NEVER GIVE UP! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice
Well, it’s been an amazing two months since I last wrote to you. We’ve released Part One of Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice in order to contribute to discussions of civil rights that have become increasingly urgent as the new federal administration proposes and imposes new policies that threaten the fundamental democratic principles upon which our country was founded. Part One is a standalone piece that covers Min Yasui’s childhood and youth, the World War II experiences of the Japanese American community, plus a summary of Yasui’s postwar life and times which will be expanded in 2018.
In March, Will Doolittle, co-director and editor, and I burned the midnight oil working on laying in the music track and making final adjustments for our World Premiere, which took place on March 28, 2017 at the Historic Grand Theater in Salem, Oregon. That was the 2nd Annual Minoru Yasui Day in Oregon and the 75th anniversary of Yasui’s challenge of the first discriminatory military orders that led to the forced removal of all persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. On that day, a joint resolution was passed by the state legislature recognizing February 19 as the Day of Remembrance commemorating the signing of Executive Order 9066, which set into motion the Japanese American imprisonment. The mayor of the City of Portland also made a proclamation designating the first week of May as “Justice for All” Week.
I spoke at the presentation of “Justice for All” proclamation by the City of Portland on Minoru Yasui Day, March 28, 2017. Minoru Yasui exhibit courtesy of the Oregon Nikkei Endowment. Photo by Barbara Bellus.
Earlier in the day, Min Yasui’s great grandniece, Kendra Wilkins, opened the legislative session in Salem with a moving rendition of the song “Manzanar.” That day, the Joint Resolution 14, recognizing February 19 as a Day of Remembrance - the day in 1942 that President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, putting into motion the incarceration of Japanese Americans.
Kendra Wilkins with Governor Kate Brown at the World Premiere of Never Give Up! at the full house at the Historic Grand Theater in Salem. Photo by Maija Yasui.
At the World premiere of the film, we were honored by the presence of Governor Kate Brown, who shared a few words with the audience of about 250. In addition to the Governor, the Oregon Attorney General, Ellen Rosenblum and several judges and over 20 legislators attended the premiere of the film as well as a number of local and regional activists. Many many thanks to Carol Suzuki and Jim Azumano, the Salem committee that organized the premiere.
We also screened Never Give Up! at the Willamette View retirement community in Oak Grove and in Hood River, Oregon. Two screenings in Hood River, at the Columbia Center for the Arts and at the Hood River Middle School, coincided with an exhibit at the Hood River County Museum about the forced removal of Japanese Americans from that region and local residents who tried to help them. Many thanks to Lynn Orr of the Hood River Musuem, and to Barbara Bellus, who drove me from Portland to Salem (twice), and from Portland to Hood River, and my cousin Maija Yasui who loaned me her car for a Hood River-Portland jaunt.
Hood River Middle School assembly on April 3 – screening of Never Give Up! Photo by Barbara Bellus.
The film also screened in two locations in Colorado, Carbondale and Denver. The Denver premiere was part of a program sponsored by the Coalition for an Inclusive Colorado, an organization co-founded by Robin Yasui, to present the Sandpiper Award. This award was named after a quote by Minoru Yasui, regarding former Governor Ralph Carr, the only governor during World War II who welcomed Japanese Americans resettling in his state: “one voice like that of the sandpiper against the roar of the waves.” This year’s recipients were state Representative Joe Salazar and Muslim activist Nadeen Ibrahim.
On April 23, Never Give Up! was screened at our first film festival, the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival, in Eugene, Oregon. The screening was very well-attended – probably in part because of an article by Tess Novotny in the local paper, the Register Guard, about Min Yasui and the film. Thank you, Tess! That evening, our film was awarded the Jason Mak “Social Justice” Award.
Co-directors Holly Yasui and Will Doolittle at the question-and-answer session after the screening of Never Give Up! on April 23, 2017 at the DisOrient Film Festival in Eugene, Oregon.
Receiving the Jason Mak Award for Social Justice at the DisOrient Asian American film festival. From left to right: Pam Quan and Susan Hirata, organizers of the event; Holly Yasui, Will Doolittle, Jason Mak, founder of DisOrient, himself!
An important connection made at the DisOrient Film Festival was with Arun Toké, editor of a multicultural literary magazine for youth called Skipping Stones. Arun will be nominating Never Give Up! for an award at the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) convention, to be held in Salt Lake City on November 1-5. I am also in contact with the Salt Lake City JACL and the University of Utah regarding a community screening of Never Give Up! during that weekend.
Other screenings in the works include a screening at Jane Goodall Environmental Middle School in Salem on June 1 (with Carol Suzuki); the Los Angeles premiere gala, with George and Brad Takei, at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) on July 29; with a small preview in the San Diego area sponsored by the San Diego JACL. Jim Lin, who provided the footage of Min Yasui at the University of California-San Diego, will be attending. At the JANM screening, an exhibit documenting George Takei’s life will be on display.
Another exciting piece of news is that the Spirit Mountain Community Foundation has granted $35,000 for educational outreach of Part One of Never Give Up!, and for finishing the second part of film. In addition to the NAME convention in Salt Lake City, the film will be represented at a Leadership Symposium at the University of Nebraska on November 29.
I am working with Sarah Segal, Hood River Middle School teacher, and Cynthia Bayse, Education Specialist at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, to give teacher workshops using clips from the film this summer and fall. Sarah has developed a curriculum about Minoru Yasui; she and I are collaborating on the integration of specific clips related to the lesson plans that she has created. We are looking for venues for teacher workshops – please let us know if you are a Middle School teacher or know of any Middle School teachers who might want to help organize a teacher workshop.
In upcoming months, I will be submitting the film to other film festivals and seeking educational venues in which to show the film. I’ll also be working on a study guide as well as requesting that Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) become the educational and community distributor for Never Give Up! Minoru Yasui and the Fight for Justice.
THANK YOU for your interest in our film, and I hope you’ll be able to see it at one of the upcoming screenings, or help to organize a screening in your community.