Representatives from 18 different organizations — including JACL — meet to identify goals and needs that can advance the consortium’s mission of education, preservation and social justice.
By Julie Abo, Heart Mountain Interpretive Center
The Japanese American National Museum hosted on Oct. 20 and 21 the fourth meeting of museums, historic sites, volunteer groups and advocacy organizations from across the nation whose focus is the Japanese American incarceration experience. This group, the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium, is devoted to collectively preserving, protecting and interpreting the World War II experiences of Japanese Americans and elevating related social justice lessons that inform current issues.
The JACSC first convened in 2015 and have since identified goals that include advocating for the Japanese American Confinement Sites, a federal program that has helped fund nearly two hundred projects nationwide that have shed light on the Japanese American experience. In addition, the JACSC defends against threats to historic sites, facilitates collaboration and resource-sharing among stakeholder organizations, as well as aims to assist in growing the capacity of all members.
JANM President and CEO Ann Burroughs welcomed participants on Saturday morning by emphasizing that “collaboration is key,” a theme that rang true throughout the two-day meeting. Consortium Coordinator Brian Liesinger observed that the JACSC has created a community where members can connect and support one another despite the often great geographic distances between them.
More than 50 participants attended the meeting, representing 18 different organizations, including nine of the 10 War Relocation Authority confinement sites, JANM, the National Park Service, the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, the Tuna Canyon Detention Station Coalition, Densho, the Oregon Nikkei Endowment, the Japanese American Service Committee, the Japanese American Citizens League, the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, 50 Objects/Stories of the American Japanese Incarceration and the American Baptist Historical Society.
These groups reported on their current projects and identified goals and needs of which the JACSC can help. Attendees also collaborated on issues such as fundraising, information sharing and advocacy.
In addition, two graduate students, Helen Yoshida from California State University, Fullerton, and Koji Lau-Ozawa from Stanford University, presented their educational research to the attendees present. Yoshida described her ongoing oral history project documenting the WWII Department of Justice camps, a subject that has been little researched. Lau-Ozawa presented on his archaeological findings at the former Gila River Camp in Arizona.
On Saturday evening, JANM and the JACSC hosted a free public screening of “Voices Behind Barbed Wire: Stories of O‘ahu,” which features personal stories about the incarceration experience in Hawaii.
The film, produced by the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, presents a newly emerging history that is making great waves in the historical community in Hawaii and, through screenings like this one, the mainland United States.
The film was partially funded by a National Park Service JACS grant and coincides with the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the gannenmono, the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It is part of a planned four-part series on Hawaii’s confinement sites, with each part focusing on the internment history of a different island: Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island. The films are being widely distributed to schools throughout Hawaii to deepen local history education.
After the film, Frances Hikido, an audience member, commented, “I grew up in Hawaii, and we didn’t know about this. I would like to know more.”
Sunday’s events began with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the five major stakeholders in the JACSC who have agreed to form an administrative council. JANM, the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, the Friends of Minidoka and the JACL welcomed a new stakeholder, the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, to the council. As the administrative council, the five organizations will provide both direction and funding to sustain the consortium beyond the lifetime of the JACS grants. Larry Oda, chair of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, who was born in the Crystal City Department of Justice Camp in Texas, expressed optimism.
“It seems to me there is a willingness to collaborate and advance our mission,” Oda said. “It is heartening to see so many organizations coming together. Each individual group can keep their identity, but we can act together and be a larger voice.”
Members of the JACSC will be visiting their legislators in Washington, D.C., in February, to educate and inform Congress about the Japanese American WWII incarceration. Key issues at stake are JACS grant funding and other vital preservation causes.
In preparation for these visits, JACL Executive Director David Inoue and Floyd Mori, past president of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies and former executive director of the JACL, led attendees in a discussion of what to expect on these visits. Inoue provided tools on how to conduct an effective legislative visit, and Mori highlighted the importance of building lasting relationships with community and federal leadership.
Mori, a self-proclaimed “Mormon country boy from Utah,” shared an important lesson he learned in his first year in the California State Assembly.
He recalled that one of the first lobbyists who came to his office was from a gay rights organization, one that he wouldn’t have normally thought of as an ally, and it was this first meeting that started a wonderful working relationship over a number of years.
This story illustrated how critical it is to make a personal connection with elected officials and underlined the importance of the JACSC meeting and advocacy on Capitol Hill planned for Feb. 26-28.
The final session of the JACSC meeting was a presentation by Sam Mihara and Aura Newlin, both board members of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation.
Mihara, who spent his boyhood confined at Heart Mountain and now travels the country talking about his experience, has made a firsthand study of incarceration and detention sites in present-day America.
Mihara shared some of the parallels he has drawn between the inhumane conditions his family faced during WWII and the conditions faced by undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers in detention centers today. Newlin described the work she has been involved with in fighting the construction of a for-profit Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Wyoming.
As the meeting came to a close, many participants commented on the positive future of the JACSC and their own organizations.
Stan Shikuma, a Sansei from the Tule Lake Committee, reflected, “It was exciting and energizing to be with all these different groups working on different issues and sharing solutions. It is daunting — we have a lot of work ahead of us — but comforting because we are working together!”
The next JACSC meeting will be held in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 26-28. The group is also tentatively planning a meeting next summer that will coincide with the JACL National Convention, set for July 31-Aug. 4 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
If your organization would like to join the JACSC or would like more information, please contact Brian Liesinger at email@example.com.
SIDEBAR: A Brief History of the Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium
The Japanese American Confinement Sites Consortium is comprised of organizations committed to collectively preserving, protecting and interpreting the history of the World War II experiences of Japanese Americans and elevating the related social justice lessons that inform current issues today. Members include the 10 War Relocation Authority confinement sites, as well as historical organizations, endowments, museums, commissions and educational institutes.
August 2015, Powell, Wyo.
Funded by a Japanese American Confinement Sites grant from the National Park Service, the JACSC first met at Heart Mountain Interpretive Center in 2015. The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, which had applied for the grant, served as the organizer of the meeting.
May 2016, Washington, D.C.
The JACSC met again in D.C. to build consensus on activity, establish major stakeholders, conduct East Coast outreach and set priorities and goals. This meeting established the framework and mission for the group, while also expanding its participants.
Fiscal Year 2017
The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation applied for and received a second National Park Service grant to continue the JACSC. Brian Liesinger, former executive director of the HMWF, was hired as the coordinator for the JACSC project.
February 2018, Los Angeles, Calif.
The JACSC’s major stakeholders signed a memorandum of understanding to establish an administrative council. Through the MOU, the council pledged ongoing guidance, funds and in-kind resources.
President Donald Trump’s proposed budget defunded the JACS grant program. The JACSC launched a grassroots advocacy campaign to encourage legislators to protect the program. The effort paid off, and funding was preserved.
October 2018, Los Angeles, Calif.
The JACSC met at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. The National Japanese American Memorial Foundation joined the administrative council. The group planned more strategic outreach and communication, as well as refining advocacy goals and its overall mission.
For more information about the JACSC, contact Brian Liesinger at firstname.lastname@example.org.For more information about NPS JACS grants, visit https://www.nps.gov/jacs/.
— Brian Liesinger, JACSC coordinator