Poston was one of the 10 War Relocation Centers in the Uinited States during WWII and one of the largest prison consisting of 3 camps holding some 17,000 prisoners. At the time, the camp was the 3rd largest “city” in Arizona.
I really wanted to be a part of this pilgrimage as it was in Poston III that my mom and her family (my grandparents, uncles and aunts were imprisoned at) We spent the day traveling to the site which is now mainly alfalfa fields. The government had the Japanese Americans “volunteer” to develop the land and help with the agriculture infrastructure for the Indians that would remain after the war.
We visited the memorial which is just a tiny spot of the huge 9 mile area they used for the 3 camps. They also passed out maps which showed where the barracks were, so I was able to stand very close to where the actual Poston III camp… The wind was howling and the dust was flying, and I could only imagine how it might have been with uncultivated lands and even more dust. Poston was considered so remote that authorities decided it was unnecessary to build guard towers.
I want to end with part of an anonymous poem written by an internee that sums up life in the camp for the Japanese Americans…
The Poston Pilgrimage is hosted by Poston Preservation Project . Please follow them for more information of their mission to preserve the stories, artifacts and historic structures of the Poston Confinement Site. https://www.facebook.com/PostonPreser... -------
A New York Times writer tweeted “Immigrants: They get the job done,” referring to Mirai Nagasu’s historic Olympic Triple Axel performance. Mirai was born in California and is an American citizen…a Nisei (2nd generation) Japanese American. Now I understand that the writer may have felt that she was honestly celebrating Mirai's Olympic accomplishment, but in fact, the ignorance of her words tell a different story that the Nisei faced decades ago.
Many Nisei soldiers fought and died for a country that put their families in prison, for the crime of being of Japanese ancestry. They fought so that never again would people would judge them by their appearance alone, but rather for being loyal Americans. When I hear things like this I know that the “Go For Broke Spirit” has a long way to go to educate others that being American is not just about the color of one's skin, but the integrity and faith in your heart of being American citizens—something these Nisei heroes fought for in WWII. I do not think that this writer would have made the same tweet for a skater that had blonde hair and blue eyes, even if she knew the skater's parents were first generation immigrants from a predominately Caucasian country.
As a J.A. kid growing up I always cringed when asked were I was from, now I embrace the question as I also ask “Where are you from?” Some don't understand that … as evidenced by the perplexed look on their faces when I ask them. In these 2018 Olympics, I hope that the emergence of Nathan Chen, Chloe Kim, Maia and Alex Shibutani, and Mirai Nagasu will help enlighten America that when born in the USA, we are all American and that there is diversity in every immigrant who has lived here in the United States we call home.
I want to applaud Chrissy Teigen who immediately spoke up and set the record straight on this controversy. Chrissy Teigen is not Japanese American but she is Asian American, and she definitely feels the kind of struggles the Nisei had to endure years ago. I am sure that the Japanese American community is very thankful that she stood up and provided a voice for all Asians. Chrissy tweeted "It’s called perpetual otherism or perpetual foreigner syndrome. No one is ashamed of the word immigrant but it’s tiring being treated as foreigners all the time.” I remember when California-born Jeremy Lin had his breakout season in 2012 and “Linsanity” was the rage. He was being asked how Chinese players in the homeland were doing? I doubt Kobe Bryant was ever asked how basketball in the homeland was doing? The Nisei have always been one of the most silent minorities about their injustices of the past, but I am hopeful that the new generation will step up to make sure that these injustices never happen again. The “Go For Broke Spirit” is not just about Japanese Americans but all immigrants who have built and will continue to create this great nation.
We want to thank NBC Bay Area and the weekly program "Asian Pacific America" with Robert Handa, for the opportunity to share the background of “The Go For Broke Spirit: Portraits of Courage” book with their audience.
We would also like to thank Producer Lance Lew and Associate Producer Joachim Custodio for their work in making this happen.
WATCH THE VIDEO HERE
Wow, how exciting!! I want to personally thank each and every one of you. Thanks to your generous support, I will be able to offset the expenses for the first book and give a great start in the making of the second book. Also, every veteran or family that participated in “The Go For Broke Spirit” book will receive a complimentary book. Your donations directly made this possible.
I hope that this book will be a reminder of the remarkable history of the Japanese Americans who fought for our freedom while their own freedom had been unjustly taken away. This is a story of American resolve and resilience that needs to be remembered and told. I hope “The Go For Broke Spirit” book will allow the stories of the Nisei soldiers and Japanese internment to be passed down to future generations. Your donations will keep the legacy alive.
The book looks great, and I hope you will be proud of it as I am. We will be giving you updates on the progress of the second book in 2018 and I hope to finish the travel and initial photography by the end of 2018.
We are expecting shipment of the “The Go For Broke Spirit” book to arrive from Shanghai within the next two weeks. We hope to begin shipping your book(s) to you in early November 2017.
Again, I sincerely thank you for your support and encouragement.
Shane Sato holding one of the pages from The Go For Broke Spirit book. There's a few kinks in the process and we are expecting the books to arrive by late October / early November. Fingers crossed !
Scott Fujita is a retired American football linebacker in the NFL. He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the fifth round of the 2002 NFL Draft. He played 11 seasons for the Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns. He was a member of the 2009 Saints team that won Super Bowl XLIV, defeating the Indianapolis Colts
I'd always been told that I had a small contingency of football fans back in Japan, and that the media would cover my career in a semi-regular way. But no one ever actually made the trip here to the U.S. to see me play in person. So I think they simply heard about a "FUJITA" name that perhaps someone spotted on the back of a jersey, and everyone naturally assumed they were following an actual Japanese guy who plays American football. Pretty funny. So imagine their surprise when they saw me in person at Super Bowl Media Day, when a Japanese media contingency trekked across the Pacific to pay this FUJITA guy a visit once and for all, ahead of Super Bowl XLIV in Miami, FL.
Here they are in this gigantic convention center style building, among thousands of other media from around the world, searching for “Fujita the Japanese-American football hero.” I swear that I could see the look of surprise, and perhaps disappointment, on their faces. They were befuddled. “Who’s this big ol’ 6'-5" 250 pound gangly white dude with floppy California surfer boy hair, who calls himself FUJITA?” But I guess they figured they had traveled all this way, so they might as well hear my story.
A conversation begins, and stories are shared.
What began as a light-hearted discussion about a white kid who used to introduce himself to new friends in a peculiar way (“Hi, I’m Scott, I’m 4, and I’m Japanese!”), evolved to a broader discussion about adoption, Pearl Harbor, Japanese internment and WWII, the 442nd, issues of equal rights and fairness, 9/11, xenophobia, mixed race marriage, Loving v. Virginia, etc. You know, all the stuff you'd expect to hear at Super Bowl Media Day!
Given the scope of the media presence in Miami that week, one of the unforeseen benefits of these “stories” getting shared in that setting, is that a lot of people were hearing about some of these things for the first time. Most notably, internment and the 442nd. They learned about Nagao and Lillie Fujita, my grandparents, and their experience in the Gila River internment camp, where my father Rod was born in 1943.
I imagine the media in attendance sensed a particular amount of pride in me when I discussed my grandfather’s enlistment with the 442nd Regimental Combat team, which became one of the most highly decorated battalions in U.S. military history. “You mean he volunteered to fight for the U.S., while his family was imprisoned in the desert?” was a common question I’d get asked.
I talked about the 442nd’s “Go For Broke” mantra, and what it means to me. A gambling term, I explained. Laying it all on the line. Going all in. Putting all your chips on the table.
And when you dig a little bit deeper, this idea of supporting a nation who has essentially characterized you and your family as “enemy aliens,” really does seem like a gamble of enormous stakes. You’re volunteering to perhaps make the ultimate sacrifice for a country who’s forced you from your homes and robbed you of your freedoms. But perhaps another perspective is that you’re embracing the opportunity to prove your loyalty and patriotism to your country, in spite of this mistreatment. And you’re doing this without knowing what might be waiting on the other side, assuming you make it home alive. Will you be embraced, appreciated, and ultimately, accepted as the good Americans you are? Or will these toxic feelings of xenophobia persist?
It’s incumbent upon us — the families, survivors, and friends of those interned and of the 442nd — to continue to share their stories. Their legacy still carries significant resonance, perhaps now more than ever. We should point to their resilience and leadership as we tell their story to our children, neighbors, and elected officials.
My grandparents, and their peers, bet on us. They wagered that their contributions and sacrifice might change hearts and minds. Now our generation needs to ensure that their gamble paid off. Go For Broke.
-- Scott Fujita
In 1999 I have been working as a freelance photographer in my Los Angeles Arts District studio. Christine Yamazaki and Diane Tanaka saw my large portraits of ladies in a retirement home. They liked how I was able to show strength and dignity as well as personality in the confinements of a nursing home. It struck a cord with them and Christine asked if I wanted to do a series of the veterans. I had been working with the vets for a few years already so I thought it was it was a great idea. They wanted to keep the unity of the "Go For Broke" Foundation in which they were all going to wear their white 442 club shirts. I decided on a black and white series in which the subject would stand out from what basically was white on white background. What came next was a yearlong project of shooting veterans from Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Seattle. I used a Pentax 6x7 medium format camera and Tri-X 400 film. I was trying to keep the images to one roll per veteran, or 10 pictures each. Some I shot maybe a roll and a half if I wanted something extra or I felt I did not get it. I tried to bring out a little personality with each subject. Some were serious, some were playful, others somber and stoic.
After a few months of printing we had a nice portrait series for publicity for the "Go For Broke" Foundation and the 442 Vets. At the time (circa 2001), it was the first of its kind. I continued to work with the vets shooting various events and at the annual "Evening of Aloha" fundraiser. I always wanted to continue shooting portraits of them, but I needed a new angle to keep things fresh. In 2007, I finally started to do a few test shots. I had two vets: Toke Yoshitake and Toe Yoshino. I shot them in my studio wearing their own clothing. The portraits were nice, but I thought they did not do them justice. I showed the photos around and most reactions were like "Oh, who are those seniors?" or "That’s cute". I knew I had to try a different approach. I remembered how a few younger folks dressed up in full military outfits for shows and re-enactments. I thought that might be a good look for the vets (a kind of then and now). I shot Toke and Toe again as a test that same year in 2007 and this time when I showed the photos I got an entirely different response. People could now equate these men, now in the twilight of their lives, to the soldiers who fought in WWII. Did they know who they were or what they did? Not a one. Hence the reason behind the second part of my series of the vets.
Now I had even greater challenges. How was I going to find all the uniforms, especially since most were lost or were way too small now?! These guys averaged a trim 110 pounds per person during the war. Even more challenging was trying to convince many vets to wear the uniforms, let alone take a portrait. Not surprisingly, some vets had reservations to put on the uniform from a war they wanted to forget. They did not want the added extra effort just to take a photo. Only after seeing some of their buddies do it and realizing it was for an important project did most volunteer. This was by far the hardest thing for me to accomplish. I hope that when others see the images they can feel the vets’ personas and realize that these now older men have a fantastic story we should all hear as Americans.
From 2007 to the present, I again travelled and shot in Los Angeles, Hawaii, and Seattle, sometimes shooting the same vets again. I wanted to show to a future generation a strong vibrant color portrait of what these men did for America. Armed with my new Canon 5D digital cameras, portable lights, and Photoshop, I could shoot almost anywhere. I shot for many years sometimes only getting a few at a time, not really knowing what I was going to do with the finished portraits. I just knew that this needed to be done. Working with the vets has always fascinated me for two reasons. For one, being Japanese-American myself, I felt proud of the honor these men brought for all Japanese-Americans living in this country. And second, I was struck by their humility. While small in physical stature, the accomplishments of these men were powerful and moved an entire generation. This kept me going as it was difficult to convince them to take a portrait or to convince veterans organizations to even allow me to try and take any portraits. They had to be convinced it was for a future generation to see and that I was an appropriate person for this. This camaraderie and strength are probably what gave them the courage to fight together for America against racism, and fight to prove that they belong. My troubles seem minor indeed when I think of these things, and I hope to continue to take these portraits as long as I am able.
Every day I am saddened as most Americans are innocently ignorant of what happened in America just 70 years ago. That my friends, even my Asian American friends ask me, "Your parents did not go to camp, did they?" Or "Did they take away all your family’s possessions?" When they ask, "Why don’t you speak Japanese" or "Why don’t your parents speak Japanese," I must try to educate them of how my parents went to camp, faced racism, and tried to assimilate us to be "more American." Speaking the "enemy’s language" was not accepted at the time for them.
The 442 has done more than its part in history for Japanese-Americans and really all Asian Americans. They are too humble and too reserved to "make a fuss" and have their voices heard. This is where the next generation must come in and carry the torch so that these stories are not forgotten. I always wonder if I could fight for a country that took my constitutional freedom away. Could I fight while my family lived in an internment camp? Could I never talk badly about the government that did this? And as my Mom would say, "camp was ok"? Could I take the redress money for four years in prison and say, "Ok, let’s buy a car" (my Mom got a Toyota Camry . . . how ironic). I really don’t know if I could have done the same. This personal project of mine is something I can do for the Veterans of the 442/100th/MIS. I am thankful being both a "Buddhahead" and a "Katonk" that I am given this opportunity to share these photos so that other Americans, especially Japanese-Americans, can see them. I hope the portraits show a glimpse of what these men were like on a personal level, and that their pictures and stories make you think about what they did and be proud that they were American heroes.
Growing up as a Japanese American in Los Angeles in the ’70s, I felt comfortable and safe, with not much, if any, experience of prejudice or racism. We lived in Monterey Park, had regular family get-togethers, trips to Central California, Hawaii, and occasionally Japan. I attended a public school and I thought of myself as any other “American kid” having a “normal life in the U.S.A.” I would spend summers in Visalia, California, where my uncles had a farm. There was a large group of Japanese Americans there, mostly farmers growing vegetables, and they all seemed to attend the local Buddhist church. This is where my Mom grew up, with her three brothers and two sisters… she had her own real life “Brady Bunch” (always thought that was funny). On my Dad’s side, the family was spread out between Maui and Oahu. He, at one point, had 13 brothers and sisters. Needless to say, I had many places to visit when I was in Hawaii.
We would also visit my aunt and uncle in Japan. My uncle was a colonel in the U.S. Army stationed at Camp Zama near Sagamihara, Japan. My parents would let me and the other “Army kids” ride bikes all over the city. We barely knew our way around, spoke almost no Japanese, and had American passports. We spoke English to all the locals saying we were from California, and felt quite safe and happy being in Japan. I took this freedom of being an American for granted. In elementary school I thought all kids ate mac and cheese, chicken pot pie, tacos, and pot roast. In fact, the only “Japanese” thing we would eat occasionally would be what my mom called “Okazu.” I still don’t know what Okazu is exactly, but it was just a bunch of small dishes with meat and rice. It was nothing that I could order at the local Japanese restaurants. I did not care for it very much as many of the items had a pickled taste.
My parents never spoke Japanese to each other, and the only time I would hear my Mom speak Japanese was to Grandma. In general, my Mom was pretty reserved, never really wanted to make any “fuss” about anything. All she wanted was for me to go to school. However, in 5th grade, I remember when we were doing a project on Japan the teacher said we should abbreviate Japanese to “Jap.” So I did. Many, many times. When I proudly showed my paper to my Mom, she seemed irritated and immediately got on the phone calling her friends. She was angrily speaking to another parent. I had never seen her that upset. Did I not get a double gold star? Or a smiley face? I did not think I did that badly. I remember she called the school and asked for that teacher to not teach that class again. I was embarrassed for the teacher and for my mother to make such a big deal to the school, the parents, and my friends.
I asked my Mom, “Why are you so upset? What’s wrong with ‘Jap’?” She said “Jap” is a very, very bad word and you are never to use it. Nor should it be taught. “But why?” I asked. “‘Japanese’ is too long to spell.” “That’s what they used to call us when they took us to camp,” she replied. “Why is ‘Jap’ bad, Mom? It’s just an abbreviation!” Like most kids, the barrage kept coming. “Why Mom? Why is it bad? Why can’t I abbreviate it? Why can’t I say ‘Jap’? Jap! Jap! Jap!” Finally boiling upset, my Mom said, “It’s just bad! They took us away to camp!!” My thoughts changed and my eyes widened. “Camp?? What kind of camp? How come I haven’t been to camp??? How long did you get to go for??” She said four years. “Wow!!!! Four years…that’s great!!! When can I go to camp??!!”
Today, I understand why my parents never forced me to go to Japanese school (even though they wanted me to go). Why she was so angry at the word “Jap.” Why she never made Japanese food for me. Why my uncle always said, “Be a doctor or a lawyer…they can never take that away from you!!” Why we never really did or speak of many Japanese things…only being American
Over the weekend I was working at the Japanese American Bar Association Annual Fundraising Gala. A fantastic organization that supports lawyers and speaks about issues with Japanese influences. Every year they have a great show with well deserved awardees. This year I was happy to meet Scott Fujita , Super Bowl Champion, producer from the award winning documentary Gleason, and creator of the “Ice Bucket Challenge.” There was a long line of ladies wanting to take a picture with him…..If I just had a quarter for each picture this year!
He told his story about growing up in Oxnard the adopted son of Rodney and Helen Fujita, and he spoke about how his friends came over and most of them were too afraid to try sushi. Everyone in the room was captivated with his story about how he feels in touch with Japanese American heritage, and how he considers himself half Japanese. With the Saints he stood up to a teammate in the locker room who called Japanese Americans “Japs”, and how without getting too upset he was able to educate him by telling him about the true stories about the Japanese ordeal. He speaks fondly about his grandfather Nagao Fujita who was a member of the 442.
Finally he inspired a room full of lawyers how important they were at this time of political turmoil, and how it was “their time to shine” At 6’5 Scott Fujita is a commanding presence , but his speech and charisma was even more powerful.
On this “Day of Remembrance” for the Japanese Internment Camps, I remember my mom and her family as well as all the other families that had to endure this hardship. I understand now that with their courage and self sacrifice it paved the way for all Japanese Americans as well as any Asians here in America. I can’t imagine the fortitude of all these families coming back after the war to prejudice, having lost homes and land, lost income, and most of all lost pride. I know how hard all these families fought to regain that pride and make a good life for their children. So many people…especially other Asians don’t realize, without these contributions it would have been a much tougher road ahead to be assimilated into American society. If there was no 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team or Military Intelligence Service Japanese linguist to prove their loyalty, it may have set us back for years to come. In the face of injustice the Japanese American people stood strong and in their communities for years to come.
Now in 2017, with so many controversies surrounding the President and his policies, I can only think of my mom who was quiet and never very outspoken. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks she was so angered that American people were thinking of rounding up a group for their race or religion. She kept saying, “That’s not right!” in about as angry a tone as you could get from a 95lb, 4’10 lady. She never much talked about the camps, but in those few weeks I understood how much it had affected her and the lives of her fellow Japanese Americans.
With this in mind I proudly announce a book that is a personal passion project. The Go for Broke Spirit: Portraits of Courage is a portrait book of some of the Japanese Americans who fought in WWII. They are portraits of Japanese men who fought for their country when their country did not fight for them. Some came from Hawaii, others from “interment” or concentration camps on the mainland. Many didn’t even like each other, however they came together to form the 442nd, the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in US military history. With the political climate in America the way it is, I feel it is an important time for this book. I hope that these portraits and the personal stories help gain interest in this project. That these Japanese Americans inspire you to learn a little more about this segment of American history and how a group came together. With an even more important lesson of how we need to remember the past to not make the same mistakes in the future.
I ask you the question, “Would you fight for a country that took away your constitutional rights and put your family in prison?”