JA Confinement Sites Consortium Convenes at JANM

JACS Consortium members in front of JANM’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum in Little Tokyo. (Photo by Brian Liesinger)

By JULIE ABO, Heart Mountain Interpretive Center Staff

On Oct. 20-21, the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium (JACSC) held its fourth meeting of museums, historic sites, volunteer groups, and advocacy organizations from across the nation whose focus is the Japanese American incarceration experience.

JACSC is devoted to collectively preserving, protecting, and interpreting the World War II experiences of Japanese Americans and highlighting related social justice lessons that inform current issues. The Japanese American National Museum hosted the two-day event.

The consortium has been in existence since the first meeting in 2015 and has been working on identifying goals that include advocating for the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grants program, a federal program that has helped fund nearly 200 projects nationwide that have brought greater scholarship and public awareness of the Japanese American experience. In addition, the consortium protects historic sites, facilitates collaboration and resource-sharing among stakeholder organizations, and assists in growing the capacity of all members.

“Collaboration is key,” JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs proclaimed as she welcomed participants on the first day. She observed that in the past, many of the organizations had been operating independently and in a silo-like fashion and that, moving forward, it was good to see the consortium as a collective effort to work collaboratively.

Consortium Coordinator Brian Liesinger noted that the consortium has created a community where members could connect and support one another more easily despite the often great geographic distances between them and the challenges they may face.

More than 50 participants attended the meeting, from 18 different organizations, including: Nine of the 10 War Relocation Authority confinement sites, JANM, the National Park Service, the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, Densho, the Oregon Nikkei Endowment, the Japanese American Service Committee (Chicago), the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (Washington, D.C.), the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula (Montana), 50 Objects/Stories of the American Japanese Incarceration, the American Baptist Historical Society, and the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (Wyoming). The 10th WRA confinement site would have attended, but was unable due to an unforeseen event.

These groups reported on their current projects, discussed goals for the group, and identified their needs from the consortium. Attendees also collaborated on issues such as fundraising, information sharing, and advocacy.

On Oct. 21 in the JANM boardroom, five stakeholders sign a memorandum of understanding agreeing to serve as an administrative council for the JACSC. Front row (from left): JACL Executive Director David Inoue, Friends of Minidoka Chair Alan Momohara, HMWF Chair Shirley Ann Higuchi, JANM President/CEO Ann Burroughs, NJAMF Chair Larry Oda. Back row (from left): Friends of Minidoka Executive Director Mia Russell, Heart Mountain Interpretive Center Executive Director Dakota Russell, HMWF Vice Chair Doug Nelson, and NJAMF Vice Chair John Tobe.

Two graduate students, Helen Yoshida from CSU Fullerton and Koji Lau-Ozawa from Stanford University, presented their research. Yoshida described her ongoing oral history project documenting the World War II Department of Justice camps, a subject that has been little researched. Lau-Ozawa reported on his archaeological findings at the former Gila River camp in Arizona.

On Saturday evening, JANM and the consortium hosted a free public screening of Voices Behind Barbed Wire: Stories of Oahu” featuring personal stories about the incarceration experience in Hawaii. Carole Hayashino, president of JCCH, introduced the film and held a lively Q&A afterwards. The film, produced by the JCCH, presents a newly emerging history of WWII incarceration in Hawaii and was partially funded by an National Park Service JACS grant.

The release of the documentary coincides with the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the gannenmono, the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. Hayashino explained that the state of Hawaii has been celebrating this 150th anniversary of the arrival of the gannenmono all year. They consisted of 150 Japanese immigrants who came from Yokohama to Honolulu in 1868. Most labored on the plantations, while some worked in hospitals and others took up domestic work.

In Hayashino’s research, many descendants of the gannenmono were found. Some returned to Japan, but around 50 stayed and made Hawaii their permanent home, marrying locals and integrating into Hawaiian culture.

Hayashino explained, “So there are some sixth0, seventh-, eighth-generation Japanese in Hawaii who are so proud of this Japanese connection and it has been incredible to realize how diverse our community is.”

It is part of a planned four-part series on Hawaii’s confinement sites, with each part focusing on an island: Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island (the Big Island). The films are being widely distributed to schools throughout Hawaii to deepen local history education.

A member of the audience, Frances Hikido, commented afterwards, “I grew up in Hawaii and we didn’t know about this. I would like to know more.”

Carole Hayashino, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii president and executive director, introduces “Voices Behind Barbed Wire: Stories of Oahu,” a film produced by the JCCH, at JANM’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum. (Photo by Darrell Kunitomi)

Sunday’s gathering began with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the five major stakeholders in the consortium who have agreed to form an administrative council. As the administrative council, the five organizations will provide both direction and funding to sustain the consortium beyond the lifetime of the JACS grants. JANM, HMWF, the Friends of Minidoka, and the JACL welcomed a fifth stakeholder, the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, to the council.

When asked about the memorandum and the consortium in general, NJAMF Chair Larry Oda, who was born in the Crystal City (Texas) Department of Justice camp, was optimistic. “It seems to me there is a willingness to collaborate and advance our mission. It is heartening to see so many organizations coming together. Each individual group can keep their identity, but we can act together and be a larger voice.”

Later that morning, JACL Executive Director David Inoue and former Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies President Floyd Mori led attendees in a discussion of what to expect on their upcoming visits to legislators in Washington, D.C. in February. The goal of the visits will be to educate and inform congress about the Japanese American WWII incarceration. Key issues are JACS grant funding and other vital preservation causes.

Stan Shikuma of Tule Lake, Mitch Homma of Amache, and Aura Newlin of Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation share insights after a session about congressional visits and detention centers.

In preparation for these meetings, Inoue provided tools on how to conduct an effective legislative visit and Mori, also a former CEO and president of JACL, highlighted the importance of building lasting relationships with community and federal leadership.

Mori, who describes himself as “a Mormon country boy from Utah,” shared an important lesson he learned in his first year in the California State Assembly. One of the first lobbyists who came to his office was from a gay rights organization, one that he wouldn’t have normally thought of as an ally, and it was this first meeting that started a wonderful work