americans or at least Asian Asians. At first, I was thinking of writing about the Devil’s Sea, aka: Asia’s Bermuda Triangle. In fact, I still may write about it in the future. But during the research, I was curious what kinds of things would come up if I Googled: “Asian American, conspiracy.” To my surprise, the first hit was about the late Senator Daniel Inouye.

Before I get into what I found, let me first say that Senator Inouye is a hero of mine. In fact, he’s such an icon, I refer to him as the “Senator.” In other words, he’s the ONLY senator that matters. Over the course of my career at the Japanese American National Museum, I was lucky enough to not only meet him on numerous occasions but I also interacted and actually got to know him a little. I say all of this only to make it clear that I mean no disrespect to him or his legacy.

I should also give a brief history about the Senator. The Senator was a war hero. He was an officer in the 442nd Regimental Infantry Unit, the all-Japanese American unit in World War II. He won the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart with Cluster. He was the first Japanese American in Congress and served as Hawaii’s Senator from 1962 until 2012. Two years before his death, he was elected the President pro tempore, or in other words, he was third in line for the President. As far as I know, that’s the closet an Asian American has gotten to the Presidency so far.

So what did I find in my Google search? The Senator is listed on countless websites as proof of a conspiracy that there is a secret government really running things. This is based on something he said during the Iran-Contra Hearings in 1987.

Here is a transcript of what he said:

There exists a shadowy government with its own Air Force, its own Navy, its own fundraising mechanism, and the ability to pursue its own ideas of national interest, free from all checks and balances, and free from the law itself.

It’s amazing how many websites cite this quote as proof of the existence of a secret government that is really running things. I’ve even read on some message boards that claim that the Senator wasn’t just talking about a secret government within the United States but a secret world-wide government, also known as the New World Order.

The interesting thing about the people who cite the Senator’s Iran-Contra quote is that they fail to note the circumstances—the Iran-Contra hearings. The Senator was referring specifically to the facts in the case itself. There WAS a conspiracy to get arms into Iran by a secret faction of the United States government that went around proper channels. But I do not believe that he was referring to anything more than that.

I guess one could make the leap that if there is a shadow government in this one case, there could be a secret government all the time, but there is no evidence that the Senator actually believed that.

Interestingly, this wasn’t the Senator’s only brush with government conspiracies:

Inouye also chaired the 1976 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The Committee was established to set up regulations for undercover operations abroad and internal operations against American citizens by the intelligence community. The regulations were a response to revelations that U.S. intelligence organizations had engaged in assassination plots and other international conspiracies. (Source)

What do you think? Do you think the Senator’s words are proof of the existence of a shadow-government? Let me know.

I would be remiss not to mention another conspiracy associated with the Senator that surrounds his death bed letter. I don’t know nearly enough about it to comment so that’s all I’ll say.

Follow me on Twitter @ksakai1.

What if the “aliens” who crashed in Roswell were really Japanese?

I’m obsessed with all things aliens—and in the time of Trump, I should be clear, the ones from outer space not the non-citizens. I’ve gone to UFO conventions, watch every alien-themed documentary on Netflix, and listen to every paranormal podcast. Like Mulder on X-Files, “I want to believe.” So that’s why I was surprised when I read Nick Redfern’s new book, The Roswell UFO Conspiracy: Exposing A Shocking And Sinister Secret, that claims that maybe the aliens that crashed in Roswell were not actually aliens but humans from Japan.

I’ve heard of people thinking Asians might be aliens. I even wrote an 8Asians article about it a long long time ago,  Series of Web Pages Convinced Asians are Aliens from Outer Space. Most—okay, all—of the people who believe that are just kooks. THIS is completely different. This is Roswell! R-O-S-W-E-L-L! One of the first and arguably most important UFO cases in the ufology (real word). This is the Holy Grain of the UFO community.

Let’s take a moment to discuss Roswell. In early July 1947, on a small ranch in the remote town of Roswell, New Mexico, a farmer found unusual debris and small bodies. The next day, the Roswell newspaper declared that a flying saucer had been discovered.

But the local military reported that it was a crashed weather balloon. No one bought the story then and the legend only grew from there—especially in the 1970s when everyone and their mothers were talking about UFOs and aliens. If you want more information about the history of the Roswell case, I’d recommend visiting here.

If you were alive in the 1990s, then you might remember the alien autopsy video, which was supposedly taken in Roswell.

But what if there were no aliens in Roswell? What if there is a perfectly rational explanation? If we are to follow Occam’s razor (the simpler explanation is the better one), what’s simpler: that aliens came from outer space and crashed in Roswell or it was part of some top-secret military experiment? The latter, rather than the former, right?

So why do people think that the Roswell crash might be related to the Japanese? First, the descriptions of the witnesses. The bodies that were discovered on the ranch were described as being small and as having “Oriental” features. Some even argue that because the rancher had probably never seen a real Japanese (or Asian) person, he mistook a Japanese/Asian person for an alien from outer space.

If we are willing to suspend out disbelief and buy the fact that maybe the bodies found in the crash site were really Japanese, the question that begs to be asked is: how did they get to New Mexico in 1947? This is where the whole thing gets interesting. The hypothesis goes that the US government was testing high altitude Japanese balloons. Sound crazy? Not entirely. In World War II, the Japanese army did use weather balloons to attack the United States. They were known as Japan’s Fugo “balloon-bombs.”

Here’s a documentary about these balloons:

The hypothesis continues that the United States military secretly brought Japanese scientists over after the war to do biological, radioactive, and high-altitude decompression tests. There are rumors that they may have continued the infamous Unit 731 (a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation), which isn’t so crazy when you consider Operation Paperclip, where the government brought over a thousand plus Nazi scientists, engineers and technicians after the war. Believe it or not, one of the first places this hypothesis came out of was in Popular Mechanics.

From this point, there is a lot of conjecture about what exactly what was going on. In the interest of not going on and on (I know, too late), I’ll summarize.

1. The balloon was a “last-gasp” attempt to continue the war against the United States. That or the fugo bombs were stuck in the air and finally came down in 1947.

2. It was an experimental aircraft being “test-flown by the US military with Japanese crew on board.” The argument continues that there were two balloons: one filled with Japanese scientists and the other were filled with people recovered from the human experiments found at Unit 731. The reason that this has never come to light is because the government believed it was “better” for the average person to think a UFO crashed in Roswell than to know that German and Japanese war criminals were on their payroll.

There are, of course, a lot of problems with both of these. First, it seems highly unlikely that a good two years after the war, elements of the Japanese military were still trying to attack the United States or that it was stuck in some weather stream for two years before coming down. And as for the second theory, there is no real evidence of this. We know about Operation Paperclip with the Nazis, why wouldn’t we also know about the Japanese? Both did horrible things during World War II and were perpetrators of major war crimes. And as far as the crash victims being patients from the infamous Unit 731, most historians believe the people in the unit were murdered to prevent the world from discovering the atrocities the Japanese had committed.

Do I believe any of this? Maybe. I mean, it’s no crazier than aliens from outer space, right? What do you think?

Follow me at @ksakai1.

Federal Lawmakers Call for Stamp to Honor Chinese Railroad Workers

Recently, the State of California recognized the contributions of the Chinese railroad workers in helping to build the transcontinental railroad by declaring May 10th, ‘Chinese Railroad Workers Memorial Day.’

Now there is an effort in Congress to honor the Chinese workers on a stamp:

“Federal lawmakers from New York and California reintroduced legislation Thursday calling on the Postal Service to issue a stamp that honors the Chinese workers who built the transcontinental railroad nearly 150 years ago.

U.S. Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY) and Ed Royce (R-CA) brought their resolution to the House the same week a golden spike was driven in 1869 in Promontory, Utah, which marked the completion of the rail link that joined the east and west coasts.”

There have been past petitions for Asian American themed stamps, such as ones for Bruce Lee (which I don’t recall whether or not they got released) and for Chinese New Year, which have been released – at least this past year. I’m all for a stamp to honor any immigrant group for their contributions to the United States, and I don’t think honoring the Chinese railroad workers should be any different.

Apparently Congresswoman Meng has sponsored similar resolutions twice before, but they hadn’t been brought up for a vote. Hopefully this time around, at least a vote will be taken. In Meng’s press release, she states that the 12,000 Chinese railroad workers comprised more than 80 percent of the workforce and that nearly 1,200 of the workers died from the harsh winters and brutal working conditions.

First of all, I didn’t realize that the Chinese railroad workers comprised of 80 percent of the workforce! I think that was for the West-to-East portion of the transcontinental railroad built by the Central Pacific Railroad. But I am shocked to learn that 1,200 died – that 10% of the Chinese workforce. That’s pretty horrific and a fact that seems to have been a bit de-emphasized in the history books (then again, I’m sure many are unaware that up to 400,000 people died building the Great Wall of China)

8Books Review: “The Little Exile” by Jeanette S. Arakawa

The incarceration during World War II has left a scar on the Japanese American community. That’s not surprising, considering how traumatic being forced to leave your home and into a prison in the middle of a desert or swamp would be. But people are always surprised by how scarring it was. For many Japanese Americans, “camps” are still something that is talked about in homes and of course at community events, despite more than seventy-five years and many generations having passed.

As a fourth generation Japanese American myself, I admit it’s always at the forefront of my mind—especially now with all the rhetoric about immigrants and Muslim Americans. I constantly worry that we’re going to see “camps” once again in our country. Not with Japanese Americans but with another group of demonized Americans. In fact, that’s why I always tell my 5-year-old son that we as decendents of those who were imprisoned in these “camps” have a moral responsibility to speak out and make sure it never happens again to any other group.

That’s why books like The Little Exile by Jeanette S. Arakawa are so important. Based on the author’s life, the story follows a middle-school girl, Marie Mitsui, as she goes from a typical American girl to a prisoner in one of America’s concentration camps. Her story takes her from a family laundromat in San Francisco to a remote camp in the swamps of Arkansas to a crowded apartment building in Denver where they have to share a bathroom and kitchen and don’t have running water, and then finally back home again.

The novel is a must read for anyone interested in what it was like in the time after Pearl Harbor for Japanese Americans to what life was like in “camp” and then in the time after they were released. It gives us a peak into the racism and the hate Japanese Americans had to endure during those years—but also the small acts of kindness that they also experienced too. These kinds of stories are important. Not only because they remember the past and tell us the facts, but also because they are able to put a face and a name to what happened—a historical tragedy.

Having worked at the Japanese American National Museum for over ten years, I was exposed to countless books and films about the experience. But even I was surprised and entertained by a lot of the stories in the book. I was especially moved by how much the incarceration affected the family (the parents fought more) and by the compassion from some non-Japanese Americans (Marie’s former class sent her a radio with a card all the way from California to Arkansas or the guard/soldier “Arky” who treated Marie and her friend with kindness).

So put The Little Exile on your reading list and make sure to tell a friend about it. These are the kinds of stories that need to be told and maybe if enough people read it, we’ll avoid making the same mistake a second time.

‘America ReFramed’ Honors #APAHM with New Documentary Films on WORLD Channel

This May, for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), WORLD Channel’s award-winning series, AMERICA REFRAMED partners with the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), and Pacific Islanders in Communication (PIC) to celebrate the voices of Asian Pacific Americans with a selection of original and compelling documentary films that spotlight the identity and diverse stories of this community. On the Wednesday immediately following the TV premiere, films will be available online for FREE viewing across the U.S. via www.americareframed.org for 3 months.

May 9 * GOOD LUCK SOUP
For 29-year-old filmmaker Matthew Hashiguchi, growing up half-Japanese American in an Irish-Catholic neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, was a difficult experience. His inability to blend in with the predominantly White population of his surroundings translated into his own personal struggles with race, and in America ReFramed: Good Luck Soup audiences join Matthew on a journey to discover how Japanese heritage influenced the lives of his Japanese American family members; before, during and after World War II.

May 16 * UNBROKEN GLASS
When he was six-years-old, Dinesh Sabu’s parents died. Raised by his siblings, he had little idea who his parents were or where he came from. Now as an adult with a burning curiosity, Dinesh sets out on a journey across the United States and India to piece together their story. Uncovering a silenced family history of mental illness, Dinesh confronts the legacy of having a schizophrenic mother who died by suicide, the reality of growing up an orphaned immigrant, and the trauma of these events in America ReFramed: Unbroken Glass.

May 23 * BREATHIN’ – THE EDDY ZHENG STORY
Arrested at 16 and tried as an adult for kidnapping and robbery, Eddy Zheng served over 20 years in California prisons and jails. America ReFramed: Breathin’ – The Eddy Zheng Story paints an intimate portrait of Eddy-the prisoner, the immigrant, the son, the activist-on his journey to freedom, rehabilitation and redemption.

Audiences are invited to learn more about this community through the #MyAPALife social conversation on WORLD Channel’s Facebook and Twitter, in partnership with American Documentary, PBS, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), and Pacific Islanders in Communications (PIC). WORLD and American Documentary will be hosting a live digital conversation between Asian Pacific American filmmakers from America ReFramed in May.

About AMERICA REFRAMED

AMERICA REFRAMED is a co-production of the WORLD Channel and American Documentary, Inc.

AMERICA REFRAMED curates a diverse selection of films highlighting innovative and artistic approaches to storytelling from emerging and veteran filmmakers alike. Viewers will be immersed in personal stories from the streets of towns big and small to the exurbs and country roads that span the spectrum of American life. The documentaries invite audiences to reflect on topics as varied as culture, healthcare, politics, gun violence, religion and more.

An award-winning documentary series, AMERICA REFRAMED is the recipient of a Christopher, a GRACIE, and several Telly and Cine Golden Eagle Awards, as well as nominations for an EMMY, Independent Documentary Association, and Imagen Award.

AMERICA REFRAMED Series Credits
Executive Producers: Justine Nagan, Chris Hastings, Chris White
Series Producer: Carmen L. Vicencio

8Books Review: “The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui

The Best We Could Do is a beautifully drawn and beautifully narrated memoir by Thi Bui. It is the story of her family and how she reckoned with their past, flight from Vietnam, family members lost and found again…and all the whirling emotions that always come with anything that has to do with family.

None other than Viet Thanh Nguyen graces the cover with the recommendation, “a book to break your heart and heal it.” And indeed, his statement captures the complexity that the author tackles head on. She begins with herself, with a preface that talks about the journey of the book, one that began more than 14 years ago. Bui opens the first chapter with her own labor, birthing, and a new appreciation for parenting. From there, she delves backwards into her family’s story, jumping around from their flight from Saigon in the 1970s to memories of her childhood, continually returning to her own experience of raising a child for the first time. Like many memoirs and graphic novels of this style, we are brought fully into the author’s own growing understanding. We too get the past in fragments, slivers of deeper meaning, hidden secrets, and untold stories about parents and children, immigrants and refugees. What do we carry with us, from generation to generation, that we see or don’t see?

 

With a simple color palate of blacks, whites, and reddish orange, Bui’s drawings bring her story to vivid life. I was riveted from the author’s preface to the thank yous at the end; the title bearing a profound resonance by the last page. An excellent addition to the field of illustrated memoirs, refugee stories, and reflections on parenting and family, The Best We Could Do is well worth the read.

8Books Review: “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee

Min Jin Lee’s second novel Pachinko follows several generations of a Korean family living under Japanese colonialism. In the 1930s in a small town in colonial Korea, a young woman named Sunja is abandoned by her wealthy lover, but saved by a young minister who marries her and takes her to Japan. If there can be said to be a central character it is Sunja, though Lee weaves such an intricate tale as to make it hard to pick from the many family members–her two sons, Noa and Mozasu, her sister-in-law Kyunghee, her grandson, Solomon (the opening pages begin briefly with Sunja’s grandparents, to give you a sense of scope).

The book comes in at a weighty 485 pages, but I found myself compelled to enter further and further. Delicately drawing out a story about love, loss, identity, and otherness, Lee draws a picture of the travails of being other in a colonial nation, the limitations and possibilities. As their fortunes rise and fall, rise and fall, we seamlessly move through time, exploring a breadth of human nature and resilience.

So while not a page-turner of the traditional sort, it is nonetheless enthralling, elegantly revealing layer after layer of possibilities with enormous empathy for this family. And Lee provides a window into a little-discussed population–the Koreans living in Japan in the twentieth-century–that is at once unfamiliar and familiar (see also, this recent New York Times opinion piece on the value of books). Pachinko is well-worth the journey.

Graphic Novel: 442; first 6 chapters have been released for free

The first six chapters of my new graphic novel “442” have been released for free on the comic reading app “Stela Unlimited”.

Written by Phinny Kiyomuraa and myself, and illustrated (in beautiful watercolor) by Robert Sato, “442” is based on one of World War II’s most compelling and important stories. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team was the U.S. Army’s Japanese American segregated fighting regiment. The 442nd would become the most decorated unit of the War, and the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in American history. Even with their families confined behind barbed wire in American concentration camps, these soldiers fought to rescue a Texas battalion lost behind enemy lines. A fictionalized account based on the actual events, “442” follows young Japanese Americans soldiers as they suffer prejudice, internment and terrible casualties in their battle to rescue the Lost Battalion.

“442” releases on a historic weekend. Sunday, February 19th, is known in the Japanese American community as the “Day of Remembrance” and marks the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 which authorized the imprisonment of up to 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, around two thirds of whom were American citizens.

Here is a sample of some of Rob’s amazing artwork:

I sat down with my collaborators and asked them a few questions:

Phinny, how did you get involved in 442?

I’m a playwright and TV writer from Long Beach, CA. My dad and all of his side of the family were sent to the camps when he was two-years-old. I eventually ended up writing a TV pilot set in an Internment Camp, called, wait for it — INTERNMENT. Super creative title. But it’s a concept that I’m very excited about — mixing a personal love for early/mid 20th-century playwriting (Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Harold Pinter) with the not-all-that-often-discussed history of the camps. The pilot ended up getting a reading at the Japanese American National Museum which is where I met Koji. He and I talked about the 442, and, specifically the battle to save the Lost Battalion and decided to start working together, first on a movie of this story, and, later, on this graphic novel for Stēla.

Rob, what about you?

My grandfather was in the 442. He was drafted while imprisoned in the Jerome, Arkansas camp, and fought in Europe while his parents and 4 siblings remained incarcerated, putting his life on the line for a the country that had kicked his family out of their home, stripped them of what they had worked for over the course of their lives as well as all of their personal freedoms and their American citizenship. This story feels like it’s in my bones. I grew up with it shaping a major part of my world view. How could it not? I feel perhaps I’ve taken it for granted until recently that the overall history of the Japanese American experience was known and understood by the general culture.


And Rob, why was this project so important to you?

I took this job illustrating the comic in the hope that I could help in any small way to keep telling the important and complex story of Japanese American Internment, but had no idea at the start how urgently important this part of history would feel right now. Over the course of making it, I’ve been disturbed to find how many people who I know and meet who have either never heard of Internment, or have a dim, unformed idea of what it was, why it happened, and what it means. Adding to a general sense of alarm are several articles and opinions expressed in the media that have shown that there remains in our culture both a deep ignorance of Japanese American Internment, an outright denial of historical facts, and a dismissal of its lessons, painting it as irrelevant to current events. Or worse, cynical attempts to distort its history to justify current government policy.

My goal is always for my illustrations to be good, that they help tell a story as well as possible, but in this strange period where history and the lessons it can teach seem to be slipping away either through neglect or deliberate attack, I hope that our work on “442” can help to provide further context, discussion, and help keep alive the incredible story of what happened when my grandfather and up to 120,000 other human beings, in the name of national security, were swept up in the tide of war and racist hysteria. It’s a profoundly American epic.

Phinny, what about you? Why was this project important to you?

I think the goal, generally, is to get this amazing true story out into the American consciousness. As a TV writer and screenwriter, and formerly as an actor, of Asian American heritage, it’s hard not get a little annoyed at how few stories are told about the Asian American experience in this country. There are unbelievably gripping, funny, and sad stories aching to be told. This, we think, is one of them.

For more information about Rob’s grandfather, be sure to check out these amazing links:

To check out the first six chapters or to find out more about Stela go to:

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