New graphic novel highlights resistance to Japanese internment

The internment of the Japanese remains a stain on the history of America.

But the image most Americans have is that these United States citizens went willingly.

But a new graphic novel, much of it set right here in Seattle, is shattering that myth.

One of the authors tells us about “We Hereby Refuse” on Western Washington Gets Real.

“I mean, King Street station is really my emotional anchor in the city of Seattle,” says Frank Abe.

Seattle is the canvas on which the life of Abe’s family in America sprang.

The radio journalist turned his professional pen to telling the stories that have helped shape that life, beginning with his father’s immigration from Japan to the U.S. in 1937 by way of Seattle.

“He was detained at the Immigration detention station down Airport Way for three weeks,” said Abe. “An interpreter took pity on him and helped him be released. And put him on a train here at King Street station for his future home in California.”

The same King Street Station where, five short years later, after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, American citizens were put on trains, bound for internment camps. And by all appearances, they went willingly.

“Japanese Americans complied with their forced removal without protest,” said Abe, “but once incarcerated in these camps, many did protest and some resisted.”

It is that story of resistance that Abe and three others, including two artists, are telling in this new graphic novel, “We Hereby Refuse, Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration.”

It is a story that has rarely been told.

“This graphic novel covers the story of three people who, in their own way, refused government orders, edicts to comply,” said Abe. “For this, they were sanctioned, punished by the government with prison, or segregation to a maximum-security camp at Tule Lake.

They also met with scorn and the ostracism of our own community which wanted to prove, again, their loyalty with a united front to the public.”

If this is a story about resistance, it is also a story about the activism of the young. Thousands of Japanese Americans were willing to defy their government, community leaders, and even their parents to resist an act they believed was both immoral and illegal.

“Jim Akutsu of Seattle with his brother Gene who refused the draft at the camp at Minidoka,” said Abe.

Akutsu was just 22 years old.

“Hiroshi Kashiwagi of Sacramento,” said Abe. “He resisted the government pressure to sign the loyalty oath at Tule Lake.”

Kashiwagi was 19 years old.

“And Mitsuye Endo of Sacramento who was a reluctant recruit to a lawsuit that contested our imprisonment,” Abe said.

Endo was then only 21 years old.

Their stories, says Abe, still resonate today.

“Our book opens with the FBI knocking on the door of Jim Akutsu’s father to arrest him for simply being a Japanese American community leader,” says Abe. “Our book ends with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) breaking down the door to arrest immigrants who are undocumented today.”

A through-line in this book of resistance that still resounds.

The book, produced by the Wing Luke Museum and published by Chin Music Press, has already sold 3,000 copies.

It has gone into a second and third printing.

Additional copies should be in stores later this month.