SAN FRANCISCO — “Remembering the Issei: 100-Year Anniversary of the California Alien Land Law,” a film and lecture program, will be presented by the National Japanese American Historical Society on Sunday, Oct. 27, from 2 to 4 p.m. at New People Cinema, 1746 Post St. in San Francisco Japantown.
Masao Suzuki, professor of economics at Skyline College, will discuss the impact of the 1913 and 1920 Alien Land Laws, which prohibited Japanese immigrants from owning or permanently leasing land because of their status as “aliens.”
“Issei: The First Generation” (1984) is a 54-minute documentary about the Japanese who, at the turn of the century, immigrated to the West Coast of the United States. These pioneering women and men tell their own stories of struggles and triumphs in a new land, sometimes with disarming frankness as they speak of the “wild” side to Issei bachelors’ lives; the dissatisfactions that sometime arose from arranged marriage; and the travails of prejudice and discrimination well before mass incarceration.
Among the representatives of this remarkable generation are 95-year-old Yasu Kawamura, who along with her husband settled in Walnut Grove, where the couple managed a barber shop; Kumajiro Murakami, 102, who tells of how he immigrated first to Hawaii where he worked on a sugar plantation, and later to California to become one of the first pioneers of the strawberry industry in Watsonville; and Taka Washizu, 84, who tells of hardships before, during, and after the war, working with her sharecropper husband in Walnut Grove.
With the help of UCLA’s Aratani Endowed Chair/Professor Lane Hirabayashi, filmmaker Toshi Washizu has generated a newly restored, wide-screen, digital version of the film, with English narration by actress Amy Hill, and subtitles for Japanese interviews.
“Issei” is one of the only films that documents Japanese Americans in rural settings generally, and the San Joaquin Delta area specifically, making it a valuable contribution to the history of the first-generation Japanese experience before, during, and after the war.
Suzuki, Washizu and Hirabayashi will be available for a Q&A session.