Documentary on JLA Internment

Reprinted from NikkeiWest, July 10, 2000

Though the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund has drawn to a close, most Americans remain in the dark as to the story of Japanese Latin Americans who were interned in U.S. Department of Justice camps during World War II.

With the help of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History project, Bay Area filmmaker Casey Peek has begun production on a documentary intended to reveal their story.

From December 1941 to 1945, the U.S. government orchestrated the forcible deportation of 2,264 men, women and children of Japanese ancestry from 13 Latin American countries to be used as hostages in exchange for Americans held in Japan. Of these, about 1,800 (80 percent) were Japanese Peruvians.

After the enactment of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, Japanese Latin Americans were denied redress as they were not citizens or permanent residents at the time of internment, though many did go on to settle in the U.S. and become citizens.

On Aug. 28, 1996, five former Japanese American internees filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. government seeking inclusion into the Civil Liberties Act. In January 1999, a controversial settlement was reached between the government and members of the affected class.

As it fell short of granting equal reparations ($5,000 instead of $20,000) and continued to leave unresolved many other World War II redress claims, several members of the class opted out of the agreement, including former internee Art Shibayama.

Through first-person narrative archival footage and other forms of media, Peek, in close association with JPOHP, will create "Hidden Internment," a video documentary on Shibayama's story.

A San Jose resident originally from Lima, Peru, Shibayama not only reveals the hidden sage of the interned Japanese Peruvians through his experiences, but also continues to address the legacy of civil liberties and human rights doctrine.

While the producer is seeking additional funding, the project will begin shooting with funds granted through the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.

Peek also hopes to promote the value of oral histories as valid sources of historical record. "Since the U.S. government has done its part in keeping these events hidden, the voices of the victims are all the more crucial."

"Weaving the immigrant story into the overall internment and redress history, Shibayama's story is that of the quintessential American hero: the common immigrant who, through forces beyond his control, is reluctantly propelled into the redress struggle as an activist and, ultimately, defender of the Constitution and champion of human rights," said a spokesperson for the project.

Shibayama and his family have been involved with redress activities for several years, most recently working to achieve equity for Japanese Latin Americans. Though opting out of the settlement offer, he and his brothers have supported the decision of others to accept the settlement.

In addition to pursuing their own lawsuit, which calls for redress equity and full disclosure of war crimes committed by the U.S. during the war, they are supporting the legislative efforts of Campaign for Justice: Redress Now for Japanese Latin Americans.

The most recent legislative initiative, the Wartime Parity and Justice Act of 2000, sponsored by Rep. Javier Becerra (D-Los Angeles), is an effort to bring about closure to the internment experience. As human rights attorney Karen Park points out, "Until the victims are fully compensated, the crime is ongoing."

The comprehensive redress legislation calls for redress equity for Japanese Latin Americans, redress for Japanese Americans who were denied due to technicalities, and education funding as originally mandated by the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

According to Peek, "With federal funding, we can ensure that a more thorough understanding of this history will be taught, whether it be through curriculum development or artistic endeavors, such as community arts projects or documentaries."

Providing the backbone of the "Hidden Internment" documentary, Shibayama's story will be intercut with testimonies from former internees, both Japanese American and Japanese Latin American, as well as others involved in the redress movement. perspectives from youth, both Nikkei and non-Nikkei, will also be incorporated.

Dana Kawaoka, a member of the Campaign for Justice, highlights the importance of youth involvement. "It is up to us, those of us who know what really happened ... to speak up."

This approach will tell a personal account, provide a master narrative of the overall story, and highlight how lives were impacted by resettlement following the war. Furthermore, it will address how the legacy of internment and redress continues to impact the younger generation of Americans.

"Hidden Internment" is expected to premiere in both Los Angeles and the Bay Area in May 2001, during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Apart from distribution and possible broadcast, the documentary will also screen at several California colleges and community centers following the premieres.

For more information about the project or how to support it, contact Peek Media at (510) 527-7244.

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