View of the Tanforan Assembly Center, photo censored by the US Army. Photographer: Lange, Dorothea; San Bruno, California. WRA no. C-643
On February 25, the Skyline College Social Justice Studies/Sociology Department, Library, and Japanese American faculty members collaborated to present “Remembering Resistance: Narratives of Wartime Memories and Japanese Incarceration” to a full (zoom) house of students, staff and faculty.
It was the first time anyone could recall the college tackling the topic of the WWII incarceration of Japanese and Japanese American citizens communally through an intergenerational event. Sociology Professor Rika Yonemura-Fabian moderated, drawing parallels to more recent tragic episodes of anti-Muslim and anti-Asian hate in our country. Many participants remained online well after the event had concluded to share stories and raise important questions.
Economics professor Masao Suzuki provided background on pre-war Japanese immigration and the roots of racism already grounded in American society before President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 prompted the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese/Japanese Americans for the War’s duration. Professor Suzuki, who had done his PhD dissertation on this history and its aftermath, also shared family stories of resistance during the War, and spoke of the more recent Japanese American movements for redress and reparations during the 1980s.
Librarian Jessica Silver-Sharp shared historical photographs by professional photographer Dorothea Lange and others, with a focus on the Tanforan horse race track where more than 8,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were incarcerated temporarily before their transfer to inland concentration camps. Images also portrayed Japanese American wartime resistance by the so-called “no-no boys” and draft resisters, conscientious objectors, and those who organized themselves into committees to protest conditions of their imprisonment.
Photography professor Arthur Takayama, born several years after the war, shared some of the few family memories that had been passed down by his Los Angeles relatives and the later impact incarceration had on them. He and other speakers noted that the Issei (first generation) and sometimes Nissei (second generations) of Japanese Americans experienced feelings of shame about the incarceration they were keener to forget than pass down as family history.
Mathematics professor Tadashi Tsuchida and his father Roy Tsuchida, who was incarcerated at the Poston, Arizona “War Relocation Center” at age 7 with his father and siblings, also spoke and showed family photographs. Prof. Tsuchida recalled that his grandmother, who was in poor health in 1941, was left behind in California and treated poorly at various hospitals. His father described watching his own father destroy their family photos and documents on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. They spoke of the very poor conditions at Poston and how the inmates started schools there for the children, while prison staff ate the contents of the care packages they received (and flaunted it).
Participants posed questions for specific speakers and following the event, students completed assignments to reflect on what they had learned. Many reported having had little or no prior exposure to the topic. Many students whose family were immigrants from other countries made connections to their own family history – their own community’s struggles against prejudice and discrimination, and family separations due to governmental violence.
Jessica Silver-Sharp shared a Skyline College Library research guide for students and others as a starting place for better understanding this difficult time in our nation’s history: https://guides.skylinecollege.edu/JapaneseAmericanIncarceration
One salient question that was posed – “How do we make sure this does not happen again?” – brought home the need to continue teaching this history in order to avoid repeating it. Participants agreed that making “Remembering Resistance” a recurring event on the Skyline College scene would be beneficial to all.
Thanks to the many members of our community who organized and participated in this dynamic event. Anyone interested in collaborating to explore local aspects of the incarceration – such as the mostly forgotten Sharp Park Justice Department detention facility (now golf course) – please reach out to Prof. Rika Yonemura-Fabian <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Jessica Silver-Sharp <email@example.com> or any of the other speakers.
Article by Jessica Silver-Sharp