“Before They Take Us Away,” which captures the lesser known stories of Japanese Americans who voluntarily removed themselves from the West Coast in the wake of Executive Order 9066, will be screened on Saturday, April 15, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Japanese American National Museum’s Tateuchi Democracy Forum, 100 N. Central Ave. (at First Street) in Little Tokyo.
The screening will include a post-film discussion with writer and director Antonia Grace Glenn, producer and historian Professor Evelyn Nakano Glenn, and “self-evacuee” Tak Yamashita.
“Before They Take Us Away” is an award-winning feature documentary that captures the previously untold stories of Japanese Americans whose families removed themselves from California during World War II. The option of “voluntary” relocation was available for only a very brief period from early February to late March 1942.
In early February, the U.S. Western Defense Command (WDC) indicated that it intended to remove all men, women and children of Japanese descent from a restricted zone consisting of all of California, western Oregon, western Washington and southern Arizona. In March, the newly established War Relocation Authority (WRA) urged those affected to move voluntarily rather than being subject to forced removal and incarceration in concentration camps.
However, the overwhelming majority of Japanese Americans lacked the resources or connections necessary to move anywhere outside the restricted zone. Compounding the situation, officials in many states outside the restricted zone quickly declared that Japanese Americans were not welcome.
Despite the daunting circumstances and the short window of time available, approximately 5,000 Japanese American men, women and children managed to leave the restricted zone on their own before voluntary relocation was halted by the WDC.
As this film shows, the experiences of “self-evacuees” varied greatly. Some fared well, while others encountered serious hardships including hunger, hostility, violence and forced religious conversion. All endured a hurried and difficult uprooting from their homes and communities, and were forced to fend for themselves without even the most rudimentary support from the U.S. government.
The self-evacuees experienced a unique kind of double-displacement, both from their homes and from the shared experience of the larger Japanese American community. Woven together, these personal stories powerfully capture a community in the midst of a forced migration, and the courage and tremendous hard labor it took to regain their footing.
“Before They Take Us Away” was conceptualized by renowned sociologist Evelyn Nakano Glenn, founding director of the Center for Race and Gender at UC Berkeley. She conducted video interviews with more than 30 surviving members of the self-evacuee community. The film is produced by Evelyn Nakano Glenn, Patrick Glenn, Antonia Grace Glenn and Tim Becherer; written and directed by Antonia Grace Glenn; edited by Becherer; and includes original music by Dave Iwataki, motion design by Leah Nichols and commentary by Pam Matsuoka, Michael Omi, and Ryan Takemiya.
The film features interviews with Ernie Ando, Carol Estes, Mitzi Funakoshi, Arthur Imagire, Toru Iura, Edward Iwamoto, Glenn Kameda, Don Kaneshige, Fred Kaneshige, Chiyo Kobayashi, Hideyo Minagi, Ben Minamide, Alyce Morita, Reiko Murayama, Gloria Nomura, Joan Nomura, Helen Okazaki, James Sataki, Grace Segawa, Masako Wada, Howard Yamamoto, Kimika Yamasaki, Tak Yamashita, Alice Yano, and Sally Yoshikawa. Also interviewed for the project were Mary Aochi, Momoyo Fujiu, Kimi Jinkawa, Ruby Kuritsubu, Paul Oyama, Miyo Shigemoto, and Hanna Yoshitomi.
Funding for this film was provided by a grant from the California State Library through the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program.
Tickets are $16 general, $9 for students and seniors, free for members, and include admission to the museum. To RSVP, go to: https://9644p.blackbaudhosting.com/9644p/tickets?tab=2&txobjid=2d8ee45d-1b92-47fd-b0e7-2ccc7f3cc0c4
Learn more about visiting the museum at: https://www.janm.org/visit
The film will also be shown by the Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture on Friday, April 28, at 3 p.m. at the Montgomery Ross Fisher Building, University Park Campus, USC. Info: https://dornsife.usc.edu/events/site/192/41279818243176/