Thursday, January 28, 2010

Saturday, 1/30 at JANM

There's a 90 minute program at JANM Saturday called "Eyewitness to History".  Beyond what's described below, I'm not sure what else is going on, but I do know that Yosh Kuromiya, one of the Heart Mountain Resisters, is going to be there as part of the program, so we're going!
2pm, Saturday, Jan 30, 2010

Art, Culture, & Identity
Eyewitness to History


Eyewitness to History is an educational program where students of all ages can interact with men and women who lived through the history they learn about in their classrooms. In this 90-minute program, students will view the 20-minute documentary Remembering Manzanar, hear first-hand accounts of what life was like for Japanese Americans during World War II, and engage in an active dialogue with the speakers.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Manzanar Barracks Groundbreaking

Not exactly directly related to NO NO BOY, but probably of interest to anyone reading this blog.  This event happens just a week before we begin rehearsals:

Barracks Groundbreaking Set For February 13, 2010

January 26, 2010 — Gann Matsuda
Contact: Alisa Lynch or Nancy Hadlock
Phone: (760) 878-2194 ext. 2711 or ext. 2716

April 25, 1942.

INDEPENDENCE, CA — The National Park Service (NPS), Friends of Manzanar, and Manzanar History Association invite the public to attend a barracks groundbreaking event at the Manzanar National Historic Site, 1:00 PM PST, Saturday, February 13, 2010.

“All Americans had to adapt during World War II, including Japanese Americans confined at Manzanar,” said Les Inafuku, Superintendent, Manzanar National Historic Site. “Future visitors to Block 14 can learn how Japanese Americans lived at Manzanar, and improved their living situations. Our elders can still inspire us to improve our lives and help shape our great nation.”

In operation from 1942-45, Manzanar War Relocation Center confined more than 10,000 Japanese Americans in 36 blocks. Each block included 14 barracks buildings, a mess hall, a recreation building, latrines, and laundry and ironing rooms. After the war, the buildings were sold for scrap lumber or relocated.

In 1997, in consultation with the Manzanar Advisory Commission, former internees, historians, and others, the NPS approved the development of Block 14 as a “demonstration block” to interpret daily life in the camp. In fiscal years 2009-10, Congress approved funding, proposed by US Senator Diane Feinstein (California), for reconstructing Barracks 1 and 8 on Block 14.

Barracks 1 will appear as it would have when Japanese Americans first arrived at Manzanar in 1942. Barracks 8 will be reconstructed to represent barracks life in 1945. A restored World War II mess hall moved to the site from Bishop Airport in 2002 will be open to visitors later this year.

Erick Ammon, Inc., of Anderson, California, will reconstruct the barracks. Friends of Manzanar, a non-profit partner of the NPS, continues to raise funds to support the development and interpretation of Block 14.

The groundbreaking event begins at 1:00 PM Afterwards, the Manzanar History Association will provide light refreshments in the mess hall. Later that day, the NPS invites former internees to gather informally with visitors in the Interpretive Center to share their memories and experiences.

The events are free and open to the public. Manzanar National Historic Site is located along U.S. Highway 395, six miles south of Independence, California and nine miles north of Lone Pine. For more information, please visit our website at or call (760) 878-2194.

Monday, January 25, 2010

More Photos

I've been looking around the Internet for photos to give our play context.  Ironically, some of the best photos from the resettlement era are actually idealized photographs that are gorgeous, but are essentially (some scholars say) propaganda aimed at showing Japanese Americans that it was safe to come back to the West Coast.  If I get permission - I think most of them are public domain - I may post some here.  In my search, however, I've found some photos of the internment camps and relocation centers (mostly race tracks and fairgrounds) that I've never seen before - some of them are on older postings farther back on this blog.  Here's a few more that may be of interest to you:

This might illustrate why Nisei always show up really early for everything.

Potent photographic evidence that there was anger and resistance in Camp. 
One scholar told me recently that part of the reason many Nikkei rejected John Okada's book is the fact that it seemed to "prove" that the government was right to distrust the Japanese Americans - these guys sure look like the enemy, don't they?  Of course, the evidence is overwhelming that these guys were solely inspired by their anger at being unjustly imprisoned.

Another potent image that may help to explain why so many Nisei would rather not remember those days.

The internees did a lot to make the best of a bad situation, and as a result, most of the images we have of that era show us how they were able to miraculously transform dusty barracks into what could pass for actual dwellings.  This photo, however, captures a sort of squalor that I think everyone would prefer to forget.

I believe this is the Puyallup Fairgrounds, where the Japanese from the Seattle area were taken for a few months before being moved to Minidoka.  This is where Ichiro and his family would have gone first - it's also where my mother and her family went. 
A side story:  We used to go this fair every year when I was a kid - my parents never mentioned its uglier past.  Ever.

A Minidoka "family" portrait - where Ichiro's family would be.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rafu Shimpo

Below is another article about the financial challenges faced by the Rafu Shimpo.  If you'd like to help, one way would be to subscribe - you can download a subscription form here:

Focused on Rafu’s Future
A town hall-style meeting gathers input on ways to keep the paper viable in a challenging marketplace.

Upwards of 100 people filled Veterans Hall at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute on Sunday, to take part in a town hall forum that focused on the future of a century-old institution. Attendees were there to float and weigh ideas to help keep the Rafu Shimpo from following other newspapers into extinction, a fate that has befallen publications large and small across the nation in recent years.

The idea for the forum was born out of a breakfast conversation shortly following the demise of the Hokubei Mainichi last fall, which followed the closure of the Nichi Bei Times a few months earlier and left Northern California without a locally-produced Japanese daily. Event organizer Iku Kiriyama, along with veteran columnist George Yoshinaga and Rafu English editor Gwen Muranaka, proposed inviting readers–as well as non-readers–to air their concerns and desires for the Rafu, and to offer suggestions for ways to keep the 106-year-old newspaper in business.

Printed periodicals have seen revenues plummet in recent years, as gaining information for free via the internet becomes more pervasive. Classified ads have migrated from the pages of newspapers to sites like Craigslist and shrinking advertising budgets in a weak economy have meant a once-reliable income stream has slowed to a meager trickle for many publications. All the while, the costs of paper, printing and delivery continue to spiral upward.

It is within the context of these challenging times that Kiriyama hatched the idea for the forum, which sought to garner community sentiment in a setting that would allow for a free and honest exchange of ideas and opinions.

“The Rafu is at a point at which our community can get together,” Kiriyama said in her remarks to open the meeting. “I’ve often expressed my own opinions about print journalism and vernaculars, but I think it is time that we all become proactive about the economic issues facing the newspaper.”

Kiriyama explained that her approach in arranging the forum was to allow an independent, free exchange of ideas and suggestions, and stressed the town hall was neither a fundraiser nor a subscription drive. She said she was very pleased with the large turnout and hoped that Sunday’s town hall was the first of many grass-roots discussions aimed at keeping the Rafu Shimpo in existence.

Muranaka disclosed figures that clearly illustrate the financial crisis the paper is grappling with. The publisher’s office has said the Rafu has amassed more than $350,000 in debt, which it must eliminate. She also added that revenue increases of $12,000 per month will be required for 2010 operating expenses.

Rafu publisher Michael Komai, the fourth generation leader from the family that has held ownership of the paper since 1907, listed some of the changes that the company has undertaken out of economic necessity, such as improvements in online content and fewer publishing days. But he also stressed the importance of consistently available, tangible venue for information and ideas that have a basis within Japanese American history and life.

“The Rafu is not the voice of the community. We represent the voices of the community, its values, likes and dislikes,” Komai said. “A newspaper should be an avenue of ideas. That’s what a newspaper is all about.”

Following the opening statements, the participants branched off into concentrated focus groups, to give input concerning two major topics, how the Rafu can stabilize its financial footing and what improvements they would like to see in the paper’s content. Also meeting were small groups to discuss coverage of local sports and concerns of readers of the Rafu’s Japanese language content.

Among the more prevalent strategies that emerged from the focus groups was the notion that the Rafu could explore shifting to a not-for-profit business structure–similar to the path being sought by the Nichi Bei–to take advantage of government subsidies and tax-deductible donations.

Amy Philips said the Rafu could benefit from community support.

“The Japanese American community has shown a history of being generous in supporting anchor institutions,” said participant Amy Philips. “As closely tied to the community as the Rafu is, I think it’s more than conceivable that people and businesses could help in that way.”

Another common theme from the discussions was a desire to expand the paper’s reporting of local sports. Rafu sports editor Jordan Ikeda echoed the sentiment, admitting that the staff simply hasn’t the manpower to provide the kind of coverage he would like.

“One [basketball] league may have 50 teams, playing every week,” Ikeda said. “What is really important for us are the contributions and submissions we get from parents, grandparents and coaches.”

Other suggestions centered around deploying independent, online bloggers to write about community issues, and that readers buying their own subscriptions and not relying on getting the paper second-hand from family, which is widely believed to be a long-standing practice.

A point of criticism was leveled by Charles Igawa, who said given the greater number of Rafu pages printed in Japanese as compared to English, there needs to be a more directed effort to address Japanese readers who rely on the paper as a primary news source.

“There are free papers that are being read more than the Rafu, and the businesses that advertise know it,” Igawa said. “The Rafu needs to be more about the needs of the Japanese readers, because that will reflect the attitude of businesses about the Rafu Shimpo.”

Igawa added that the fact that no members of the Rafu’s Japanese section staff were in attendance “speaks to the position of the Rafu Shimpo.”
As the meeting drew to a close, Muranaka said she was grateful for the community’s concern for the paper, and that the meeting would serve as a catalyst for involvement by other local groups. Kiriyama expressed hopes that the forum would spawn similar events conducted predominantly in Japanese.
Alan Nishio, who helped moderate the focus groups and is chair of the California Japantowns Preservation Committee, said the preservation of the Rafu is far more than simply stabilizing a local business, and that losing it would amount to the loss of a place where Japanese American concerns can be distinguished amongst an increasingly overwhelming amount of in-print and online informat

“All of you have some ownership in the Rafu,” Nishio advised, “so your ideas are valuable and I think today we’ve come up with some ideas we can be proud of.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Save the Rafu!

The Rafu Shimpo is in trouble!  They have been so much a part of the Nikkei community for so long, and for many Asian American artists and artistic organizations, they've been a tremendous source of support and publicity.  The above link to George Johnston article on Nikkei Nation that talks about the challenges facing the Rafu.  I'll write more here as I learn more, but let's all find out what we can do to save the Rafu!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dare to Be Naive

R. Buckminster Fuller once wrote, "Dare to be naive".

In these days of non-stop irony, cynicism, and the constant overwhelming evidence that the fix is in, that we're all screwed, screwed in ways we can't even imagine, it's hard to be willfully naive, especially since it's so uncool.

One can reasonably argue that the Nisei soldiers who threw themselves into suicide missions were naive to think they weren't simply being used as cannon fodder, but one would be wrong:  So many of them were like my father, who considered that possibility, but rejected it, deciding that this was the chance he was willing to take for his family here in this country.

One can reasonably argue that the No-No Boys and the draft resisters were naive to think that their stand, their statement, could possibly make a difference when the odds were already so stacked against them:  Public opinion, which had already been manipulated to the point where the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese American men, women, and children was deemed necessary despite the fact that it went against the very principles this country was founded upon; a war that is still looked upon as the last "good" war where the enemy was clearly evil and the Allies were clearly good; and a community in which one of the guiding principals was "The nail that sticks its head up gets pounded down."  But again - one would be wrong.  It may have taken decades, and the split in the community certainly is far from healed, but more and more people are looking at history, looking at the statements made by the ten percent of draft age men who either refused to sign the loyalty oath or refused the draft, and understanding that the ones who refused to fight also served the cause of liberty.

One can reasonably argue that it is foolish to think that this split could ever be healed:  After all, most of the people old enough to have either fought in the war or refused to assent to Questions 27 and 28 are either in their 80s and 90s or are already dead.  The common wisdom that I've encountered in trying to address this subject has been this:  You won't get funding.  You won't get an audience.  You won't get support from the community which still regards this subject as a third-rail - untouchable.

I want to honor my parents, who were among the people who went willingly to the internment camps, believing it was their duty as Americans to go along with what their country told them to do.  I want to honor my father, who risked his life in the 442 because this was his country, right or wrong, and he believed that he owed his country the ultimate sacrifice if that's what they asked him to do.  I want to honor the guys who risked everything, including their place in their community, for a principle, one of the bedrock principles upon which this country was founded:  Civil disobedience.

Is that naive?  Then I have plenty of proof in my own heritage that it's worth it to dare to be naive.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lawson Inada

Did you know Sansei poet Lawson Inada is Oregon's poet laureate?

I don't know about you, but I'm blown away:   That's the kind of thing that can make you die happy:  "I was poet laureate of a whole state, dammit!"  I'm impressed, but as a born Seattleite, I've always kind of liked Oregon, home to environmental activists, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, anarchists, and other thoughtful people.

I talked to him today, long distance, because he doesn't have email.  I didn't ask him why, and I didn't say, "WTF?!", I just said, "Oh!"  I think that's the only fitting response to a poet laureate, one of the crazy Asian American writers who helped edit AIEEEEEE! and helped to create the entire Asian identity movement.  I established my own cred by telling him that I started off with the Asian Exclusion Act in 1976 when Garrett Hongo was Artistic Director, and he said, "Wow.  So you're OLD SCHOOL."


Anyway, since he gave us permission, I'd like to put more of his intro to NO-NO BOY on this blog.  Since I have to write it out by hand, I'm not going to include the whole thing, though if you have the book, you should read it because you'll be surprised by how many names you'll recognize.  I'll just include part of the end, because it's beautiful:

"You could say that John was 'ahead of his time,' that he was born too early and died too young.  That was back in the days when a man like him was an 'oriental' (...) before 'Asian America' even.  That was back in the days when a Jap was just a Jap.

"You could say all that about John and be wrong (...) John Okada was a man with a vision, and he saw it through (...) You can feel him as you read this book, the very heart of the man, throbbing, within you, making you stand up and move to others, filled with the passion and compassion of being (...)

"Love.  This is what you will feel, too, beneath the unaminity of brilliance:  love.  This is the gift and the measure of the man:  a legacy of love.  This is what sustains us, gives us hope and vision, ennobles our lives (...)

"Whoever reads this book will be a bigger person for it.  Whoever reads this book will never be the same.  Whoever reads this book will see, and be, with greater strength and clarity.  And in this way does the world begin to change (...)

"...John Okada's NO-NO BOY is much more than a great and lasting work of art.  It is a living force among us.  And it is just one of the many beautiful and courageous stories of the continuing story we know as Asian America."

Lawson Fusao Inada
La Grande Oregon
July 29, 1976

Friday, January 8, 2010

Knowing No-No Boy

I've talked to a lot of people about this book, as you might guess, and one of the interesting things I've found is people generally fall into three categories regarding this book:  1)  It had a profound effect on them.  2)  They read it and it had some impact on them but they don't really remember it.  3)  They never heard of it.

One professor friend of mine told me in a parking lot after a performance of something entirely unrelated, "I've gone 360 degrees in my feelings about the book."  I told him, "I think I've gone 520 degrees..." meaning, first, I loved it, then hated it, then loved it, then hated it, and then I loved it again. 

Whatever you think, this book makes you FEEL something.  Sometimes opposing things.  Sometimes things in four dimensions.  It's why people want to adapt it and find that it's really, really HARD to translate this book into anything but what it already is.  Because to adapt it to another medium, one must break it, and that's hard to do. 

I think I've broken it.  What I have right now subverts the novel.  But I think that's all right, because I think, whether John Okada meant to make it so or not, his novel IS subversive.  It hits people in the place where nothing is certain.  Ironic, because the people on both sides of their feelings about this issue look at it as if it WERE certain, but of course, NOTHING is certain.

Sharon found this in the forward to the paperback edition that the poet Lawson Inada wrote, and I thought I'd read it already, but maybe I didn't because how could I have overlooked it?

"Whoever reads this book will be a bigger person for it.  Whoever reads this book will never be the same.  Whoever reads this book will see, and be, with greater strength and clarity.  And in this way does the world begin to change. (...)  No-No Boy is much more than a great and lasting work of art.  It is a LIVING force among us.  And it is just one of the many beautiful and courageous stories of the continuing story of what we know as Asian America."