Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | internment
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Like many people, and especially many Japanese Americans, I’m a big fan of George Takei. I’ve followed his career since I first saw him in the role of Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu in the original 1960s television “Star Trek” series and as he reprised the character in subsequent Star Trek movies in the 1970s and 1980s. Instead of fading into pop culture...

Late last year, Erin and I were lucky enough to travel to New York City to see the Broadway musical “Allegiance” starring George Takei. It’s a story about the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and it vividly and powerfully brings to life the emotional toll of the experience on JAs for generations since then. I wrote about...

Denver's Mayor Michael B. Hancock welcomes the 100 applicants and their family members to the citizenship ceremony. I was born in Japan, but because my father was born in Hawaii when it was a U.S. territory, I am an American citizen. I didn't have to take a test, and recite an oath of allegiance. After my family moved to the...

Hand-carved wood panels made in Amache in Colorado during WWII. These were among the items that would have been auctioned. Here's a link to the announcement on JANM's website.   UPDATE MAY 3, 2015:T he Japanese American National Museum announced last night at a gala fundraising honoring George Takei (who's a JANM board member as well as a community...

[caption id="attachment_5719" align="aligncenter" width="580"]Hundreds of Lakewood High School students, including this one, left their classrooms in September to protest a proposed history curriculum they believed would lead to censorship. Students organized the walkouts using social media sites like Facebook. Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat Colorado Hundreds of Lakewood High School students, including this one, left their classrooms in September to protest a proposed history curriculum they believed would lead to censorship. Students organized the walkouts using social media sites like Facebook. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat Colorado) [/caption] I grew up as part of a generation that found our collective voice in protest, for African American civil rights, against the war in Vietnam, and to advocate for women’s and LGBT rights and Asian American studies. College students have been at the forefront of many of these social movements. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee was a cornerstone of the civil rights movement. College students led the free speech movement at the University of California at Berkeley, and the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society was formed at the University of Michigan. Students led protests across the globe, including the Prague Spring in 1968 all the way to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Even the Taiwan protests earlier this year and the current and Hong , Kong democracy protests. But in Colorado where I live, my admiration goes out to a group of high school students, who have been protesting in Jefferson County, the school district where I graduated in the 1970s.

hawaii-five-0 We're fans of the CBS series "Hawaii Five-0" for lots of reasons, including the fact that it's a showcase for Asian and Pacific Islander actors such as Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park, and the entertaining "bromance" relationship between Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin) and Danny "Danno" Williams (Scott Caan). I always loved the original series that ran from 1968-1980, and think it's great that this reboot uses pretty much the same arrangement for the theme song, and even uses quick-cut images that evoke the look and feel of the intro sequence from the earlier Five-0. And finally, who can't love a show that celebrates the coolest and best-looking of all the United States, with loving b-roll shots of both its glistening city life and its incredibly beautiful natural scenery? This week, we get a whole new reason to appreciate "Hawaii Five-0" and tune in regularly. The producers are focusing on an aspect of American history that still remains under the radar of most mainstream American pop culture: The American imprisonment of people of Japanese ancestry in the wake of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center internment exhibit I visited the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center in Portland, Oregon last week while on a business trip to the northwest, and I was struck at how important organizations like it, and the museum it operates are for our community. Institutions from the largest such as the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles to one-room repositories such as the Nikkei Legacy Center or the Amache Museum in Granada, Colorado, are repositories for our collective memory as a community, and home to our history. Portland’s museum is a project of the Oregon Nikkei Endowment, and it’s tucked into a storefront in the city’s Old Town district, in the midst of what used to be the Nihonmachi, or Japantown neighborhood. One of the first items on display inside the door is a scale model of the district, with all the buildings labeled with the Japanese businesses that used to thrive. Only a couple of the businesses still exist, but they’re no longer in the neighborhood – the Nikkei Legacy Center is the only remaining sign of the community that was based here before WWII. The museum does a great job within its limited space of tracing the Japanese’s arrival in the area, the variety of businesses, and then imprisonment during WWII. There are artifacts, models, and text explaining historical milestones. A small area features a re-creation of an internment camp barrack's interior, with actual tables, chairs, desk and dresser (shown above) that were all built by internees in Minidoka, Idaho, where Portland JAs were imprisoned. The historical timeline of the permanent exhibit ends with a small video viewing area with interviews with local Nisei about the war years. Hiroshima exhibit at Oregon Nikkei Legacy CenterIn a small rotating gallery space in the back is a powerful, somber art exhibit (right) that addresses the horror of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, titled “Shadows and Black Rain: Memories, Histories, Places, Bodies.”

the-red-kimonoFor a long time, there were painfully few novels that were about the experience of Japanese Americans who were put into concentration camps during World War II. “Farewell to Manzanar,” by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, which was published in 1973, stood alone, unless you counted the powerful post-war story of John Okada’s 1957 classic, “No-No Boy.” In recent years, there have been more fictional works set during internment, most notably David Guterson’s “Snow Falling on Cedars” but also Julie Otsuka’s “When the Emperor Was Divine,” Rahna Reiko Rizzuto’s “Why She Left Us,” K.P. Kollenborn’s “Eyes Behind Belligerence” and even a children’s book, “Baseball Saved Us” by Ken Mochizuki and and Dom Lee. And now, there’s “The Red Kimono,” a terrific novel by Jan Morrill and published by the University of Arkansas Press. Morrill, who is hapa (her mother was interned during the war) and who lives in Arkansas, writes, as they say, about what she knows. “The Red Kimono” is chockfull of finely observed details that draw the reader into the world of a Japanese American family in Berkeley, California at the start of World War II. Through thorough historical research and her own knowledge and family experiences, Morrill captures what life was like during that era, and also accurately captures the values that informed Japanese Americans as their lives were so tragically disrupted. The story is told through the experiences of three young people who were shaped by the events that followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor: Nine-year-old Sachiko Kimura and her 17-year-old brother Nobu, and Nobu’s friend Terrence Harris, a young African American schoolmate. The power of “The Red Kimono” is in its interweaving of racial issues that run deeper than the unjust imprisonment of 120,000 people of Japanese descent. Morrill sets the internment narrative on its edge by exploring the complex relationships of white/black/Asian/southern values clashing amidst the chaotic social backdrop of the war.