By PATRICIA E. TAKAYAMA
PACOIMA — The June 18 performance of “Manzanar: Story of an American Family” was hailed as a musical entertainment success.
The sold-out crowd at the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center in Pacoima attests to the attraction of Russell McCoy and Dan Taguchi’s musical creation, as directed by Mike Hagiwara, depicting the experience of a Japanese American family from Terminal Island removed to the Manzanar internment camp pursuant to President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.
The production was sponsored by the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the JACL, an Asian American civil rights organization whose mission includes: education of American civil rights violations, especially those against Japanese Americans, as well as defending and promoting human and civil rights for all Americans.
In the musical, the Shimada family is first herded into Santa Anita Race Track and housed in horse stables as a temporary holding facility while Manzanar is under construction.
As all residents of Japanese ancestry were required to report for relocation on March 2, 1942, it became a criminal offense for any Japanese American to walk freely in an area that was not recognized as a detention center in any of the Western region states.
Unlike the Shimada family, San Fernando Valley Japanese American residents were loaded onto buses and transported directly to Manzanar, where they assisted in the construction of the camp.
This musical production was particularly poignant and triggered old memories for one- quarter of the audience: those who were interned in one of the 10 camps scattered around the country — including Poston and Gila River in Arizona, Heart Mountain in Wyoming, and Tule Lake in Northern California — which housed more than 110,000 Japanese Americans.
That number did not include Japanese Americans who were spirited away at the outbreak of World War II for being leaders in the JA community and were suspected of being spies. They were sequestered in Justice Department camps — briefly referenced in the play — such as Fort Lincoln in North Dakota or Crystal City in Texas.
Crystal City was the detention center where Latin American residents of Japanese descent were removed from their countries (mainly Peru) and detained with Japanese Americans. They were unlawfully incarcerated without cause in a detention center on U.S. soil, unlike Guantanamo, and continue to seek redress comparable to that awarded to Japanese Americans interned in camps like Manzanar.