Sunday, February 13, 2011

Portrait: George Ishikawa

"My father said to me, 'You are an American. And if you have to serve, you are an American. That is where you belong. If it does come to war, I expect you'll serve under this country".  --George Ishikawa

George and his new wife were driving from Mountain View back to their home in San Mateo, CA when they heard on the radio that they would have to pack up all their belongings and report to the Santa Anita Assembly Center. Like most people from the San Jose area, they were eventually sent to the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming. When the U.S. began including incarcerated Japanese-Americans in the Selective Service Program in 1943, many men in the internment camps objected on the grounds that they were being asked to serve in the military while their families were incarcerated and had been denied their constitutional rights. George Ishikawa was the first person I met who had taken a role in the draft resistance movement within the internment camps.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

Like most interned draft resisters, he promised to report for duty if his family were given their freedom. Many other young men had talked about resisting the draft, but most of them changed eventually their minds. George was one of the first to stick with his decision. He was one of eighty-five Heart Mountain men who were later imprisoned for resisting the draft.

During his trial, George made the following eloquent comment that was used in the front page of Eric Muller's book, "Free To Die For Their Country: The Story of Japanese-American Draft Resisters in WWII":

"We may lose the verdict,
but the verdict shall be man-made;
and with the passing of Time,
eternal truth and right will come to light.
That is my firm belief."

-- George Ishikawa, in a Wyoming county jail, May 1944

When I photographed George just before Christmas 2010, he talked about his memories of leaving their home in San Mateo; a riot in the Santa Anita Assembly Center; and his involvement as one of the earliest draft resisters at Heart Mountain.
  • Before the outbreak of WWII, George recalls his dad telling him to always remember that he was an American, and he should be prepared to fight for America if necessary (LISTEN).
  • His family was driving home one Sunday night in 1942 when the heard the announcement on the radio about Executive Order 9066 (LISTEN), Once his family realized they would have to leave their home, they were given very little time to prepare for the evacuation (LISTEN), Unlike some Japanese-Americans, his family was not fortunate enough to find someone to take care of their possessions while they were in the internment camps (LISTEN)
  • George's family was sent to the Santa Anita Assembly Center. He discusses the train ride to Santa Anita (LISTEN), and his arrival at Santa Anita (LISTEN). He also recalled a serious work protest at Santa Anita that started after the guards began confiscating people's personal possessions (LISTEN).
  • After being interned at Santa Anita, George's family was incarcerated in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. He describes the train ride to Heart Mountain (LISTEN) and their arrival at Heart Mountain (LISTEN).
  • George played a major role in the well-documented draft resistance movement within Heart Mountain. Initially, men didn't know what to think about being drafted. Many were offended at being classified as "enemy alien". There were also rumors that the U.S. Army was assembling Japanese-American men into a suicide battalion. Ultimately, most men felt a responsibility to their families, so they remained quiet about it (LISTEN).  George discusses the confusion over the "loyalty question", his interpretation of his responsibility to defend the United States, and the first few people to stand up and demand their Constitutional rights in exchange for defending the country (LISTEN)Once the draft was instituted, many men in Heart Mountain passively resisted it. But once they were threatened with imprisonment, most of them backed down and enlisted (LISTEN).  George tried to express his reasoning by writing a letter to one of the early leaders of the draft resistance within Heart Mountain. His letter unexpectedly appeared in the camp newsletter, the Heart Mountain Sentinel*. His letter was later picked up by a reporter named James Omura, who published it in the Denver Japanese-American newspaper called the Rocky Shimpo (LISTEN), 
  • People outside of Heart Mountain never received news about what was going on inside of camp. The Rocky Shimpo newspaper began publishing some of that news, but after publishing George's letter, there were ordered to stop reporting news from inside the camp (LISTEN)           

You can also read the TRANSCRIPT of the above interviews. 

After our meeting, I had planned to meet with George again and continue our interview. George had a lot to tell me about his trial and the series of prisons where he was incarcerated. Sadly, I learned that George had passed away before I could meet with him a second time.

"You say, Democracy, that's what we are fighting for... Are we not supposed to be enjoying those sacred blessings and privileges as free citizens before we are to enter the armed forces? We are fighting to restore the rights and dignity of citizenship that is properly due a citizen regardless of his race or color"  -- George Ishikawa

I also found this interesting article about draft resistance in the Wall Street Journal which mentions George Ishikawa. And this photograph from an article from the San Francisco Chronicle featuring a meeting between George and his fellow Heart Mountain friend Takashi Hoshizaki after 58 years.

* I'm still searching through all of the Heart Mountain Sentinel newsletters on the great Densho website. When I find George's letter, I'll post it here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Portrait: Tom Nishikawa

Tom Nishikawa was one year-old when his family moved to Hollister to purchase a farm. A few weeks later, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declared war against Japan. This prevented Tom's family from completing the purchase of the farm. Five months later President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, and Tom's family was ordered to report to the Salinas Assembly Center. They were then incarcerated in the Poston Camp 1 in Arizona. Tom told me that Poston was divided into a family section, and a bachelors' section. Since Tom was a young boy looking for excitement, he would spend time in the bachelors' section, where the men taught him how to make an insect net and chase bugs.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

Tom was only five years old when his family was released from Poston in 1945. They temporarily lived in the San Jose Buddist Church Betsuin, and Hunter's Point (South San Francisco) before settling in Gilroy, CA. Tom has some wonderful memories that he shared with me. Here are some audio interviews with Tom Nishikawa:

  • Tom describes how he would hang out in the bachelors' section of camp where the bachelors taught him how to collect insects. (LISTEN).
  • When Tom's dad was a cook at Poston, he would bring home rice that had burned against the pan. This is now sold as a treat called koge gohan  (LISTEN).
  • Tom talks about the art of Gaman, and how his dad would carve tiny, intricate birds from wood, which he collected from old produce boxes.  (LISTEN).
You can also read the TRANSCRIPT of the above interviews. 

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Portrait: James Hirata

In October 2010, I photographed James Hirata along with his mom, Taka Hirata (age 104). James was seventeen years old and living in San Francisco when his family was ordered to pack up and move to the Tanforan (CA) Assembly Center, and eventually the Topaz (Utah) Relocation Center. I was amazed when James told me that he had very fond memories of both Tanforan and Topaz (listen below). He said there was very little for a teen-age boy to do in San Francisco in the 1940's, but he loved the open space, fields and desert of Topaz, as well as the mud at Tanforan.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

After the war he moved to Palo Alto with a friend that he had met at the Tule Lake internment camp. When I photographed James, he was 85 years old and still operating his own landscaping business.  James and Taka were the first people I photographed who had been incarcerated at Topaz.

Listen to some of James' memories of San Francisco, Tanforan, Topaz and Tule Lake:
  • Leaving San Francisco to report to the Tanforan Assembly Center  LISTEN 
  • Fond memories of Tanforan and Topaz  LISTEN
You can also read the TRANSCRIPT of the above interviews.