'Tales Of Clamor' Tells The Emotional Reckoning Of Japanese-Americans After WWII A new play in Los Angeles explores what happened after Japanese-Americans were let out of World War II internment camps: their struggle to acknowledge what happened to them and eventually speak out.

'Tales Of Clamor' Tells The Emotional Reckoning Of Japanese-Americans After WWII

'Tales Of Clamor' Tells The Emotional Reckoning Of Japanese-Americans After WWII

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A new play in Los Angeles explores what happened after Japanese-Americans were let out of World War II internment camps: their struggle to acknowledge what happened to them and eventually speak out.


It's a well-documented stain on the nation's history - during World War II, the U.S. government sent more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps across the American West based solely on their race. Not as well known is how difficult it was for many of them to come to terms with what happened to them and to eventually speak out and demand justice. That part of the story is now getting more attention among young Japanese-Americans. NPR's Adrian Florido reports on a new play that was recently staged in LA's Little Tokyo.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Traci Kato-Kiriyama always tried to get her mother to talk about how she felt about having been interned during the Second World War.

TRACI KATO-KIRIYAMA: And she always thought that, oh, I was a toddler. I didn't know what was going on. It's not really my story.

FLORIDO: And then, a couple of years ago, her mother, already in her late 70s, had a realization.

KATO-KIRIYAMA: She told me that she very recently realized that she's angry. And she's been kind of an angry person for a long time and without realizing it was because of that.

FLORIDO: After years of silence, her mother opened up, telling Kato Kiriyama about how it had taken her father years and years after the war to accept he was angry about what the government had done to them.

KATO-KIRIYAMA: And then, in listening to her tell these stories about my grandfather, I felt so angry (laughter). And I felt really heartbroken because of what he felt years and years after it was over.

FLORIDO: Kato-Kiriyama is a playwright, so she wrote a play about this emotional reckoning about how Japanese-Americans who felt hated and unwelcomed after the war stayed quiet after their internment, and how their children, less concerned than their parents about being seen as dutiful Americans, convinced them to speak out about it. The play "Tales Of Clamor" was onstage in LA's Little Tokyo earlier this month.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) All this time you told me I was born in a summer camp.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I never said summer. Now please, just stop asking, OK?

FLORIDO: In one scene, set in the '60s, a UCLA student has just read in a textbook that Japanese families had been locked up during World War II and starts asking his parents questions.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Mom, was I born in Manzanar?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) It was a long time ago. Why does it matter?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Because people need to know this, and they're going to learn about it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What, so they can say we're troublemakers again, hate us all over again?

MITCH MAKI: The pain, the shame and the wanting to forget for many of these families was so great that they didn't talk about it with their own children.

FLORIDO: Mitch Maki wrote a book about the moment when many Japanese-Americans really started to confront their past.

MAKI: We needed to come to a point as a community where we could openly talk about what happened between the generations.

FLORIDO: In 1980, activists convinced Congress to appoint a commission to investigate how internment had affected Japanese-American families. But young activists struggled to convince their elders to testify before the commission. Jim Matsuoka was a founding member of one of several grassroots groups that pressured the government to apologize and pay reparations. Matsuoka's job was to convince formerly interned people to testify. He put ads in Japanese-American newspapers, made flyers.

JIM MATSUOKA: It was very difficult. We didn't have anybody for a while.

FLORIDO: But as the scheduled hearings approached, Matsuoka's phone started to ring. One woman whose brother had been shot in the back by soldiers during a riot at the Manzanar internment camp called and told him the story.

MATSUOKA: She said, we kept the bloody T-shirt with a bullet hole in the back for years, but finally we buried it last year.

FLORIDO: It took a lot of convincing, but the woman finally agreed to testify. That moment is also depicted in Traci Kato-Kiriyama's play.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) We talked for three hours. I let her tell her whole story. Sometimes that's what it takes.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) As soon as I get off the phone, my kids are urging me to show up.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Please testify.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Tell the world what happened.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) People need to know what happened to you, your brother, our family.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) It's so hard to imagine saying all of this out loud and in public.

FLORIDO: Kato-Kiriyama says it was important to show how certain tenets of Japanese culture encouraged silence, but also how young Japanese-Americans influenced by the protest culture of the '60s and '70s convinced their parents to speak out. Eventually, their stories helped convince Congress to pass and President Reagan to sign a reparations bill, but getting there was hard.

KATO-KIRIYAMA: If we forget that our people, like, went through all of this turmoil to speak out in public for the first time collectively after 40 years of not doing so, if we forget all that, I can see why easy to just think, oh, we're fine.

FLORIDO: Kato-Kiriyama says she wrote her play thinking about other communities that she feels are under attack right now - immigrants, Muslims. Kiriyama is preparing the play to tour Japanese-American communities across the U.S. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Los Angeles.

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