Just over 80 years ago, on March 30, 1942, more than 200 Bainbridge Island residents were expelled from their homes and forcibly relocated and incarcerated in American concentration camps. They were among the first of the 120,000 Japanese Americans – according to a recent story in the Seattle Times – who were incarcerated during World War II solely on the basis of race.
In May 2021, a groundbreaking graphic novel was published that shared a lesser-known story of that mass injustice: resistance. Published by the Wing Luke Museum and Chin Music Press, “We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration,” authored by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura and illustrated by Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki, wove together an epic narrative of three Japanese Americans who refused to submit to imprisonment in American concentration camps without a fight.
Want to learn about this remarkable graphic novel and the story behind it? Watch the YouTube recording of the Library event that celebrated its publication, hosted in partnership with the Wing Luke Museum, Densho and Elliott Bay Book Company.
Moderated by Tom Ikeda, Executive Director of Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project, this must-see event gathered panelists including “We Hereby Refuse” authors Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura, and artist Ross Ishikawa, as well as Wing Luke Museum board member Diane Sugimura.
“We Hereby Refuse” tells the stories of Jim Akutsu, the inspiration for John Okada’s “No-No Boy,” who refused to be drafted from the camp at Minidoka when classified as a non-citizen; Hiroshi Kashiwagi (the uncle of author Nimura), who resisted government pressure to sign a loyalty oath at Tule Lake, but yielded to family pressure to renounce his U.S. citizenship; and Mitsuye Endo, who refused a chance to leave the camp at Topaz so that a lawsuit contesting her imprisonment could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
At the event, Diane Sugimura shared how the Wing Luke worked with writers and artists to develop the graphic novel. “This story is tragic,” but it must be told,” she said. “As if the incarceration of Japanese Americans was not enough, the challenges and sacrifices that the resisters faced is even more heartbreaking.”
You’ll hear about research that helped the authors uncover these stories, such as UW Professor Mira Shimabukuro’s book “Relocating Authority: Japanese Americans Writing to Redress Mass Incarceration,” which documents the role of women in resistance, including the Mothers’ Society of Minidoka, which “organized a letter writing campaign to demand full citizenship rights for their sons before they were sent off to the front to fight.”
Frank Abe talked about the challenge and accomplishment of reframing false narratives around loyalty and disloyalty at the government’s Tule Lake Segregation Center, “America’s worst concentration camp, the scene of the segregation, the renunciation, and deportation of many incarcerees.”
Author Tamiko Nimura’s uncle Hiroshi Kashiwagi was at Tule Lake, and he worked closely with the writers on documenting his story.
“What this book did for me was it really kept me so very mindful of the human stakes, that these were human beings making these decisions. … And to know that I was working with my family’s story was really powerful and meaningful for me,” Nimura shared.
“We Hereby Refuse” sold out its first printing by the time of the event (it’s on its third now), and the authors spoke of the delight of finding an audience and reaching young readers like the 7-year old son of Viet Thanh Nguyen (“The Sympathizer”).
The authors and illustrator also talked about tracking down and using historical images from sources such as Densho’s Digital Repository to build the story and create the artwork, which was like “photographic detective work.”
Tom Ikeda of Densho said, “When you see the rich history of resistance, it emboldens you. I really want to thank you for this story.”
“We Hereby Refuse” was co-published by the Wing Luke Museum and Chin Music Press, and the project was funded, in part, by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program.
More resources for exploring the history of Japanese-American incarceration and resistance
- The Seattle Times published a remarkable package in late March 2022 that scrutinizes and annotates its coverage of Executive Order 9066 and the Japanese-American incarceration in 1942, exploring the legacy of the harm that the biases and misinformation in its original coverage caused. The package also includes many stories of the Seattle area’s Japanese-American community during that time: http://st.news/1942revisited
- Densho is a Seattle-based organization that documents the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished. It offers irreplaceable firsthand accounts, coupled with historical images and teacher resources, to explore principles of democracy and promote equal justice for all.
- Resisters.com is a website by Frank Abe covering the history and literature of Japanese-American incarceration, and includes information about his PBS film “Conscience and the Constitution,” about the largest organized resistance to Japanese American incarceration, and “John Okada: The Life and Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy,” which won an American Book Award.
- The Library has a number of physical books and materials in our Special Collections related to Japanese American incarceration that are available in the Seattle Room (which is now open two days a week by appointment).
- In the Library’s digital Special Collections, the Frank Kunishige Collection gathers the work of a Seattle photographer who was interned at Minidoka. The work we have is a collection of artistic photography taken before internment.
- The University of Washington Special Collections has several excellent collections in their Japanese American Exhibit and Access Project that may be of interest to highlight, including an exhibit on Camp Harmony, a collection on Japanese American students at the UW 1941-42, and a collection on children at Minidoka.
- In 2017, we published a booklist titled “75th Anniversary of Executive Order 9066 & American Muslim Rights Today,” which was a collaboration among the Library, the Nisei Veterans Committee, and the Wing Luke Museum.
– Elisa M., Communications