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JACS Consortium United but Seeks More Consistent Financing

JACSC leadership on Capitol Hill for congressional visits. From left: Prentiss Uchida, Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation (HMWF), former incarceree; Darrell Kunitomi, HMWF; Katharine Hirata, National Japanese American Citizens League (JACL); Mia Russell, Friends of Minidoka; Larry Oda, Japanese American Memorial Foundation; Brian Liesinger, JACSC; Ann Burroughs, Japanese American National Museum; Sam Mihara, HMWF, former incarceree. (Photo by David Inoue)


WASHINGTON — The group of organizations affiliated with former Japanese American confinement sites is more united than ever but has challenges paying for its long-term mission, leaders said during a three-day meeting here.

During its Feb. 26-28 meeting, the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium (JACSC) gave tentative approval to a sustainability proposal requiring its member organizations to pay 1 percent of their annual operating budgets in dues, sat with members of Congress to seek continued funding for the federal JACS program and held a congressional briefing on federal immigration issues.

“The question is not can we be sustainable, but how we can be sustainable,” said Ann Burroughs, president and CEO of the Japanese American National Museum and JACSC chair.

JACSC needs between $45,000 and $55,000 annually to sustain its core efforts, including paying its part-time executive director, Brian Liesinger, running its new website, organizing two national convenings, and keeping its member groups informed about developments within the Japanese American community, said Doug Nelson, vice chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.

The dues, Nelson said, would not have to start until the beginning of next year if the boards of directors for the various coalition groups approve them.

Nelson urged members to also look for major donors willing to support long-term financial stability for the consortium but acknowledged it may be difficult to find funders willing to provide annual operating grants on an ongoing basis.

So far, some of the consortium’s start-up costs have been paid for by federal grants, but the Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) program is primarily aimed at preservation and research projects and not operational support.

The recent meetings provided the most concrete results for JACSC, which has moved slowly to promote unity and common cause among the various groups since its first gathering in Washington in May 2016.

The continued support for the JACS program was a major theme of the meetings with senators and representatives on Feb. 27, as consortium members fanned out across Capitol Hill for a day’s worth of meetings. A delegation also met Feb. 28 with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-San Francisco), who said she supports continued JACS funding and new efforts to highlight the parallels between the incarceration and present-day fears over alleged threats posed by certain immigrant groups and the dangers they present to our national security and identity.

“What happened to the Japanese Americans is something we must own up to,” Pelosi said about the incarceration and efforts to preserve the confinement sites. She told Norman Mineta, former Cabinet secretary, House member and Heart Mountain incarceree, that she was honored to vote for the Civil Liberties Act, which compensated the Japanese American incarcerees, during her first term in Congress in 1988.

Consortium members called their meetings with their delegations encouraging. Members of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation said their state’s three-person congressional delegation, all Republicans, supported continuing JACS funding and doing whatever they could to help the foundation, which operates an interpretive center about 50 miles east of Yellowstone National Park.

Created in 2006, the JACS program was authorized to spend $38 million to pay for various programs to preserve or restore parts of confinement sites as well as educate the public about the incarceration. In 2018, funded projects ranged from $13,464 for the Friends of Minidoka (Idaho) to digitize items in their collection to $398,272 to Full Spectrum Features to produce two documentaries about resistance to the military draft and the resettlement of incarcerees around the country during World War II.

So far, about $27 million of the JACS money has been spent, which gives the program about three more years left on its current funding level. Mineta suggested that members of the coalition look beyond preserving the remainder of the initial authorization to getting Congress to back another authorization beyond the first $38 million.

JACL Executive Director David Inoue summed up the meeting: “Not only was this week successful in bringing the Japanese American community together, it emphasized that it is not just the Japanese American community that must carry this message. The consortium itself has a diversity of individuals, who may not be Japanese American, but share in the mission of preserving the Japanese American story and using it to speak to current issues. We also find tremendous support from the Japanese government which has taken a strong interest in our history as Japanese Americans, and working to share our story more with those in Japan. Our message finds resonance not only here, but internationally as well.”

The Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium (JACSC) meets with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to ensure future funding of the JACS grant program and to convey the relevancy of the Japanese American WWII confinement history today. (Photo by Julio Obscura/Office of the Speaker of the House)

Congressional Briefing

The comparisons between the Japanese American incarceration and the forced separation of immigrant families at the border were at the center of a congressional briefing on the morning of Feb. 28 at the Capitol Visitors Center.

Arthur Evans, president and CEO of the American Psychological Association, joined the JACSC members and Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside), whose family members were incarcerated at the Heart Mountain camp.

“I never thought that my being in Congress and my parents being in internment camps would be so relevant now,” said Takano, who is also chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. “What you’re doing here is so important,” adding that it is essential that the lessons of the incarceration “get out more and more to the American public.”

Evans compared the Japanese American incarceration with the plight of immigrants to the United States who have been placed in internment camps while they await their claims for asylum.

The incarceration, Evans said, broke up families, which had serious effects on the children as they grew older. That impact is similar to the separation of families at the border, he said, which has a particularly strong effect on children.

“The bond established with a parent is important, particularly early in life,” Evans said. “When that attachment is disrupted, children experience anxiety and depression.

Evans visited Heart Mountain last October and said the experience affected him profoundly.

“Many things struck me there,” he said. “How can our government do this? How we can make other people ‘the others’ is how we can do that.”

Sam Mihara, a Heart Mountain incarceree as a child, talked about the incarceration’s effect on his family, including how his grandfather’s colon cancer was treated incorrectly and caused him to die prematurely.

“In two weeks, I saw him wither away to skin and bones,” said Mihara, a member of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation board. “He was like a Holocaust survivor.”

Mihara said he has visited multiple detention camps for immigrants, where he saw children treated poorly. “They are given a poor diet, lots of bread and pasta and few fresh vegetables and protein.”

Support from Japan

The consortium also continued to strengthen its connection to the government of Japan. The Japanese Embassy hosted a Feb. 27 reception at the old ambassador’s residence next to the embassy. Embassy officials also attended a Feb. 26 reception at the HoganLovells law firm, which hosted the first day’s JACSC meetings.

Kazutoshi Aikawa, the embassy’s deputy chief of mission, said the Japanese government was eager to work with consortium members to highlight issues from the incarceration and to raise awareness of it in Japan. Embassy ministers said they planned to attend some of the pilgrimages at the various confinement sites this year.

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