A Closer Look at the Civilian Exclusion Order

Civilian Exclusion Order on display in the JANM galleries.
Civilian Exclusion Order on display in the JANM galleries.

It’s Media Literacy Week and when our friends over at the Center for Media Literacy encouraged us to think about media literacy, two pieces from our core exhibition Common Ground: The Heart of Community came to mind.

The Civilian Exclusion Order poster, which announced the evacuation of all persons of Japanese ancestry, is seen at left. The full text can be read here. Take a close look at this document and consider some of the euphemistic words used by the government—”non-alien,” “evacuation,” and “temporary residence.”

In 1942, these posters were placed in public areas all along the West Coast of the United States. With an average of seven days’ notice, thousands of individuals of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their homes and incarcerated in American concentration camps without due process. Many of these individuals were United States citizens. They could only bring with them what they could carry and their lives were irreversibly disrupted.

Qris Yamashita's silkscreen poster, Redress/Reparations Now!/Little Tokyo. Photo by Gary Ono.
Qris Yamashita’s silkscreen poster, Redress/Reparations Now!/Little Tokyo. Photo by Gary Ono.

In 1983, the artist Qris Yamashita created a silkscreen poster titled Redress/Reparations Now!/Little Tokyo. Inspired by the Civilian Exclusion Order, this work looks critically at the language used, and makes notes to draw our attention to certain words and phrases, helping us to consider what they really mean.

Yamashita’s work points out that the phrase “non-alien” really meant U.S. citizens. The United States government gathered and imprisoned its own citizens based on the fact that they were of Japanese descent. The government also stated that it would provide “temporary residence” elsewhere. As it turned out, the citizens were first held in horse stables that had been transformed into temporary detention centers, and then transported to hastily built barracks in remote, barren areas.

Detail of Qris Yamashita's Redress/Reparations Now!/Little Tokyo. Photo by Gary Ono.
Detail of Qris Yamashita’s Redress/Reparations Now!/Little Tokyo. Photo by Gary Ono.
Detail of Qris Yamashita's Redress/Reparations Now!/Little Tokyo. Photo by Gary Ono.
Detail of Qris Yamashita’s Redress/Reparations Now!/Little Tokyo. Photo by Gary Ono.

 

There is far more to explore in both of these pieces so feel free to take a closer look. The next time you’re in downtown Los Angeles, come to the Japanese American National Museum and see Common Ground: The Heart of Community to learn more about this period in our country’s history.

For more about the Civilian Exclusion Order as it relates to Executive Order 9066, read this past blog post that explains the difference between the two.

How Good Luck Saved The Curse of Quon Gwon

Scene from The Curse of Quon Gwon. The Violet Marion Collection. Courtesy of Arthur Dong.
Scene from The Curse of Quon Gwon. The Violet Wong
Collection. Courtesy of Arthur Dong.

 

On May 13, in honor of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, JANM will present The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West. This is the earliest known example of a film made by an Asian American. It is also one of the earliest films to be directed by a woman, Marion Wong. Wong involved her family in many aspects of the production, both in front of and behind the camera. Now nearly 100 years old, The Curse has seen better days. But the fact that it can be viewed at all by audiences today is a tale of good fortune.

Arthur Dong is an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker. Back in 2005, he was hard at work on a project titled Hollywood Chinese: The Chinese in American Feature Films. During the course of his research, Arthur learned of the existence of some reels of film from a title he had not previously heard of: The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles with the West. Following his source’s instructions, Arthur went to a building near San Francisco International Airport. There he found two reels of original 35mm nitrate negative film—the actual film that was in the camera when the movie was made in 1916 and 1917—and a 16mm print that was likely made in the 1950s or 60s. This was an incredibly exciting find. “But scary!” recalls Arthur.

Violet Wong in The Curse of Quon Gwon. The Violet Marion Collection. Courtesy of Arthur Dong.
Violet Wong in The Curse of Quon Gwon.
The Violet Wong Collection.
Courtesy of Arthur Dong.

Nitrate film was commonly used in the early days of moviemaking and up until about 1951. It is now understood to be highly unstable and extremely flammable. Proper storage and careful handling are required to maintain its integrity and prevent combustion. Nitrate burns at a temperature even higher than gasoline and once ignited, it is extremely difficult to extinguish because the combustion process produces its own oxygen. It also produces highly poisonous fumes.

Arthur knew the danger that nitrate posed. He contacted the Academy Film Archive, part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the organization that presents the annual Academy Awards). One of the archive’s intrepid experts agreed to drive up to San Francisco and bring The Curse back to Los Angeles for inspection and restoration. In addition to making safer film-based copies for long-term protection, the Academy Film Archive transferred all of the found material to video. (The original nitrate is now safely stored, as is the 16mm print.)

The two nitrate reels and some additional scenes depicted in the print are by no means the entire movie. Arthur and Academy archivists believe there were originally seven or eight reels; the ones found were numbered four and seven. So, what JANM will present is an incomplete movie. Despite this, one can easily follow at least some of the story, even though the film is silent and devoid of title cards. (The musical score is one that Arthur commissioned in 2010.) Regardless, the joy of seeing The Curse, which utilizes Chinese actors and Chinese interior décor, lies not in its plot but in its provenance. For Arthur, the film demonstrates “the contributions of Chinese Americans in the formative years of America’s film industry.”

Marion Wong and Violet Wong acting in a lost scene from The Curse of Quon Gwon. The Marion Wong Collection. Courtesy of Arthur Dong.
Marion Wong and Violet Wong acting in a lost scene from The Curse of Quon Gwon. The Marion Wong Collection. Courtesy of Arthur Dong.

 

Each year, the Librarian of Congress and its National Film Preservation Board (NFPB) select 25 films for the National Film Registry to showcase the range and diversity of American film heritage and to increase awareness of the need for preservation. There are currently 650 films on the registry, each deemed to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Thanks to Arthur’s nomination while serving on the NFPB, The Curse was placed on the registry in 2006.

Come see The Curse of Quon Gwon on May 13 and learn more about it from Arthur Dong and Mai-Lon Gittelsohn and Dr. Greg Mark, two descendants of Violet Wong, Marion Wong’s sister-in-law who stars as the film’s heroine.

Visual Communications Evolves with the Times

Founded in 1970, Visual Communications (VC) was the first nonprofit organization in the country dedicated to supporting the creation, presentation, and preservation of media works by Asian Pacific American people. On the eve of the 31st edition of their Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, taking place April 23–30, we checked in with Francis Cullado, VC’s Interim Executive Director, and Milton Liu, VC’s Director of Programs and Artist Services, about the state of Asian Pacific American media arts today.

Fresh Off the Boat panel at the 2014 Conference for Creative Content (C3), with with moderator Amy Hill (actor), Randall Park (star), Nahnatchka Khan (showrunner), Melvin Mar (executive producer), and Samie Kim Falvey (Executive Vice President, Comedy Development, ABC).
Fresh Off the Boat panel at the 2014 Conference for Creative Content (C3), with
moderator Amy Hill (actor), Randall Park (star), Nahnatchka Khan (showrunner), Melvin Mar (executive producer), and Samie Kim Falvey (Executive Vice President, Comedy Development, ABC). Photo courtesy Visual Communications.

 

JANM: The world of media arts has changed so much since 1970, and of course, VC has evolved along with it. What would you say are the most significant developments or changes that have occurred at VC in the last 10 years or so?

Francis Cullado: Widespread technological advances have empowered more people to become creative artists. At VC, we’ve developed our programs to utilize new technologies and processes to create digital stories. Gone are the days of expensive media, and with greater accessibility, we can create programs to capture and nurture digital storytellers.

Milton Liu: The media landscape has changed drastically in the last 10 years. Now, you can shoot a film on your iPhone and upload content directly to your YouTube/Vimeo page. Because of this, we’ve seen a surge of content that’s available through non-traditional channels, and a decrease in audiences for movie theaters and appointment television. For this reason, VC continues to focus on diverse year-round programs, such as the Armed with a Camera Fellowship for emerging artists and the Digital Histories program of short films created by senior citizens.

The Conference for Creative Content (C3), the premier entertainment media conference that happens as part of the annual festival, delves into a myriad of traditional and nontraditional topics with leading content creators and executives. For instance, past panels have included Sustaining Your Online Audience, Writing for Diverse Characters in TV, and Transitioning from Film to Video Games. Media continues to evolve and we understand the need for Visual Communications to remain at the forefront of this change.

Opening night at the 2014 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Photo courtesy Visual Communications.
Opening night at the 2014 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
Photo courtesy Visual Communications.

 

JANM: APA visibility in the media seems to be growing steadily, getting a big boost recently with the hit TV show, Fresh Off the Boat. What do you think are the important next steps for the community in terms of building and maintaining media presence?

ML: The next steps for the community are to keep pressing to have APAs not only in front of the camera, but behind it. Furthermore, the percentage of APA actors, writers and directors in TV and film still doesn’t come close to matching the percentage of APAs in the American population. Keep fighting to have APAs represented! People of color make up huge audiences that spend our money on film and TV—speak with your wallet!

FC: Keep supporting APAs in media, and keep demanding more! To quote our fellow staffer Abraham Ferrer, for every production highlighting Asian Americans “that crows about diverse casting, there are at least 20 more in which people of color simply don’t exist.” The discourse that Fresh Off the Boat has created and will continue to create has many complexities that revolve around race, ethnicity, and culture, and that’s great. But just because we’ve progressed to a point that is different from where we started, it doesn’t mean that it’s where we want and/or need to be.

For more information about Visual Communications and the upcoming Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, please visit vconline.org.

East West Players Offers a Platform for New Work by Asian American Writers

JANM has a long history of collaborating with East West Players, the nation’s leading Asian American theater troupe. Among other activities, the museum is proud to host A Writer’s Gallery, a semi-regular reading of new works by Asian American playwrights. On Thursday, March 19, East West Players will present a reading of Giovanni Ortega’s Iyakan Blues (The Criers), a comedy about a group of women who work as professional criers—people who are paid to weep at funerals.

ewp-writers-gallery-logo

On the eve of this latest collaboration, JANM reached out to Snehal Desai, Artistic Associate/Literary Manager at East West Players, and Giovanni Ortega, playwright, to find out more about the series and about Ortega’s play.

JANM: JANM began hosting A Writer’s Gallery way back in 1996. It now occurs roughly semi-annually. Snehal, can you talk about the significance of the series, and how it came about?

Snehal Desai: Lately, the series has functioned as an incubator—a place for the development of works we are considering as part of our season at East West Players. It is immensely helpful for our playwrights to have workshop time to develop their plays and then have a public reading of it, followed by a talkback. We have found that these readings really bring the community and audiences into the process of premiering a new work. The Tateuchi Democracy Forum is a perfect space for this kind of reading and the conversation that follows afterwards.

JANM: How do you go about selecting the writers who get featured?

SD: The writers and the works get selected in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are tied to exhibitions that are being presented at JANM, or they are inspired by dialogues currently happening in the community. Other times, a writer with whom we have a relationship will bring us a play that they are developing and want to read publicly.

Giovanni Ortega. Image courtesy of the artist.
Giovanni Ortega.
Image courtesy of the artist.

JANM: Giovanni, is professional crying really a thing?

Giovanni Ortega: Professional crying is actually a real thing in different countries. It is still done in Chinese, Sardinian, Irish, and Middle Eastern societies, just to name a few. Mourners from Chongqing, China, and Taiwan were recently on the news. The 1993 Indian film Rudaali featured a character who cried at funerals, and going back further, there were professional mourners in Honoré de Balzac’s 1835 novel, Le Père Goriot. The basic concept behind crying at funerals is to allow the person who passed to have a good welcome on the other side. The extent of the wails and cries also shows the reverence and respect this person had while living.

JANM: What inspired you to write Iyakan Blues (The Criers)? Did you draw from personal experience?

GO: The initial inspiration for the play was the women in my family. I was raised by my two grandmothers, and then my mom after I moved to the U.S. [from the Philippines] when I was a teen. Growing up, I was always surrounded and influenced not only by my lolas (grandmas) but also their sisters and my aunts. They were all strong-willed women who had very distinct opinions about life.

Regardless of whatever adversity, burdens, and struggles they had to endure to survive, the underlying force was laughter to get through it all. I witnessed that this was their tool in survival, regardless of how difficult it got. One of my earliest memories was going to the wake of my Lolo [Grandpa] Tute, where tears and laughter went hand in hand. Having such experiences allowed me to realize that I can use the theme of death as a means to laugh, and writing this play was a great opportunity to do so.

There are also very few stories about the Filipino diaspora. There is so much more to our country than Imelda, beaches, karaoke, dancing, pancit [Filipino noodles], and poverty. Ours is a rich culture, not unlike the U.S. in its mixture of race, religion, and cultures. My own heritage being Chinoy (Filipino and Chinese) as well as Spanish and Native American is a testament to our variety. I wanted to share different perspectives that people have in regards to what being Filipino is.

Descanso Gardens’ Renowned Camellia Collection is Rooted in Japanese American History

Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens
A camellia in bloom at Descanso Gardens. Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens.

 

Through a special partnership agreement, all JANM members are invited to visit Descanso Gardens this Sunday, March 1, free of charge. Located 20 minutes north of downtown Los Angeles, Descanso Gardens is a 160-acre nature preserve known for its botanical collections and seasonal horticultural displays. This weekend will be an especially good time to visit as the Gardens will be hosting their annual Camellia and Tea Festival, during which patrons can enjoy the blooming camellias and participate in a variety of celebratory activities.

The camellia collection at Descanso Gardens is said to be the largest in the world; it boasts rare and familiar camellias and has been designated an International Camellia Garden of Excellence by the International Camellia Society. The collection is worth seeing for these reasons alone, however, its origins are also closely tied to Japanese American history, giving it an added significance for members and friends of JANM.

Descanso Gardens started out as Rancho del Descanso, the home and ranch of newspaper publisher E. Manchester Boddy. A horticultural enthusiast with a particular interest in plants of Asian origin, Boddy started a camellia collection in the 1930s with plants purchased from local nurseries, some of which were owned and operated by Japanese Americans.

F. M. Uyematsu, owner of Star Nursery. Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens.
F. M. Uyematsu, owner of Star Nursery. Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens.

When Japanese Americans faced mass incarceration following Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II, Boddy was sympathetic to their plight. He admired Japanese culture and had in fact written a book in 1921, Japanese in America, extolling the contributions of Japanese immigrants. Boddy decided to purchase the entire camellia inventory of the Star Nursery, owned by the Uyematsu family, prior to their removal to Manzanar. He also purchased the Mission Nursery business owned by the Yoshimura family in San Gabriel, continuing to operate it while the family was imprisoned at Gila River.

Unlike many opportunistic investors who offered to buy the nurseries at a fraction of their value, Boddy paid fair prices to the Uyematsus and the Yoshimuras, enabling both families to put their financial affairs in order before being incarcerated. The camellias from Star Nursery were planted in the shade of live oak trees on about 25 acres of Boddy’s property, where they continue to flourish today. After the war, Boddy closed down the Mission Nursery and moved all of its stock to his estate.

F. W. Yoshimura, son of the founder of Mission Nursery and then, after release from Gila River, founder of the San Gabriel Nursery in San Gabriel. Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens.
F. W. Yoshimura, son of the founder of Mission Nursery and then, after release from Gila River, founder of the San Gabriel Nursery in San Gabriel. Image courtesy of Descanso Gardens.

In 1953, Boddy sold his home and ranch to the County of Los Angeles. A volunteer-run support group called the Descanso Gardens Guild, formed in 1957, took over the management and development of the property, eventually turning it into the public institution it is today.

A more detailed version of this story is available on discovernikkei.org. You can also read a history of the Mission Nursery, which was reincarnated after the war as the San Gabriel Nursery and Florist, here.

If you are a JANM member, simply present your current membership card to receive FREE admission to Descanso Gardens this Sunday.