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‘The JA Citizen Isolation Centers of WWII’ at USC

Claudia Katayanagi and Diane Tsuchida

USC’s Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture will present “The Japanese American Citizen Isolation Centers of WWII” on Sunday, Oct. 7, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Rosen Family Screening Room (227), Ronald Tutor Campus Center, University Park Campus, 3607 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles.

While the War Relocation Authority (WRA) camps and the Army/Department of Justice camps that incarcerated nearly 120,0000 persons of Japanese ancestry have rightly garnered attention as examples of violations of civil liberties in the U.S., the story of citizen isolation centers for those considered troublemakers is still little known. With a focus on confinement sites in Leupp, Ariz. and Moab, Utah, researcher Diana Emiko Tsuchida and filmmaker Claudia Katayanagi will speak about these high-security camps, now considered precursors to Guantanamo Bay prison, following the screening of “A Bitter Legacy.”

“An incorrigible troublemaker.” That’s what Topaz camp authorities called Tsuchida’s grandfather, Tamotsu (Tom). Born in Loomis and educated in Japan, he caught the attention of the WRA employees by encouraging fellow incarcerated Japanese Americans to protest their treatment and to speak up about their lack of food, the selling of camp medicine, and safe working conditions.

Though he mainly wrote op-eds and attended Kibei-led political meetings, his anger spurred him to intimidate fellow Japanese Americans, demanding that they come clean about what he perceived as their deceitful and treacherous behavior against their own community. After two incidents in Topaz put Tom on the FBI’s radar, he was transferred to Leupp without any warning or due process, leaving his young son and wife behind to be transferred to Tule Lake.

At the end of the war, he nearly took the family back to Japan but they eventually resettled in Oakland, where Tom would stay in touch with his fellow prisoners from Leupp for years.

The experience of the incarceration haunted Tom for the rest of his life and though he had stacks of his own writing and a framework of a memoir, all of it was lost years after he passed away, leaving murky details behind. Now 25 years after his death, his granddaughter is re-shifting the government’s permanent narrative about him and piecing together the family legacy that her grandfather, a complicated and proud man, left behind.

Admission is free. To RSVP and for more information, go online to:

Katayanagi, a Yonsei born in San Francisco, has been involved in the film industry for many years. Many of her family members were imprisoned in Topaz and Tule Lake, but few wanted to talk about their experiences in depth, part of the “social amnesia” phenomenon that Professor Tetsuden Kashima mentions in her film. She decided to explore the World War II Nikkei incarceration history.

During her research into this history, she came across these “Citizen Isolation Centers” in Camp Tulelake, Moab and Leupp. Only men were sent to these prisons. They were labeled “troublemakers” for simply asking questions, or refusing to sign the “loyalty oath” until their families were freed from these prisons. With the guidance of the top historians in the field, many stories were revealed about these previously little-known prisons.

Katayanagi has traveled to eight of the 10 main incarceration camps, and all of the Citizen Isolation Center sites as well as Tule Lake Segregation Center. She has been on and filmed a number of pilgrimages over the last few years, including Manzanar, Topaz and Tule Lake. “A Bitter Legacy” is now an award-winning feature documentary. Go to her website ( for more information.

Tsuchida is an independent writer and the creator of “Tessaku,” an oral history project and podcast dedicated to preserving and sharing stories about the Japanese American incarceration and the Japanese American WWII experience. Her work has been featured on NPR’s “Code Switch,” NBC’s “Asian Pacific America,” The Rafu Shimpo, and a TEDxPeacePlaza talk. You can read the oral histories she’s collected here:

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