By PHYLLIS HAYASHIBARA
Over a hundred people filled the Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium at the main branch of the Santa Monica Public Library on June 9 for a preview of filmmaker Brian Maeda’s work-in-progress, “We Said, NO NO!”The film combines interviews with Japanese Americans or their family members who were once derisively referred to as “No No Boys,” archival footage and photographs, and dramatic reenactments of incidents in the Tule Lake Segregation Center.
The No No Boys had refused to answer in the affirmative when asked on a so-called loyalty questionnaire if they would serve on combat duty wherever ordered, and if they would swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and forswear any form of allegiance to the emperor of Japan.
About 10 percent of the populations of the 10 War Relocation Authority camps answered “no-no” on these two questions, and the U.S. government forcibly removed (again) these families to Tule Lake, which became a segregation center. At its peak, the population of Tule Lake grew to 18,000, out of which some 5,000 renounced their U.S. citizenship in preparation for their “repatriation” to Japan. (The term was inaccurate when applied to Nisei who had never been to Japan.)
In the preview, former Tule Lake internee Bill Nishimura explains the difficulty he had in answering the loyalty questions, after having been forcibly removed from his home, and after his family lost their livelihood and their freedom. Anguish seems to turn to anger as Nishimura recalls being asked these questions of loyalty while incarcerated in an American concentration camp.
Also featured in the preview, Masako Nishi tells of her father, Inouye Sensei, a respected judo instructor, who kept a detailed diary written in Japanese while imprisoned in a military stockade within Tule Lake. His crime? He attended a meeting where persons of Japanese ancestry dared to question the legality of their incarceration to begin with, lack of due process, and the violation of the constitutional writ of habeas corpus.
“We Said, NO NO!” tells the story of civil disobedience, the story of dissidents deemed disloyal even by fellow Japanese Americans. Many Japanese Americans sought to prove their loyalty by cooperating with the military’s execution of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, or by enlisting or being drafted into the all-Japanese American 100th Infantry Battalion or 442nd Regimental Combat Team. The feelings between the “loyal” and the “disloyal” Japanese Americans remain a sensitive issue to this day, 76 years after EO 9066.
The VJAMM Committee helped sponsor the preview screening, and the Santa Monica Public Library hosted it as part of the Santa Monica Reads program, which chose Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s memoir “Farewell to Manzanar” as its citywide featured selection.
A brief slide presentation on the history of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument opened the program. Maeda and his older brother, Arnold, both incarcerated in Manzanar, have been charter members of the VJAMM Committee since its establishment in 2010.
Now that the VJAMM has been dedicated on April 26, 2017, and has celebrated its one-year anniversary on April 19, the VJAMM Committee has turned its attention to ongoing maintenance of the VJAMM and educational outreach.
Before the preview, Maeda introduced the audience to his family — including his parents, Norman Toyoshige Maeda and Sasami Takeda Maeda — in sepia-toned photographs projected on the auditorium screen. Arnold who was a 15-year-old when the family was forcibly removed from Santa Monica and incarcerated at Manzanar. Brian was born in Manzanar.
After the screening, Maeda moderated a lively Q&A that demonstrated the intense interest the audience has for the subject matter, the questions still at issue about the forced removal and the incarceration, and the depth of emotions generated by some of the scenes in the preview.
Maeda introduced a fellow Manzanar incarceree and charter member of the VJAMM Committee, Mae Kageyama Kakehashi. In celebration of her recent 95th birthday, the audience sang “Happy Birthday” and all were treated to a slice of her birthday cake upon exiting the auditorium. Other VJAMM Committee members in attendance included Kay Brown, Phyllis Hayashibara, Alice Stek, Suzanne Thompson, and Emily Winters.
For more information about the film, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeGks_-sZMY to see a promotional video narrated by Maeda or www.wesaidnono.com/home.html to learn about the roles played by anthropologist Rosalie Wax and haiku poet Violet Kazue de Cristoforo at Tule Lake; or email [email protected]