“And Then They Came For Us” connects Japanese American incarceration to hate crime.
The Silver Gavel Award-winning documentary, "And Then They Came For Us," is a collection of personal interviews from former concentration camp children. First-hand witnesses combined with vivid historical data and photography brings 1942 closer to today. The touching testimonies of those recalling such an experience through the eyes of a once innocent childhood.
Peabody Award-winning director Abby Ginzberg is known for her socio-political and justice focused documentaries and creates a story; a reflection of the past, to make the audience think about modern issues. Ginzberg connects the stories of the Japanese internment to the modern-day prejudice of the Muslim travel ban, while at the same time promoting a message against any discrimination.
Long before World War II, Asian communities suffered from racially-motivated fear. The war increased concerns about their loyalty and wether or not Japanese could be acting as spies. Posters and propaganda by the government demonized the Japanese American community. “A JAP is a JAP” said General John Dewitt, reflecting the belief that Asians posed a threat to western civilization and Christianity.
The documentary features Los Angeles-born George Takei, who spent a portion of his childhood behind barbed wire at Camp Rohwer, Arkansas and Lake Tule, California. He recalls his memories from internment with confusion. As a child, he was first banned from going into certain blocks. There was frustration in his household as the government froze his family’s bank accounts. Next thing he knew, street posters said how many days the Takeis and others had left to pack a few belongings and be removed from their homes without compensation.
In another interview, psychotherapist Satsuka Ina, born in 1944 in the Tule Lake concentration camp while her parents were incarcerated, talks about her experience. Records claim her father sold his car for $5 dollars before being sent to camp, and the house pets were left behind for adoption. Her family had to move into a small horse stall in the middle of the desert. Her father would eventually speak up about his constitutional right to be free, resulted in punishment as he was sent away from his family.
Early childhood memories are what inspired Ina to become a trauma psychotherapist. Seeing people trying to keep decently normal lives despite the circumstances motivated her to help others. Photographs of the time show prisoners dressed in their nicest outfits, clinging to their dignity. Hobbies such as painting became a powerful mechanism for interned individuals to cope. Artist Hisako Hibi is an example honorably mentioned due to his art collection depicting the camps, interned citizens were not allowed to take cameras into the camps.
“And Then They Came For Us” is more than just a retelling of our history, it exists to ensure that the horrors of the past will not be repeated. Immigration, hate crime and separation of families are heated topics in today’s news. "The difference with the Japanese camps is that families were able to remain together, in our borders, they are separated," said Martinez.
The documentary really struck a chord at the Latino Center. It was one of the reasons why they were involved in co-sponsoring the event. "I really wanted our campus to see what the Japanese were going through so students know what families who are separated at borders are experiencing," explained Martinez. Although the documentary is about the Japanese-American Internment, it also promotes proactive behavior in college campuses across the country.
The one day screening at SMC was sponsored by SMC Associates, Black Collegians, Adelante Program, the English Department and Film Studies Program. The event also acted as a call to political action to those who attended. “Make sure you go out and vote, sign petitions, protest and speak to your representatives” said Adelante program leader at the Latino center, Maria Martinez.