AAAYA NorCal: Snow Falling on Cedars by TheatreWorks – April 2011 – Mountain View, CA – Recap

Besides watching an excellent adaptation of the award-winning novel, we had the benefit of an exclusive panel discussion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit and the Japanese American internment experience organized by Carol Mimura ’79 BK.  About 20 AAAYA members and their families and friends attended this emotional performance.  The true stories and histories passed on after the performance was even more moving than the play.  Below are Carol’s personal reflections on the event and the context of the play.

Carol Mimura ('79 BK, daughter of James Toshiaki Mimura and niece of Charles Mimura, both highly decorated members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit), Randall Nakano (portrays Zenhichi in the production and dedicates his performance to his family who endured incarceration and especially sister, Carolyn who was born behind those barbed wires), and Julie Wong ('86 TC, AAAYA NorCal president). Photo by Emilie Robert Wong.

 

AAAYA welcomed about 20 attendees after the performance for an informal discussion about the relevance of the play to racism, the Japanese-American internment camps, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit.  The play captured some of the hysteria and xenophobia surrounding the bombing of Pearl Harbor which, for two of the actors, Randall Nakano and Mia Tagano, paralleled their own families’ experiences.  We are grateful to Randall Nakano, who discussed his personal connection to the themes of the play and dedicated his performance in the play to his sister, who was born in one of the incarceration camps.  He described his outrage as a student of Asian-American Studies at Berkeley, upon learning details about what his parents and sister were subjected to in the “relocation/incarceration camps” that they had not shared with him first-hand.  His frustration with a pervasive tendency for internees “not to talk about those years,” as though they were somehow shameful or embarrassing, is shared by many.

Eric Saul, founder of what is now the National Japanese American Historical Society, describes some of the cultural underpinning of this ‘code of silence’, such as ENRYO (humility), GAMAN (internal fortitude), and SHIKATA GA NAI (sometimes it can’t be helped) in his article, “In Honor of Medal of Honor Recipients William K. Nakamura and James K. Okubo.”

For more about the teachable moments from the play, see:  “In Defense of Their Neighbors, Japanese Americans at War, and the Internment Camps Live On” at   http://www.theatreworks.org/media/upload/misc/enewssnowfallingoncedarsfinal.pdf

It is a great irony and a celebrated fact that, even as their families and friends were imprisoned in internment camps, Nisei soldiers of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team— the “Go For Broke” unit —became the most highly decorated unit for its tenure in service and size in U.S. military history.  These young men earned seven Distinguished Unit Citations (later renamed Presidential Unit Citations) and, in the words of President Truman, “you fought not only the enemy, you fought prejudice, and won.”  In Oct. 2010, they were also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.  These soldiers suffered enormous casualties but overcame every challenge. General of the Army George C. Marshall praised the team saying, “there were superb: the men of the 100/442d… showed rare courage and tremendous fighting spirit… everybody wanted them.” General Mark W. Clark (Fifth Army) said, “these are some of the best… fighters in the U.S. Army. If you have more, send them over.” (from “Patriots Under Fire, Japanese Americans in WWII,” by Kathryn Shenkle, Arlington National Cemetery,  See:   http://www.history.army.mil/html/topics/apam/patriots.html

My father (James Toshiaki Mimura) and my uncle (Charles Mimura) served in Fox Company of the 442nd and earned two handfuls of medals between them.  They fought to prove that they were loyal Americans, and to create a better world for their descendants.  My father was wounded twice, but was honored to be present for two of the Presidential Citations.  When my uncle, in uniform and wearing his medals, visited their sister in the Rower Internment Camp in Arkansas, the guards there were embarrassed by the extreme irony of the situation. Their sister (and my aunt), Kimeya, was detained in the Rower camp and later in the Tule Lake “segregation camp.”  She witnessed a man commit suicide out of despair and the shooting of an old man by a guard in a tower for straying too close to the barbed wire perimeter.  She told her brother her greatest fear was that she would never see their father in Hawaii again, and due to the duration of her incarceration, she did not.

Another great irony is that the 522nd field division of the 422nd, some of the members of whom volunteered for military service out of Japanese internment camps in America, helped to liberate the Dachau Nazi death camp in Germany. Randy Nakano mentioned that the American relocation/incarceration camps are not now typically referred to as “concentration camps” (as they were in the past) to distinguish them from the deliberate mass exterminations that went on in the Nazi concentration camps and to reserve that terminology, out of deference, for the attempted genocide of the Holocaust.

On a brighter note, commencing in the 1960s, the momentum of the Civil Rights movement helped gain support for a redress initiative. Finally, in 1988, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The legislation apologized for the act of incarcerating American citizens of Japanese ethnicity without due process.  It dovetailed with a congressional commission report, called “Personal Justice Denied,” that concluded internment was “unjust and motivated by racism rather than real military necessity.”  Moreover, on January 30, 2011, the “Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution” was observed in California, the first Asian-American to be so honored, in recognition of his convictions about civil rights. Korematsu refused to be relocated and initially evaded arrest; he then brought, but lost, a suit against the U.S. on the constitutionality of the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry. Eventually, however, he won when his conviction was overturned.

Finally, some of the most heart-wrenching stories remain to be told.  These indelible experiences teach us lessons we should never forget and which should inform our own attitudes and acts.  On the day after the horrific events of 9/11, out of instinct and a sense of unease, I went to a neighborhood café that is owned and operated by an Iranian family.  I imagined what I would do if someone had thrown a rock through the window, or worse. Everything was intact and the shop was filled with like-minded Japanese-Americans!  They were drinking tea, making their presence known, and quietly sending the message that their presence mattered.  If something untoward were to happen, at the very least a dozen cell phones would have captured the incident.  As the sons and daughters of those who were oppressed, we should not remain silent about the lessons of history. We should remain vigilant as our Constitution and the civil liberties of our society continue to be challenged in myriad ways.

– Carol Mimura ’79 BK