JACL Redress Video Collection is now digitized

We’re happy, excited, and relieved–!! to announce that we’ve nearly finished a project that’s consumed a lot of our time this summer.  Over the past two months, we digitized the Japanese American Citizens’ League (JACL) Redress Video Collection.  This collection consists of over 60 ¾” U-matic tapes of oral histories and testimonies from activists, politicians, and community members involved in the Redress and reparations process leading up to the passage of The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 (HR 442, was aptly named after the WWII’s Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in American history).

U-matic tapes are particularly in danger of deterioration, and preserving the material in these tapes is a significant priority of ours.  Before digitizing, we cleaned each tape several times (as well as the tape deck) to ensure that we would digitize the best possible picture quality.  Digitizing requires “watching” the tapes in real time, which can be a tedious process, especially with the number of tapes in the collection. During digitization, we check the quality of the video, color, sound, and make notes of the content itself– descriptive metadata– the who, where, when, and why of the videos.

The work doesn’t end after the digitization process is completed.  We created access DVD copies so that the originals don’t incur damage after repeated viewing by patrons; the newly digitized “originals” are kept in two separate locations.  And don’t forget the cataloging of all the new materials.

In this particular excerpt from the collection below, Senator Daniel Inouye recalls the tensions between the mainland Japanese American and Hawai’ian Japanese American soldiers and how it changed and affected the redress movement later on.  It’s lengthy, but worth very much worth the read (some parts have been cut for space).

The Hawai’i people kept to themselves, and the mainland people kept to themselves…An invitation was received from Rohwer, Arkansas, the internment camp there. Strangely, those invited were all from Hawai’i, so I can’t help but believe that this was part of a plan. Each company sent about ten young non-commissioned officers, or junior leaders of the Regiment…

For us, it was a big deal.  We had no idea where Rohwer was or we didn’t know what a camp looked like because none of the kotonks [a term used by Japanese Americans in Hawai’i to refer to Japanese Americans on the mainland] would talk to us about these camps…we had no idea what was happening down there. Then on that important date early in the morning, we gathered, many of us with our ukuleles and guitars, thinking of the lovely evening with some lovely kotonk gal, and I can hear the music in our truck and the other trucks as we moved along from Mississippi to Arkansas then after a while, we came into sight of that camp.  What we saw was something that none of us had anticipated.

We thought it was some housing project of sorts that we would see.  But no, this was a camp with barracks and fences and watch towers and armed guards in uniform, men with rifles and bayonets, and here we were in uniform of the United States Army, to prepare ourselves for combat to defend this country… and we were ordered to get off the trucks and they were about to search us. But the officer in charge stepped forward and said, I will vouch for these people. None of us had arms, and we all went in.

From that encounter, everything became very sober and somber. I recalled that evening there was a very sumptuous dinner but then we found out that this represented a week’s ration for this camp.  We literally had to force ourselves to eat because we had already lost our appetite, but the least we do was to show appreciation. Then we were told that certain barracks had been set aside for us to spend the evening, and that meant the families has to spend their nights in the community hall or the mess hall. We said no to that, and we spent our time in the mess hall and I slept in the truck, if I recall.  We left the next day and the return was a bit different. There was no singing in our truck, and I’m sure it was the same elsewhere.

I’m certain the question that I asked myself must have been asked a hundred times among others in that little journey, “Would I have volunteered from that camp, under those circumstances?” And to this day it is very difficult to honestly tell you what I would have done. Now this was what impressed many of my fellow senators– that here were these people, herded off into the camps, in a few days notice to carry only those items that they could carry on their backs…[Those senators] would stop and say, “You mean they would really volunteer, they weren’t drafted?” They volunteered! “What did their parents do?” They urged their sons to volunteer. “Oh come on, you’re kidding me!”

…Therefore, Rohwer, Arkansas, a relatively small camp out in the boondocks, played a major role in this redress.  Because if we did not have an opportunity to visit Rohwer and see for ourselves, I think the regiment would not have been formed. Because within hours of our return to Camp Shelby in Mississippi, the word went out like brushfire throughout the camp.

When I got back to my squad, I…[told] them, ‘you won’t believe what I’m gonna tell you’…they were all fascinated, and from then we began to looking at the kotonks a little differently.  We began to admire them.  My god, these guys are super men. They did something that maybe none of us would have done. The bond was forged; the regiment was formed. We’re closer than brothers, and I think that played a crucial role in the redress movement…

Senator Inouye’s interview, like others in the JACL Redress Collection, are very moving.  We’re excited to make these materials accessible to people for research, study, and personal growth.  People did amazing things and have amazing stories to tell, and others need to know about them!

Check out the finding aid here.


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