By MARTHA NAKAGAWA
When Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s play “The Betrayed” was performed in Orange County, it caused a minor ripple in the Nisei veterans’ community, but the play will most likely face no opposition at the Feb. 26 show in Torrance, where the Go For Broke veterans’ organization is headquartered.
“None of the veterans here have said anything,” said Mary Graybill, Go For Broke public relations consultant. “Part of what they fought for was to ensure freedom of speech and civil liberties and civil rights for all.”
Robert Wada, a former Poston (Colorado River) War Relocation Authority camp inmate and Korean War veteran from Orange County who opposed the Orange County performance, described the protest as an “isolated case.”
Wada, who had two older brothers in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, pointed out that some of the veterans in Orange County were upset at the scheduling of the play last November.
“It was ill timing,” said Wada. “We’re not against the ‘No-Nos’ but it wasn’t a good time so close to Veterans’ Day.”
After discussing the issue amongst themselves, the Orange County veterans had informed the youth group of VFW Post 3670 that they could not represent or use the VFW’s name if they chose to attend the Orange County showing of “The Betrayed.”
Soji Kashiwagi, producer of “The Betrayed” and son of the playwright, said the date had been chosen to coincide with his father’s birthday.
“The selection of the date, Nov. 6, 2010, had nothing to do with Veteran’s Day,” he said. “My father’s birthday is Nov. 8, so one of the things the folks in Orange County wanted to do was to present his play and honor him on his 88th birthday at the same time.”
Hiroshi Kashiwagi, playwright and former Tule Lake prisoner, said, “The play is about the two opposing responses to the loyalty questions and the consequences people suffered many years later — all caused by the government. We should be mad at the government if we want to be mad at anyone. People should see the play. It’s about how we were all victimized by the government.”
The play itself is a love story set in 1943, in the Tule Lake War Relocation Authority camp, before it became a segregation center. It revolves around two young Nisei lovers, who are torn apart after answering differently on the two most controversial questions on the government-issued “loyalty questionnaire.”
Wada, who has not seen the play, said the play’s “so-called glorification” of “No-Nos” bothers him. He strongly believes that the record of the 442nd helped to change the attitude of the larger American society.
“Eight-hundred and eighty Nisei guys died in the 442nd to prove that Japanese Americans were loyal,” said Wada. “The veterans made a difference.”
He pointed to a prewar experience where he and a group of boys had gone over to an elderly white man’s house shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack for a drink of water. The man invited the boys in but when he saw Wada, he opened a kitchen drawer and tried to take out a knife, while uttering, “You little Jap. I’m going to cut your head off.” Wada ran out of the house and didn’t stop until he got home.
“That’s why we needed to prove our loyalty,” said Wada. “How were we going to face the people back home?”
To Wada, the “No-Nos,” whom he mistakenly interchanged with the Nisei draft resisters, would have hindered Japanese American acceptance into the larger American society.
As a point of clarification, the draft resisters opposed being drafted into the U.S. military until they were released from U.S. concentration camps. They answered “Yes-Yes” to Questions 27 and 28 on the so-called loyalty questionnaire and were either fined or sent to a federal penitentiary.
The “No Nos” answered “no” to Questions 27 and 28. While it could be argued that answering “no” to Question 27 — “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?” — can be read as a refusal to be drafted, an examination of this issue by researchers over the years has revealed a more complex conclusion.
Some had left the question blank or qualified their answer, which the government categorized as a “no”; some had answered “no” to keep the family together; some, who had been placed in Tule Lake from the beginning, answered “no” to prevent another move; and some had answered “no” out of anger. Those who answered “no-no” were, for the most part, sent to Tule Lake, which was converted into a segregation center.
Hiroshi Kashiwagi said the play has no intentions of glorifying anyone. “It’s just a statement of fact that there were some of us who opposed the loyalty registration or answered ‘no’ to the questions. No one’s after glory. That’s a concept foreign to me and to most ‘No-Nos,’ I think.”
Soji Kashiwagi felt this play could be a teaching point in telling a more complete story of what occurred during Word War II.
“Rather than glorify ‘No-Nos’, I would say the play shines a much-needed light on their side of the story,” he said. “For too long, members of our own community have branded and stigmatized the ‘No-Nos’ as disloyals and a bunch of troublemakers. After attending the Tule Lake Pilgrimages and listening to the stories of the ‘No-Nos,’ I have learned that many who answered ‘no-mo’ to the questions did so out of anger and protest. And by saying ‘no-no,’ they were fighting for their civil rights. This, to me, is not being disloyal. Protesting and fighting for one’s rights is part of being an American, going all the way back to the founding fathers of our country.
“So our approach in presenting this play is to educate our community and members of the general public about what actually happened to this group of Americans who protested their unjust treatment and incarceration. For 65 years, the ‘No-No’ stories have been ignored, dismissed and denigrated in our history. Rather than glorify, our hope is that we bring some understanding to their side of the story, and with that understanding we hope to bring about reconciliation and a healing of this terrible rift within our community.”
“The Betrayed” will be shown at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center, 3330 Civic Center Dr., in Torrance, on Saturday, Feb. 26, at 2 p.m. There will be a special guest appearance by Mary Kageyama Nomura, “The Songbird of Manzanar.”
General admission is $25. To order tickets, call the Grateful Crane Hotline at (323) 769-5503.