(Above) Shirley Ann Higuchi (center), head of legal and regulatory affairs at the American Psychological Assn. and chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation; Aura Newlin (fourth from left), Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation board secretary; Satsuki Ina (second from left); and the Wyoming Psychological Assn.’s board of directors in front of Heart Mountain. Photo courtesy of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation
Wyoming Psychological Assn.’s Fall Conference brings health experts and local leaders together to discuss diversity and mental health.
By Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation Staff
The annual fall conference of the Wyoming Psychological Assn. brought mental health professionals from all disciplines and leaders in the local community to Cody, Wyo., on Oct. 9-11 for a weekend of addressing multicultural issues.
Titled “Exploring Issues in Multicultural Diversity,” the conference also featured the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center and the effects of incarceration on Japanese Americans and their families during World War II.
On Oct. 9, the WPA hosted a screening of Satsuki Ina’s documentary “Children of the Camps.” Ina, who was a featured keynote speaker, is a psychotherapist, professor emeritus at California State University, Sacramento, and filmmaker who was born at the Tule Lake confinement camp, where her family was imprisoned during World War II. She specializes in collective historical trauma.
Before the screening, Ina described the process by which she made the film. After seeing a photograph of her father in the Tule Lake jail with her son at the Smithsonian, she realized how little she knew about her family’s experiences during WWII.
Seeing this photograph of her father was the start of her search for answers to her family’s incarceration. While attending a training session for therapists, the instructor asked participants to envision themselves as babies in their cribs. Instead of recalling a crib, she visualized the basket her mother put her in as a baby at Tule Lake. Soon after, she met with friends who were also incarcerated as children and together, they tried to piece together what had happened to their families.
“It became a personal quest for me,” said Ina. “I cried and cried during those meetings with friends.”
It was during this time that Ina began to run sessions with other former incarcerees about their experiences as children in the camps. When it was suggested to her that she document her sessions, the idea for “Children of the Camps” was born.
Ina’s documentary, which was broadcast nationally on PBS, captures six stories of Japanese Americans who were children when they and their families were incarcerated during WWII. Over the course of three days, they participated in a workshop facilitated by Ina and spoke about how their incarceration as children deeply affected their adult lives.
Before filming began, Ina knew that she did not want Caucasians involved with the filming process due to concerns that their presence would inhibit the Japanese American workshop participants from speaking openly about their experiences.
When Ina found out that the film crew was Caucasian, she made sure that the participants and the film crew were separated from the film experience. For example, each group ate their meals separately.
However, a turning point occurred when one of her cameramen started crying while trying to film a session. Ina described how, after pausing filming, everyone formed a circle around him, creating a space where he could describe what he was feeling in reaction to what was being said.
“He said, ‘I didn’t know it was so bad.’ Compassion comes with an impassioned witness,” said Ina, who noted that the film crew and workshop participants bonded with each other during that experience with the cameraman. From that point on, they were closer to one another and did activities, like eating, together. “Your presence here is a healing process,” Ina recalled. “Healing comes with community.”
On Oct. 10, the WPA board of directors and conference participants toured the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center and heard Ina’s lecture entitled “Collective Historical Trauma: The World War II Japanese American Experience” in the Interpretive Center’s theater.
WPA Executive Director Larry Biggio gave his impressions, noting that it was his first time on the site of the original camp and his first tour of the Interpretive Center.
“I thought I would see more of the original camp. I also had the impression that the camp would be more remote,” he said, describing what he thought he might see at the site before arriving there.
After touring the exhibit, Biggio reflected on the perseverance of the incarcerees held at Heart Mountain.
“People had the strength to survive, and they made it better for themselves. I was impressed by their hard work and their strength,” he said. “I tried to get a sense of daily life in camp. The written documents explained some process on how the camp was administered and what life was like at the camp. But what did the routines look like? The artifacts (in the exhibit) gave me a sense of what life was like and how it was conducted, but how did [incarcerees] make the crops and agriculture work? What did it take to get that done?”
For Bob Bayuk, WPA member and president-elect, the most striking element of the Interpretive Center was that it “touched on the grit and resilience [of the incarcerees] from imprisonment at Heart Mountain. Many of the people here continue to look forward. This is an awesome museum.”
After the tour, participants gathered in the Interpretive Center’s theater for Ina’s lecture. Ina spoke about her own family’s experience, which included being incarcerated at the Topaz and Tule Lake camps and the Department of Justice camps, Fort Lincoln and Crystal City. Her father responded “No” to questions 27 and 28 on the Loyalty Questionnaire because he felt that the treatment of Japanese Americans was unjust and that Japan offered him and his family freedom and acceptance at a time when the United States did not. Charged with sedition, he, his wife and his son, who was born at Topaz, were sent from that camp to Tule Lake.
Ina was born in May 1944 during the resistance in Tule Lake due to poor living conditions and workers’ protests. Border patrol guards and Military Police quelled resisters’ actions by arresting the leaders of the protests. Ina’s father, a poet, was one of many the leaders who participated in the resistance and was taken to the stockade.
“My father was in the stockade for a period of time,” Ina recalled. “He had cuts and bruises on his face, which he did not talk about. But those I’ve talked to said that they were battered with batons and dragged inside of the jail. They didn’t know where they were going.” Ina also noted that the sense of not knowing what would happen to her parents was a factor in the renunciation of their citizenship.
“They began to feel that the only way that they could gain a sense of freedom was by returning to Japan, so they renounced their American citizenship,” Ina said. Her parents’ decision automatically made them “enemy aliens,” and her father was sent from Tule Lake to Fort Lincoln in Nebraska while her mother stayed at Tule Lake, raising Ina and her young son alone. Ina’s family was later reunited at Crystal City, and they were released after a total of four years and two months in incarceration.
During her lecture, Ina also discussed the importance of reparations to the Japanese American community to speak about the incarceration experience. After her mother received reparations, Ina visited her and noticed that the signed letter from President Ronald Reagan was already framed and hanging on the wall.
“When I asked her how she felt, she said, ‘I feel like I finally got my face back,’” said Ina. “Until reparations, there was so much silence. That silence was transmitted to the next generation, creating an intergenerational gap.”
Ina continues to conduct workshops today, but she notes that they are different than what viewers see in “Children of the Camps.”
“The workshops are intergenerational,” she said, noting that it is usually the Sansei daughter who requests a workshop. She also explained how interracial couples have contacted her in an effort to talk about how the camp experience impacted their spouses’ families.
“Today, I call it ‘retribalizing the family.’”
Reflecting on the screening of “Children of the Camps” and Ina’s presentation, Shirley Ann Higuchi, head of legal and regulatory affairs at the American Psychological Assn. and chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, addressed the need for younger generations of Japanese Americans to be participants in the process of preserving and working through these stories and memories.
“Through my conversations with Dr. Ina at the film screening and the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, I have expanded my view on how to approach the Japanese American experience in a more thoughtful and creative way, including innovative ways to engage the younger generation of Japanese Americans,” Higuchi said. “Through her work, she is able to create a safe space for our community, including the Sansei and their children, to share their experiences.”