Gardena DOR Focuses on Women in Camp

Boy Scout Troop 683 posted the colors.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

GARDENA — The experience of Japanese American women in the World War II camps was the focus of the 2018 Day of Remembrance held on Feb. 24 at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute.

Bay Area filmmaker Marlene Shigekawa’s documentary “For the Sake of the Children,” in which children and grandchildren of incarcerees share their memories, was shown, followed by a panel discussion.

Executive Director Alison Kochiyama noted that GVJCI’s seventh Day of Remembrance program marked the 76th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which authorized the mass incarceration, and the 30th anniversary of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided redress and an apology to camp survivors. She introduced a special guest, Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, whose research played a crucial role in the success of the redress movement.

“No Japanese Americans were ever charged, much less convicted, of espionage or sabotage against the United States,” Kochiyama said. “Yet they were targeted, seized from their homes, rounded up, and imprisoned for years simply for having the face of the enemy … Today the U.S. government continues to pass laws and enforce policies targeting specific communities. The Muslim ban, deportations, indefinite detention, border walls, racial profiling, and government surveillance are all happening now, and we must continue to defend our citizens and immigrant residents’ civil and human rights.

“This is a repeat of what happened to our Issei immigrant generation in 1941, when over 1,200 Issei men were arrested by the FBI [immediately after Pearl Harbor]and more than 5,500 Issei men were eventually picked up and held as potential threats to national security. Our hope is that these annual Day of Remembrance events held around the country not only continue to bring awareness of this dark episode of U.S. history but that people connect what happened in the past to present-day issues.”

The post-screening panelists, introduced by GVJCI Program Manager Nicole Sato, were Shigekawa, executive producer and co-director of the film, who is project director of the Poston Community Alliance; award-winning artist Mary Hatsuko Higuchi and Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative Monica Embrey, who are featured in the film; Asmaa Ahmed, policy manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR); and Sameer Ahmed, staff attorney for ACLU of Southern California. The moderator was UCLA professor Valerie Matsumoto, holder of the George and Sakaye Aratani Chair on the Japanese American Incarceration, Redress and Community.

From left: Panelists Asmaa Ahmed, Sameer Ahmed, Marlene Shigekawa, Monica Embrey and Mary Hatsuko Higuchi.

“What About the Women?”

“The film really came about when my friend Ruth Okimoto and I were having coffee,” Shigekawa recalled. “Ruth was instrumental in the preservation project at Poston and initiating propositions with the [Colorado River Indian] tribes … It was during that time that the men were getting a lot of recognition for their efforts with the 442nd, and we said, ‘Well, what about the women?’ The women were brave and courageous during that time because they raised children in camp, gave birth to babies such as myself and my brother and others, they created a kind of normalcy for all of us and kind of protected us … That takes a lot of courage and fortitude.”

Bay Area filmmaker Marlene Shigekawa discusses her documentary “For the Sake of the Children.”

At first she tried to interview women of her parents’ generation, including her own mother, who was still “genki” at 103, but her mother’s peers were more “fragile” and less able to communicate their experiences. After co-producer Joe Fox learned that Shigekawa didn’t know about the camps until she was in high school, “we found that same situation where a lot of the camp stories were not shared within the family. So then we decided to broaden the film and include the impact of the whole experience on the generations.”

Shigekawa said of women in camp, “What I felt was very courageous is to hide the pain and the shame and humility that was associated with being in prison and to create kind of an ‘Our Town’ kind of normalcy so that the children could feel like they were a part of mainstream society when in fact we were all rejected and marginalized and looked down upon, and that I think continued after camp.”

Not learning about the camps as a child left her with mixed feelings. “[My parents] set high expectations for us … to reach for the stars and feel that we were like everyone else, that we can achieve everything that we wanted to and that there were no roadblocks — when in fact there were, which I found out later … In some ways I felt that was an advantage. So there’s assets and liabilities … but I appreciated my mom for everything she did in trying to create a path for us into mainstream society.”

Shigekawa’s mother, a USC pharmacy school graduate, had a drugstore on Terminal Island and was given only two days to evacuate. “She put a lock on her drugstore and then she came back the next morning to pack everything up and it was ransacked, so she lost everything … She had her own car before the war and she seemed like a very independent woman. And then returning … she had a lot of anxiety and fear about doing the right thing all the time. We always got these messages about ‘Don’t bring any shame on the family’…

“So I feel like the camp experience impacted her emotionally in the sense that she felt like she couldn’t be who she was as a Japanese American but had to always anticipate how she would be received by mainstream society and adjust her behavior appropriately.”