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 and Jalena Keane-Lee continue with the #NeverAgain series on the Japanese American incarceration during WW II. Focus on the Resisters! We hear about those who fought back, through organizing, protesting, court battles and more. We speak with authors Tamiko Nimura and Frank Abe about their graphic novel We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration, which weaves together the stories of multiple ancestor rebels.
We thank the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program for making this series possible and the San Francisco Foundation for helping us set up a home studio.
More information about our guests:
Their graphic novel: We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration. Please support your local bookstore, and/or order from our local AAPI heroes at EastWind Books.
More information about some of the topics discussed in this episode:
- John Okada’s No No Boy
- Eric Muller’s American Inquisition: the hunt for Japanese American disloyalty in World War II.
- Momotoku Akashi’s Betrayed Trust: The Story of a Deported Issie and his American Born Family
- Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s Swimming in the American: A Memoir and Selected Writings
- Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s Shoe Box Plays
- Watch Emiko Omori film Rabbit in the Moon
- Konrad Aderer’s film Resistance at Tule Lake
- Frank Abe’s film Conscious and the Constitution
Wayne Collins a lawyer who represented Japanese Americans in key civil rights cases including Mitsuye Endo’s successful case before the Supreme Court.
James Omura – Omura was the lone Nikkei journalist to editorialize against the JACL-endorsed 1944 federal decision to draft imprisoned Nisei into the military without first restoring their lost citizenship rights.
James Purcell, a lawyer who represented Mitsuye Endo
- Gaman – enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity
- “Go for broke!”- patriotic self-sacrifice in order to prove one’s loyalty, coined by most decorated WWII Japanese American Troop 442.
- issei (first generation immigrant), nisei (second generation, born in US), sansei (third generation born in US), yonsei (fourth generation)
- “Shikata ga nai” – a Japanese saying meaning “it can’t be helped” or “nothing can be done about it.”
Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) oldest Japanese American civil rights organization
Fair Play Committee (Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee) – The Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee was a membership organization of draft-age Nisei men at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center that advocated for a restoration of Nisei civil rights as a precondition for compliance with the military draft and counseled noncompliance with the draft in order to create a test case of the lawfulness of conscripting the incarcerated Nisei.
Transcripts of The Resisters show
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 powerlee girls, a mother daughter team,
Miko: [00:00:28] Welcome to our 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: [00:01:07] Tonight, we’re talking about the resistors. We’re going to hear about those who are not the silent majority, but instead fought back through organizing protesting court battles and more. We hear from authors, Tamiko Nimura and Frank Abe about their graphic novel “We Hearby Refuse Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration” which weaves together the stories of multiple ancestor rebels.
Miko Lee: [00:01:31] Welcome to apex express, Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura the authors of the new graphic novel “We Hearby Refuse Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration. In this book, there’s two of you that are collaborating and there’s also two illustrators that are collaborating. Why did you choose this multidimensional style to tell these stories?
Frank Abe: [00:01:53] We accepted the challenge of doing it as one epic narrative. This book has one continuous storyline from start to finish so that, you get a sense of the journey that our characters make in confronting the racism of the war era confronting the injustice of eviction in incarceration, and then developing strategies around how to overcome the obstacles of a loyalty questionnaire of de nationalization, the opportunity to renounce your citizenship or the compulsory military conscription that was imposed on the new saying camp by selective service by the war department, in collaboration with our own community leaders.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:02:41] Could you talk a little bit about what inspired you to create this graphic novel?
Frank Abe: [00:02:45] We got an assignment from the Wing Luke Asian museum of Seattle to create a graphic novel with the theme of camp resistance. It was an opportunity, at least for me to expand upon the PBS documentary I did 20 years ago on the heart mountain fair play committee, which was one of a trio of works around the year 2000 that helped reintroduce the subject of Issei draft resistance to polite conversation in a Japanese American community. Tamiko came on board and two artists . So the discussion we took us a while to basically settle on three characters at who are the subjects of our graphic novel.
Miko Lee: [00:03:26] What was your process for selecting the individual stories that you told? There’s so many different experiences that people had. What made you choose those stories?
Frank Abe: [00:03:35] One was easy Hiroshi Kashiwagi of Sacramento is Tamiko’s uncle. Hiroshi is well known in San Francisco Bay area writer, poet, playwright and he offered the opportunity to connect two sides of the Tule Lake story that were critical for us. One was his refusal to sign a loyalty oath at TuleLake, but also his yielding to family pressure, to renounce as US citizenship at Tule Lake, which put himself at risk of deportation. The second character was another Sacramento resident. Mitsuye was born Sacramento raised there and she of the five Supreme court plaintiffs was the one who story has not yet been told.
So it was very gratifying to create her as a character on the page that you can relate to more than up to now just a name on a court brief. So Mitsuye Endo is a reluctant recruit to a lawsuit, contesting the imprisonment of Japanese Americans that detention, and she refuses a chance to leave the camp at Topaz so the case could be heard by the US Supreme court. The third character was Jim Ikutsu because this novel was commissioned by the Wing Luke museum in Seattle. We wanted to have one Seattle-based story, which was great because it lets us get in drawings of pre-war and post-war Seattle, including scenes that appear in the novel “No-No Boy”, because as you may know, Jim Ikutsu we’ve established was the inspiration for John Okado is novel for the character Ichiro Yamada. And Jim, like Ichiro Yamada, refuses to be drafted from the camp at Minidoka after the selective service, classified him, not as a citizen, but as an enemy alien. And that upset him. And some of the other nisei that he refused to answer his call for induction. Those are the three characters that we set out. We narrow down from a really wide range of resistance figures. We could have done the easy thing and done the hard part and Fairplay committee over again, but we’d covered that in the film and that’s been well told. Military resistors we could have done who else Tamiko did we not cover.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:05:43] Into Mesa, we could have covered from also from Seattle, but we didn’t have enough of a body of work or, voice really to flesh out his story. We could covered the DB boys who were already right. We could have covered more of Issei mothers stories. there were several Issei mothers groups who petitioned to change their son’s citizenship status back from enemy alien. We cover one of those stories in the book, but there were several that I didn’t know about. Just to add a bit about Endo, I was particularly excited to add the story and voice of an Issei woman to the dialogue about Japanese American resistance.
Frank Abe: [00:06:26] Oh, that was critical because it would be wrong to have men be the subjects of these wonderful stories. It just worked out well because, Endo is so little known of the,
Tamiko Nimura: [00:06:38] the person behind the case.
Frank Abe: [00:06:40] I realized the reason why know so little of Endo, besides the fact that she was shy, unassuming and refuse to talk to the press after the war was that she won her case. The only reason we know a lot about Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui is because Peter Irons in San Diego, found the evidence to reopen their cases in 1985 and get them back in federal court. So we got a lot of publicity around the cora novis cases. They get medals of freedom and, books written about them, nothing about Endo, because her case could not be reopened because she won.
Miko Lee: [00:07:13] Actually, the combination of the people that you selected, all of those extra stories, we would love to hear more about the Issei mother’s story would love to know more about that, but I did love
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:07:24] to include women’s voices like that.
Miko Lee: [00:07:26] Hearing Mitsuye Endo’s, ending of her job, working in racial justice in Chicago is just really great.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:07:32] Right? I just loved that part of the story. She had several job offers to chose from. Once she arrived in Chicago, people knew who she was. I’m so happy that she, for whatever reason, chose the office of the newly created office with the mayor on race relations.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:07:50] Love that ending to the story. I’m curious Tamiko, what was it like working with your uncle and what was that process like?
Tamiko Nimura: [00:07:56] Oh honestly it reminded me just how human these people were. We lost my uncle in 2019, so he wasn’t able to see the finished product. But we did show him earlier drafts of his character arc in his story. I believe that he still found some of that quite traumatic, to be honest. So working with his story really reminded me of how human the stakes are, just how long the trauma can last from camp. So I was always really mindful of that.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:08:35] Yeah, that’s something that’s come up throughout our throughout this series and the interview process of, telling these stories and how important it is to share them, but then also how that can sometimes be retraumatizing, both for the person that had that experience. And sometimes the people listening as well. I’m curious for both of you, what kind of practices did you put in place to make sure that you’re taking care of yourself as you were learning about these stories and creating this graphic novel?
Frank Abe: [00:08:59] None. I have a hard shell, so I’m not accustomed to these stories. Jalena really skeptical of the term trauma and intergenerational trauma. We hear a lot about these days. Maybe I’m showing my age, but 20 years ago, we didn’t talk about that as a term of art. There were Sansei of my generation, who were really messed up because of camps and parents didn’t talk about it and so on. But retraumatizing it, yeah. When I interviewed Frank and James Imura and talking to Hiroshi too, they never broke down and cried. As a filmmaker, it’s always the money shot of giving your subjects to cry on camera. That’s the shot you lead with in your documentary of, tears and sobs. No. These guys were resolved in what they did. They were content that even though the Japanese American community kicked them around, ostracized them, demonized them during the war and after the war they did something. They took action and they were content with that.
I think Hiroshi as well, so that talking about it after the war now again, this is a self-selecting group of guys. There’s a lot of draft resisters, no doubt, who never, we never heard of never talked to because they didn’t go public. We know the fellows who did go public but they seem well centered in their resistance and their principal protest. And Hiroshi, I have to disagree with Tamiko, I never found him to be retraumatize at all because he talked about it. Like he wrote about it. He wrote, plays about it. He worked it out in his art and in his memoir. So it was more a function of, I think he was a little embarrassed about some of the things we wanted to bring up about, know , his distaste at the sharing the latrines with the Buddhist ministers and business association leaders. As he grew up with in Sacramento hanging out. He asked us not to talk about that. But Tamiko your experience is different, but Hiroshi just seemed like a pretty wry, humorous personality.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:10:47] I think we might have to agree to disagree on that one, but I think there was something when we’d sent him that earlier draft about not being the one to tell his story, but having to read a version of his story that I do think that he found difficult. We’ll say if you want to avoid traumatic, but I do think he found it difficult to have somebody else telling these very hard parts of his story. As far as self care during this project it’s interesting actually, both Frank and I went off and published books during other books during the making of this one. And so I do think that working on a different project for me was helpful and not having called to myself camp TV in my head on 24/7. That was helpful. And also to be reminded that unlike a lot of these folks that we wrote about I did feel a support of a larger community in writing this book.
Miko Lee: [00:11:45] Thank you for saying that. I want to go back to earlier were when we were talking about the three different characters that the graphic novels based on, you mentioned Jim being the Seattle inspiration for the no-no boys, lead character, and Frank, you also have, co-authored a really extensively researched book on no-no boys, author, John Okada. I’m wondering if during this experience, there were new things that you discovered about the real person that the book was based on.
Frank Abe: [00:12:14] There was an opportunity to turn the novel “No No Boy” inside out and, knowing what I’ve uncovered about the life of both John Okada that was unknown before and the life of Jim Akutsu, which, we have documented before and he’s done several interviews before he passed in 1998. It was a chance to link the two, weave them together in a very nice way, near the end of the book where astute readers can read the graphic novel follow, Jim Akuto’s story, we haven’t even gave Okada little cameo with him meeting Jim again, after the war at Titan cafe weaving their stories together. So the astute reader can see very sub textually that. Oh, these are scenes that I recognize from the novel “No No Boy” of the shoe shop of the parents struggling to earn a living of the customers who come in spouting bizarre conspiracy theories about Japan, not losing the war of of ships from Japan that’ll come rescue the loyal and patriotic. and of course the tragic ending, that is replicated by Okada and it transformed into a different thing, but equally tragic. It was a chance to weave the two stories together and show the knowledgeable reader. This is how, “No-No Boy”, the novel was inspired. Where it came from.
Miko Lee: [00:13:37] So leading up in the book, you often incorporate real quotes from the JACL, from politicians. Was that an intentional part of your process to cull together these quotes to make sure that it’s grounded in this history?
Frank Abe: [00:13:53] Yes. The story is based on true events and the narration and dialogue, every scene is drawn as closely as possible from the historical record because people still don’t understand the words and deeds of Karl Bendetsen the Western defense command and the wartime leader of the Japanese American citizens league. I knew there would be skepticism about what we put on the page. So I made sure that, it is almost verbatim to their actual words, wherever possible. And where we don’t know what was said in private meetings, we still infer and in these scenes are true to their character and to the historical record. that was very important because, even though it’s a graphic novel, it’ll still stand as a book that we read in classrooms and by students. Want to make sure that we don’t put anything that hits the wrong note. We want to make sure that it has the right tone. So everything is very carefully calibrated to have the right feel and tone. But I’m glad you noticed that. Certainly the politicians quotes congressmen and California attorney general, Earl Warren are familiar quotes and writing them in 2017. It felt like I was, ripping quotes from the headlines of a few years ago because as we know, it was a time of a lot of gas lighting in New York and American media and it was the same thing back in 1942. A lot of the book was, resonates with what was happening over the last four years. And what is still happening today?
Tamiko Nimura: [00:15:30] Yeah, we kept feeling these echoes all over again. We kept seeing, Oh, look at that fake news disinformation. Look at that age. anti-Asian racism and rhetoric. Look at that racial profiling. It was all a little too familiar.
Miko Lee: [00:15:45] I’m wondering about why you all did not include the agricultural industry in California. That was also a big push behind the internment.
Frank Abe: [00:15:54] It could have it’s just know, you get tired after awhile there, it was hard. It was hard enough to hold things together, with these three characters and weaving the stories together. Again, it happily worked out well that the three stories fit like a Jenga or jigsaw puzzle, so that you can tell the overarching story of the common experience of Japanese-Americans that everyone shared through these three characters, passing through time going the agricultural stuff is of course an important background and
Tamiko Nimura: [00:16:22] We do have my uncle starting off on sharecropping right. On the farm in Penrhyn. So there’s a very brief nod to that, but absolutely there were larger economic pressures, that were harder to include in a story focused so much on people.
Frank Abe: [00:16:37] The real answer to your question is there were no Robert Barron’s no native sons of the golden West directly involved in the stories of our three characters. There was a typist, Jim Akutsu was a city boy in Seattle and he, Hiroshi Kashiwagi sharecropped as Tanika says on a farm outside Sacramento. Did not deal with any kind of directly with, the big wigs in the native sons of the golden West, who Exploited all the land that was vacated from those farmers who were evicted. It wasn’t organic to the story, and that’s something that educators should bring to the classroom, bring to the teaching of the material when they read this in class. So it’s not a textbook it’s a good story.
Miko Lee: [00:17:22] So that the story is the base for people to build on and bring more information in about the entire experience
Frank Abe: [00:17:29] so much context for what happened that it would have been a little too much, it would have felt a little too. Teachy a little too preachy to bring in a lot of that stuff, to go back to Chinese exclusion act, the gentleman’s agreement and, it’s just a little too. Too much of a reach, I think first storytelling wise. The story is powerful because it comes from sort of these personal visions, personal through lines and Tamika, you had mentioned earlier about telling these different stories about women. I feel like so much of what we hear about troop 442, the most lauded decorated army troop that Senator Daniel Inouye was a part of in your book, talks about that resistance and the mothers in the community that spoke out about fighting the draft.
Miko Lee: [00:18:12] And you said that’s one of the stories you told a piece of that, but there were more to share. Can you talk a little bit more about that? About the mothers.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:18:19] Just that there were other mothers groups besides the one that we highlight in the book right there, mother society of Minidoka is the one that we highlight thanks to the scholarship of near Shimabukuro, who is based in Seattle. But in doing research on the Mother’s society Densho encyclopedia points as to the other mothers societies, at Postin. And is it a mochi Frank though? The other one was .Oh, and Topaz, right? Yeah, but the other other mothers groups, that I had not heard of before starting work on this book,
Miko Lee: [00:18:58] I’ve heard of the mother’s group, but not the letter to Eleanor Roosevelt. They actually wrote a letter and that she responded, or some secretary, it seems responded?
Frank Abe: [00:19:09] Right,
Tamiko Nimura: [00:19:09] and basically the message was “hang in there.” I remember thinking how disappointed that they were, that she didn’t sign the letter.
Miko Lee: [00:19:19] She did actually go to visit one of the camps. I remember their stories about everybody having to clean the camp up before Eleanor Roosevelt visited. Make it look good for her. In your book there’s stories that we don’t normally hear about the resistance. We see dances, we see baseball games, but in your book, you’re really talking about those stories around empowerment, around organizing. And can you talk a little bit more about what happened at Tule Lake after one of the farm workers was killed?
Frank Abe: [00:19:51] You have to understand , that at the time Tule Lake was designated a segregation center. So you can’t talk about Tule Lake without understanding, three things that the war department and the WRA having put Japanese Americans into these camps and stigmatizing them as somehow untrustworthy because they’re in these inland camps, they needed a way to clear them for release to the East and Midwest. In the case of WRA for resettlement and the army wanted JACL was pushing John J McCloy to draft the new Seattle camp and the army went so far as to allow volunteers. The army needed a way to clear them as security risks. Same with the WRA. They didn’t want the people in Chicago and Cleveland to feel that the government was sending, spies and saboteurs into their neighborhoods.
So they came up with what they felt was an innocuous set of questions. Question 27 was about volunteering for the army. And 28 was, “will you swear on qualified allegiance to the United States and forswear any allegiance to, for Japan.” they felt these were very simple, straightforward questions did not anticipate the violent reaction in all the camps to these ambiguous questions. No one in the government knew the consequences of a yes or no answer. Many people, thousands of people sensibly refuse to answer or said, no, And these people were the ones who were then segregated Tule Lake.
When the farm truck overturned in at TuleLake, you already had a powder keg there of anger and resentment against the segregation and of camp administrators taking the food that’s grown there and shipping it to other camps to feed them. When the workers refused, went on strike, basically all, they didn’t call it a strike. After the , one farmer who was killed when it farm truck overturned, as you mentioned. The people in camp organized and they organized a negotiating committee to meet with Raymond Vest the new segregation center director and Best basically double cross them and brought in strikebreakers.
This led to a situation where nightwatches were set up a Tule Lake to make sure that Mr. Best didn’t steal their food and give it to the strike bakers. When they saw three trucks being driven away by what they assumed were strike breakers, taking food to the strike breakers they chase the trucks. Out of this came a series of arrests, beatings fears that these Watchmen were going to attack the director. And the army was called, and this was the famous Tule Lake Disturbance falsely called a riot by the government. This led to a lockdown. This led to a series of crackdowns on the people of Tule Lake which ended with the creation of a military stockade for the imprisonment of those who either chase the trucks who fought with those who were guarding the trucks or those who were suspected of being agitators and dissedents in camp.
This is all a consequence of the segregation that came from the loyalty questionnaire. The second action was the reinstitution of military draft and 1944. And the third is at Tule Lake in particular. Congressman had long been trying to strip the nissei of the U S citizenship even before the war. Certainly after Pearl Harbor and that was illegal under the profile citizenship provision of the 14th amendment. So Congress instead in July of 1944 is two years into the camps, passed a D nationalization act that for the first time allows American- born Nisei to voluntarily renounce their citizenship during time of war and 5000 at Tule Lake did so based mostly upon rumor and dis-information.
One of those, was Hiroshi Kashiwagi. It’s all in the book. All this is the turmoil and the conflict that a lot of Japanese Americans in the community then, and still today Dismiss as pro Japanese loyalists or troublemakers or no-nos. What the book tries to show is that there was a sound reason for protecting the food trucks for resisting the draft and there was no good reason for rennouncing citizenship, but that was the result of again, rumor and misinformation encouraged by the government and by the governments allowing prison gangs to form inside what was basically a penal colony. The book tries to cut through all that misinformation and myths to get at a better idea of what really happened.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:24:20] Tule was given less time than the other camps to answer the questionnaire. If I remember correctly, it was like less than a week. And there were less translators, I don’t think there were translators available, but
Frank Abe: [00:24:34] the problem was the questionnaire was not translated into Japanese for several weeks and that really pissed off the issei.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:24:40] Right. the volunteers, the nissei volunteers from other camps were higher, but they had less time to process and understand the questionnaire at Tule.
Frank Abe: [00:24:50] That’s what was right. And then your grandfather, was it? Who was it?
Tamiko Nimura: [00:24:53] Yeah, my grandfather at Junee Cine Moda was the first issei to be arrested from within Tule Lake. We like for speaking out against these conditions. So he was taken to sharp park by San Francisco, actually. And then down to Santa Fe.
Frank Abe: [00:25:11] Miko the thing about no-no, which I know is one of the initial premises of the, or your question to us. No-nos and no, no boys. The thing to understand is that those who answered no committed, no acts of disloyalty, what the government did was through this questionnaire. It created inadvertently an administrative class of people who are called “no-nos” because they didn’t answer yes to the loyalty question had to be logically in a binary way, classified as disloyal. No-no disloyal because they didn’t say yes at all too. Therefore they were disloyal.
The stigma of dis loyalty was furthered by the segregation Tule Lake and by the government’s continued propaganda that these people were disloyal. And of course, JCL is embracing of that brand of destigmatizing and urging segregation as well to protect their own members who are getting beat up in camp. This administrative class was just that it was just loyalty on paper. The segregees of Tule Lake committed no overt acts of disloyalty. They did nothing against the U S government against the war effort. They did nothing to aid Japan in this war effort. How could they’re inside a prison camp in California? The book tries to show that this again was just disloyalty on paper that these people were not disloyal. Even our own community, all the scholars, everyone keeps talking about disloyal is the Tule Lake. And as you can tell, it really sets me off.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:26:45] What surprised me too? Was that if you answered anything except yes. You were considered ” no.” My uncle wrote refused to answer. But that was considered no.
Frank Abe: [00:26:56] He has refused to answer. And then he says the guys that the interview with threatened me with 20 years in prison or $10,000. Fine. And therefore I changed my answers to no, we put this in his dialogue. I’m doing so under duress. And then 35 years later, he’s a librarian in San Francisco, public library, and picks up Michi Weglyn’s “Years of Infamy” in 76. And he reads for the first time that there was no criminal penalty for refusing to answer the questionnaire. And Hiroshi got pissed. He always talked about was they lied to me. I never had to answer no to that questionnaire because it was never a crime, but they threatened me and I just answered. No, he was, he carried that to his grave.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:27:38] Oh yeah. And the play that he wrote about the loyalty questionnaire originally was titled a question of loyalty and he changed it. He changed it though to the betrayed.
Frank Abe: [00:27:49] Yes. That was good. That was good of him because most, a lot of textbooks, part of children’s books, we’ll have a chapter
Tamiko Nimura: [00:27:56] on. Yes, I know..
Frank Abe: [00:27:58] Question of Loyalty. That buys into the premise that there was a question. There wasn’t a questionnaire, but these answers were not markers of disloyalty. They were just answers on paper.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:28:09] You’re tuned into apex express on 94.1 KPFA and 89.3 KPFB in Berkeley and [email protected]. We’re talking about resistors to the Japanese forced incarceration during world war two, with guests, Tamiko Nimura and Frank Abe as part of our never again series. We’re speaking about what has become known in popular culture as “no-no” boys. Men who checked “no and no” on two controversial poorly worded questions on a loyalty questionnaire issued by the U S army.
Miko Lee: [00:28:41] This is such a big issue. What we’re talking about is the entire loyalty oath, being a propaganda tool utilized by the government with really no way that you could answer it because it didn’t make any sense. And so the whole idea of utilizing the terminology, no- no boys, which really was made popular by John Okada’s book.
Frank Abe: [00:29:03] Yeah, right, funny like that. Yeah. On page two, right? “No-no” boy he uses it as a slur. So that’s the power. The bite of that scene is it’s a slur
Miko Lee: [00:29:12] that has stuck after all these years when really we should be calling people resistors. Or is there another terminology that you like to utilize for these amazing social justice warriors?
Frank Abe: [00:29:24] That’s a very good question. I’ll think about it. Come up with one later. Yeah.
Miko Lee: [00:29:27] Tamiko sounds like all of your family, which is a great and powerful legacy to have.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:29:35] And honestly, there, there things I didn’t know for so long about what that meant. I didn’t know really that my uncle was a “no-no” boy until college.
Miko Lee: [00:29:45] Even you are utilizing that language.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:29:52] Exactly
Frank Abe: [00:29:54] that was the entry point. I first met Hiroshi in 1974 at a pine Methodist church forum , in the Richmond district in San Francisco. It was about the “no-no” boys. That was the first time that there may have been a public panel about that subject since the war. And Hiroshi was one of the first to really speak out about that. I always remembered that.
Miko Lee: [00:30:12] There were also women that checked. No though, too. We always talk about “no- no” boys.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:30:17] If I remember correctly, Konrad Aderer uses footage from Grace Hata interview and her family were renunciant and the documentary follows her story back to Japan. But yeah , there were women resisting as well. We don’t talk about this as often.
Miko Lee: [00:30:33] Since you brought that up can you talk a little bit more about the implications of renunciation and what that meant?
Tamiko Nimura: [00:30:41] Yeah, there’s so much to say. But my uncle, for example, once not long after he renounced. He really did it to keep his family together. His mother was so afraid that their family would separate and his father was actually at a sanitorium being treated for tuberculosis. his mother was really so frightened that she would lose her children, that she contributed to this sort of family pressure to renounce. But shortly after he renounced, he realized that it was a terrible idea that left him stateless, right at risk for being deported. Not long after that he helped join and form the,Tule Lake organizing committee which hired Wayne Collins as its attorney worked with Tex Nakamura to help those folks who renounced regain their citizenship, but it took Collins 10 years to get their citizenship restored.
Miko Lee: [00:31:39] Yeah. And in fact, the law remained in place until the two thousands, I think. Can you back up for one second and just describe what renunciation was and the timeline of when that was offered to folks?
Frank Abe: [00:31:52] July, 1944 Congress passed the nationalization act and when it was publicized in the camps, it was as soon as a victory, it was seen as a victory by the Hoshi Dan and others who were promoting a kind of back to Japan movement in inside Tule Lake. This goes back to the demonization of the the pro Japanese into Tule Lake. The Hoshi Dan was a movement of folks who, some of whom said, if you would ask me to answer yes or no, before you evicted me from my home in California. I would’ve said yes. That shows you, there was no Hoshi Don in California before eviction, before incarceration. It was a product, again, a creation of the circumstances created by the Western defense command created by general John Dewitt and John Jay McCoy.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:32:43] And who allowed the Hoshi Dan to grow. They let them have an office . At Tule Lake, we let them order their uniforms right from Sears Roebuck.
Frank Abe: [00:32:54] Akashi in the East Bay wrote a, remarkable memoir “Betrayed Trust” about from the inside of the Hoshi Dan and that gave us a lot of information about the pride that young man felt having everything taken from them, not not only their homes and their farms and their livelihoods, but their futures. The America clearly showed it had no use for the segregees,at Tule Lake and wanted to deport them. All they had was their bodies. The only agency was their bodies and the race and the cultural heritage. They did bodybuilding, they did marches, bugle blowing just to keep active and to keep from atrophying. This was seen as threatening by people like Hiroshi, who saw it as threatening and menacing. I think I forgot the question, but
Miko Lee: [00:33:36] we were talking about renunciation.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:33:39] The timeline was
Frank Abe: [00:33:40] what we were a timeline, right? Yeah. So the ability to renounce, or as the Hoshi Dan would say repatriate to Japan and the expatriation of American citizens was enabled by the de-nationalization act. We have one character in the novel, say, ” how nice of Congress to offer us a way to give up our citizenship and we’re walking right into their trap.” and Tamiko says, Hiroshi realized immediately that was a trap. It was wrong and try to undo it. But the justice department then would not allow them to withdraw their mistaken petitions for renunciation because for various reasons, about a thousand were actually deported from Fort Mason, San Francisco to Japan, Akashi’s father was one of them. He describes in his memoir, the poverty and hunger and just devastation to post-war Japan. Of course realized what a mistake they’d made in renouncing and expatriate.
Miko Lee: [00:34:34] It’s quite dramatic though, to have some of the cases being overturned, right as the boat is sailing off to Japan saying, bring those people off of the boat. They take that back, that they didn’t want to repatriate.
Frank Abe: [00:34:48] Yeah. Wayne Collin’s tells a story getting the writ from Judge St. Claire, in federal district court in San Francisco and rushing to, for cases to, to demand that his clients be taken off. And while others did set sail and we show that in the book.
Miko Lee: [00:35:04] Yeah. I think that’s amazing how it happened that way. It’s fascinating to me, that divide that happened with those that wanted to repatriate and I get it. I get being so pissed off at America after, really getting screwed over and wanting to go back to Japan. I totally understand that, but that divide that happened within the camp with the school. And was it called the people’s school? There was a name for that really stood out to me.
Frank Abe: [00:35:30] Hiroshi called it, the English translation was people’s school. It was a Japanese name for it.
Miko Lee: [00:35:34] People’s school, the English translation so much reminded me of the kind of black Panthers program..
Frank Abe: [00:35:40] Exactly. That was intentional. I mean that, yeah, you got that. It did have that same self-determination,seizing back your culture feel to it as the Panthers in the sixties. That’s right.
Miko Lee: [00:35:51] Can you speak more to the response within the Japanese community, to the resistors and to the JACL?
Frank Abe: [00:36:00] JACL was the party line, the dominant voice in Japanese America in the forties, fifties and sixties, up to the seventies the party line was “Shikata ga nai” – it couldn’t be helped passive resignation in the face of self-determination or the party line was “go for broke!”- patriotic self-sacrifice in order to prove one’s loyalty. The post-war period was one of the dominance of voices like Bill Hosokawa and nissei the quiet Americans which of course takes you to the model minority. And Japanese-Americans were the model minority. They were very proud of the fact that they liked being the. Pets of white supremacy and being held up by white supremacy as the example of a good minority of the model minority over the blacks during the sixties.
They liked that. They did, I mean that’s, that was our parents’ generation and growing up myself in the sixties obviously rejecting that and having as you can tell, I’m more angry kind of response to the history of incarceration. it’s taken, 50 or 40 years since Day of Remembrance to really unpack a lot of this information about the government and really see how it was the government that divided Japanese America. And Japanese American embraced it and kept it alive up today.
Know it’s taken a lot of work to shift the paradigm of Japanese American history. Emiko Omori in Berkeley with a “Rabbit in the Moon”, Eric Mueller this book and my film and in 2000 Conscious of the Constitution helped break the ice on the story of camp resistance . I went back in the seventies to point the finger JACL for its legacy of cooperation and collaboration with the government. This led to the infamous Lim report which is online at my website, resisters.com where you can read Deborah Lim’s fairly damning report which helped inform a lot of dialogue in the graphic novel about JACL his role in leading intelligence committees to inform on the issei after Pearl Harbor to collaborate with the government on policy for the WCCA camps in the war location authority, camps advocated for segregation. I love the scene in the novel of the first JACL convention, after the war in Denver, where in Bill Hisokawa’s own words, he describes how delegates wanted to brand the Tuleians with ID cards to be forced to carry ID cards.
If you want to get a job, you have to show your ID card to show that you are TuleLake. And therefore you wouldn’t be employed. This is nuts, but I it also his book. He tells a story is very proud of the fact that well and Mike, convinced them not to do this. The idea that this was the funeral JCL delegates at the time and that the 46 is very telling. And
Tamiko Nimura: [00:38:35] also, JACL didn’t apologize. Quote and apologize to Tulians? Until is it 2019?
Frank Abe: [00:38:43] August salt Lake city? Yes. I apologize to those draft resisters in 2000, and to the Tulians in 2019. Yes.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:38:50] I remember it was right before, my uncle passed away.
Frank Abe: [00:38:53] Exactly. And Frank Emi, the Fairplay committee when he accepted the apology and San Francisco 2002 said, I think Jay’s, yeah, thank you. I didn’t ask for this, it’s fine. You apologize. Great groovy. But I like to challenge the, to do one more thing, and that is to apologize to all the community, not just to me in the fair play committee, but to all the community for, your policy of cooperation and collaboration, that betrayed us into the camps failing to protest I’d to see you do that. And of course, that’s not gonna happen because that’s just a step too far, I think for the answer go is that the JACL today is a different organization from the JACL 1942. So we want to make that very clear that it may be a civil rights organization now. It can’t claim to have been during world war two.
Miko Lee: [00:39:40] Tamiko I’m wondering when you were growing up, how people spoke about your family’s connection with the incarceration?
Tamiko Nimura: [00:39:47] It’s interesting. I grew up in Roseville, which is a suburb of Sacramento and distant from a larger Japanese-American community. I would go to the Florence temple and the Penrhyn temple for things like Oban and Memorial services and so on. But as I came to understand it, Placer County where Roseville is a rather conservative one. I heard only later that it was hard for my dad and his siblings to go come back and go to high school there and to grow up there. I didn’t feel, I think the same kind of ostracism that my uncle did being in San Francisco closer to a larger Japanese American community. But as I came to work with him on his books. I worked with him on his first two books, “Swimming in the American” and “Shoe Box Plays”. It was only then I really came to realize just how much he carried still of that ostracism and that shunning.
Miko Lee: [00:40:45] What about the other family members? Your grandparents or other people, was it something that you talked about the internment, or it was only through your working with your uncle on the writing that it came up?
Tamiko Nimura: [00:40:56] I did grow up knowing about camp. We did talk about it a bit at family gatherings. My dad before he passed away, when I was 10 wrote a book about his time at Tule Lake, from when he was about 10 to 14. One of the projects that I’m working with now is a book that incorporates portions of his camp memoir.
Miko Lee: [00:41:18] And what’s that called?
Tamiko Nimura: [00:41:19] My Book, his book?
Miko Lee: [00:41:20] The book you’re working on right now.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:41:22] it’s called “pilgrimage”. That’s a working title, but it’s called “pilgrimage.” I experienced a lot of healing and working with Japanese-American community members and in going on pilgrimage to Tule, it was one of those names I’d heard about all my life, but actually going there and experiencing healing through community was really powerful.
Miko Lee: [00:41:42] That’s interesting. And that’s a little bit what Jalena was talking about earlier about intergenerational trauma. And I hear you, Frank, I think that there is a generational difference in talking about trauma and how we deal with that. We’ve had really interesting conversations with guests about that and about the time that we’re taking. And I’m wondering if both of you can speak on pilgrimage and why that place-based connection is important to remembering our history.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:42:11] Well, for me anyway, It really gave me a sense of embodied learning that I had not thought possible. Standing in a place where this has happened, standing, where your family was , even approximately being able to go to your family’s name in the camp registry at the museum and putting your finger there. There’s something that’s transformative about it. At least that’s been my experience on pilgrimage.
Frank Abe: [00:42:43] I guess I did that 40 years ago. So it’s just a memory to me now. it was helpful in that connection, certainly to the place and see the sites. Now I’m mostly pleased seeing the the younger generations, the fourth and fifth generations. I think we all thought that this stuff would die out with the nissei. But in fact, now I hear a lot about a lot of yonsei talking about grandpa and grandma and camp. So clearly this is going to be something that’s that carries on.
Miko Lee: [00:43:13] What aspects of your book do you want carried on to the next generation of activists?
Frank Abe: [00:43:20] The book, squarely addresses race as the only characteristic, common to the one of 20,000 people who were locked up in world war two. The takeaway is race is still dividing us today so that when you look at it, the same elements that open the book are present today. Our book opens with the FBI knocking on the door to arrest. Mr. Mrs. Akutsu. It ends with ICE breaking down the door to deport immigrants. Our book opens with the first restrictions on Japanese Americans being a race-based curfew, making it a crime to drive while Japanese after dark. At the end of the book it’s driving while black our book opens with officials, gaslighting groundless claims of fifth call activity among Japanese and West coast and Hawaii. Just one year ago, we had a president who dog whistled China virus, and now people , feel free to, to kick and punch Asians on the street. So the takeaway is that things haven’t changed. If you see in our storytelling, the mechanics of how mass exclusion and incarceration happened once before, it can prepare you to identify the warning signs today and then not let it happen again.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:44:31] To add to that for me, I want our younger activists to know that there is a broader, deeper record of resistance and that the story of camp is incomplete without that story.
Miko Lee: [00:44:45] Thank you for that. I love those, my takeaway is the impact of government propaganda and how we need to rely on our own community to build our networks in solidarity with other marginalized folks in order to combat those stereotypes, the system that is born and bred out of white supremacy.
Frank Abe: [00:45:07] Yes. You can’t talk about resistance in the camps without understanding what they’re resisting against. What the book accomplishes is documenting and pointing to those government actions that our characters had to overcome the obstacles they had to hurdle. And as for reaching out, I’m very pleased that, people liked Satsuki Ina of Berkeley and Japanese Americans nationwide are saying that, we had this experience, didn’t ask for it. But with the moral authority of having had this experience in our families, or personally comes the moral responsibility to stand with others who are similarly targeted on the basis of race or religion or immigration status or whatever. The Tsuru for Solidarity, Japanese American Day of Remembrance events very pleased that we’re not just making this about us. It’s about taking the experience and addressing the similarities, the echoes, the, as Tamiko says, the rhyming that occurs in our world today.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:46:20] I am super excited about the work that Japanese American activists are doing now around prison abolition and around reparations for African-Americans that I feel is work that has been overdue. I’m so excited to see that happening in the community.
Frank Abe: [00:46:38] The question came up in the eighties, what about black reparations? the general consensus was, there was no policy statement to consensus was, we gotta get one thing at a time, one step at a time. So having taken that step and succeeded in 1988. Tamiko’s right. Now it’s time the Japanese-Americans can step forward and support the movement for some form of black reparations now.
Miko Lee: [00:47:00] Yeah. I think that’s incredibly exciting. I’m wondering what qualities do you think individuals need to become a part of the resistance.
Frank Abe: [00:47:10] Lack of fear and knowledge of the law of Jim Akutsu in our book struggles to articulate a legal, constitutional stand. He wrote to Frank Emi and James Omura looking for guidance because his was a somewhat muddled argument. He didn’t have the benefit of people like Yoshi Okamoto, Fair Play committee in Heart Mountain to guide him in grounding his resistance to draft resistance in a constitutional argument. So what it takes is a knowledge of the law in Mitsuye Endo’s case, it takes having a good lawyer. She was recruited by James Purcell of San Francisco. The guy who took on their employment case in the Sacramento state of California personnel board dismissal of the 63 Nisei employees after Pearl Harbor. It took having James Purcell champion, the habeas Corpus case selecting Mitsuyo as his named plaintiff and having her agree to it to prevail on that line of resistance. It takes knowledge and lack of fear.
Tamiko Nimura: [00:48:09] I’m going to say what Endo’s case taught me is that it wasn’t necessarily a lack of fear. It was a path through the fear. What I wanted her to have was a reaching for solidarity, but she had so little outside support, I feel like those of us who resist now have the benefit of being able to reach out in larger community and larger solidarity. For endo, I believe it was a path through her fear that made her able to resist.
Next up listen to Nobuko Miyamoto’s “Gaiman”.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:51:05] That was Gaiman from Nobuko Miyamoto’s Smithsonian Folkways album, 120,000 stories. Nobuko is one of the many women’s stories that haven’t been highlighted up
And that’s just why it’s so important that these kinds of stories are being told now, and that there are women in the position to be the storytellers themselves. That’s why we were really. Lucky and honored to get to share this graphic novel on our platform.
Miko Lee: [00:51:31] I wanted to hear more of those stories. I love how Tamiko was saying, there’s more mothers that were resistors. I think we miss so many of the women’s stories in our history that’s so powerful. I also was really moved by the fact that Mitsui Endo, her entire story just doesn’t get told because her case won. What does that say about our culture, that her case won and we don’t hear about her? The cases that we do hear about were the ones that were these really long struggles, all the way to the Supreme court.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:52:06] I also think, gender does have a role to play in it because all the other plaintiffs were men. As we know, most of the historians are men. Most of the people doing the record keeping are men and shaping these kinds of stories. So that’s why it’s so important that women have the ability to do that. And also that men start highlighting women’s stories as well.
Miko Lee: [00:52:23] We know all of these stories like Fred Korematsu and Gordon Hirabayashi and all of these heroes that were petitioners in these cases all the way up to the Supreme court and we know their names, which is great, but I never knew the story of Mitsui Endo and that she won at the Supreme court. I did not know that story until reading this graphic novel.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:52:45] And why don’t we, I think, stories of us winning would be really great to teach and it would be great to make sure that this is something that kids learn about when they’re learning about Japanese incarceration and just something that becomes more common knowledge for all of us collectively.
Miko Lee: [00:53:01] Yeah. I like that in this graphic novel, it showed that there’s different kinds of resistance. So there’s the resistance where you’re going to lead the March and lead the labor organizing and really speak out. And then like Mitsui Endo, you are the person that is the face of a case of workers discrimination. She actually had to be talked into it and didn’t want to be highlighted, but ended up making a profound difference in our history.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:53:31] I think that’s something really interesting to investigate and explore culturally this fear of being the spokesperson, being the person that’s highlighted. And then if you are in that position sometimes still not even being remembered. That was something that stood out to me, not only from this, but also from the Asian-Americans series that was on PBS, I didn’t know that DACA was based on an Asian woman that, all these different things. Particularly, unfortunately, around immigration policy, but are based on Asian-American women specifically.
Miko Lee: [00:54:01] I think it’s powerful because we hear so much about the silent majority. I think one of the things that this books brings up is that there are so many folks that fought against this incredible wrong that happened in our society. And we just need to keep talking about these folks and highlighting them so that our fullest history is understood. The book also really highlighted for me the media manipulation and our government’s hand in that. And I think that’s connected to the silenced part. Because the media really played into this element of the model minority and that maintained the quietness of the resistance for many years after world war II.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:54:54] The American propaganda machine. When thinking about connections that can be drawn between that time and our present day. Something that I have been seeing a lot is, after the success of the black lives matter movement in the summer calling for abolishing the police defunding the police. How now the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes are being used to push this propaganda message that all of a sudden Asian communities are pro policing or want more police? When I think a lot of people know that police don’t keep us safe and that it’s each other that keep us safe.
Miko Lee: [00:55:27] We have talked about how our government and the media have combined to really utilize the anti-Asian wave and hysteria as a means to separate and discriminate African-American and Asian Americans. And particularly the fact that, 90% of the hate crimes against Asian-Americans have been committed by white folks.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:55:52] And yet the faces that are on the news 24/7 are not white people. I think that’s something particularly in the bay area that we really need to be talking to our people about
Miko Lee: [00:56:03] that’s right. It’s on us and really reaching out to our own communities. And we try and do that through AACRE to really talk with our own communities, to look at the facts and the facts are that these hate crimes have been perpetrated by white folks. We need to keep saying that so that we, as a broader POC community are not pulled apart by a system that wants to keep us down.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:56:30] Mom, what were some of your key takeaways from reading the book?
Miko Lee: [00:56:34] I really liked that there were multiple perspectives. I appreciated that we could hear different voices and different experiences to really understand that even within one family, there were very different experiences of how people went through the incarceration and how they fought back. And I thought that was really powerful.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:56:56] And I think for me, it also brought up how important it is just to acknowledge, to learn about and take pride in our history of resistance in this country.
Miko Lee: [00:57:04] Because our history of resistance has been since we stepped onto these lands and will continue into the future.
Jalena Keane-Lee: [00:57:11] Thank you so much for joining us tonight. There were many complicated backstories that were woven into this interview. For more information, we’ve posted the transcripts from the interview along with a detailed linked glossary in our show notes and are currently working on a curriculum and educators guide, which will premiere this Fall..
Miko Lee: [00:57:28] 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, Jalena Keane-Lee and Jessica Antonio. 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.