Nevada City filmmaker produces series on incarceration of Japanese during World War II
“We the People..,” a seven-part documentary series about the incarceration of the Japanese during World War II is now available online, free at https://wethepeopleseries.com.
Nevada City award-winning filmmaker Catherine Busch has recently completed “We the People …,” an educational documentary series about the incarceration of the Japanese during World War II and its relevance today.
Seven years in the making, the filmmaker says this project is by far her best and most powerful work.
Clearly a labor of love, Busch says the seven part series was designed as “thought- provoking educational material for classroom and small group discussion — for the purpose of inspiring people to become informed and politically involved in decision-making that effects our communities, and our country; for the opportunity for discussion between Americans with differing views.”
Sponsored by the California Museum, the series and accompanying photos are a part of the Sacramento museum’s “Time of Remembrance” student field trip presentation and tour. A recipient of a California Civil Liberties Grant, the recently-released project has already received national recognition, including Videographer Awards’ “award of distinction” for writing, a Hermes Gold Creative Award for creativity and a dotCOMM Award for web design.
LABOR OF LOVE
Busch took on this massive project alone, including operating the camera, conducting interviews, accessing archival footage and photos, researching, editing and selecting music. But it’s all been worth it, she said, especially given the current fear-driven, divisive political landscape that hasn’t reared its head so powerfully since World War II. Determined to see the project through to its completion, she never stopped seeking grants and donations until the final cut.
Among Busch’s biggest champions throughout the arduous filmmaking process was Scott Lay, Nevada County Superintendent of Schools.
This fall, not only is Lay distributing the teachers’ guide for “We the People” to all principals in the county, he’s also spreading the word to other superintendents and colleagues in the greater foothills region. But the series’ reach goes far beyond the foothills — in the short time since its release it has already been confirmed for use in Catholic schools throughout San Jose, Sacramento and Fresno.
“When Catherine came to me with the idea, I wanted to help in any way I could,” said Lay. “As a former history teacher, learning about Japanese internment is critical. We need to learn from the past so we don’t make mistakes like this in the future. I love the way the series is broken up into 15-minute snippets with discussion guides for each segment. I was thrilled when I heard the series was ready for release. Catherine is an amazing woman.”
Part 1, “Uprooted,” documents the shocking upheaval of families who were forced to evacuate the West Coast, leaving their jobs, schools and businesses, regardless of citizenship. Due to President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, these families were scattered among 10 guarded “internment” camps located in Idaho, inland California, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas.
Part 2, “Incarceration Camps” tells the story of life inside the camps, including powerful first-hand accounts of abhorrent and cramped conditions, such as the Santa Anita Racetrack, where more than 8,500 Japanese Americans lived in converted horse stalls.
Part 3, “Go For Broke,” is the motto of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an Army unit made up of Japanese Americans from the mainland U.S. and Hawaii. As Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) and American-born sons of Japanese immigrants, these soldiers were said to be fighting two wars — the war against the Germans in Europe and the war against racial prejudice at home.
Part 4, “The Return Home,” chronicles the anxiety, fear and uncertainty faced by Japanese-American families who feared they would be treated as enemies once they left the camps. Many faced economic devastation due to losing their businesses or farms. An estimated 85 percent of families originally from the Sacramento region did not return to their homes.
Part 5, “People Who Helped,” tells the stories of individuals, organizations and congregations that helped the incarcerated, including neighbors who operated businesses until the owners were released, Quakers who helped Japanese-American college students finish their education and a couple who relocated 1,000 people out of the camps.
Part 6, “Racism and Redress,” is based on the report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a federal commission established in 1980 to review facts surrounding Executive Order 9066 and its impact on American citizens. Its conclusions, submitted in 1983, were deemed, “Personal Justice Denied,” a unanimous report that became the basis for the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted wartime survivors a public apology, individual reparations of $20,000 and a public education fund.
Part 7, the final chapter, is probably the segment dearest to Busch’s heart, as it examines a topic which she says has key relevance in today’s searing political climate. “Could This Happen Again?” encourages national dialogue on this unmistakably dark chapter in U.S. history and asks authors, lawmakers, academics and everyday citizens whether we have truly learned from a profound and blatant misinterpretation and/or disregard of the U.S. Constitution.
“This has been a true labor of love for Catherine — she was so dedicated to this project,” said Amanda Meeker, executive director of the California Museum. “Sadly, some of the subjects who were interviewed have passed away, but their experiences will live on and teach others. It’s been over 75 years since this happened, but these first-person accounts are so relevant to what’s going on today. Catherine has done a beautiful job of making those connections. We hope teachers will use this series — it’s a lesson that everyone of us can make a difference. It’s wonderful to see this series finished after all these years.”
The U.S. government’s incarceration of Japanese American families from 1942 to 1945 is a deeply disturbing wound that lingers in the psyche of many Americans of the west.
But Busch, who grew up in Pennsylvania, was 40 years old when she first learned that an estimated 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry — most of whom lived near the Pacific coast — were forced into relocation camps in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“I laughed when I first heard about it — because I didn’t believe it,” said Busch. “Then I was horrified when I realized that many people back east didn’t even know about this important chapter in our history. It wasn’t taught in our schools then.”
That moment of realization was decades ago, but it was a turning point for Busch, who vowed to someday increase awareness about the shocking, racially-motivated incarceration of innocent American citizens. With ignorance of the past, she thought, comes the risk of repeating dangerous missteps in the future.
“I produced this in part because I wanted people of differing views to be able to talk about what happened to the Japanese and what’s happening now,” said Busch. “There do seem to be similar situations emerging along our southern borders. There are whiffs of this in the air.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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