A JAPANESE DAUGHTER REMEMBERS AMERICAN CONCENTRATION
CAMPS IN IDAHO.
Race was more important that citizenship during WW II, how about now?
A daughter's need to know her father collides with the role of memory
and history in our lives.
Kim Ima's father, as a boy during World War II, spend most of his grade-school
years in an American concentration camp--the Minidoka internment facility
in Hunt, Idaho. It was a place to which Japanese Americans, their loyalty
suspect, were forcibly moved from the West Coast shortly after the outbreak
of the war. Their years in the camp were memorialized in a glossy bound
yearbook, published in 1943, titled "The Minidoka Interlude."
Ms. Ima has created a multimedia theater piece, "The Interlude,"
to recall this dark episode and to try to understand the legacy of her
father's past. La MaMa will present the debut run of the piece October
7 to 24 in its First Floor Theater.
The play uses spoken text, dance, music, film, documentary photography
and video to create a collage of stories about life in the camp. Throughout
the play Kim, playing herself, searches for an explanation of her father's
silence about his past. She decides he must have been a special secret
agent working for America. Using both humor and leaps of imagination,
Ms. Ima and her company, Cheap & Sneaky Theatricals, perform a look
at the lives of the people at Minidoka and Kim's personal journay to connect
to her father. It also poses awkward questions: What is the legacy of
the camps? How far have we come since?
Altogether, 120,000 people of Japanese descent were imprisoned by Executive
Order 9066 during the war; of these, 9,397 were at Minidoka. The play
uses an American government newsreel from the period, narrated by a smiling
politician, which shows thousands of Japanese families leaving shops,
home and businesses that they had been building all their live, only to
be driven by coach, and under Army supervision, into the deserts of Idaho.
Despite the government's assertion that the "relocated" Japanese
were being provided with good food and jobs, the truth is that the food
was appalling, conditions squalid, family lives were disrupted, and businesses
and savings were lost. Men and women who had spent their lives running
their own shops or small business were expected to perform agricultural
work for a negligible salary or to occupy themselves with the petty tasks
of administering the camps.
The government's reasoning for the detentions was "military necessity."
Two thirds of the Japanese people placed in the camps were American citizens
and an initial government-sponsored investigation into the potential for
Japanese subversion in America had already found no evidence to suggest
any threats. During World War II, no Japanese American was ever charged
with espionage or sabotage related offenses. But today, old misconceptions
and justifications persist. Contemporary rightwing politicians have cited
Executive Order 9066 as legitimate and prudent in their defenses of racial
profiling since September 11, 2001. The piece raises uncomfortable parallels
to current questions of loyalty, nationality, race and freedom in the
United States: the "enemy" wears a new face but the old feelings
are still here.
Ima has been supported in her project by the Densho Foundation (www.densho.org),
an organization parallel to the Shoah Foundation, aimed at recording memories
and experiences in the hope that we may learn from the past. The production
is also partially funded by some of the money awarded in 1988 to her paternal
grandmother as reparations--part of the US government's efforts to atone
for the creation and use of the internment camps.
The prisoners' use of the word "interlude" in the title of
their Yearbook to describe their period of detention was significant.
The authors hoped that the suppression of their rights would be a temporary
and reversible aberration, and dedicated their book to "The America
of Tomorrow." The preface states, in part:
"We, as residents of the Minidoka Relocation Center at Hunt, Idaho,
take pleasure in dedicating this book to the "America of Tomorrow"
and reaffirm our faith in the principles and ideals of the founders of
the United States. In dedicating this book to the greater America to come….When
victory has been won over the forces of aggression and greed, it is our
firm conviction that a nation so great, so powerful and so wise whose
very foundation of government and principles of living is based on equality
and justice, will solve her domestic racial problems in a just and equitable
Kim Ima has made a name for herself as producer, with Greg Pak, of the
highly acclaimed independent feature film, "Robot Stories,"
which the Village Voice called "a genuinely stirring indie rarity."
Her own acting credits include Cassandra in "The Trojan Women"
(directed by Andrei Serban with music by Elizabeth Swados) at La MaMa
E.T.C., "The Seven Deadly Sins" at New York City Opera (directed
by Anne Bogart) and "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at The National
Asian American Theater Company. Her directing credits include "Dancing
With My Demons" at the Nuyorican Poet's Café and The Blue
Heron Arts Center. Her company, Cheap & Sneaky Theatricals, creates
original theater and film projects.
Born to a Jewish mother and a Nisei (second-generation) father, Ms. Ima
knows the experience of intolerance from both sides of her family. "The
Interlude" is a piece she has been planning for many years. It represents
her attempt to counteract the silence and willful ignorance surrounding
this dark chapter of America's past. The story of the Japanese internment
is under-taught in schools, and is rarely mentioned in mainstream history.
One of the few widely seen photographs from the internment depicts a distressed
woman clutching her child as she is lead towards the concentration camps.
That woman, Fumiko Masunaga, was a close friend of Ima's paternal grandmother,
Mary Ima. Both are still alive.
Film footage of Ima's father, Kenji Ima, as he is today, will be shown
as part of "The Interlude." Scenes of him as an older man, devoted
to gardening and to such mundane habits as eating leftovers, are juxtaposed
with Ima's recollections of him when he was so taciturn that she imagined
he was a secret agent.
Kim Ima wrote and will direct and perform in "The Interlude."
The multi-ethnic cast includes Kim Ima, Glenn Cruz, Sarah Hayon, Sam Hurlbut,
Lindy Jamil Gomez, Yoshiro Kono, Tristan Roque, Sora Suzuki and Katie
Takahashi. Video design is by Adam Larson, set design is by Gian Marco
Lo Forte, sound design is by Stefano Zazzera, costume design is by Melissa
Schlactmeyer, and lighting design by Adam Larsen and Jorge Arroyo.