On Sunday, the School of Cinematic Arts held a screening of Claudia Katayanagi’s film “A Bitter Legacy,” which explores the devastating period of internment of Japanese Americans by the U.S. government during World War II and its effects on Japanese American society.
The film began with an introduction of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which forcibly removed more than 100,000 Japanese Americans from their homes and placed them in 10 internment camps across the American west.
The film then describes the Manzanar riot, an incident at an internment camp that left two inmates dead at the hands of American soldiers. The riot was a watershed moment for the creation of the secretive and highly militarized Citizen Isolation Centers, which are now considered precursors to Guantanamo Bay.
The film shows how the Manzanar riot provided the pretext to create these Isolation Centers, first at Moab and later at Leupp for persons deemed “troublemakers.” In it, the relocation center administrators subjectively classified “troublemakers,” from people who were politically involved to those who hated the administration.
After the screening, writer Diane Emiko Tsuchida gave a presentation detailing her family’s internment and her grandfather’s experience at the Leupp Isolation Center.
“He starts to protest the incarceration and doesn’t shy away from being vocal or opinionated … he racks up three infractions that label him as a troublemaker,” Tsuchida said.
Tsuchida later recounted an instance from her grandfather’s internment where he said that FBI agents held him for six hours and forced him to sign a statement by verbally and physically abusing him.
“What my grandfather claimed here I actually know is true because my dad remembered my grandfather could only chew food on one side of his mouth for the rest of his life after camp. So I can only conclude that they did a lot worse than slap him,” Tsuchida said.
Tsuchida’s grandfather was later taken away from their camp in handcuffs as her father, a young boy at the time, watched. During his stay at Leupp, Tsuchida’s grandfather did his best not to attract attention so he could return to his wife and son; eventually, he was reunited with his family at Tulelake.
After Tsuchida shared her family’s account, the floor opened up for the audience to ask questions. One attendee spoke out about his own experience in the internment camps and his subsequent enlistment in the Military Intelligence Service, which recruited Japanese speakers to decode documents and interrogate prisoners of war.
His testimony led Katayanagi to invite anyone who had interned family members to share, a request that many in the audience obliged.
Katayanagi brought the emotionally charged event to a close by speaking out against the current targeting of minorities and lamented a return to racist attitudes that existed during the time of the Japanese American internment. She spoke of the necessity for everyone to speak out against these injustices.
“We have a right to speak up and to fight and we all have that duty right now to really fight hard because that pendulum has swung and now we’ve got to push it back,” Katayanagi said.