Four Reflections on Lane Hirabayashi

I met Lane back in 1989, when I was a young graduate student at UCLA, working with NCRR (at the time, the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations; now Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress) and researching the Redress Movement. At the time, Lane was a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. As we talked, he immediately took an interest in my research since he had worked with NCRR in the early 1980s when he was at UCLA on a post-doctorate fellowship with the Asian American Studies Center. He told me how much he enjoyed working with NCRR and how it influenced his academic research.

As the years passed, I ran into Lane at social and academic gatherings and always felt a kinship with him. I had become close friends with his father, Jim Hirabayashi, through my work with the Japanese American National Museum. Jim always encouraged me to publish my research on the Redress Movement and Lane picked up the mantle afterward. He championed my research and eventually worked with the NCRR editorial team to feature my M.A. thesis in their book, NCRR: The Grassroots Struggle for Japanese American Redress and Reparations. I will always be personally and professionally indebted to Lane because he, along with Professor Art Hansen, were probably the only two people with the academic and community-based credentials to pull this project off with NCRR. Lane represented the best of us in merging academia and community because to him, they were intertwined. Lane left us way too soon, but he more than lived up to the academic and activist Hirabayashi legacy left by his father, Jim, and his Uncle Gordon.

Manzanar Committee member Glen Kitayama is an elementary school teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. A former member of NCRR, his Masters of Arts thesis at UCLA provided much of the foundation for NCRR’s book, NCRR: The Grassroots Struggle for Japanese American Redress and Reparations. He writes from South Pasadena, California.

Over the past forty years, Lane has been one of the most prolific and significant scholars of the Japanese American incarceration experience, as well as someone who has engaged with community-based organizations to make that experience better known. His work on the incarceration falls into several different areas. One major thread has been his exploration of the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study (JERS), a multi-disciplinary research project based at the University of California, Berkeley that placed dozens of fieldworkers in the concentration camps in an attempt to study the events as they took place…

Another thread of his research focused on government photography of the incarceration and on “resettlement” era, the story of those Japanese Americans who left the concentration camps for areas outside of the West Coast restricted area. His 2009 collaboration with Kenichiro Shimada titled, Japanese American Resettlement Through the Lens: Hikaru Carl Iwasaki and the WRA’s Photographic Section, 1943–1945 (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2009), a collection of Nisei WRA photographer Iwasaki’s cheerful images of Japanese American resettlers and an assessment of what such photographs attempted to do at the time and how they might still be useful today. He contributed biographies of Iwasaki and other (white) WRA photographers to the Densho Encyclopedia, that will help future users of these widely available images properly contextualize them…

Other threads included one on activism and the redress movement, a topic he wrote about throughout his career, but that culminated in the publication of NCRR: The Grassroots Struggle for Japanese American Redress and Reparations (Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press 2018), which he co-edited with leaders of Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress.

He explored the family legacy in various articles as well as in a volume on Gordon that he co-edited with Jim, A Principled Stand: The Story of Gordon Hirabayashi v. United States (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2013). It was one of several collaborations between Jim and Lane, something that they both cherished and that I always envied.

He also wrote a number of pieces on education (including one on education in the concentration camps) and teaching Asian American Studies, some of which focus on teaching specifically about the incarceration. One of my favorite articles that he wrote focuses on the use of Wakako Yamauchi‘s short story “The Sensei” to teach about the incarceration and its aftermath. This insightful essay also introduced me to Wakako’s classic story, which has become a favorite. He was also a strong proponent of using film and video in teaching, and in that capacity, led an effort to preserve and restore Toshi Washizu’s 1983 documentary titled Issei: The First Generation, one of few visual records of the Issei. In another essay, he also introduced me to what has become one of my favorite videos on the incarceration, Michael Toshiyuki Uno’s 1979 documentary, Emi.

If there is a common thread in his work, it is one of advancing the study and teaching of Asian American Studies and of the wartime incarceration and its aftermath in particular. A lot of his writing, for instance, is about how to use various types of resources to advance research and teaching. A lot of his work is also collaborative. This also comes into play in his general editorship of the “George and Sakaye Aratani Nikkei in the Americas” book series at the University of Colorado Press that has produced a wide variety of works in various disciplines and has greatly added to our knowledge on the Nikkei experience. I think this emphasis that so strongly encourages the work of others is evidence of a generosity of spirit that I was one of many to benefit from.

Manzanar Committee member Brian Niiya is Densho’s Content Director. His comments were excerpted from his piece on the Densho blog, In Memoriam: A Tribute to Lane Ryo Hirabayashi.

He [Lane] was in the forefront of scholars calling for the use of more precise terminology regarding the forced uprooting and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and for avoiding government euphemisms such as “evacuation” and “relocation.” He also argued that, “comparative research relating this history to the internment of Middle Eastern and Muslim detainees, and the incarceration of militant activists of color and prisoners of conscience, is imperative.”

Throughout his career, Lane contributed enormously to Japanese American history, Japanese American studies, and Asian American studies. He authored or edited nine books and more than thirty academic articles…In 2013, he brought intimate perspective to one of the key cases in U.S. Constitutional law, co-editing the book A Principled Stand: Gordon Hirabayashi v. the United States, drawing on his uncle’s prison diaries and correspondence to present, in Gordon’s own words, how he defied the wartime curfew of Japanese Americans, the course of his Supreme Court case, subsequent imprisonment, and the 1987 appeal of his case.

Throughout his prolific academic career, he maintained a steadfast commitment both to scholarship and to what he called mutuality—not just conducting research but also acknowledging that there can be a deep sharing of purpose between researcher and subject. He learned this from his father, Jim, and it became a lifelong touchstone that always privileged active involvement with community. Lane wrote, “I have tried to both share what was given to me and to invite readers in turn to rethink and sharpen an approach that can be an integral tool in ethically and politically informed social research leading to engagement and empowerment…”

Dr. Valerie Matsumoto is Professor of History and Asian American Studies at UCLA. In July 2017, she was appointed to the George and Sakaye Aratani Endowed Chair on the Japanese American Incarceration, Redress, and Community.

The Tule Lake Committee will remember Hirabayashi as a lead actor in revising 75 years of government propaganda that demonized the thousands of men and women segregated to Tule Lake for the “crime” of protesting injustice. Hirabayashi was a treasured friend and advocate who promoted the understanding that grassroots dissent is a courageous response to oppression. He gave the academic imprimatur of the UCLA/AASC Suyama Project to Tule Lake’s stories of dissent, sponsoring and organizing programs about Block 42’s protests against registration, on Tule Lake’s No-Nos, and, Tule Lake, America’s Worst Concentration Camp, a book in progress by Roger Daniels and Barbara Takei. He recognized the moral and political courage it took to respond to the injustice of the wartime incarceration, and gave important validation to a long-stigmatized part of Japanese American history—our community’s civil rights heroes at Tule Lake. We cherish our memories of Lane Hirabayashi’s social justice advocacy and scholarship, and will miss him deeply.

LEAD PHOTO: Dr. Lane Ryo Hirabayashi, shown here speaking during a book signing event for Dr. Arthur A. Hansen’s Barbed Voices: Oral History, Resistance, and the World War II Japanese American Social Disaster, sponsored by the Manzanar Committee, on January 6, 2019, at the Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute in Gardena, California.

SECOND PHOTO: Lane and friends at a reception for Valerie Matsumoto succeeding Lane as the Aratani Chair at UCLA, March 6, 2018. From left: Lane, Marilyn Alquizola, author Brian Niiya, Glen Kitayama, and Renee Tajima-Pẽna. Photo credit: Barbra Ramos/UCLA Asian American Studies Center.


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