Relocation, Arkansas – Aftermath of Incarceration, premiering Saturday, May 27 at 2pm on THIRTEEN, looks at the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The documentary chronicles the effect of that incarceration on the generation that was born after the camps closed; the unlikely tale of those Japanese Americans who remained in Arkansas; and the even more unlikely tale of how a small town Arkansas mayor of Italian descent became a legend in the Japanese American community. With its themes of the complexity and hypocrisy of race relations in America, journeys toward forgiveness and healing, and cross community understanding, the film transcends regional and cultural constraints unlike any other film on the incarceration experience.
In 1942, nearly 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced into prisons in the interior of the United States because they looked like the Japanese enemy that had bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Two of those prison camps were in Arkansas, a land already of deep racial divide between white and black Americans.
The film is produced by Rescue Film Production in association with the Center for Asian American Media, with funding by the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the Arkansas Humanities Council, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and private foundations and donors. Learn more on the official film site.
Personal Stories in the Film
- Paul Takemoto’s mother and grandparents had been imprisoned in one of the Arkansas camps. Ashamed of his heritage and deeply rebellious, he didn’t want to know the details. He grieves over lost time and years spent fighting a ghost he never understood.
- After the war, Richard Yada’s family refused to return to California, where violence against Japanese Americans was worse then it had been before the war. They became sharecroppers in Arkansas. But a code of segregation in the South ruled every interaction. A person could be only be black or white. Where did these non-white, non-black newcomers fit in?
- Mayor Rosalie Gould’s deep Southern accent belies a fierce determination. Her neighbors threatened her life because she had the audacity to see the prisoners not as the enemy, but as Americans who had been wronged.
George Takei: Incarcerated in Arkansas
George Takei, famous and beloved for his role as Mr. Sulu in the original Star Trek television series and for his active social media presence today, was incarcerated in Arkansas as a child with his Japanese American family. He spoke about that experience in a filmed interview in 2014 and continues to draw attention to this dark episode in American history and its parallels to today’s political and social climate for Muslim Americans. The story-line of the Broadway musical Allegiance, starring Takei, was based on his own life story. He recently joined the WNET/Thirteen panel Asian Americans in the Media and spoke about the Japanese American internment and justifications used at the time.
Dorothea Lange: Documenting the Internment
Dorothea Lange, most famous for her photograph “Migrant Mother,” taken during the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression, was hired by The U.S. War Relocation Authority document the Japanese American internment’s relocation process in the Pacific Coast region. Although she was against it, she felt it was important to record what has happening. Learn more about that process and her reaction to events in this clip on American Masters.
Japanese Americans Return to California Internment Camp
Seventy years after Japanese-Americans first arrived at the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, CA, photographs of those men, women and children — taken in 1942 by photographers such as Dorothea Lange — and taken in recent years through 2012 by photographer Paul Kitagaki Jr. — were displayed side by side at the BART system’s San Bruno Station. The station is next to Tanforan, where a World War II internment camp that held up to 8,000 people was created within a racetrack’s horse stalls.
After Kitagaki found out his father’s family was one of the many photographed by Dorothea Lange on the eve of their internment, he began researching these photos in the National Archive’s U.S. War Relocation Authority collection. Later he identified other surviving people who agreed to be photographed in ways that reflect the original locations or groupings in which they appeared in 1942, when their lives were about to change for the duration of World War II.
National Archives on Japanese Relocation and Internment
The National Archives of the United States has links to many resources about the Japanese American internment and its aftermath.