Artfully Edmonds feature: Diversity Film Series shines light on dark days of Japanese Americans’ internment

Don Sellers and Lucy Ostrander of Stourwater Pictures.

This Saturday at noon, the Edmonds Theater will be showing two award-winning documentary films (total run time – less than two hours). Admission is free, thanks to the City of Edmonds Diversity Commission, Rick Steve’s Europe, Edmonds Center For the Arts, and the Edmonds Theater.

Set during World War II, Honor and Sacrifice and Proof of Loyalty track the wartime contributions of two American heroes. Roy Matsumoto and Kazuo Yamane (pronounced- yah mahn’ ee), each made extremely important contributions to the war effort — their stories are chronicled in the films.

The documentaries also illuminate one of America’s darkest and most shameful acts — the internment of tens of thousands of American citizens along the West Coast in what amounted to concentration camps.

Misdirected rage and fear, and a mindless bureaucratic juggernaut, combined to have a devastating effect on the lives of these loyal American citizens. Uprooted from their homes, their livelihoods destroyed, they were forced to live out the duration of the war in captivity. Their crime? Being of Japanese descent.

It can’t happen here? It has happened here.

Nobody seemed to want to talk about this. I was an honors history student, but I was in college before I heard about the internment camps — from a math teacher whose family spent the war at the Minidoka camp in Idaho.

I didn’t believe him.

Fortunately, today there’s more awareness. Two books — Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jesse Ford and Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson — have helped raise awareness somewhat, and have become required reading in many high schools.

Bainbridge Island documentary film makers Don Sellers and Lucy Ostrander of Stourwater Pictures have been plowing the documentary film fields for decades, working for Frontline, CBS and KCTS, as well as producing a string of their own award winning films, including  Honor and Sacrifice and Proof of Loyalty.

Why are these films important? They provide context and background, but importantly, they also provide hope.

Joyce Yamane, daughter of Kazuo Yamane, has lived in Edmonds for 25 years, but she was born in Hawaii. The way the Hawaiians dealt with the internment order provides a stark contrast from the West Coast response, and it should be valuable lesson for Americans moving forward.

Her father’s most significant piece of intelligence gathering was a tremendous coup. He alone discovered it and recognized its importance. He could easily have put his discovery back in the box where he found it — no one would have been the wiser. But as a loyal American, he did his duty. His specialized understanding of the language and culture of Japan was critical to the war effort. But if he had been thrown into an internment camp, he would have been wasted and embittered.

Far from being so embarrassing and tragic that we must never discuss it, the Japanese internment of World War II should be carefully studied and considered, to prevent anything like that from ever happening again. Ever.

We might be just one terrorist outrage or one media manipulation away from wrongfully rounding up (insert your ethnic or minority group of choice) and carting them off to God knows where.

Forewarned is forearmed. Awareness is the best weapon we have against repeating the mistakes we made in World War II.

So why not take a couple of hours Saturday afternoon, catch the films, and meet the filmmakers, and the daughters of two American heroes. American heroes are as ethnically and culturally diverse as Americans themselves.

Here’s more information on this week’s featured films, and the Diversity Commission’s Film Series.

— By James Spangler

When not actively scheming about ways to promote the arts in Edmonds, James Spangler can be found (highly caffeinated) behind the counter of his bookstore on 4th Avenue.

One Reply to “Artfully Edmonds feature: Diversity Film Series shines light on dark days of Japanese Americans’ internment”

  1. It would be nice if you made a documentary on one of the German Americans who fought while his family was interned. The most famous was Fred Braemer. Braemer was one of Doolittle’s Raiders. His stepfather was interned at the Ft. Lincoln internment camp in ND at the time of the Doolittle Raid.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.

Notify me of followup comments via email. You can also subscribe without commenting.