ORANGE — With a crowd of over 700 people at Chapman University’s Memorial Hall Auditorium on Oct. 1, the Emmy Award-winning documentary “The Legacy of Heart Mountain” was shown in its first major Orange County screening debut.
No matter how young or how old, the diverse crowd of attendees was fascinated to learn how over 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were incarcerated behind barbed wire in one of the 10 U.S. government “relocation centers” during World War II on American soil. One of those camps was Heart Mountain in Wyoming.
Hosted by Chapman University’s Department of Sociology and the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education, this is the first time such a major event has been held on campus to look into this dark time in history.
Dr. Stephanie Takaragawa, Chapman University assistant professor of sociology, was the moderator and coordinator for the event, which she felt was a wonderful opportunity for Chapman. “To have the ‘Legacy of Heart Mountain’ filmmakers David Ono and Jeff MacIntyre and subjects Toshi Ito and Patti Hirahara, who were featured in the film, present is invaluable for our students and community. For Chapman, to have Ito, an alumna, tell her story about the incarceration and come to campus after 69 years was an amazing opportunity!” she said.
“The history of the Japanese American internment is often overlooked, but helps us understand how culture and ideas about race change over time. Few people took offense to the incarceration of these innocent people during World War II and it is also important to know the fact that the U.S. government did this to its own citizens,” she added.
Ito, a 1946 Chapman alumna, received her B.A. in sociology when the school was known as Chapman College and located in Los Angeles. During the evening event, she was honored with a proclamation from Chapman University President Dr. James L. Doti for her work in promoting the Japanese American incarceration legacy. The proclamation was presented to Ito by Dr. L. Edward Day, chair of the Chapman University Department of Sociology.
“We’re proud that when other universities were turning Japanese Americans away, it was Chapman that admitted Toshi Ito and gave her the opportunity to complete her degree,” Day said. “We’re honored by the life she has led after graduation, a life embedded in the community, as we hope our sociology graduates will strive to do. Toshi received a standing ovation tonight, which shows her impact, as a role model, in telling this story.”
Prior to the screening, Ito was also given a surprise birthday cake in honor of her reaching 91 in September, at a private VIP event at the Chapman University Fish Interfaith Center’s Wilkinson Chapel.
In addition, Chapman University explored two events, through this screening, that affected a vast majority of people during World War II due to their ethnicity.
The first was the incarceration of Japanese Americans, who were placed in camps from 1942 to 1945, with some remaining imprisoned even after the war. The film gave a new perspective to the audience on what life was like in contrast to the Holocaust, in which it is estimated that 11 million people were killed, out of which 6 million were Jewish. The Nazis killed approximately two-thirds of all Jews living in Europe, with an estimated 1.1 million children being murdered during the Holocaust, which also ended in 1945.
The film includes a segment about a Holocaust survivor, Solly Ganor, who was liberated from Dachau by Clarence Matsumura of the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion. Many of the Nisei soldiers of the 522nd were liberators in Europe while their families were imprisoned back home.
MacIntyre, producer of Content Media Group, showed a bonus clip during the panel discussion of his visit with Ganor in Israel this year. It showed Ganor at his home and his surprise about being included in this film and his delight over how the documentary is helping to educate audiences about this story.
During the panel discussion, Dr. Marilyn J. Harran, founding director of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education and the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library at Chapman University, discussed the similarities of the injustices this time in history presented to these two communities.
Other members of the panel included Ono, MacIntyre, Ito, and Takaragawa, whose father and maternal grandparents were in Heart Mountain. Her father’s toddler portrait was shown that evening — it happened to have been taken by George Hirahara.
After being contacted by Patti Hirahara, Takaragawa became aware of the Hirahara Photo Collection, and the documentary tells the story of Heart Mountain through some of the over 2,000 photos taken and processed in the camp from 1943 to 1945 by George and Frank C. Hirahara, Patti Hirahara’s grandfather and father. This collection has been donated to Frank Hirahara’s alma mater, Washington State University, and was the inspiration for the documentary.
Ono, anchor of ABC7’s Eyewitness News in Los Angeles, won the film’s fourth Emmy Award last July at the 67th annual Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards for outstanding writer-programming.
In addition, the film has won two Edward R. Murrow Awards, two Asian American Journalist Association Television Awards, and the RTDNA National Unity Award for Diversity Programming.
Takaragawa commented, “David Ono and Jeff MacIntyre were fantastic panelists in sharing their time, their stories and really connecting with the Chapman community.”
“David and I were honored to take part in this event at Chapman University,” said MacIntyre. “It’s wonderful to see how audiences are moved by the personal stories from survivors in our documentary. We are thrilled by the requests to show this film across the country, with a recent one from the American Historical Association to show it at their national convention in January. Screenings like these are great opportunities to keep the internment conversation alive — a conversation which is still relevant over 70 years later,”
For Chapman, this event gave students and the Orange County community the opportunity to see where these incarcerees have come from, and how far they have traveled. For many, it was a time in history that was never discussed among family and friends.
“The reaction from the students and audience have been inspiring of a dark time in history that should never be repeated again,” Takaragawa concluded.