BlogWalker

Muddling through the blogosphere

Christine Umeda and sister at Heart Mountain.

December 8, 2020
by blogwalker
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Reflecting on Pearl Harbor Day – from a Personal Lens

Yesterday, December 7, marked the 79th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Although I was not yet born, I have carried with me stories and memories of the December 7, 1941, attack throughout my childhood and into my teaching career.

In July, I retired from the Elk Grove Unified School District, which is located in the Florin-Elk Grove region, just south of Sacramento, California. I joined this wonderful, diverse district 21 years ago, initially hired as a 5th grade teacher. 

Midway through my first year, my teaching partner told me we needed to reserve a school bus and send our students home with field trip permission slips to attend the district’s annual Time of Remembrance program. She explained that the purpose of the Time of Remembrance program was (and still is) to provide 5th grade students and their teachers with a window into the incarceration experience of Japanese Americans (most of them U.S. Citizens) during World War II. In the weeks following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the history of this small rural farming community was forever changed when over 120,000 people of Japanese heritage were removed from the West Coast, a gross violation of their constitutional rights.

Exclusion Order posted at First and Front Streets directing removal of Japanese people – Image in Public Domain.

When we arrived at the Time of Remembrance event, my students were quickly drawn in by the stories of former internees, who themselves were only children when they were removed from their homes and “relocated,” following President Franklin Roosevelt’s issuing of Executive Order 9066. I too was drawn in – and also struck by my students’ sense of social justice. As they listened to Marielle Tsukamoto, Reiko Nagumo, and Stan and Christine Umeda, many whispered or voiced their thoughts aloud: “That wasn’t right,” “That’s not fair,” “They should have been allowed to bring their pets,” and more.

I thought back to a story my father had shared with me when I was probably the same age as my fifth graders. I had asked him about a large terracotta vase I knew was important to my parents. My father reminded me of the house where I was born in Berkeley, California, and then explained that one evening, shortly after Pearl Harbor, a Japanese neighbor knocked on our door. The neighbor told my father that he and his family would be going away and that he did not know when they would return. He asked my father to keep the vase. The neighbor never returned.  For the rest of his life, my father kept the vase. Wherever my parents lived, the vase was an integral part of the living room décor. More than 75 years later, I am now the keeper of the vase, a daily reminder of a chapter in history that was never included in my elementary through high school history lessons.

Terracotta vase from Japanese-American neighbor – 75+ years later.

Before leaving the Time of Remembrance exhibit, I introduced myself to Marielle Tsukamoto and invited her to come visit my classroom so my students could delve deeper into this story from their own community. Marielle accepted the invitation. In the hour she spent in our classroom, I witnessed my students come to the understanding that history does not just happen in textbooks; history happens within our own communities and neighborhoods.

War Relocation Authority camp near Jerome, Arkansas (1942 – where Marielle and family were sent. Image in Public Domain.

Four years after meeting Marielle, I transitioned from a classroom teacher to a district technology integration specialist. I also attended an event with Marielle sponsored by the Florin JACL (Japanese American Citizens League). As we were leaving the event, Marielle mentioned a soldier from the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (one of the most decorated units in American history) who had recently passed away and how sorry she was that I never had the opportunity to meet him and hear his story.

It was this conversation that sparked the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project. Thanks to the support of Elk Grove Unified School District (starting with our superintendent) and the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium – and with much encouragement from Marielle – documenting and preserving the hidden histories and hidden stories from our community soon transitioned from a conversation to a reality. 

This 16-minute documentary will provide you with a glimpse into the Time of Remembrance project and its rich collection of primary sources.

Nearly 80 years later, the internment story remains timely and relevant. Whether the topic is Pearl Harbor or 9/11, as Stan Umeda states in the documentary, when we are under attack, how quickly “the thin veneer of tolerance is ripped off.”

Stan Umeda and brother – Jerome War Relocation Camp.

#StopRepeatingHistory

January 31, 2020
by blogwalker
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Behind Barbed Wire – An Evening with Paul Kitagaki Jr.

Thanks to an email from a colleague, on Tuesday night, I headed to the Sacramento Library to attend Behind Barbed Wire, a powerful presentation from the Sacramento Bee’s Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Paul Kitagaki.

Flyer advertizing January 27 Behind Barbed Wire presentation by Paul Kitagaki Jr

Political cartoonist Jack Ohman, also a SacBee Pulitzer Prize winner, joined Paul on the stage and guided the discussion and presentation.

Paul Kitagaki and Jack Ohman on stage

Like so many children whose parents have experienced exclusion and forced removal, Paul grew up knowing nothing of the internment camps. In the 1970’s, during a high school history class, he first learned about Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal of nearly 120,000 citizens of Japanese heritage from the West Coast. He went home with many questions for his parents, but they did not wish to discuss their interment experiences.

By the 1980’s, as a young photojournalist in San Francisco, Paul learned that Dorothea Lange had photographed his family in 1942, while they awaited a relocation bus in Oakland, California. He traveled to the National Archives, where he found Lange’s photographs of his family. In the photo below, Paul’s father is up front on the right side, with his aunt seated between his grandparents. The woman standing in front of the family was a neighbor, who had come to say good-bye and wish them well.

Photo by Dorothea Lange of Paul Kitagaki Jr.’s family waiting to depart from the W.C.C.A. (Wartime Civil Control Authority) Control Station, in Oakland in 1942 for the Tanforan Assembly Center.

By 2015, Paul made a commitment to search for the children whose images were captured in the iconic photos of Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and others, who traveled to the camps and photographed the internees. By now, these children would be in their eighties and nineties.

Yukiko Hayakaw Llewellyn (left) at age 66 and as a young child waiting to be relocated to a camp.

If you listen to the video clip below, you will see – and hear – samples from Paul’s growing WWII collection. Using black-and-white film and a large-format camera similar to the equipment of photographers in the 1940s, he has mirrored WWII photos to his contemporary photos, adding the voice of former internees sharing a childhood memory captured in the original photo.

Paul and Jack Ohman ended the presentation by inviting the audience to ask questions. The Q&A session was as riveting as the presentation. For every question asked, at least one or two people stood and shared their first-hand or second-hand stories from “behind the barbed wire.”

I started this posted by stating that it was through an email from a colleague (Laurie Doane) that I learned about the Paul Kitagaki event. Laurie’s father was interned at Heart Mountain. During the Q&A session, Paul mentioned Disney animator Willie Ito, who was also interned at Heart Mountain, where Ito and Laurie’s father became friends. One of my favorite takeaways from the evening was learning about a children’s book, Hello Maggie, written by Shig Yabu – and illustrated by Willie Ito.

I’ve blogged before that I co-direct/curate my district’s Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project, a collection of interviews from World War II and the Vietnam War. We will be updating the site soon with a post on Paul Kitagaki’s presentation and resources.

If the line had not been so long, I would have left the event with an autographed copy of Behind Barbed Wire: Searching for Japanese Americans Incarcerated During World War II. Next best thing…a trip to Barnes & Noble Folsom, which already has a copy in stock and has ordered a copy of Hello Maggie.

Thank you to the Sacramento Bee for hosting an unforgettable evening and event, a powerful reminder of how the stories from the past connect to the present.

December 30, 2015
by blogwalker
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Tule Lake Internment Camp – From first-hand accounts

I have not yet visited the Tule Lake Segregation Camp (AKA Tule Lake War Relocation Center), but as of Monday, thanks to a text message from Kathleen Watt (Time of Remembrance Co-Director) and a Tweet from Larry Ferlazzo, a trip to this remote area of Northern California is now on my 2016 to-do list. Kathleen and Larry both shared a link to Charles Lam’s NBC News article: Senate Bill Would Name Tule Lake, Largest Japanese Internment Camp, Historic Site.

Tule Lake War Relocation Center.jpg
Tule Lake War Relocation Center” by Library of Congress –  Licensed under Public Domain

Tule Lake was one of ten internment camps quickly constructed by the U.S. Government for the purpose of removing all people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast during World War II. It is best known as “home” to the “no no boys,” a term “for those who answered ‘no’ to questions 27 and 28, the so-called ‘loyalty questions’ on the Application for Leave Clearance form” (Densho Encyclopedia).

Of the 32 interviews posted to the Time of Remembrance World War II Archives, 12 include first-hand accounts of life in Tule Lake. For some of our interviewees, Tule Lake was a starting point in their internment years; for others, it was where they were confined until the close of WWII.

To learn more about Tule Lake from a child’s perspective, I recommend starting with Christine Umeda’s interview. Christine’s parents signed the loyalty oath and were then released from Tule Lake and relocated to Topaz. For a more detailed account of a child’s life in Tule Lake, listen to Toshiye Kawamura’s interview, whose father was a “no no boy.”

“No no boy” Jim Tanimoto’s interview is a compelling account of the consequences of taking a stand as an 18-year-old and refusing to sign the loyalty oath. Jim’s 36-minute interview makes a strong case for Barbara Boxer’s Senate Bill and will provide teachers and students with the content background to fully understand and appreciate this newsworthy current event.

Jim’s interview also stands as a testimony to Tule Lake Committee Officer Barbara Takei’s statement to NBC News“The people used this loyalty questionnaire as a form of protest. The people who gave the ‘wrong’ answer ended up segregated at Tule Lake. That protest is really the Japanese-American civil rights story. It’s a story that hasn’t really been told.”

When I do make the 300+ mile journey from Sacramento to Tule Lake (hopefully this summer), I’ll be back with an updated post!

 

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