Story of a Wedding Dress at Santa Anita Event

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Chiyomi Ogawa and granddaughter Michelle wearing the wedding dress originally worn in 1944 when Chiyomi and Kaz Ogawa got married at Manzanar. (Photo by Alan Miyatake/Toyo Miyatake Studio; 1944 photo by Toyo Miyatake)

ARCADIA — The Cherry Blossom Festival of Southern California (CBF SoCal) will present “Do the Dream,” an awards show and fundraiser, on Saturday, June 2, at Santa Anita Park, 285 W. Huntington Dr. in Arcadia.

For most people, Santa Anita Park has been synonymous with the excitement and rich history of world-class thoroughbred horseracing since opening day almost 80 years ago. The facility opened in December 1934 and is the oldest racetrack in Southern California.

However, 70 years ago a darker chapter unfolded at the site. Horses were moved out, the track was shut down and the park’s extensive grounds provided the massive space needed by the War Department to temporarily house thousands of people of Japanese decent. This venue was the nation’s largest assembly center, holding almost 19,000 Japanese Americans before they were relocated to larger camps further inland.

A plaque near the entrance is the sole reminder of the track’s place in World War II history. Some of those coming to this event will be returning to Santa Anita for the first time since 1942.

Toyo Miyatake is known for his photographs of Manzanar, some taken secretly when photography was prohibited.

The event begins at 8:30 a.m. with a breakfast reception, a presentation on “The Wedding Dress,” a Toyo Miyatake photo exhibition, highlights from Raechel Donahue’s documentary “Heart Mountain: An All-American Town,” and a silent auction in the Turf Club.

The “Camp Stories” awards program will be held at 10 a.m. in the Chandelier Room amidst a sea of origami cranes. There will be live entertainment.

At 11:30 a.m., a tram tour of Santa Anita will be available for those interested in this historic site.

“The Wedding Dress”

Chiyomi Ogawa looked stunning in her beautiful wedding dress as she and husband Kaz said their nuptials in the shadow of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains on March 26, 1944. Like so many other young Americans who would take part in launching the “baby boom” that followed World War II, the Ogawas had found love and were ready to settle down.

What should have been one of the happiest days of their lives must have been dampened by the barbed wire that surrounded their wedding location. They were married while interned at Manzanar, one of 10 “war relocation camps” established in the U.S to house American citizens of Japanese descent and Japanese immigrants who lived along the Pacific Coast.

Another internee, Chiyomi’s Auntie Nui, was a professional seamstress who designed and made the wedding dress for the bride’s special day. After the war ended and Japanese Americans worked to reclaim and rebuild their lives, Chiyomi’s wedding dress was eventually worn by five other women. This garment weaved a common thread through the lives of Chickie Hino, Haru Fujihara, Hasie Ogawa, Kay Fujikawa and Nattie Koyama. Just like Chiyomi, all of them made their homes and raised their families in Pasadena.

Chiyomi never imagined that her wedding dress would inspire interest 68 years after she said “I do,” nor did she ever guess that the photo of her and Kaz would generate such intrigue as a unique record of American history. The original wedding dress will be featured and worn by Chiyomi’s great-granddaughter Lani at the “Camp Stories” award show, and an exhibit of photos of the other brides in the wedding dress will be featured along with other images captured by legendary photographer Toyo Miyatake, who was also interned at Manzanar.

Although photography was initially prohibited, Miyatake was committed to continuing his craft. He smuggled a lens into the camp and built a camera using a wooden box. His photos provide some of the few first-person perspectives of life inside Manzanar. Some of his work from this experience is documented in a book produced in collaboration with Ansel Adams, “Two Views of Manzanar.”

Heart Mountain Documentary

Raechel Donahue’s documentary “Heart Mountain: An All-American Town” includes artwork by Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz, who has published a book about her childhood experiences in camp.

“Heart Mountain: An All American Town” is a movie made by Raechel Donahue, a popular radio personality and Wyoming resident who was recently honored by the Museum of Television & Radio.  One day she was passing by the Heart Mountain and wondered about it.  She asked a local art collector/educator that she had interviewed and he referred her to one of the directors of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, which has built an interpretive center at the camp site. She also found Shig Yabu, author of “Boy From Heart Mountain,” who then led her to others.

The documentary aired on Wyoming PBS and its now on its way to national distribution on public television through the National Educational Telecommunications Association and the Armed Forces Network, which will air it in 175 countries and territories. It features comments and stories from Norman Mineta, Joan Ritchie Doi, Shigeru Yabu, Bill Shishima, Chuck Uyeda, Donald Yamamoto, Roy Doi, George Fujikawa and Ann Haru. Kazuko Shiroyama and Nobu Shimokochi are featured in a segment filmed at Santa Anita.  Paintings by Chizuko Judy Sugita de Queiroz are also featured throughout the movie.

Ten minutes of the movie will be shown at the reception, which spotlights stories from internees who were assembled at Santa Anita.

Profiles of Honorees

Esther Takei Nishio arriving in Pasadena in September 1944 with Quaker Hugh Anderson, who helped her attend Pasadena Junior College (now Pasadena City College).

The following individuals and organizations will be recognized:

• Hiroshi Kashiwagi, Nisei poet, playwright and actor, was detained at Tule Lake Segregation Center during World War II for refusing to answer registration questions and was was categorized as a “no-no.” He determined the loyalty questionnaire was a violation of his civil rights as an American citizen. His books include “Swimming in the American” and “Ocean Beach”; his plays include “Laughter and False Teeth” and “The Betrayed” (recently performed by the Grateful Crane Ensemble, headed by Kashiwagi’s son, Soji); and his film credits include “Hito Hata: Raise the Banner” and the upcoming “Infinity and Chashu Ramen.”

Patty and Emily Kinaga. (Rafu Shimpo photo)

• Esther Takei Nishio was the subject of a test case in 1944 when she was taken out of camp to attend Pasadena City College, where she faced extreme prejudice and hatred while the war with Japan continued and her family was still incarcerated. With support from the Quakers, fellow students, college administrators and letters of encouragement from military personnel, she was able to excel in her studies. Nishio has told her story at many public forums, including the City of Pasadena’s first Fred Korematsu Day celebration earlier this year.

• Patty and Emily Kinaga of Pasadena organized the Thousand Hearts Benefit Concert for Japan at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Emily, then 6, saw images of last year’s earthquake/tsunami and kept asking her mother, “What can we do to help the kids?” Patty talked it over with her daughter, and the result was a star-studded event (featuring Hiroshima and Quest Crew) that raised funds for relief efforts. Emily taught all her classmates how to make the paper hearts, and those were sent to the kids of the Tohoku area to boost their spirits.

• The Tomodachi Initiative is a public-private partnership, led by the U.S. government and the U.S.-Japan Council and supported by the Japanese government, that supports Japan’s recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake and invests in the next generation of Japanese and Americans in ways that strengthen cultural and economic ties and deepen the friendship between the two countries over the long-term. Tomodachi was at the Japan premiere of “Men in Black 3” on May 8 in Tokyo. Young people from the Tohoku region, volunteers who went to Tohoku, and U.S. Navy personnel who served in Operation Tomodachi got the chance to meet actors Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin and U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos.

Young participants in the U.S.-Japan Council’s Tomodachi Initiative are pictured at the Tokyo opening of “Men in Black 3” with U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos (right) and actors Will Smith (center) and Josh Brolin (left).

• “The Manzanar Fishing Club” is a documentary about internees at Manzanar who slipped away under the cover of night to find freedom and adventure, matching wits with the prized trout of the Sierra Nevada to bring fresh fish to internees. Director Cory Shiozaki, an avid fisherman himself, spent six years chronicling this untold story. Fellow anglers and video production principals Lester Chung and John Gengle proposed interviewing the surviving internee fishermen. Writer Richard Imamura spent hours poring over interviews and expanded the project from a 22-minute short into a feature-length film.  It has been shown at theaters throughout Southern and Northern California.

• Toyo Miyatake Studio was founded in Little Tokyo in 1923 by the famed photographer. In addition to his Manzanar photos, Miyatake documented community events, political candidates and movements, religious institutions, sporting events, theater and musical performances, business openings and closings, visiting dignitaries and celebrities, local education, and day-to-day life throughout Los Angeles, particularly the rebirth and transformation of the Japanese American community after returning from the camps. Eventually his son Archie took over, and today his grandson, Alan Miyatake, runs the studio in San Gabriel Valley.

• American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, opened an office in Pasadena during World War II to aid Japanese Americans returning to the area from the camps. AFSC reached out to colleges and hostels willing to give temporary shelter and provided and other essentials to aid the devastated Japanese American community. During the war, AFSC volunteers created the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, which enabled many Nisei to leave the camps and attend colleges outside the West Coast exclusion zone. In 1947, AFSC was co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Fisherman Heihachi Ishikawa’s story is told in “The Manzanar Fishing Club.”

Special guest presenter will be Los Angeles City Councilmember Jan Perry. Other presenters include Rose Ochi, Don Hata, Rodney Kageyama, Mas Okui, Terry Hara, Lisa Sugimoto, and special guest Rep. Judy Chu.

Entertainment includes “Do the Dream” and “I Am an American,” original songs performed by Kathy Bee. Attendees will also jive to the music of the 1940s with the Grateful Crane Ensemble’s Scott Nagatani and Keiko Kawashima.

CBF SoCal celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2011. Produced by an all-volunteer team and attended by up to 60,000 people a year, the festival celebrates the history and culture of Americans of Japanese descent and the culture of Japan through the beauty of the cherry blossoms.

CBF SoCal is an arts agency member of the Pasadena Arts Council’s E.M.E.R.G.E. nonprofit fiscal sponsor program.

Tickets are $60 and include complimentary parking. For more information, visit www.cherryblossomfestivalsocal.org or www.Facebook.com/CampStoriesAwardShowDoTheDream. For group discounts, contact Wendy Anderson at [email protected] or (626) 683-8243.

Santa Anita Park’s transformation from racetrack to assembly center 70 years ago will be discussed. (Photo courtesy of Santa Anita Park)

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