July 1, 2010

Japanese-Americans share internment camp stories through comedy, music

Posted in Civil Liberties Symposium, Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , , at 3:07 pm by rkozu

http://magicvalley.com/news/local/article_8bb181b4-2456-5308-b096-70a6b84c8558.html

Japanese-Americans share internment camp stories through comedy, music

By Ben Botkin – Times-News writer | Posted: Saturday, June 26, 2010 1:25 am

In good times, they danced.

And when good times became bad times, they still danced, with their feet tapping floors and their eyes turned away from the barbed wire and armed guards.

That was part of reality for the Japanese-Americans residing in internment camps in the United States during World War II. It was brought back to life on Friday for the Civil Liberties & the Arts Symposium V at Canyon Crest Dining and Event Center in Twin Falls. The two-day symposium, organized by Minidoka National Historic Site, Friends of Minidoka and the College of Southern Idaho, focused on the arts and civil liberty issues stemming from the internment camps.

With comedy, dance and songs from that generation, the Los Angeles-based Grateful Crane Ensemble held the attention of about 350 people with its show, “The Camp Dance: The Music and The Memories.”

The 45-minute show had a bittersweet mood of happy high school dances that also reminded the audience of the difficulties of life in internment camps. Piano and drums brought back the music of World War II, and actors played out dance scenes based on camp life and drawn from interviews with those who lived in the camps.

They were decidedly all-American stories — like the one about the smart high school girl who doesn’t get noticed by the boy she likes, as he falls for the pretty, popular girl instead.

The story ended on a good note, though. Haruye Ioka, who played the smart, overlooked girl added a postscript to the story. Fifty years later, the smart girl saw her former competitor at a reunion and thought: “She’s no longer pretty, but I’m still smart.”

The audience laughed. The ensemble was joined by Mary Kageyama Nomura, a singer who lived in an internment camp in California as a teenager and is called the “Songbird of Manzanar.”

Difficult times were not sugar-coated. In one bit, the actors mentioned that the families lived in horse stalls that reeked of manure and had barracks with a hanging light bulb, pot-bellied stove, and metal cots with mattresses that internees had to stuff with straw.

After the show, the group took questions from the audience. Darrell Kunitomi said that it’s a reminder that in the worst of times, the best things are still needed — including the rights of all.

“We have to be the best that we can be and that is why it means so much,” he said.

Ben Botkin may be reached at bbotkin@magicvalley.com or 735-3238.

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