Fife History Museum brings Japanese internment to light

By Kim Thompson on October 11, 2013

In 1944, 63 young men stood trial at a Japanese internment camp at Heart Mountain, Wyo. for resisting the draft; the impact of this action was a poignant part of American history. A local filmmaker brings this history alive, and now South Sound residents have the opportunity to be a part of the conversation.

The Fife History Museum, which recently launched its latest exhibit, "Rights, Rations, Remembrance: Fife in World War II," proudly offers patrons an opportunity to learn more about this significant era. The general public is cordially invited to the museum on Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. to view director Frank Abe's controversial World War II documentary, Conscience and the Constitution.

The film reveals the long-untold story of the organized draft resistance at the American concentration camp at Heart Mountain and the suppression of that resistance by Japanese American leaders. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker and other community leaders.

Conscience and the Constitution takes us back in time to December 1941, when war was raging in Europe and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor stunned the nation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast, many of whom were already U.S. citizens, be placed in internment camps spread out among seven states.

The film focuses on the relocation camp in Wyoming, where the men of Japanese descent resisted the draft and went on trial, along with others, and subsequently spent time in prison. The film not only tells their powerful story, but also explores two different Japanese American responses to the injustice of it all: compliance and resistance.

Conscience and the Constitution director Frank Abe, a former broadcast journalist and award-winning reporter for KIRO News Radio, will participate in a post-film discussion, local historian Ronald Magden, local attorney Daniel C. Russ and past internee Elsie Taniguchi. Abe is a founding member of the Seattle chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association and served as national vice-president for broadcast. He was director of communications for former King County Executive Gary Locke in 1994, then for the Metropolitan King County Council. He now serves current King County Executive Dow Constantine. Magden has published highly regarded works that delve into Tacoma's Japanese community. Russ is a partner at Britton and Russ, PLLC, and a lieutenant colonel  (JAG) in the Washington Air National Guard active with the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). Taniguchi is head of the JACL Puyallup Valley chapter. Taniguchi was interned with her family at Camp Harmony in 1942 before being sent to Camp Minidoka for the war's duration.

In addition to the film screening and discussion panel, the museum is also offering a free family craft project relating to internment camps. The special project, led by local artist and vice chairperson of the city of Fife's Public Arts Commission Mizu Sugimura, will be held at the museum from 1-3 p.m. Oct. 19.  Participants will be shown how to create their own furoshiki, which is essentially a square piece of cloth that one can use to carry belongings; traditionally, they were used to carry clothes and other items to bathhouses.

"The idea for the family craft project is to provide a way to honor and reflect the wartime experiences of local citizens of Japanese ancestry that were forced to leave their homes, businesses and communities," Sugimura said. "They were given less than a week to sell or secure their property and decide together with posted orders from the military what they might carry in only two suitcases."

For Sugimura, the project has personal ties: her own teenaged parents experienced the internment camps.

For more information about the museum and special events, click here

CONSCIENCE AND THE CONSTITUTION, film and panel discussion, 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 17, Fife History Museum and Dacca Barn, 2820 54th Ave. E., Fife, free admission, 253.896.4710