A weekly magazine-style radio show featuring the voices and stories of Asians and Pacific Islanders from all corners of our community. The show is produced by a collective of media makers, deejays, and activists.
Hosts Powerleegirls, Miko Lee & Jalena Keane-Lee begin a new series #NeverAgain, exploring stories about the exclusion and detention of Japanese Americans during World War II. They will talk with surviving detainees about their experiences then and now as they continue to be active agents for change. They will also highlight the work of activists today, many of whom carry their generational concentration camp experience into their advocacy for civil rights and civil liberties.
Episode one is Crystal City: Then and Now. Crystal City is historically considered one of the harshest detention centers for Japanese American internees during World War II. Last year many former detainees, descendants and activists journeyed to Crystal City, Texas in a pilgrimage of remembrance. They also went to protest at a nearby active detention center for migrant children. Tonight on Apex Express we hear from two members who went on the Pilgrimage – Satsuki Ina and Sita Bhaumik.
This series is made possible by funding from the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.
More info on our guests:
Never Again: Crystal City Then and Now
Opening: [00:00:00] Asian Pacific expression, unity and cultural coverage, music and calendar revisions influences Asian Pacific Islander. It’s time to get on board. The Apex Express. Good evening. You’re tuned in to Apex Express.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:00:18] We’re bringing you an Asian American Pacific Islander view from the Bay and around the world. We are your hosts, Miko Lee and Jalena Keane-lee the powerleegirls, a mother daughter team,
Miko Lee: [00:00:28] Welcome to our new series, Never Again, where we will explore stories about the exclusion and detention of Japanese Americans during world war II. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed executive order 9066, which unjustly called Japanese Americans a threat. Over 120,000 Japanese Americans and Latin Americans were incarcerated for over three years. The majority of the Japanese American detainees were from the West coast where they had excelled and creating robust farmlands. Pressure from the white farm industry was a major factor in pushing forth the racist internment policy.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:01:08] We will talk with surviving detainees about their experiences then and now as they continue to be active agents for change will also highlight the work of activists today many of whom carry their generational concentration camp experience into their advocacy for civil rights and civil liberties
Our first episode is Crystal City Then and Now welcome. Crystal City is historically considered one of the harshest detention centers for Japanese American internees during WW II. Last year, many former detainees, descendants and activist journey to crystal city, Texas in a pilgrimage of remembrance. They also went to protest at a nearby active detention center for migrant children. Tonight on apex express, we hear from two members who went on the pilgrimage. First off, Miko Lee spoke with Satsuki Ina writer, activist and psychotherapist. Satsuki has spent her professional career seeking to understand the longterm impact of collective and historic trauma. She was born in the Tule Lake segregation center, maximum security American concentration camp. And she’s the co-organizer for Tsuru for Solidarity, a grassroots coalition formed to protest current policies that echo and reverberate the racism and hate. So resonant of the historical Japanese American incarceration. Satsuki has produced two documentary films, Children of the Camps, and From a Silk Cocoon. Welcome Satsuki Ina
Miko Lee: [00:02:36] Can you just start by sharing with us your personal connection to the Japanese American concentration camps?
Satsuki: [00:02:43] I was born in the Tule Lake segregation center, which was a maximum security prison for Japanese Americans who were labeled by the government as a disloyal for, protesting their incarceration. Someone the other day said, “Oh, so you were born. You were born in captivity?” Yes. That’s my connection.
Miko Lee: [00:03:08] We just recently had the opportunity to watch your powerful documentary film Children of the Camps, which focuses on adult survivors, talking about the impact the internment had on their entire lives. And since you’re a therapist who specializes in trauma, can you speak about the long lasting impact of incarceration on families?
Satsuki: [00:03:29] The Japanese American incarceration experience like other community collective traumas, was something that was suppressed, in our community. And, so the opportunity for healing for addressing the trauma directly, was delayed for several decades. Also led to the consequence of, depression and anxiety that never got addressed and tying it to the early childhood experience of, being in confinement. Actually held in the arms of very anxious mothers and fathers who had no idea what the future held for them. the purpose of the children of the camps, gatherings, was to sort out, what did we know? How did it impact us? what have we lived with that? We haven’t been able to connect with the fact that we’d been traumatized and, What I learned after many of these children of the camps groups was a core issue of feeling of safety and belonging.
We grew up with parents who were extremely anxious about, the possibility of being reincarcerated for something that, was, maybe even random, we were required to be always on our best behavior. So it was flavored with anxiety, that, our parents would urge us to, study hard to, never misbehave, never be disrespectful. and, so it made us. meet that, myth of the model minority, and from my perspective, the model minority behavior of, excelling and overachieving and forever endeavoring to be good enough, came out of the psychological consequences of, several years of incarceration without any.
Cause for being incarcerated other than being Japanese. So longterm consequences of incarceration, especially for children is very similar today in that, Parents don’t have control over what happens to the children. they’re held in confinement and, relegated to doing what they’re told to do living under very substandard, circumstances. And, quality of care so diminished that, the feeling that the child gets is seeing the powerlessness of the parents, feeling denigrated, as something they deserved, lots of anxiety and depression and children and increasingly acting out behavior. A lot of anger. I have visited with mothers and children that are incarcerated in detention facilities, in Texas, and, interviewed them and observed the children and could see myself in these children, very fearful, very reluctant to express what they’re actually experiencing, cause they don’t know who to trust and they’re angry with their parents for not being able to protect them from okay. Cruelty and brutality that the children witnessed that their parents are subjected to. And some of the children’s objected to as well.
Miko Lee: [00:06:45] So you were so little when this happened, since you were born in the concentration camps, when did you recognize, or when did you come to a realization of what had happened? How old were you?
Satsuki: [00:06:57] It was decades later. The really profound moment was in 1988, when the Smithsonian Institute had a exhibit about the Japanese American experience, it was a year that, redress and reparations was happening for the Japanese American community where the government apologized and, offered a symbolic, monetary, amount of $20,000. I went to see that exhibit at the Smithsonian and, turned the corner and looked right into this large photograph of men standing inside of a jail cell at Tule Lake. I recognize my father, I’d never seen the photo before. I also never knew that when we were in Tule Lake, that there was a jail within a jail, and that my father was placed there, in the process of being separated from us, for being a dissident. he was being sent to a Bismarck, North Dakota, leaving behind my mother, brother, and myself.
Miko Lee: [00:07:56] So the first time you saw your father in this photograph in a jail cell was at the Smithsonian.
Satsuki: [00:08:04] Yes.
Miko Lee: [00:08:05] Wow. That is crazy.
Satsuki: [00:08:08] Cameras were contraband. We didn’t have very many family photos taken unless there was a soldier that had been drafted out of the camps and came back to visit their parents, during their RNR. Then all the kids would line up and get their photos taken. So it was that shocking moment I recognized him right away. The picture was a little fuzzy, but I knew it was my father. I was stunned and tearful and, realize how little I knew about what had really happened to my parents. I knew about the concentration camps. I knew that it was not a good experience, but the really the emotional, psychological impact on my family. I didn’t really know about until that moment when I realized that I needed to find out more. And that was the impetus for the children of the camps film was I began to just ask my friends who were my age in San Francisco. We’d all been children in the camps and ask them what they knew about what their parents went through. All of us just had tiny pieces of a massive puzzle that we could never put together. I thought if we got together and spent a weekend just weaving together our stories that there might be not only insight, but healing from sharing those stories. I did about 110 of those groups over a 10 year period and, found that, it wasn’t unusual that most of us knew very little, trauma impacted our parents so that the humiliation of the incarceration, their desire to not burden us with the trauma and Just the pain of reliving that experience. they compartmentalize it like most trauma victims do. We never really heard the details. Several years later I would find, with my mother’s help, diaries that she had written while she was in the prison camp letters. My mother, shared with me diaries that she had written every day during her incarceration. When my father died, we found letters that he had received from my mother while he was in Bismark and we were in Tule Lake and she said, “somewhere around here are the letters that daddy sent to me.” I will have those letters together. I’m working on a book right now and hopefully we’ll tell more of the very personal, private experience of their incarceration.
Miko Lee: [00:10:22] Talk a little bit about the significance of getting people to share their stories of that time.
Satsuki: [00:10:27] It’s such an important piece for the treatment and the healing of trauma. It’s a double bind because it’s painful to relive this story, but it’s also a healing to share it with others, outside of yourself, and be able to look at it from a different perspective because during the moment of the trauma and this was chronic trauma because my parents were incarcerated for four and a half years. The trauma itself requires, a way of thinking about it that is altered, because you’re in a survival mode. When you don’t retell the story or relive it in some way, share it with others, the thought that was attached to the moment stays rigid, fixed, and sometimes the thoughts are very self-blaming, irrational, negative self incriminating thoughts and, helplessness and powerlessness. When people share their stories and, others listened to it, witnesses to that story can often reframe for the person the way that they viewed themselves during that trauma. Many of the people who were sent to Tule Lake, for example, were labeled “disloyal” by the government, and also labeled disloyal by fellow Japanese Americans who answered “yes” to the loyalty questionnaire. Many of them that I spoke to internalize the fact that they were disloyal. When in fact there was no loyalty issue ever. There was never one single person ever convicted of sabotage or fifth column activities. When a compassionate witness listens to the story and is able to say, for example, “That was so courageous of you to stand up for your rights.” That can help the person shift the way that they’ve been seeing themselves through the lens of the trauma itself. So it’s very important. It’s important to be in a safe set in when you share the story that is people who are going to be nonjudgmental and really listen, to hear what the person’s experience was and not make judgements.
Miko Lee: [00:12:29] In your process of leading these 110 sessions of children of the camps? What surprised you?
Satsuki: [00:12:35] What was the most striking that comes to mind right now is how little we knew and yet how powerful it was when we were in a group that each person had a little puzzle that connected to someone else’s puzzle. For example, the thing that’s been coming up for me right now is, with the whistleblower story of the, forced hysterectomy in the detention facilities today. It brought back a memory of one of the groups that I was facilitating where, the man was saying, the story he heard from his mother when he was talking about his birth in camp, was that she was sent to the white doctor and the white doctor said that she had a tumor and, that she needed to have a hysterectomy. She didn’t believe it. She was scheduled to go back, but she didn’t go back. She found a doula in the camp, that helped her. During her pregnancy. it wasn’t a tumor. it was a baby that she had, and that baby was the man who was telling that story. In connection to that, someone else then said, that there had been rumors of, other women who had been sent off site, because they had either cancer or other, causes for a hysterectomy. I’m thinking now with the report, from the detention facility and in Georgia, it would be impossible to get records that could prove anything like that was happening, but the circumstances are so similar, the level of oppression and the, disrespect for the people who are being incarcerated in prison and in detention facilities, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was, efforts of, sterilization that were, that was taking place during world war II.
Miko Lee: [00:14:21] Can you talk about the impetus for Tsuru for Solidarity?
Satsuki: [00:14:25] In 2015, Carl Takei, who is a fourth generation descendant of a Tule Lake survivor called me. He’s ACLU attorney working in the National Prison Project, and asked if I would come to Texas and go, undercover as a religious visitor so that I could get inside to interview mothers and children who were being detained there. It Was in 2015. He was so distressed by what he had witnessed. The Karnes family detention center in South Texas had just opened their brand new facility, private part of the private prison, industrial complex, paid for by our tax dollars, had just opened their facilities, getting ready to start housing these mothers and children coming from central America seeking asylum. They allowed the ACLU and others to have a tour of the facility before people had been placed there. He said the most distressing thing to him was when they proudly opened up their supply closet. And there were rows and rows of little shoes. He was aghast at the thought of them preparing to in prison, these children. They were having difficulty once the mothers and children were placed inside, professionals weren’t allowed, the only people that could get in there were the attorneys that were, helping the mothers with their asylum hearings, where they had to prove they had to credible will fear. I went, right away, and then returned several times. One was a hearing that, the prison was, being challenged by the Flores settlement, that the children were being held too long. So they were applying for child development certification in Texas. A group of us, a therapist showed up at the hearing to protest that action. Last year in 2019, there was a group of us that were, former, survivors of the prison camp experience, who had been sent to Crystal City, Texas. It was a department of justice facility where the fathers or husbands had been separated from us and we were to be reunited there and then deported, to Japan, disloyal. This was after the war was over. We decided to have a pilgrimage there. In planning the pilgrimage, I realized that, just 40 miles west of where we were on the very same highway was the South Texas family residential center, the largest family detention facility today, and how important it would be for us to travel there. Our organizers discussed, actually protesting there. We thought it would be important, I knew the fence where we would have our protests was pretty far away from where the children are detained. so we needed something that would let the children know we were there. So bright colors and someone said, “We need to fold tsuru, paper, origami cranes.” We thought, “Okay, we need to ask our family and friends.” I think I said, “For a thousand cranes” and then Mike Ishi, the co-organizers that “no, we need 10,000 cranes.” He’s a visionary. I’m the practical one. By the time we got to, Texas for the demonstration, 30,000 paper cranes had been delivered, to be hung on the fence at the South Texas family residential center. Two taiko drumming groups showed up from one group from, Denver and another group from Texas.
Miko Lee: [00:17:56] And the cranes came from all over the world,
Satsuki: [00:17:58] All over. Yes. just by word of mouth. And it was astounding to us. We were really shocked. That was the start of Tsuru for Solidarity. We just felt the simple act of folding a crane, made it possible for many people to feel like they were doing something, to protest the repetition of our history. We had planned in June to go to Washington DC and take 125,000 paper cranes to hang on the fence at the white house but because of COVID, we’ll have to reschedule that event, but right now we have over 200,000 cranes that have come continue to come in from across the country and around the world.
Miko Lee: [00:18:37] I have 2000 in my living room because we were supposed to I’d go to the pilgrimage and then we ended up not being able to go. Can you talk about the symbolism of cranes?
Satsuki: [00:18:49] People are probably familiar with the story of a Sadako, who was a school girl who’s suffered the consequences of radiation and Hiroshima after the atomic bombing. There’s a, Japanese folk tale. If you fold a thousand cranes, you could make a wish and your wish will come true. So she began folding these paper cranes out of scraps of paper that she could find in the hospital while she was being cared for. She died before she completed the thousand cranes. So her classmates began folding paper cranes, in tribute to her courage and her effort and the tragedy of her premature death and, so they represent, even in words that she wrote that there would be peace on the wings of these paper cranes.
To us, they represent, peace and compassion. they represented freedom with wings. They represented Japanese, Asian culture. We wanted to bring the strength of our cultural tradition, to our protest is that our pride in who we were, was an important element of standing up for others and, protesting in ways that people didn’t show up for us when we’re being incarcerated. So it’s been quite an inspirational journey.
Miko Lee: [00:20:09] Do you know of any of the kids saw the cranes or the people that were held captive there?
Satsuki: [00:20:14] This was so exciting because one of the things is we worked with the Grassroots Leadership, which is a organization in Texas, that has been immigrant rights group for many years. They had connections with the pro bono attorneys that were going into the South Texas family residential center. They alerted the attorneys and, so that they could tell their clients that “At two o’clock on Saturday, listen for the drums. if possible, look out any windows to see, the colorful paper cranes.” So we’re accounting on that. But the best thing that happened was Telemundo. The Spanish speaking television station came to cover the story. Telemundo is the only television station that they’re allowed to watch inside of the detention facility. Yes, they got to see that there were people outside who cared.
Miko Lee: [00:21:13] And you mentioned the drums. In fact, it was a very intersectional protest with Mexican American indigenous folks, along with the taiko, you also had other traditional instruments being played. Can you talk a little bit about the intersectionality of the folks that showed up on those days of protest?
Satsuki: [00:21:32] Yes, I think the first one was at the South Texas residential center and it was connected with our pilgrimage. So that was primarily, Japanese Americans and their families and friends, that participated in the protest along with local people and some people who had families in there. The immigrant rights group that we were working with, subsequent actions, like the one at Fort Sill, we had two of them, within a month of each other, there, we reached out to other social justice groups in, Oklahoma, because we didn’t have any context there. We reached out to the American Indian movement, Detention Watch Network, United We ]Dream, Black Lives Matter, Oklahoma. They showed up and they were part of the protest. Fort Sill was planning to bring 1400 undocumented youngsters, to be held there. Fort Sill has the history of of incarcerating, Native American children and forcing them into boarding school, separated from their families, was also the place where Geronimo died and, the place where Japanese American men, who were, initially removed immediately after, Pearl Harbor been bombed. Many of them first generation immigrants, including several a hundred, I think there were 90 Buddhist priests that were removed right away and sent there. One of the Japanese men that was held there was shot and killed when he was trying to escape because he had just heard that his family had been incarcerated, back home. That action, is where we met with and, connected with these other social justice groups. It was the beginning of another element of our approach which is to have healing circles for change afterwards, where we sit together in a circle across community and listen to each other’s stories. We found that to be such a powerful healing and a building a community of solidarity across our different communities. As a result, when it looked like the children were actually going to be arriving, those organizations contacted us because they’re in Oklahoma and had word, immediately that those children were about to be brought there, contacted us and asked us if we would join them in another larger protest. At that protest, we had an amazing, experience of true solidarity with all of these, organizations and, several, Buddhist monks, also joined in that action. The healing circles have been a way in which we don’t just shout and part and go our separate ways, but afterwards we come together and, we’ve participated in a really important action where very high energy and feel very connected with each other. To sit, and, share stories with each other. Such a powerful way of connecting in ways that we really have been prevented from connecting with each other across communities.
Miko Lee: [00:24:41] How did you mobilize so many elders to participate in the project? Some folks that are in their eighties were getting on buses and going down there. What was that process like with getting them all, to gather together and go out and protest?
Satsuki: [00:24:56] It was a synergy, that we didn’t anticipate. I’m considered one of the elders too. We’re in our seventies, eighties and nineties, very actively involved with, to do for solidarity. It didn’t take a lot. I think people got that. What was happening today was so reminiscent of their own experience. There’s a powerful healing in standing up for someone else you value enough that you would take your time and your body and your effort, to stand up in opposition on behalf of someone else. people were ready. So word of mouth, mostly, we’re all contemporaries and, and people were contacting us saying, “how do we help? How do we get involved?” especially with the elders, those of us who were children in the camps now this is our final opportunity to really speak out and share our story and use our moral authority to speak out against, the inhumanity that is taking place again today.
Miko Lee: [00:25:59] Why do you think civil disobedience is important?
Satsuki: [00:26:02] I think civil disobedience is our right. It’s our constitutional right to protest. And, and it’s in defense of justice. and, I think more recently, the country has been, frightened into, cow towing and, deferring and, the threat of, breaking the law. Because of the incarceration, Japanese Americans in particular, grew up with a really strong law and order perspective that you obey the law. You don’t color outside of the lines. You stay on track, was part of the model minority myth that then you would be safe and accepted. To me an act of civil disobedience is of the trauma that people suffered. It’s like speaking out against, and really clarifying to yourself and to the world. What was done to you was unjust. That’s how we make change is to color outside of the lines to push back. when, there is oppression because that’s part of democracy, that’s part of being a patriot.
Miko Lee: [00:27:15] How can people get involved in this work?
Satsuki: [00:27:18] People can get involved by joining our efforts. We have educational programs all the time. We have actions even in COVID . We have hubs all across the country. We have hubs in New York and Chicago and Seattle and Sacramento and San Francisco, San Jose and Los Angeles, where, activists and organizers are tuned into, detention facilities and social justice issues in their local areas and, organizing COVID safe protest actions, whether they’re car rallies or socially distanced, marches. If you go on our website, they could find out, what’s happening and where, and, want to encourage people to join our co community conversations, but in the bigger picture. It’s important for people to speak out to, if there are policies and practices going on that are disturbing to you that are, in fact reprehensible to you. Educating those close to you and others, urging people to vote and clarifying, doing some reading and finding out what, what is really going on.
I heard recently that, in California only 49% of the Asian American registered voters actually went out and voted. We need to ask our family members, friends and neighbors, not only are they registered, have they checked to see if their registration is in place, but that they must vote. That is the one tool that we have. That’s how one person can make a difference is spreading the word. About how important it is to take action, to take responsibility for what is happening in America today.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:29:09] Next up, we hear Summer of 42 by Kishi Bashi from the album ‘Omoiyari.’ Even though Kishi and his family immigrated to the U S post-World war two, he created this album to address the current political climate.
He felt that the talk of walls and bans on immigrants was the same kind of talk that sparked the interment camps after Well water. He felt that the talk of walls and bands on immigrants recalls the same sort of fears that sparked the interment camps after Pearl Harbor in 1941.
That was Summer of 42 by Kishi Bashi. Next up we speak with artists Sita Bhaumik.Sita uses art as a strategy to connect memory and history with the urgent social issues of our time. Her work focuses on decolonization, the hierarchy of the senses and the impact of migration. Raised in Los Angeles Tongva land and based in Oakland Ohlone land. She is Indian and Japanese Colombian American. Sita is a founding member of the People’s Kitchen Collective which produces community meals around our shared struggle and resilience
Miko Lee: [00:32:12] Sita, last year you joined a caravan of folks that went on a pilgrimage to Texas to what was called the Crystal City Alien Enemy Detention Facility. Can you tell us about why you decided to join the caravan?
Sita: [00:32:26] I first heard about the caravan through elders who participated in people’s kitchen collective event. We had in 2018 held a meal in remembrance of executive order, and 9066 and we really wanted to connect with Japanese American groups and elders in particular intergenerationally. That we’re using their experience to really address everything that was happening like right here, right now with incarceration, detention camps, a Muslim ban and registry. I just was so blown away by the activism of 80 and 90 year old, amazing, energetic elders that I met through the process, including the Nikkei resistors and I heard a lot of them talk about two things. One was the pilgrimage, but actually also this term, Japanese, Latin American, which I had really never heard before. And I heard first from Grace Shimizu and and I was like, wait, what did you say? It was one of those things where I was like, shocked that I had never heard the term because I am Japanese, Latin American. I just didn’t know that there was. There were more of us really.
Miko Lee: [00:33:32] There was a whole community.
Sita: [00:33:33] Absolutely. So my mom immigrated to the United States from Columbia. My grandparents who went from Japan, from Fukuoka to Columbia and settling in Cali in 1929. My entire family is Nikkei on that side. My mom was really the only one here. I really didn’t know other Japanese, Latin Americans didn’t know a lot of Japanese Peruvians dropping is really, I knew they existed out there, but it was really this incredible moment that through the work that I was doing, organizing realized we’re in the millions think about, this diaspora of Nikkei folks, through the Americas. The number was just mind boggling to me. Cause growing up in Southern California, it was like me, my mom and brother had an uncle, yeah, so that was, it was really powerful for me. And so I think that the second that I realized, wow, there’s more of us and there’s this other history around incarceration that in fact affected my family very differently. But that also happened here in Texas where the largest family detention center exists today. I just, I had to get on the bus. I was like, sign me up. I gotta go.
Miko Lee: [00:34:43] I love these elders that are activists. Can you just talk a little bit about what it’s like seeing folks in their eighties and nineties out there doing this tough work?
Sita: [00:34:53] The first events that I had gone to was at JC and I heard Grace Shimizu invited Libya Yamamoto to speak and I was so impacted. The way that she spoke about being kidnapped essentially by the U S military as a young girl her father began taking before her. She, it felt like you were hearing somebody who was talking about something that happened yesterday. We were sitting there and just in tears. And I think that one of the really powerful things about events like that is that I heard kind of bits and pieces from my own elders about how my grandfather’s incarceration had impacted the family. But, it was always these like funny stories or little anecdotes.
Then I realized in interviewing elders. Oh, there were always these kind of funny stories and little anecdotes, it was often, the children looking back on his history at the time that our elders now that really had a different side of things to share with me. I think that day, I probably met also Chizio Mori in Flora Niyomia who are two other elders that just speak so powerfully and act, just so powerfully about, on their experience. And really put a lot of context around what my grandfather was experiencing. So my grandfather so in Colombia, there was a very small, relatively speaking camp and it was a former luxury hotel called the hotels up on it. And there were German, Italian, and Japanese, mostly heads of household. I’ve heard that some German families were also held there. And so it wasn’t a sweeping, every one of Japanese descent. But it affected men, particularly who were heads of language organizations business associations community leaders. And so that impacted my grandfather and. The story that I had always heard is that they’re like, “Oh, you’re, your grandpa was off, and during the war and he stayed there.” There were these stories about springing him out, cause it was a lot lower security. It appears to me. And so what would happen was that the guards couldn’t read Japanese, and they couldn’t speak Spanish. They could read Spanish. Of course. So one of my aunts would send a letter saying, ” Dad, I hope we can get you home. Mom is so sick and we don’t know if she’s going to make it. I’m just praying that you can come home.” Then they follow it up with a chaser letter in Japanese for my grandmother. That would say “I’m totally fine. We’re just trying to get you home for the weekend. Don’t worry this is what we need help with something related to the farm.” He would be able to actually to come I’m home on occasion because of this. It was always related to me as this like funny kind of clever story. I just in thinking about the deep impact of that realized, because my grandfather was taken away, he was incarcerated.
It meant that the two oldest children never finished school. My aunt was actually illiterate and I never realized that until I was helping her fill out medical documents. When she stubbed her toe on a trip to the U S and I was helping her fill out the forms, and I couldn’t believe that she had somehow navigated, at that 80 years of her life as a shrewd businesswoman, unable to read and write because she had been taken out of school to help run the farm because my grandfather was in prison. I think that
Miko Lee: [00:38:20] ripple effects of incarceration.
Sita: [00:38:21] Totally. And it’s not anything new and it’s not anything surprising. It happens today, every day. But I think that it’s just so hard. It’s impossible to calculate the emotional impact, the financial impact, the families structures that, it affects a whole constellation of things that for me, sometimes it’s hard to really hold that meant for, for people at that time.
Miko Lee: [00:38:46] The multiple generations of trauma from that incarceration and the impact just goes on. In Columbia, did they actually send some Japanese Colombians to crystal city or was that just from Peru?
Sita: [00:39:03] There were, I’m a little fuzzy on the details, to be honest about that, to my knowledge, there weren’t any specific Japanese Colombians. I think there were a Japanese Latin Americans from some other countries that my grandfather’s incarceration within Columbia was entirely under pressure from the U S government. So the crazy thing is that even though my grandfather literally never set foot in America in his entire life, he was incarcerated in Columbia, under pressure from the U S government. The reason for that blew my mind, which is that there was a proposal to use people of Japanese descent and in Latin American countries for prisoner of war exchanges. As we know that happened for, I believe it was 800 Peruvians of Japanese descent who were included in to prisoner of war exchanges between the United States and Japan. To think about, how many people have to be complicit in something like that.
Miko Lee: [00:39:54] Yeah. And how many corporations are a part of that, push the governments too?
Sita: [00:39:59] Yeah. There are definitely business deals, arms deals, as we understand it that we’re, very persuasive. I think in different from country to country, but capitalizing and I use that word intentionally on a lot of xenophobia that already existed.
Miko Lee: [00:40:16] Things have not changed all that much. Huh?
Sita: [00:40:20] Definitely eye opening to start to see the connections, and that was one thing that really started coming together around that time for me.
Miko Lee: [00:40:27] So had you been to other pilgrimages.
Sita: [00:40:30] No, this is the first thing only pilgrimage that I’ve been on. I was hoping to go on a few more, but I think, we’re all seeing how that experience changes in the next few years.
Miko Lee: [00:40:40] How do you feel like what has been the impact, this being your first pilgrimage? What’s the impact on you in terms of how you relate to your family story?
Sita: [00:40:52] I think that for Japanese Colombians, we’re always think of ourselves as such a small community relative to say the populations in Brazil or Peru. Really connecting the dots between how our leaving Japan and the connection between Nikkei and, throughout the Americas is really powerful and it’s interesting because in Latin America, this, there isn’t a concept of Asian American identity. The way that like Filipino, Chinese, Japanese Indian, like even South and East Asian, like there isn’t is that kind of political Like agency, that’s built out of identifying in those ways really. And so ethnic groups get really siloed in my experience and there is almost more a connection between people of Japanese descent across different countries than there is between say Asian, Latin Americans within a country, if that makes sense. And of course, like we’re impacted by the effects of colonialism. The relationship to also Japanese colonialism is very complicated and all this to not absolve Japan also of that, of why and how people were leaving. And what that meant for also the colonization of indigenous land in the Americas. Whether that was really intentional or not. I think one of the things that was really important with connecting intergenerationally with people, both younger than myself and older than myself, was really powerful. To see that continuity and to also see how a lot of people weren’t aware of the experience that people like my grandfather had, weren’t even really aware in many cases, I was shocked to find that other, other Japanese, Latin Americans were like really Colombia. It was really an opportunity to share. Just also how widespread the impacts of these policies were.
Miko Lee: [00:42:44] So the whole pilgrimage to crystal city was one looking at a former concentration camp, but also really looking at how migrant kids are being held today and to protest with this never again, mantra. Can you talk with us about just going on that pilgrimage, what was the experience like for you? You’re on the buses and tell us about what happened.
Sita: [00:43:08] I there were a lot of opportunities to hear from people and and learn and get some history and the context. I remember and going out was just such a collective experience. In visiting a place that is very much alive too, which I’ve also heard is a very different experience. With different sites how populated it is or unpopulated it is. There’s a thriving community and Chicano community that’s out in Crystal City. I think was just super welcoming as well to this, to the people and the history. For me also as Japanese, Latin, American, just seeing all of the, border politics and the kind of the, just the proximity of every thing and everyone and the detention centers it’s, I think that’s why so powerful to go to a place.
I’m also a photographer and I’ve been working on a longer term project about documenting a lot of the places that were never pictured in my family history. Like for instance, nobody ever took a picture of the site of like where my grandfather was incarcerated during the war. So I, I got out there stayed. Yeah, my cousin’s house and, borrowed her car, barely made it before sunset took five rolls of film in 30 minutes before the sunset and made it home. I wanted to know how far apart things were. I wanted to know what the place felt like. I wanted to know what the weather was like. Just feeling Texas heat, the distance for instance, in foods, I gotta go with my grandfather of like how far it was from the rest of the family. It was just mind blowing to me. Just being in place and James Baldwin actually, I think he writes a lot about this is like such, I think it just. It affects you differently.
Miko Lee: [00:45:06] I’m wondering if you could talk about your installation work, the Archive of Dust, and just describe why it is, why it was really important to utilize literal dust. Connected to that installation.
Sita: [00:45:24] I was invited to produce the Archive of Dust as a piece for as part of Four Freedoms, which is a PR collective project. Hank Willis Thomas had called me and asked me if I wanted to participate. And the interesting thing is that Four Freedoms is actually named after the famous FDR speech . I have always been irritated by the fact that I learned and I think most people in America learn about the good FDR and all of his benevolent works in history class. Then there’s this mention of you might learn about, 9066, but it almost seems like it’s a different president, that signed the order because he’s remembered so fondly in other ways. I was like, Hank , you’re going to name it For Freedoms? Can I please address this other aspect of Roosevelt? I really wanted the piece to speak to 9066.
Miko Lee: [00:46:21] What did he say when you pose that?
Sita: [00:46:23] Oh, he loved it. He was like “Please!” I had been hearing these stories of the dust storms in camps. A lot of the people that we interviewed for the people’s kitchen collective meal, their families, or they had been at Tule Lake, I think, geographically in the United States, a lot of people we’ll end up kind of families end up in places that are connected in some ways to the camps that that they were at. Tule Lake is right on the California border north. I’d heard of these crazy dust storm and just like this sand and dust seeping through the cracks of the barracks and just being inescapable. And then these crazy stories of the, like the production, the farm labor that was made possible by just sheer human effort up there. I had been talking to another artist, Mark Baugh-Sasaki, and he had 300 pounds of dust from Tule Lake that he could let me use for this exhibition. We ended up shipping. His 300 pounds of dust from Tule Lake out to Georgia for this exhibition at the SCAD museum.
I used it with a pattern of these pole beans, actually that had been grown from kiddos that was seed. The beans were one of the highest crops at the time, 95% of beans were grown by Japanese Americans at the time. Pre-war and so there’s this kind of all these elements and also this like awesome artist exchange that just happened to make it all possible in this really short amount of time. The material almost looked like velvet. When you looked at it, it has this kind of rough and smooth texture at the same time and this kind of like powdery, beige color. I made a mess of that museum installing a piece, I literally created my own dust storm of Tule Lake dust within a museum in order to get, cause it involves applying adhesive and then fistfuls of this dust to get it, to stick on the wall and then you brush it away.
Miko Lee: [00:48:29] I think it’s such a powerful image. You have applied on the wall, a quote by Jimmy Yamaichi. “The dust would crawl up like ants through those cracks.” And that’s a, there’s so many different stories about people just sweeping and that they just can’t get rid of it.
Sita: [00:48:45] Yeah, that was also unexpected, but just, it just poetic in the way that it returned.
Miko Lee: [00:48:49] Can you talk a little bit about the intersectionality of the movement around migrant justice and especially you coming from multiple cultures, what is that like for you to be part of this movement that is about bringing together all different types of people?
Sita: [00:49:07] One of the really interesting kind of statistics that I think we as the Japanese Americans here is that Japanese Americans are more likely to be of mixed race than other groups. I don’t remember what the official numbers are, but it’s a, both a really common experience. For me being both South Asian and East Asian. My father is from West Bengal. My grandparents were freedom fighters for Indian independence and was incarcerated. He was in prison in and out of prison throughout world war two for for his political activity. Meanwhile, across another ocean my Japanese grandfather was imprisoned in Columbia as a political prisoner for completely different reasons. Because he was a community leader and he happened to be of Japanese descent. I think that as a mixed person, I’ve always had this need to find where things cross over, where they connect and to say , okay and sometimes it’s through food. Both of my family members, families on each side eat this. They both love mangoes. Okay. All right, cool. Over time that also grew to more serious questions around Oh my God. Both of my grandfathers were political prisoners. At the same time for completely different reasons, different continents in different continents. I look at everything with that lens, I think because I have no other option. I am bilingual, Spanish, English speaking and I know that’s also really affected the way that I navigate, life in the United States as someone who was born and raised here. And also my, I think experience of even just what different communities hear in different languages through different media is like pretty starkly different. There’s one of the groups that under kind of operating in their hashtag freedom, all that’s doing larger work also to connect not only across communities of color, but also across the issues that affect communities of color. One of the things that I’m so inspired by seeing younger generations saying “what are you talking about? It’s all connected.” In a way that I think when I was coming up and learning about things, you go one place to learn about women’s studies and another to learn about Asian American studies at another place to learn about apprehension and history.
Miko Lee: [00:51:33] I have high hopes for generational change. The next generation of young leaders who do really think differently about intersectionality. That’s exciting and exciting to also have these elders that are still out there, waving the banner. This happened to me. Never again.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:51:50] Next up, listen to Kenji by Fort minor, the band created by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. This is a song about Mike’s father and his family that was incarcerated at Mannes. And are.
That was Mike Shinoda’s Kenji based upon his family story at Manzanar. So, what was your favorite part of the show tonight?
Miko Lee: [00:54:09] To me, I loved hearing about intergenerational activism through the arts and how storytelling was so grounded in both of their work, both Satsuki and Sita.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:54:20] I love that too. And they’re both so brilliant and really exploring trauma and intergenerational trauma and what that looks like, and I think it makes sense that art is a really great medium to do that because there’s so much feeling involved with it. And I love Satsuki’s story about the Smithsonian and seeing her family picture in this Smithsonian. It just says so much about authorship and who tells these stories, who has the power to keep an archive? And so that was really interesting to me.
Miko Lee: [00:54:47] I thought it was fascinating to see, to telling her family story about Japanese Latin Americans. And we’re going to do a whole episode just talking about Japanese Latin Americans, which I think have really been left out of the stories about the internment.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:55:03] And what about the importance and relevance of a pilgrimage and how that’s really cross-cultural and something that we see. Around the world really?
Miko Lee: [00:55:13] I think it’s been such an important way for Japanese American folks and descendants to really relive a sense of the history and this idea of going back to the actual barracks, the places, the concentration camps, where people were held and seeing. Smelling and as Sita talks about the dust collecting the dust that was there, how that helps to tell a story and to process the trauma is really important.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:55:39] I also really liked the intersectional element of, all the different people that were performing when they got to the camp and all the different, cultural intersections, both from a pilgrimage in a pilgrimage itself, and also , in the final gathering protests spot that. They held.
Miko Lee: [00:55:57] And it is through that. All different types of people working together that we truly can be able to make that change. And through that shared storytelling, I also love how Satsuki started, not just the protest part, but the healing circle afterwards with the group so that they could all together learn from each other and then carry that with them after that pilgrimages over.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:56:20] In general, I think “Never Again”, it’s such a powerful statement and rally and call, and it was really the perfect way to start this series. And we’re excited for you all to hear the next episodes as we dive further into japanese internment and the impacts it’s had on our community. Thank you to all of our guests on this episode, please check our website, kpfa.org/program/apex express for links to find out more about each of our guests tonight. We’re in the process of developing a study guide and online teacher training so stay tuned we thank the California Civil Liberties program for making this series possible.
Thank you for listening we’ll see you next time on apex express
Miko Lee: [00:57:00] Keep resisting, keep organizing. Keep creating and sharing your visions with the world. Your voices are important. Apex express is produced by Preti Mangala-Shekar, Tracy Nguyen, Miko Lee and Jalena Keane-Lee. Tonight’s show was produced by your hosts, Miko Lee, and Jalena Keane-Lee. Thanks to KPFA staff for their support and have a great night.