Friday, December 2, 2011

Historian Art Hansen on Orange County Nikkei Experience in WWII

Art Hansen right before his talk. Photograph © Daniel C. Tsang 2011.

KUCI Subversity Online Audio link: 19 October 2011 Talk. Permission kindly granted by Prof. Hansen to post the audio online.

A LOOK BACK on 2011: Orange County's top historian on Japanese Americans gave a vivid and fascinating talk on a segment of OC history that many do not know or may have forgotten if they knew it.

At the Nikkei Heritage Museum on 19 October 2011, Cal State Fullerton Historian Art Hansen focused on the life of OC-born Kazuo Masuda and the conditions faced by Japanese Americans in Orange County at the time. Masuda went from what became Fountain Valley to concentration camp (NOT "internment" camp as the US Government euphemistically called it) to fight for the US in the famed 442nd regimental combat team made up of Japanese Americans. After he was killed in battle in Italy, his body was initially refused burial in Westminster Memorial Cemetery because of his ethnicity, although the cemetery later relented after the Japanese American Citizens League and others raised a ruckus. It was Lt. Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell who flew to Orange County to bestow the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945 on his sister.

At an OC rally after the ceremony, Hollywood celebrities joined a multi-ethnic crowd. Among the guest speakers was a Capt. (Ret.) Ronald Reagan who declared, after turning to the Masuda family to thank them for Kazuo as a "true American": "Blood that has soaked into the sands of a beach is all one color."

Decades later the Masuda family reminded Reagan (by then president) of this 1945 speech when he seemed initially unwilling to sign the redress bill that compensated who survived the incarceration. Masuda's sister, June Masuda Goto, wrote to Reagan and convinced him to support the bill. Reagan invited her to Washington and she was present when the president signed it in 1988. In 1975 an school in Fountain Valley had also been named Kazuo Masuda Elementary School.

Art Hansen illustrated Kazuo Masuda's life with slides depicting the various events in the Japanese American's life. The story of this Nissei war hero from OC is also told in a book available at the event, From the Battlefields to the Home Front: The Kazuo Masuda Legacy by Russell K. Shoho and published by the Nikkei Writers Guild, a division of Japanese American Living Legacy, a non-profit.

Participants also heard from Irvine artist Chizuko Judy Sugita DeQueiroz, whose book, Camp Days, 1942-1945, documented, in text and artwork, her years of incarceration. She presented excerpts from a new documentary DVD about her life. Her artwork is currently on display at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose until December 31, 2011.

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