Tag Archives: Historical Record

We are so pleased to announce that we have two new finding aids up on the Online Archive of California! Our Getty intern, Robin, deserves the credit for writing and encoding these finding aids.

The Willie Funakoshi Collection is a beautiful set of photos (that we’ve digitized) of the Nisei Week Queens and courts spanning three decades! Nisei Week is an annual festival held in Little Tokyo that was first organized by Nisei, or second-generation Japanese Americans, to celebrate their Japanese cultural heritage, and remains an active part of the Japanese American community. More detailed description, including interviewees and subjects covered, is on the finding aid. You can view a selection of these photographs on our Historypin channel.

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The Little Tokyo Redevelopment Collection is a valuable treasure trove of footage covering the redevelopment of the Little Tokyo neighborhood in Downtown Los Angeles. The Little Tokyo People’s Rights Organization (LTPRO) was founded in 1973 as a result of the Little Tokyo Project, which was adopted by the now-defunct Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles in order to redevelop the neighborhood. LTPRO challenged the ongoing evictions caused by the redevelopment efforts and assisted community businesses and long-time senior residents, who were in danger of displacement by transnational companies. It sought to maintain housing and sustainable living conditions for Japanese American working class people. 

The original format of the materials was 3/4″ U-matic tape, which we’ve all digitized. More detailed description, including interviewees, is available on the finding aid. Footage from this collection was used in Visual Communications’ film “Something’s Rotten in Little Tokyo.”  

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Check it out and share with any interested parties you know! As always, VC films are available for distribution. Researchers can view the footage and photos, along with any other materials from any of our other collections, in-house for no charge. Just make an appointment!

It’s that time of year again when VC hunkers down into the LA Asian Pacific Film Festival planning madness!  This year is special as it’s our 30th anniversary. That’s right, a whole thirty years of featuring films about and by Asian Americans! From shorts to documentaries and narrative features, we’ve screened to many audiences. For this year’s special anniversary, we’ve compiled a timeline and images from the past thirty years, featuring events, guests, and even our catalog covers.  Please check it out.

If you’re in town, please consider attending the festival!  The festival’s gala night opens with “To Be Takei,” a documentary about George Takei that features archival footage from VC’s Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians Hearings Collection, where Takei testified about his internment experiences during World War II.  We’re excited to share this film with our audiences, and hope to see you there!


George Takei at the Commission for Wartime Relocation Hearings in Los Angeles


MarieHi!  I’m Marie Barrera and I’ve been interning at VC for a month.  I’m an alumna of Loyola Marymount University (LMU) and the University of Edinburgh, where I majored in European Studies and Art History respectively.  I miss school so much (and have a clearer idea of what I want to do with my life) that I’m thinking of returning to get my MLIS (Library and Information Science).

My interest in archives developed from working in archives and special collections throughout my undergraduate years.  This is my first time dealing with audio materials — the majority of objects that I have handled are paper so yay, something different!  Currently, I am working on the cassette tape holdings:  I listen to them and take notes, or metadata, on their content.   Since many of the tapes aren’t labeled and there isn’t any other data about them, I never know what gem of information I’ll hear next.

As a Filipino-American, it is especially exciting to find tapes about Filipinos and Filipino-Americans.  One of my favorite finds so far is a seven-part radio drama about Filipino farmworkers in central California. The voice acting might be cheesy, but the subject matter is enlightening.  The series captures the struggles of Filipino immigrants during the Great Depression in California, including discrimination and poor working conditions.  It also demonstrates their determination and spirit through the establishment of a printing press and organization of a strike.  I remember learning about this time period in my middle and high school U.S. history classes but I don’t remember Asian Pacific immigrants being mentioned.  I wonder what else is left out of textbooks.  Processing this collection of cassette tapes has made me realize how clueless I am about the community I come from, as well as why archives such as VC’s are crucial to understanding the contributions and history of Asian Pacific Americans.

October is American Archives Month.  This post is one of a series of blog posts that Visual Communications will present of Asian Pacific Americans who have made their mark on their communities and history.

Watershed Moment in Japanese American Civil Rights History: Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, commonly called the Commission Hearings of 1981

By Kathy Nishimoto Masaoka, Educator and Activist

Kathy Masaoka

Back in 1981, VC and NCRR, then known as the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations, worked very closely together to record the events and activities of the campaign to win redress for Japanese Americans incarcerated in camps during World War II.  People like Duane Kubo and Steve Tatsukawa, two of the early staff of VC, had participated in the fight against redevelopment in Little Tokyo and helped to link the work of VC to what was happening in the community.  As active members of NCRR as well, they helped to gather VC volunteers to film all three days and one evening of the hearings conducted by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) in August of 1981.  And we are so glad that this watershed moment in our history has been preserved, only one of maybe three sets of hearings that were videotaped.

President Jimmy Carter set up the CWRIC with the task of reviewing the “facts and circumstances surrounding Executive Order 9066 and “the impact on American citizens and permanent resident aliens”, “review the directives of the United States military forces requiring the relocation” and “to recommend appropriate remedies.”  With that in mind, the Commission held hearings in ten locations, including Los Angeles.

Fortunately, LA had both the grassroots organizers and the film experts to mobilize people to testify and attend the hearings as well as to push for larger facilities and translation for the Japanese speaking Issei (first generation Japanese American).  Setting up the equipment and filming of the three days and one evening of testimonies was not as simple as it is today, but the videographers were able to capture the emotion and anger of the Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans) who spoke for the first time about a brother being shot in the back at Manzanar, losing a baby in childbirth and how stunned they felt at being treated as aliens and not as Americans.  The boos shouted at Senator S.I. Hayakawa who called the camps a “three year vacation” and the shouts of “get her out” directed at Lillian Baker who attempted to grab the testimony out of the hands of a 442 veteran are all recorded.


In the late 1990s, VC and NCRR realized that these tape recordings, now over ten years old, needed to be preserved and shared.  With a grant from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund (CLPEF), a committee of volunteers from NCRR under the guidance of John Esaki (then of VC), reviewed all 161 testimonies to summarize and index into a Viewer’s Companion.  The thirteen VHS tapes were packaged and made available to institutions which could now have the tapes in their libraries for individuals who could find testifiers or research specific topics more easily.

Fast forward another ten years and these VHS tapes now needed to be further preserved.  With another grant from the California Civil Liberty Public Education Program, the Japanese American Community Services and the Aratani Foundation, VC’s Jeff Liu worked to digitize the tapes, add subtitles for the Japanese testimonies and enhance each individual DVD with additional visuals and information so that each could stand alone.

Why are these important?  Recently, NCRR members used the testimonies from the hearings at a workshop moderated by Professor Lane Hirabayashi of UCLA at the Japanese American National Museum conference in Seattle.  We knew that many people had never seen the tapes and may not have even known about the hearings.  Some of us were lucky enough to be at the hearings and to even testify.  My mother had passed away a few months before the hearings and I had a newborn daughter, so the significance of this event hit me hard and I felt the need to share my mother’s experience.  Her father had been picked up by the FBI, leaving her mother with a family of ten kids to deal with the farm in Santa Maria and the eventual incarceration at Gila River, Arizona.

We thought this was a good way to share how the hearings allowed our community to speak out, many for the first time, about the injustice and how important that was to building a movement for redress in the 1980s.  What was really surprising and enlightening was the reaction of the audience.  Most were initially quiet until the very end after seeing and hearing the experiences of the Nisei and Issei on the screen.  When one woman spoke about how her husband, who was sitting next to her, never shared his experiences with his children, she opened a floodgate for others who wanted to talk about how these stories impacted them.  Two sisters, who grew up in the Midwest, became very emotional about their father who also never told them about the camps.  One young Sansei (third generation Japanese American) father expressed how his father’s pain during the incarceration had been passed on to him and he did not want to pass that onto his son.  He felt that hearing and feeling that history would help him understand his own parents and himself.  We realized that these testimonies continue to have relevance for many people who were not part of the redress campaign or the camps.

Where are we at now?  As educators and former teachers, we still conduct workshops on a film called Stand Up for Justice about Ralph Lazo, and realize that testimonies are valuable resource for teachers and students.  Sadly, there are not many of the older Nisei who can speak to classes directly anymore and these DVD are a good way to bring those first hand stories and voices into the classroom.  We are seeking funds to make the DVDs more useable by adding a menu so that viewers can more easily find specific testimonies. For teachers, we have a short DVD with a variety of the testimonies along with plans to compile testimonies along certain topics that can be posted on our web site. Along with VC, we are working with Densho with plans to have about twenty selected testimonies on their site which anyone can access. Anyone can currently view or request any of the testimonies at VC. Our main hope is to make the DVDs available and accessible to the public and to educators.

For more information on the CWRIC Collection, please view our finding aid on the Online Archive of California.

Tell us how you made your mark!

How have you raised your voice to be heard?  Email us with your thoughts and photo (if you wish) at We’ll post it on the VC Facebook page.

Congratulations to our friends at Densho and the Asian/Pacific/American Institute for winning two prestigious awards from the Society of American Archivists!  The extensive work these two organizations have done to diversify the historical record are invaluable.  The announcement is below.

Philip M. Hamer and Elizabeth Hamer Kegan Award: Densho

“Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project,” led by Executive Director Tom Ikeda, is the recipient of the Philip M. Hamer–Elizabeth Hamer Kegan Award. The award recognizes individuals or institutions that have increased public awareness of archives documents.

The Award Committee noted that Densho’s mission, to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II, is realized in “rich and wonderful detail” on the Densho website. In addition to more than fourteen hundred hours of video testimonies, Densho created a digital archive of more than ten thousand historical images documenting Japanese American history. Further, the project includes multidisciplinary lesson plans that are made available for elementary through undergraduate students, as well as workshops that educate teachers in the use of these primary resources.

The committee expressed high regard for the “invaluable firsthand accounts of the Japanese American experience [that] document a dark period in our nation’s history that deserves to receive the thorough, compelling examination that Densho provides.”

The Hamer-Kegan Award was established in 1973 and is named for two SAA Fellows and former presidents.

Diversity Award: Asian/Pacific/American Institute

The Asian/Pacific/American (A/P/A) Institute at New York University (NYU) is a 2013 recipient of the Diversity Award for their work in building archives documenting Asian/Pacific American (A/PA) histories in New York and on the East Coast. The award recognizes an individual, group, or institution for outstanding contributions in advancing diversity within the archives profession, SAA, or the archival record.

The A/P/A Institute offers graduate fellowships, public programming, exhibitions, and publications that promote the long-term development of diversity within the archives and the archives profession. The Institute also completes archives-building initiatives that center on conducting archival surveys of A/PA-related collections. Through the surveys, which bring graduate scholars into contact with community-based organizations and individuals, the Institute has been able to map and create a record of the documentation available on East Coast A/PA history, share information about A/PA-related collections on its project website, and facilitate the donation of A/PA collections to archival repositories. Visit to view the results of the surveys.

One recommender noted that A/P/A “has truly transformed activists into archivists and archivists into activists. It views the archive not as an isolated space ensconced in an academic institution, but rather as a living site of memory that must contribute to the community.”

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