It’s been awhile since I’ve sat down to add to our blog, so this could be a long one! I’ll break it down for you!
Within the Silence
On October 8th and 9th, the actress Ruth Coughlin from Living Voices arrived in Juneau to once again deliver her remarkable performance of “Within the Silence” to Juneau’s fifth graders and the general public. With the aid of a computer, screen and microphone she played the part of one of the characters in the pre-filmed story of a family being rounded up in Seattle and sent to Minidoka for incarceration. With expert timing, she fit her dialogue into what was occurring on the screen. Her first performance was the evening of October 8th at the University of Alaska Southeast. The next morning she performed at Auke Bay Elementary School with students from Glacier Valley, Mendenhall River and Riverbend in attendance. After lunch she moved on to Harborview Elementary School with students from Gastineau, Charter and Montisorri schools joining the group. After preplanning and preparation by our Educational Consultant, Steve McPhetres, Jackie Triplette from the Empty Chair Committee coordinated Ruth’s appearances in all three venues plus escorting her to dinner, picking up halibut and salmon from local fans and dropping Ruth by the Skater’s Cabin for pictures in front of the Mendenhall Glacier on the way to the airport. Jackie reports that “…the kids were absolutely remarkable…and patient…and attentive and asked questions.” And we report that Jackie also did a remarkable job and we thank her for her organizational skills and leadership. The performance was paid for by funds from the Empty Chair Project and the National Park Service in an effort to continue educating our youth about this period in our history.
Discover Juneau Downtown Map
The Empty Chair is now listed in the Discover Juneau Downtown Map. You can find a copy at the Juneau Convention and Visitor’s Bureau building at the docks plus other areas throughout the city.
The Empty Chair site was listed in the 2015 edition of Alaska’s annual travel guide, The Milepost. The listing’s information about the site was located on page 655 among 25 attractions for the Juneau area. The editors had requested the information from Karleen Grummett for their publication, so it’s nice to see that the memorial is officially cited in the guide for all who use it while traveling to Juneau and the rest of the state. The guide has been published annually since 1949 and is considered the travel “bible” for all Alaska visitors, both local and out-of-state.
Nancy DeCherney, Executive Director of the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council informed us that the council is in the process of creating a map of public art that can be used as a walking tour of Juneau. They are also working to catalogue public art in Juneau as part of the Public Art Network. The Empty Chair Memorial will be included in both publications! We are very grateful to Nancy and the council for these inclusions and also for their support in facilitating the work of the Empty Chair Project through donations of their time and services. Thanks once again for all you have done.
Day of Remembrance Gatherings
Alice (Tanaka) Hikido and Mary (Tanaka) Abo joined Greg Chaney is Anchorage where they were invited to a showing of Greg’s film “The Empty Chair” in honor of the Day of Remembrance by the local Japanese American Citizen’s League. The following is her report on that event:
I left San Jose Thursday morning and Mary joined me on the leg from Seattle to Anchorage. After we had disembarked, we saw Greg Chaney who had just arrived from Juneau and also the JACL chairman, Susan Churchill. After Susan took us all to our motel to check in, she invited us all to dinner at her home and said that she had also invited a few others to meet us. Among the guests was Dr. Morgan Blanchard, an archaeologist who had been doing some research on Ft. Richardson. His research led him to the information that Ft. Richardson at one time was the site of an internment camp. He was intrigued by this and continued research and uncovered quite a bit of information of the internment of the Japanese at Ft. Richardson. When he learned about the Day of Remembrance program that the JACL was planning, he contacted Susan Churchill about a tour of Ft. Richardson. To make a long story short, a program was planned that was held at the Ft. on Thursday (early afternoon) at which time Mary and I participated and shared a little of our family experience and the Empty Chair story. Another participant was 21 year old, Patrick Dickerson Kiyoshi Regan who was severely disabled and communicated by blinking his eyes which activated a mechanical voice. He was able to tell the story of his mother’s father who was a Japanese American who was sent to an internment camp in Arizona. He was truly amazing and even though his disability limited him physically in a major way, he possessed a very sharp intellect. Later while talking with his parents, we learned that his father was Virginia Whitehead’s son! We always find a Juneau connection!
After we left Ft. Richardson we picked up a bite to eat because we needed to get over to the public radio station by 5:30 as they had provided their studio for the showing of Greg’s “Empty Chair.” As the studio was being set up for the program, a reception was held in a separate area and early arrivals were able to chat and talk with us. Mary and I were pleased to see Dean and Marianne Terencio who lived a short distance from our house. I had not seen either of them for about 60 years. At that time Dean was still a youngster! Also at the reception we met Buzz Femmer’s daughter who also now lives in Anchorage. Mr. Femmer is mentioned in the documentary as one of the persons who signed affidavits supporting our father, so I’m sure that was a pleasant surprise for her to see that on the screen. Harriet Miyasato Beleal from the Minidoka Pilgrimage was also there with her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter! The program was soon to start so people started to move over to the studio. Susan said that about fifty people came to their program last year and they hoped that a few more would come this year. The public radio station was a sponsor this year and announced the program giving it free publicity. People kept coming and the room was packed! The staff had to scrounge around the building for additional chairs. I heard that the audience was about 130-140 people. It was a good thing the fire marshal didn’t come by. Susan welcomed everyone and said a few words about the significance of The Day of Remembrance. Next Ron Inouye, who was invited from Fairbanks, gave introductory remarks and then Greg had his chance to show “The Empty Chair.”
When it was over it got a very nice ovation from the audience and Mary, Greg and myself were invited up front for a Q and A time. There were very good questions that came from the audience. Even a small child in the front row, whose mother was signing to her deaf father, raised her hand to ask a question. A person asked Greg when it was going to be on PBS so that more people can see it. That was very validating for Greg! Mary answered one question about schools by telling the audience about the culture kits that had been assembled for schools which included an educational version of Greg’s documentary. I could see people nodding their heads while she talked. Later after the people were thanked for coming, many people came up to us and said how much they appreciated the documentary…and again there were Juneau connections. We were so pleased to meet one of Verne Metcalfe’s daughters and she was so happy to be able to talk to us about her dad and grandfather who also made the City Café a regular stop. Roberta Messerschmidt Spartz’s niece was also so pleasantly surprised to see Roberta in the documentary and was going to call her when she returned home. As you can gather, it was a great event…well beyond expectations of the planners.
Mary and Greg went back to the Churchill’s residence because Susan was going to take them later to the airport around 12 midnight to catch a plane back to Seattle as they had another showing on Saturday there. I was dropped off at the motel so that I could get a night’s rest before leaving in the morning.
When I returned I called Peter, who attended the San Francisco showing, to ask how that went. He said that the audience was about 50 people and that he and Greg’s mother, who was there, took a few questions at the end, but since Greg and Mary were skyped on a large screen, they were able to do most of the Q and A themselves. Mary will be able to fill you in on the Seattle program on Saturday and also the Taiko program where the banners were exhibited…whew…it was a full weekend!
Ah, but that wasn’t to be all. Rachel D’Oro, a reporter from the Associated Press interviewed Alice in an article which was picked up by the Associated Press and then by papers all across the United States. Here is a photo from that article and the accompanying text:
JOINT BASE ELEMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska–Alice Tanaka Hikido clearly remembers the bewilderment and sense of violation she felt 74 years ago when FBI agents riffled through her family’s Juneau home, then arrested her father before he was sent to Japanese internment camps, including a little-known camp in pre-statehood Alaska.
The 83-year-old Campbell, Calif., woman recently attended a ceremony where participants unveiled a study of the short-lived internment camp at what is now Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
Archaeologists used old records to pinpoint the camp location in an area now partially covered by a parking lot.
“As I look back, I had no idea as a child that the U.S. and Japan were having difficulties,” Hikido said.
Hikido was interned at Idaho’s Minidoka camp with her mother, younger sister and two brothers a few months after her father’s arrest during one of the nation’s darkest chapters–the forced incarceration of tens of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry, including Americans, during World War II.
Her father eventually joined his family in Idaho in 1944. They spent more than a year there together before the war ended and they returned to Juneau.
Her father, Shonosuke Tanaka, was among 15 Japanese nationals and two German nationals rounded up in the territory of Alaska almost immediately after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
That number would grow to 104 foreign nationals, mostly Japanese, who were arrested in Alaska as alien enemies. An estimated 145 others also would be sent to internment camps outside the territory under Executive Order 9066, which launched the exile of about 120,000 Japanese-Americans.
Before leaving Alaska, Tanaka and 16 other men were briefly housed at the Anchorage Army post formerly known as Fort Richardson.
Archaeologists zeroed in on the site based on documents, including a map and two photographs, according to Morgan Blanchard, a local archaeologist who worked on the study.
“Although it was known that this camp existed–it shows up on all the lists of camps that existed during the war–no information was available,” Blanchard said during a Feb. 19 Day of Remembrance ceremony at the base. “So we filled in a lot of blanks.”
Researchers believe–but can’t say with certainty–that the 17 foreign nationals who were sent to the post were actually held at the camp constructed between February and June 1945.
Today, Hikido sees the same distrust of some foreigners that her family experienced so many decades ago. “It’s incumbent upon citizens to be well-informed,” Hikido said. “If you’re well-informed then fear doesn’t overcome your better judgment.”
Mary Abo and Greg Chaney attended the Asian American Film Festival in Seattle featuring the “Empty Chair” documentary amongst other entries and then went on to Seattle University to attend a fund raiser for Minidoka where the Empty Chair Banners were on display. They are replicas of the placards that were displayed at the Juneau-Douglas Museum. Mary gave a short speech in which she talked about the Alaskans incarcerated at Minidoka and briefly described the Empty Chair Memorial and the goals of the committee to educate the public and children of Juneau about this period of history and how it affected their city.
In Juneau, the Juneau-Douglas City Museum had on display at the Mendenhall Valley Library a portion of their 2014 exhibit “The Empty Chair: The Forced Removal and Relocation of Juneau’s Japanese, 1941-1951,” which was mounted in conjunction with the installation of the Empty Chair Memorial at Capital School Park. Their remembrance event was held on Friday, Feb. 19 with a showing of Greg Chaney’s documentary plus a selection of stories, images and objects from the Museum exhibit and the memorial dedication was shared in a slide-lecture format by Marjorie Hamburger.
Pt. Reyes, California
The week previous to The Day of Remembrance, Alice Hikido and Margie Shackelford were interviewed on radio station KWMR out of Pt. Reyes, California, by Susan Santiago on a program called “Pieces of Peace.” Alice talked about her families experiences during and after WWII and Margie covered the Empty Chair Project, emphasizing the community support that the project received. At the end they read the names of all those whose names are etched on the base of the memorial.
We have been successful in addressing a much wider audience then we ever thought possible and for that we are very grateful!
Here is a link to an interesting interview of Greg Chaney discussing his film “The Empty Chair” in the Juneau Empire.
In addition, Edward Yoshida has written a detailed and glowing review of Greg’s film in the Japanese American National Museum’s online journal, “Discover Nikkei: Japanese Migrants and Their Descendants”. He is particularly taken by the community’s response to the enforced imprisonment of the Juneau Japanese population and their support of those who returned to Juneau after the war. I encourage you to read it in total!
Japanese American National Museum
In addition to the other venues, Greg was invited to show his film at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles this spring. To our delight, the video David Albright created featuring his grandfather Walter Fukuyama’s visit to Juneau to attend the memorial ceremony was also screened. Afterwards, Mary Tanaka Abo, Alice Tanaka Hikido, Greg Chaney and David were available for a Q and A. Present in the audience were also members of the Empty Chair Committee: Margie Shackelford, Karleen Grummett and Roger Grummett. It was a very proud moment in time!
We all had a memorable time celebrating together!