George Takei is a pleasure to watch and listen to any time. This hour-long interview on TheLip.tv’s “Media Mahem” web show is especially fun because it covers a lot of ground, and Takei is funny and relaxed and open, discussing his media incarnation as a gay community icon, his work with Howard Stern, his “feud” with William Shatner, being Japanese American, JA internment, and the musical he’s in which opens soon in San Diego, “Allegiance.”
Pretty powerful stuff. Matthew Shimura, a 9th grader from Honolulu, Hawaii won the Grand Prize for his documentary, “The Constitution and the Camps,” in C-SPAN’s annual StudentCam competition. The Grand Prize winner (announced March 7) received a $5,000 award and $1,000 for his teacher to buy video equipment for his school. (Coincidentally, he attends the Punahou in Oahu, where Barack Obama went to school.)
The contest chooses themes each year to get students to think about issues affecting the country. This year the topic was â€œThe Constitution and You: Select any provision of the U.S. Constitution and create a video illustrating why itâ€™s important to you.â€
Shimura chose to focus his documentary on Japanese American internment camps because his uncle was imprisoned during World War II. The StudentCam website has more information and a list of all the winners (and links to every video in each category).
Japanese Americans know about internment. My wife Erin’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides were rounded up from Sacramento County, Calif. and eventually imprisoned at Rohwer, one of two concentration camps in Arkansas built during World War II to house Japanese Americans out of fear and racial hysteria. There were 10 in all, including Camp Amache in desolate southeastern Colorado. (Note: There’s been a gradual move towards the use of the term “concentration camps” because that’s the term the U.S. government used for them when they weren’t using euphemisms like “assembly center” or “relocation center.”)
For many older Japanese Americans, the first thing they ask of each other when they meet other JAs is, “what camp was your family in?” and they’re not talking about summer camp. Continue reading →
Muller points out the race-based hysteria at the start of World War II, when false reports about Japanese Americans’ involvement in espionage and sabotage against the United States led to an atmosphere of hatred for an entire group of people, and warns that we should be careful not to do the same thing today. Those reports weren’t just propagated by the West Coast Hearst newspapers that had been anti-Japanese (and anti-Chinese) for decades, with their drumbeat of “Yellow Peril” stories.
Even the Washington Post (shown here) reported the lies. (For the record no case of espionage or sabotage during the war by anyone of Japanese descent in the US was proven).
We’ve seen other examples of how hatred can be easily stoked by leaders who fan the flames of fear in the name of patriotism: Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee hearings blacklisted suspected Communists including government officials and Hollywood celebrities in a gleeful witch hunt.
Let’s not make the same mistake again. I assume King is holding these hearings out of a genuine, if mistaken, patriotism. But I hope these hearings don’t simply lead to a notching up of the often ignorant extreme ideas some Americans have about Muslims (they’re not all terrorists, people) and a blanket indictment of all Muslim Americans.
Maria Hinojosa, a very respected journalist for NPR and PBS who’s currently working on a Frontline documentary about the detention camps holding Latin Americans suspected of being illegal immigrants, visited the University of Colorado this week. She gave a speech Tuesday night but that day she had a casual free lunch discussion with students from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She described the film she’s working on, and some of the heartbreaking stories of families torn apart and the shame and embarrassment the detainees face.
Her description conjured up for me how Japanese American families must have felt in 1942 as they were being rounded up and sent to internment camps in desolate parts of the Western United States during World War II, including Heart Mountain in Wyoming, shown above with a still-standing tarpaper-covered barrack.
I asked her, since February 19 is the annual Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans, if she found it especially ironic that she’s working on this documentary and giving a speech this week.
Hinojosa looked at me, stunned. She clearly knew about Japanese American internment. But she had no idea there was such as thing as Day of Remembrance for Japanese Americans. Continue reading →