Pia Massie, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 05 December 2016

Pia Massie, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 05 December 2016

Abstract
After knowing so little about her Japanese Canadian and American heritage for much of her life, Pia shares her long, arduous, and often serendipitous journey of self-discovery. A large part of this journey involves the creative process of her film Just Beyond Hope. The film features women’s internment stories, Tashme internment camp, and personal and legal evidence of wartime injustice. The filming process of Just Beyond Hope involves heavy personal and technical research, which Pia details. Pia also gives her opinions regarding intergenerational experiences, plus what she has discovered about her family history from Japan and North Vancouver, British Columbia. She shares her life experiences as an educator, activist, artist, and avid storyteller, which all relate to a sense of just belonging, identity, and community. Much of Pia’s interview (and her film-making) revolves around place and the intimate ties and responsibility people have to it.
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Rebeca Salas (RS)
Okay, we're recording. This is Rebeca Salas. I'm with Pia Massie in her lovely apartment on a very wet day Laughs. in Vancouver. After some technical difficulties, we're ready to start our interview on December 5, 2016 in Kitsilano. So, as I was just mentioning, I think because you are interconnected in this wider history in a personal way, but also in a professional way, too, it would be really neat to hear about your life before we build on these bigger themes. So, maybe we can start simple with where you were born and what your childhood was like.
Pia Massie (PM)
Sure. So, I'm Pia Massie and I was born in New York City and I was born to a Japanese American mom
Kate Toda
and a Scottish American dad
Kim Massie
. But, I mean, basically a “WASP-y” dad - the Scottish part has been in the US for about fourteen generations. So, it's only me who tries to figure these things out - that I even know that it's Scottish. My mom was an amazing peace activist. She ran an organization, “Women's Strike for Peace” and she became a peace activist because of her experience during the war. She also was part of a “La Leche League” when I was a child, so I was the demo baby both laugh for teaching other babies and moms, like, “Oh! This is what a latch looks like! Okay, right!” for breastfeeding and the campaign against infant formula. My mom died when I was four years old and so I did not know about my own Japanese history at all. And that really started me on a long search. I didn't even really start to wonder about it until I was graduating from high school
Saint Ann's school in Brooklyn, NY
. And then I really started to wonder about it because I realized a whole part of me was lost. Then when I went to college
Harvard University
I started taking some Japanese language courses and I decided I wanted to go and spend some time in Japan. So, I did and I thought that would be, kind of like, maybe a semester or something ... but, I ended up in a remarkable series of amazing coincidences ... or not coincidences ... however you think about these things. And I ended up studying with a National Literary Treasurer Calligrapher there
Morita Shiryu
. So, I ended up staying in Kyoto, Japan for two and a half years and learning a lot about Japan and learning a lot about myself. And that's when I started to try to track down the missing people in my family because I really didn't know that whole side of my family. And then when I got back ... you know, it was a long, long process for me of trying to figure out what part of me was Japanese, why people were so unwilling to talk about what had actually happened ... I supposedly look almost exactly like my mom, which, you know, is very hard for my father, but also very startling for my aunties. I just wanted to understand how my family was connected to this series of events. Then the real search that produced this film, Just Beyond Hope, came about from me moving to Vancouver. When I moved to Vancouver I moved here because – there's three reasons – because it was next to an ocean, because one of the primary languages was English, and because there was a film community here and where I had been living before and traveling around the world ... I knew I needed those three things for wherever I was going to go next.
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PM
But, I had only been here a short time working in the film industry and somebody was a friend - who had grown up in Vancouver – was looking through an old box of photographs of mine. And I'm obsessed with photographs. My father was a photographer. I love archival things of any nature, but especially photographs. And so, my friend was looking through this box of photographs and he found this picture of my mother, who is the youngest of four kids, with her siblings sitting in front of this house. Sitting on the steps of their house. Where you could see a big portion of the house, he said, “I know that house,” and I said, “What do you mean? How could you possibly know that house? What are you talking about?” And he said, “It's right near my sister's house in North Van!” And I was completely confused by this. Nobody had ever said anything to me about a connection in Vancouver. But then, I wrote one of my aunties and I said, “Did you ever live in Vancouver?” and she said, “Oh yeah, we lived there before the war.” And I was like, “Can I get the address of where you lived?” and by the time she wrote me back, we had already gone there because he was so sure of it. That this was the right house. And of course, it turned out that yes, it was the same house and the same street because it was turned into a heritage preservation street, so they didn't change most of the houses. So, once I understood that I really understood another reason why I felt so deeply connected to Vancouver and then ... I really care about the environment and so I was involved – very involved – in the Clayoquot Sound piece of history. In fact, I was one of the eight litigants that took to the Supreme Court and the only non-Canadian. And I was actually thrown out of the country for that, which is a whole other story, which we can leave out of here. But, one of things that I talked about in my trial ... the reason why the lawyers wanted to take me as one of the litigants – my story basically, not me, but my story – to the Supreme Court was because there two things that I talked about in my trial group. One was the fact that I owed a karmic debt to go and be arrested and try to prevent the logging of Clayoquot Sound, which was one of the last intact old growth watersheds on Vancouver Island, and that was because my Japanese grandfather was part of the logging industry. He had made part of his fortune logging. And so, I love this place so much, and so I thought, “Wow, before I can actually belong here or deserve to belong here, I owe this debt to undue this damage that my grandfather has done.” So, that was part of it. That was my Japanese grandfather, who had the house in North Van that was taken from him, along with his business and everything else. But, also, the other person that was an enormous influence on me who I talked about in my trial at Clayoquot Sound was my paternal grandmother, who was a truly, truly extraordinary world class activist. Her name was Molly Todd and she started over seventy organizations and there's really not a piece of legislation in the last century – not this century, but the twentieth century – in the US that doesn't have her name or her shoving somewhere on it behind it. I mean, one of the most famous ones was Baker versus Carr, which established the right to “One Man, One Vote” in the United States. They never made another person like her. My grandmother was so unbelievable and so wonderful and she taught all of us – several generations of her progeny – that if you see something that's wrong, it is your absolute moral obligation to step up and speak up and stop it to the best of your ability.
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And, you know, this was so much her life's work that basically I had gone up to Clayoquot Sound to do research for a film – because I thought it would make an interesting documentary film – and I happened to be there during the mass arrests, when five hundred people got arrested. And I was just so shocked by the media circus and the bringing in school buses and carrying people out that I knew, “Oh, I've got to do a little bit more than make a film about this.” Plus, I couldn't actually be arrested that day because I was there with a friend of mine from Europe Isabelle Ecklin who had to get back, so I couldn't leave her in the lurch. But, that's all I thought about when I came back for about three weeks. So, within three weeks I went back up there and got arrested and ... you know, and then the trial took a very, very long time and the judge in my trial didn't want me to go to prison at all. He wanted me to have an ankle bracelet at home and I refused. I went to prison and he was almost in tears about that. By the time I went to prison, because it had been so dragged out, I had to go to the maximum security federal prison women's prison in Burnaby - which has since been closed. So, it definitely bound me in this very deep way to this land and to this landscape. And then I was thrown out of Canada for doing that. And I was really afraid, like, “Wow, I've finally found ... I've traveled around the world three times and lived in all different places ... but I've finally found the place where I feel at home and now I lost it because I spoke up for it.” But, luckily for me, The Green Party took my case my case of being thrown out of the country back up through the federal courts. That took six years for me to win the right for me to live in Canada. And so, here I am. And I'm really, really happy to be back and now I live here with my son who's about to graduate from high school and go to college. You know, I really feel like I live in the most beautiful city in the world. In one of the most beautiful places in the city. I feel very, very connected spiritually to this place in every way and I also feel like the work that I've done – the advocacy work that I've done – for this place ties to me to this place. So, that's why I was so excited to be able to be interviewed for Landscapes of Injustice. I mean, it makes sense to me on so many different levels. One of the things I've been asked to write about a lot is land. And you probably noticed in the film, the whole film is worked around photographs and footage of land. There's very few people in it. It's about land and it's about belonging. You hear people's voices, but what you're looking at most often is land and water. I am very committed to taking care of the water here.
RS
Yeah, I noticed that. It's beautiful, though. I do have some questions about the film. But, maybe before I delve into that, I was curious – you just mentioned that sort of a little tidbit about your grandmother and your grandfather – did you learn much about their everyday life in North Van? You mentioned there was a business, but I mean, either through family or through your own familial sleuthing ... just curious about what you've learned about what life was like for them in BC.
PM
I learned almost nothing. And I've been asking questions for thirty years. Thirty years. I learned almost nothing. And the more I asked, the more I realized that this was basically a taboo subject. And the more I delved into the whole framework of intergenerational trauma ... because I realized, “Wow,” I had the whatever ... temerity, courage, anthropological perspective ... you know, whatever that thing is, the distance, I don't know, to be able to ask the questions. The privilege, maybe? I don't know. And so, I was like, “Wow, this is not just for me, this is just not for freeing my family,” this is, “I have to do this because I can get further, deeper in there than somebody else because it is my family.” It is all around me. But, I also saw the incredible suffering of my aunties. There's nobody left except older women.
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And I was in this, kind of, mad dash to try and do it. To complete this story to give it back to them before they passed away and I ... you know, just barely managed to do that. But, you know, they're kind of not in the state to comment on it any more. I mean, I did go and do a screening for my aunt – the one who raised my mom – in Hawaii
Amy Meeker
. So, I did a screening last year at the Honolulu Museum of Art and I got to show it to my auntie and I got to talk to her. And she was still talking when I visited, but she wasn't walking and now she's stopped talking. But, I know she understood. I mean, she understood who I was and she understood what the movie was about. And during the screening she couldn't come to the screening that was at the Museum, which I didn't know until I got there. So, I did two additional screenings at her nursing home and it was kind of amazing to hear her responses during the screening. Because she recognized people and she recognized stories and she recognized herself. My great pleasure as an artist has always been able to bring voices and people to the table that would never have access to the things I have access to. There's many other examples of this ... .the great opportunity, great pleasure of being able to do this. But, just knowing because I'm allowed to go anywhere and I can talk to anybody ... I can, therefore, make different worlds collide. And I love having the different worlds that I can live in collide. Seems like this beautiful dance. Like, how do we get to not just equality but equity, maybe, that I'm hoping for all human beings? And it's about having people see what they think of as way beyond their scope or way beyond their understanding as their brothers and sisters.
RS
It's interesting to think about where you are now, and the work that you do, and the journey that you've taken to look into your own family ... your own heritage as well. But, I'm curious – even before college – what was it in high school that made you aware, or, started to think about your family and your heritage? You mentioned that it was about in high school that you started to think about it.
PM
My mom
Kate Toda
was an activist in New York and my grandmother
Molly Todd
, as I mentioned, was a very prominent activist and probably the most famous for being a civil rights activist in the South. The people that my mom and my grandmother spent time with - and I spent time with my grandmother after my mom died - were mostly Jewish activists. And I went to a school
Saint Ann's
that was about a third Jewish kids. So, when I was about ten my best friend
Beth Enson
and I - and her family was pretty assimilated, so her parents weren't talking about her cultural history at all either - and so the two of us were like, “Something really weird has gone on.” So, when I was about ten, the two of started reading Holocaust literature. Together. Because it seemed like it would be better to do together than do it apart. And so, I think I read The Diary of Anne Frank and I realized, “Huh. Wow. Okay, so ... this was a World War. That means everybody was involved. That means everybody was somewhere. Everybody was on some side of this.”
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And I was like, “How does my family fit into this?” So then, I think that's what started it and then I asked, “Where would my family have been? Were they here? Were they in Japan? How did this all go down?” And I started asking people in my family who were like, “It's over, why are you worried about this? Why do you have a chip on your shoulder about this?” And my cousins, who were one hundred percent Japanese, were like, “Gosh, you're so much more Japanese than any of us.” Especially later on when I lived in Japan and had come back. They were like, “Wow, it's so weird how Japanese you are.” And I just really want to know the story. It's like I've always wanted to know the truth about what happened and ... that's where it started, though. It started with the Jewish activists, who I just so admired and respected, who basically were the teachers and the guides and the allies for my mom and my grandmother and the work they did. I mean, I don't know if you noticed the photo in the newspaper of my mom that's in the film, where she's with Coretta Scott King. That was one of the last trips she took. She was going over to Geneva, Switzerland to deliver tens of thousands of petitions that she had collected. Another activist who I really love now, Rebecca Solnit - who I was saying, “Please read some of her books” - she wrote an essay a few years ago about how Women's Strike for Peace - the organization that my mom started and ran – was the behind-the-scenes key organization that broke the McCarthy era. And so, when I read this essay by Rebecca Solnit I was like, “Oh, that's why! That's why I have this deep respect for all these Jewish activists.” It's because they were the ones that were so brave. They were the ones who were the Freedom Riders. They were the ones that went down to Mississippi during Freedom Summer. They were the ones that spoke up. So, I think it's like that kind of political, more global, consciousness started when I was around ten. And then I would just try to delve into it in my own life and come back, reach a dead end, come back, come back out. But, it was very painful to realize how difficult it is for Japanese Americans to talk about it. So difficult. At least in the United States there's a lot of people who do talk about it. In Canada, by the time I moved to Canada, I was like, “Wow.” I mean, maybe because it's British Columbia and it has this whole colonial mentality ... but it's like, “Oof! People here don't talk about anything.” Like when I say “Hi” to people on the street, they look startled, and I'm like, “Oh, sorry I'm from New York.” That's why I say “Hi” to people on the street. Anyway, so it's so much about where you grow up and how you grow, who you grew up around, which creates the framework through which you see the world. And then, if you're curious enough, to keep going deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of how all of these things are connected. So, I'm really, really grateful to the amazing teachers I've had and also the amazing women activists in my own family who just set such a high bar that I felt like, “Wow exhales, I've just got to keep going.”
RS
I think that's a good segue way into - so you were met with a lot of silence and a lot of dead ends, as you were saying – but, maybe we can start talking about when you started to find stories and find information on your journey of making this film. So, maybe it's a good time to hear about how that started for you and, you know, it's a long journey but it's a good time to hear about that journey.
PM
It was quite a long journey and one of the wonderful things about plunging in in this way is that there's ... for every story that ends up in the work, there's ninety-nine stories that had to be left behind that are connected. And so, it becomes this terrible, heartbreaking decision of which stories go in. But, it's also amazing because once you start the process of really, deeply searching the world just unfolds for you and people connect in ways and people offer you things that are just staggering. It's like, “Whoa.” It's all there. It's way less than six degrees of separation for anybody in this world. It's about two degrees.
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PM
So, there's a couple of absolutely, gob-smackingly, astonishing, magical stories about the process of making the film, which I love telling especially kids and students because I'm like, “Look, if you really commit to something magic starts to happen.” So, one of those stories was – this person didn't even end up in the film, but – I was looking at this family tree that my great aunt
Rose Tanaka
had made for me when I was twenty, when I lived in Japan, the first time I met her. And I noticed that there was a person in this huge, massive, disorganized family tree whose name was “Pia”. Or it said that I was named after someone named “Pia Kurusu” and I was like, “Huh.” I want to meet the person that I was named after. So, I googled her and luckily, it's such an odd name that I could find her. And she lived in Arizona and so, I happened to be going down to Arizona anyway that spring which was a long, long time ago - for a workshop and so I arranged to meet her. And I turned out that her father was the US Ambassador, the Japanese Ambassador to the US during the bombing of Pearl Harbour and he had been sent over to try and ... he was used as a decoy, basically. They didn't tell him, they just used him. He had been sent over to try and negotiate some-peaceful-something and then they bombed Pearl Harbour while he was over trying to make a settlement. So, he was so devastated by his own country that he never went back. Anyway, his daughter had known my mom when she was young. They had went to the same school together and my mom, I guess, loved this girl so much whose name was “Pia”, that she named me “Pia”. But, she had no idea when I met her that anybody had been named after her or anything. So, that was quite lovely. But, then I realized, “Oh, it's not just my family that was affected by this historical event.” It was like, “Wow, the whole history of the war, even the individuals that are historical figures in the war are directly interwoven into my life.” And that was like, “Wow, I have this massive, massive jigsaw puzzle ... ” It's like a jigsaw puzzle that you found at a yard sale that was a thousand pieces and three hundred pieces are missing. And so, you have to build the jigsaw puzzle with a third of the pieces missing and try to figure out what would have been in the spaces where there's no pieces left. So, Pia Kurusu, who's gone now as well, I did interview her and it was wonderful to meet her but she didn't even end up in the film at all. But, of course, it was really interesting because when I was in Hawaii showing the film to my great auntie, my cousin took me to the tanker , the whole place that's been sunk tries to remember the name of location ... anyway, and when you walk through the little exhibit there, there's this whole thing about Kurusu and how his name was turned into a curse during the war. Did you know that?
RS
No, I didn't.
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People would say, “Oh, you Kurusu'd me!” Meaning, you double-crossed me. When, of course, he hadn't double-crossed anybody. He had been double-crossed by his own country. So, anyway ... but, then a friend of mine - when he found out that I was trying to find out more about my past - he knows my fascination with journalism, so he said, “Well, you know, you should look up the newspapers of that time.” Then ... I don't know how I first found this out because she wasn't in this family tree ... this was another horrifying story about intra-family racism and internalized racism, in a way ... anyway, this friend of mine in Colorado found out that my great uncle had been the publisher of one of the only Japanese language newspapers
The Rocky Shimpo
that continued to be printed during the war. They basically printed it in their living room. Like, the kids ... it was almost like a mimeographed newspaper. But, then because half of it was Japanese language, it was like three pages and I think it was published three days a week, like Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The circulation skyrocketed during the time of the camps because there was no other information, so all of a sudden it was like this little, tiny newspaper that they made for their community, went to being like ... people were sending them money from every single camp in the US because they were the only people actually giving out any information about what's happening. And it turned out that my great uncle was apprehended, thrown in a secret prison for having the audacity to publish this little, dinky-rinky newspaper and deep breath taken that's why that whole branch of the family was wiped out of the family tree. I think the first time ... but I didn't even know it was her ... you know what's contiguous in these different stories? You hear different stories from all different people around the globe and you realize, “Oh, that's the same story,” but it's from such an opposite point of view that you wouldn't recognize it that it's the same story until you go, “Foonk! gestures two hands coming together and those two pieces of the jigsaw puzzle hook up. When I was twenty I remember my great auntie in Japan
Rose Tanaka
was going through all of these beautiful albums with me and there was this classic everybody-standing-still-family-portrait and in the middle of the grouping, there was two bushes. And I said to her, “What's with like ... why would everybody be clumped around these two bushes?!” and she said, “Oh, those were people.” And I said, “What do you mean those were people?” and she said, “Well, they were carefully painted out ... painted into being bushes.” So, that was like, “Whoa, we've got some really dark secrets here that need to see the light of day.” But, then it took me like, you know, another twenty-five years to figure out who those people were. Well, one of those people was this great uncle, who had published the Japanese language newspaper and, I guess, the rest of the family was so scared that they would come after them as well and lock them up for being related. This was like ... that guy was my grandfather's older brother. And so, I found out about the newspaper. Librarians were so wonderful throughout this. I am forever indebted to brilliant librarians and their unbelievable research skills. So, librarians who got interested in this project helped me track down existing copies of my ponders relation to family member, who was newspaper publisher. Anyway, they tracked down copies of this newspaper, which was called the “Rocky Shimpo,” on microfiche at this tiny little library in California. So, then I got them sent out, this huge roll of microfiche, sent out to Vancouver Public Library on international, interlibrary loan. I wasn't allowed to take it out of the library, but I could go the “Special Collections” at the library and photograph of the articles. So, I spent several months photographing article after article and reading everything ... reading everything and then photographing them so I could use them in the film. It was devastating, because even though the articles are tiny, most of them are one paragraph long, tiny little articles. It's just totally devastating to read about the suicide and arson and horrific conditions and the breakup of families and ... yeah. It was really, really hard.
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I have a wonderful story about my son at that time, because he was quite small, quite young, and I had been doing this every single day ... going into the library, photographing stuff and cataloguing stuff and digitizing it and then coming home and just getting more and more and more depressed. And one day I came home and I was lying on the couch, like completely and my son
Hart Traveller
who was quite small at the time, but he's always been super smart ... he came over to me and stood in front of me, goes snaps twice like this, snapping his fingers in front of my nose because he was only about this high gestures height and he said, “Mom, mom. It's not 1942 anymore, it's dinner time.” Both laugh. And I was like, “Oh, right, right. That's why I had a kid.” Bring me back to this reality. And I think that's also why I do this work ... is because I want my kid to be free and I want seven generations from now, for those kids to live in as beautiful world as we live in now. There I am with my grandfather's older brother's
Shiro Toda
newspapers and all these articles, which I know will be a huge part of my research and this film, and yet, the film is using women's voices. The whole thing is structured on women's histories because I feel like most history that we read in history books is the history of men. Or the history that men want to write down. Or that, more specifically, the history of powerful men who have the privilege of being able to write down the history. So, what really interests me is women's histories and the personal histories or the familial histories that are very rarely written down. And sadly, a lot of women think that those histories are not valid or that they're not significant. And so, for me, they're that much more significant because they're so much more personal. They're so poignant, you know? They really can move people. So, I had all these newspaper clippings and I was like, “Wow, okay, so somewhere on that side – this missing side of the family – there must be a woman.” You know, he must have had a daughter or granddaughter or something. So, I went back to my fantastic librarian-troops-of-amazingresource-people and I was like, “Help me find how, who, where,” and they found a marriage announcement for somebody with that name who lived in New York right near where my dad lives in New York, in upstate New York, and so I knew the area code. And it's a pretty distinctive last name. So, I called the area code and information and there was only one telephone number. So, I called that telephone number and I was like, “Look, I know it's kind of random, but you know, I'm really looking for somebody in our family and this is how we're connected and I really want to interview a granddaughter of the newspaper editor and it would be so fantastic.” And the woman was like, “Well, that's her daughter that you're talking about, but she lives in San Francisco. She's the First Violinist for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.” And I was like, “Great! Could you give me her telephone number? I'd love to speak with her.” She gave me her phone number, I called her, and she said, “You know, I don't really know very much about this, I don't ... nobody's ever talked to me about it. I don't really know anything about my grandfather and I don't really know anything about Japanese history. I mean, mostly what I just know about is classical music, so I don't know if it would be worthwhile for you to come down to San Francisco to interview me - but, why don't you interview my mom?”
Shyoko Hiraga
And I was so shocked. I was like, “Wow, your mom's still alive?!” like, “Oh yeah, definitely! Can I get her number I want to call her!” and I was like, “Where does she live?” and she was like, “Seattle.” I was like, “I'm going to drive down there today!” Both laugh.
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Okay, so part of the story that actually comes before this part of the story is one of my students
Rebecca Simonetti
, when I was teaching film, said, “What's the next film you're working on?” I said, “Oh, I'm trying to figure out this story of my family and how it relates to Vancouver and what was lost during the war and, you know, I'm thinking of spending this summer,” this was years and years and years ago, “I'm thinking I'm going to go around to all the places that were internment camps in BC and photograph them, just to see how I feel and what it feels like to be in those places and understand that.” And she said, “Oh, do you know about Tashme?” and I said, “Yeah, I think that that's ... isn't that one that's really close to Vancouver?” and she's like, “Yeah, and my mom's best friend was a prison guard at Tashme.” And I was like, “What?! Rebecca, what are you talking about?!” and she was like, “Well, I bet you could meet her. I bet you could talk to her.” And I was like, “Wow, okay.” So, she called her mom, she got that woman's name, which was Margaret, and Margaret lived in Kerrisdale, fifty blocks from me. But, I got this piece of information. I got that piece of information very early on in the process. I felt like I was not ready to interview Margaret because I was trying to figure this out myself and basically, I was very angry. Why did this happen to my family? Why was everything stolen from my grandfather, you know? Aren't there any laws? What happened to the government? How could they put people in camps ... obviously, people who had nothing to do with this country's? So what, you have a Japanese face? This is all wrong. So, I thought, “I can't go interview Margaret until I'm completely calm” and I could interview Margaret the same way I would interview anybody in my own family. So, I did more research about Margaret
Sage Hayward
. I talked to her on the phone. She said, “Oh, I've left all this stuff with the Special Collections out at UBC.” I went out to UBC and I saw the incredible file. She took photographs of Tashme, she wrote dozens of beautiful letters to her parents, her father was in government, they were a very powerful white family, her brother was in the army. She wrote letters to her brother in the army. The day that I went out there they pulled out this special collection, put it on the big steel table, put white gloves on my hands and I was leaning over these letters and I had to rear back from the table because I started to cry and I was like, “I don't want to mess up the letters.” And then I walked into the room and said to the head archivist in the library, “Wow, you have the most incredible job. That you get to touch these absolute true documents, the real thing. This is the truest, deepest history.” And everybody was peering out from their cubby holes, seeing who this person was. The head librarian was so sweet. He
Leslie Field
said, “You know, what's so sad is that this collection has been here for over forty years and no one has ever asked for it before.” And I was like, “Ugh! Grr!” You know, again, proving my point that women's history is so important and we have to change our orientation. We have to go for this deeper, more personal history that binds us all together. Anyway, so, circling back around to where I was reminds Rebeca to bring her back on topic. So, I was finally ready to go interview Margaret. Probably took a year. Oh, and the other reason I was ready to interview Margaret was because I won a Canada Council Grant. So, it was like, “Woohoo! Great. Now we have the money to do this. Let's get rolling!” So, of course, the first person I wanted to go interview was Margaret because she only lived in Kerrisdale and I'm in Kitsilano. I could have walked to her house.
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So, I called her up and this other person's voice answered the phone and I said, “Hey, can I talk to Margaret?” and the voice said, “Oh, I'm so sorry, she's passed.” You know ... and I just burst into tears. I was like, “Oh my God.” I sat on the couch and I cried for two days. I was like, “How could I do this?” I was given this huge gift. This was dropped in my lap. She's the keystone in a way because I didn't want to tell a story where it was all from one side. I really wanted to tell a story where you had this overarching narrative, where you saw different perspectives. And I waited too long or I was trying to do something else, which I was thought I needed to do and I missed her. And so, I was just furious with myself. So furious. And after two days of crying I was like, “Okay, so how do I go forward? What do I do?” and I realized ... oh, I called her daughter
Ann Chaplin
in Toronto who's a lawyer - a civil rights lawyer no less – I called her daughter and I said, “I'm so, so sorry to hear about your mom,” and she said, “Oh! You're the young girl!” Everybody thinks I'm a young girl from my voice and I'm like, “No, I'm the old lady.” But anyway, she said, “Oh! You're the young girl that mom ... she was so excited about being able to tell you her story!” and then I was like, “Ugh grabs at heart.” She said, “You know, it's so funny because I was just thinking about you today because we've had mom cremated and then I was looking around and I brought this beautiful Japanese lacquered box that she had kept for sixty-five years, from that time period, that somebody must have given to her as a gift at Tashme and I thought, 'Oh! It would make her really happy to put her ashes in it.'” And when her daughter said that I got off the phone and I was so upset. And then I realized, “Okay, Margaret told me about the letters. She was really excited to have her story told. She was really looking forward to it. Her daughter just reconfirmed that for me. I didn't get to interview her, but I have all of the material that I need.” I just had to go talk myself into breaking one of my incredibly persnickety documentary rules, which is ... I don't like having any acting. I don't like reenactments at all. I kind of hate reenactments. But, in historical stories there's times where you want to illustrate something and how can you do it, except with a reenactment? But, every reenactment that have been in any of my films ... I try to do it just with the visuals, not with people. Like, I do not want actors. I do not ever want to blur the line between what is a true story and what is acting. That is against my personal persnickety protocol of what documentary is. But, I realized if I'm going to use Margaret's letters then I have to find somebody to speak her letters. And then that was quite the ordeal, too, finding somebody who I thought had Margaret's voice as a young girl. I think I may have told you this story ... I auditioned a whole bunch of people who were speakers and actors and “blegh”. And then, the sound person that working with, who I love so much, she said, “Well, what's wrong here? What is it that you're looking for?” and I said, “It's got to be somebody who is very young, their voice is very young, they're very upbeat, it's the beginning of their life, they're so distinctly white and they're so distinctly Canadian that you can hear it in their voice, you know? Just like this young, happy-go-lucky Canadian gal.” And the sound person that I was working with said, “You know, I think I have a friend who I think really fits that description, so how about if I just tape the paragraphs that we were having people read and have her record them?” Because I was like, “I don't even want to meet anybody else. It's too much to keep meeting people.” She said, “I'll just have her read them.” So, she had Jenn
Hamer
record them and she sent me the mp4s and I was like, “Ah! Perfect! Perfect!” I love the people that I work with because I think after you can really communicate what you want or what you're looking for, there's so many branches out that you could never see that other people can help you find.
00:50:20.000
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Anyway, this whole thing – now I'm trying to circle back – I found out that my great auntie
Shyoko
, the daughter of the guy who published “Rocky Shimpo”, lived in Seattle. And so, I was like, “Okay, I'm driving down there today,” because it was two weeks after I found out that Margaret had passed, so I was in this weird terror, like I was going to lose everyone before I could actually get their words, get their voices on film. So, I called my Great Auntie Shyoko and I was like imitates frantic phone call, and she was so funny, she goes, “I'm going to Japan in about a week and I'm just getting ready for my trip and there's no way, I don't want you coming down now. You're just going to have to be patient and wait until I get back from Japan.” And so, I did. I went down and I met her and she was so wonderful because she was the exact same age ... she was the very young, youngest of her family, and so she was the exact same age as my mom would've been ... the exact same age even though she was technically a generation older. And she had been out campaigning for Obama, door-to-door - that was his first time running – door-to-door walking around all day. And she sat down and I put a lavalier mic on her and then I didn't let her get up from her kitchen table for about five hours laughs and at one point she tore the lavalier mic off her because she was so upset, but I just kept all the tapes running. So, then the mic was on the table and she told me all these stories about everything in her family and her brothers and her dad and ... unbelievably moving. I stayed over there that night and I said, “So, you want me to ... it's going to take a while to transcribe all these because it's hours of stuff, but do you want me to send the transcripts to all your kids? Or I can make a CD, so they can have the audio themselves.” And she was like, “No!” she said, “I don't even understand why I told you all these stories. I've never told my children any of these stories and I don't want to upset them. I don't want them to hear them.” And I said, “Well, surely you want them to know this stuff?” She said, “After I'm dead you can give them a CD of this.” And yet again, here's this incredibly outspoken person who was walking around, doing a political campaign, and she didn't want her own children to hear these stories and I just realized, “Wow, the deep trauma.” Even amongst completely high-functioning survivors, where it looks like, “Whoa, no problem in this picture,” it's just right below the surface. It's still all there. So, I said, “Shioko ... ” I think it was the next day, actually, I was like, “Shyoko, okay. So, can I get you to read all the texts from Miné Okubo's Citizen 13660? Because I've gotten permission from Miné Okubo's niece
Seiko Buckingham
from her estate to be able to use these texts and that's going to be the voice of the Japanese American person. That's the story of the Japanese American person. And you have the perfect voice.”
And she was so funny, she goes, “I do not have the perfect voice.” She was a grade school teacher for all of her life. And I was like, “Shiyoko, you have the perfect voice,” and she goes, “Ugh! Ugh!” But, because it meant that I wouldn't be using any of her personal stories, she was like, “Oh, fine! I'll do it.” But, of course, she did them all ... I think I only did more than one take twice or three times. I mean, fast whooshing noise, such a pro.
00:55:09.000
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And everybody that sees the movie goes, “Wow! Who is this person, she's just perfect.” And I always say to Shyoko, “So, secretly you're like an audio star. You know, you're so good!” But, you know, when I did the screening that was in Seattle she couldn't come because she had broken her wrist and I was like, “Okay, she broke her wrist, but is it really because she was too shy to be there? Or too afraid to be there?” I mean, it's still so hard for her to be up front about these things. She's up front about so much stuff, but about her own family...you know, during the war she was married so young, just a way of getting out of the house, just as a way of getting away from the whole disaster of it ... losing their father, not knowing where their father was – because he was in this secret camp – not knowing if he would ever come back, and then when he came back, he was a completely changed person. Before that he had been this newspaper editor and he had designed the Buddhist church, very outspoken person, and then he never left home again. He stayed and cooked for the kids. It just took away his whole identity and his voice and everything sighs. But, it's about trying to wake up all the different sides of my own family and also to give some peace to all these beautiful older women who managed to survive but were so hurt that they couldn't speak about it. So, that was the impetus for using only women's voices. And then the way the film was structured was because there's an old film that I really love called Three Women, where over the course of the film each woman turns into the other woman, which is in a formal or more moral way, the way I look at history is if you can actually move frames so that you can see a story from the other person's point of view, then you really can't have animosity. Nobody can be your enemy because you realize, “Oh, it's just a different point of perspective.” All the bad guys are good guys, too. They just need a lot more love. So, that's also where the formal structure for the film came about. I actually made sculpture for twentyfive years before I started making films and so my films are actually quite structural. They're quite sculptural in a way. So, the three frames are kind of like a slot machine when you're trying to line up stories. It's like three different perspectives of the same thing. So, the Japanese American story is always coming from the left-hand side of the screen, Margaret's story is always coming from the right-hand side of the screen, and everybody that is mixed race or caught in between is in the middle. And audio-wise, too, if you see it in a sensurround, a theatre, the voices are coming from completely different places in the space. Which is kind of cool ... if you ever have a chance to see it in a big theatre, but I know most people will probably more likely see it over the internet, which is good, too, because then it can reach more people.
RS
You've just reminded me of ... one of my questions or one of the things I just wanted to get a more in depth perspective from you on is when I started watching the film, and as you've noted, about the placement about the three perspectives. The middle ... so you have the opening scene, it's “left, 'hapa', right”. I just wanted to hear about that middle and what that means to you. Because I remember the first we met, you mentioned it as well, “Oh, because I'm only 'hapa'. Because I'm 'hapa'.”
00:59:43.000
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PM
Okay. I love the countdown roll on films. You know, the “9, 8, 7, 6, 5 ... ” and so, because I was using this experimental framing device of the three different frames – and they're not all playing at the same time, sometimes it's only one frame, sometimes there's two, sometimes it's all three – and then there's a series of about fifteen different images that come back several times. Most of them just twice, some of them three times, although they never come back in the same place. They're always in a different frame. And for me, that's about the idea that if you really pursue a story, if you really look deeply into a story, your perspective on that story can change so that when the image comes back in a different frame, a completely different story is being told. But, often, what happens when you hear a different story with the same image, is it changes your idea about the story. And a perfect example of this is actually the woman whose photographs I used the most in the film, which I felt so lucky to be able to use as well, was Dorothea Lange, who's one of my personal heroes, who photographed a lot of the relocation and she was working as a photographer for the WPA and because her photographs are so deep and so personal, the US government didn't want to publish them at all. So, she was desperate to get them published so that people would see what was actually going on and Rebeca moves recorder closer to Pia so she started writing more extreme captions for them - and this is another perfect example of why women's stories have to be told – because she thought if she wrote really nationalistic pro-USA captions under the photographs even though the photographs were very clearly something else that maybe they would get under the radar of the people that were suppressing these photographs that she had taken. Well, no, it didn't really work, but the great thing is that whoever was receiving these photographs did not throw them out, did not scratch the negatives, so about fifty years later they were published in that wonderful book
impounded by Linda Gordon and Gary Oihiro
. I think my film was the first time they've been used in a film. But, it's how your perspective on something changes that you can see something in a completely different way or you can hear a story in a completely different way. And sometimes it's just a matter of time, like the way you understand something when you're twelve is very different from the way you understand something when you're fifty-three.
RS
Mhm. And on a more personal side, with the word “hapa”, you showed me some a book last time we met ...
PM
Oh! The whole mixed race ...
RS
Yeah.
PM
Well, after my mom died I lived in Hawaii with my auntie that I was telling you about and 'hapa' is actually a Hawaiian word. It comes from 'hapa haole', which means half-foreigner. So, it's actually a kind of pejorative word in Hawaiian, but like other words that started out as pejorative words, it's been reclaimed because it's just such an onomatopoetic word. So, Jeff Chiba Stearns actually is one of the people that helped that reclamation. He's a filmmaker here in Vancouver and he's mixed race like myself and he did a film about being hapa. So, he also started a festival that's called “Hapa-palooza” which is a mixed-race festival. At first it was mostly mixed Asian and something else, but now I think they've tried to make it more pluralistic and just any combination of mixtures. But, it is really interesting being between things because you kind of owe a debt to two different cultures and in my case I felt like the two different cultures that I love were on opposite sides of World War Two. So, that was fascinating and it also ... I think it takes people who are mixed-race longer to figure out where they actually belong, if they ever feel like they belong to anything.
01:05:05.000
01:05:05.000
PM
I mean, I often feel like I belong to everything and I belong to nothing, you know? It's like, people say, “Oh, where are you from?” and I say, “Oh, moi, je suis citoyenne du monde,”
translation: I am a citizen of the world
because I don't know when somebody asks that, I'm like, “Are you asking me to define myself in terms of where I was born, what languages I speak, what cultures I identify with, what race, class, gender ... ” I mean, there's so many ways I can answer that question. But, yeah, I like the word 'hapa' and so when I was creating that structure it was the way to let people know before the film even begins that there was going to be some weird, kind of, sculptural structure there.
RS
Interesting. Now that we know a little bit more about your connection with Margaret, I had a few things that I was curious about when I watched the film in the way that she is portrayed through her letters. I was wondering if you could comment on – I mean there are times in which her personality is different, depending in the letters – but, her persistent optimism every now and then was something that kept coming up. Was there a reason why? Why those were the letters you chose? Or, did she have quite a consistent voice in most of the letters that she was writing to her family?
PM
You know, I'm so grateful to Margaret that she is there and that she wanted to be there in the telling of this story and it's been so powerful to me to see – and I think I knew this before I made the film, I think that's why it was so important to have Margaret there – every audience that ever sees the film, the person that they ask the most questions about is Margaret. The person that they relate the most to is Margaret. And I don't know if it's because the documentary fragments that are there about Margaret are so personal ... it's like, “Thank you for the chocolate nuts that I got at Christmas” or it's because she's named in a way, you see her handwriting, you see her signature. But, I also think that it's so hard for people that have not thought about this history to find a personal way into the history. And Margaret is such a beautiful voice in that way because she was so innocent. She was so innocent. This was her first job she ever had and she probably got the job because I think she was studying social work and she was just in college and her dad was this big government official and so somehow, he probably got it so that she could go out there. And then I chose the letters really carefully so that there's a narrative arc. I feel like Margaret has more of a narrative arc than anybody else in the film and it's this slow realization of the personal responsibility of the context that she finds herself in. You know, at first it's like she doesn't really understand what she's doing, she doesn't really understand the forces of oppression, or the systemic racism that's all around her. And I try to introduce it quite slowly through things like food and the chapter ... there's ten chapters in the film and the chapter on food is chapter number two or three or something, whereas the chapter on democracy is number eight or nine, it's kind of like, “Okay, right. How do we understand these things? How do we understand that each of us has a responsibility to make things better in this world?” And it's not somebody else's work and it's not somebody else's business because all around us are systems and forces that do not represent the ideals of humanity.
01:10:08.000
01:10:08.000
PM
And what part do we play in that, what role do we play in that? Whether it's standing up on the bus when somebody says something racist to somebody on the bus, or whether it's being able to implement a more humane structure where you work, for worker's rights. And so that's why Margaret is so important. She's so important in the film because she allows people to go, “Wow, okay, right.” It's not like this is the bad person in the film, this is the good person in the film. Everybody is implicated in the suffering and tragedy of the film. There's nobody that escapes from that. Margaret's daughter telling me when I called her that this happened at the beginning of her life and she spent the rest of her life thinking about it. Her whole life was walking backwards, looking back at this event that had shaped her whole life. And we never know what those events are. We never know the thing that might ... I mean, for my mom it was being in Japan when Hiroshima got bombed. She became a peace activist. I remember I was living in New York during 9-11 and the film that my students were supposed to watch that week, that we were supposed to discuss, was Hiroshima Mon Amor, and even thought New York City was closed off below 14 th Street and Parson's is on 13th Street, so technically I wasn't even supposed to go into Manhattan to teach, I knew that my students would go in and I knew that they would be devastated so I went in and I was talking to the ones that showed up and they were saying, “Why did you make us see this film this week, how did you ... ?” and I was like, “This is the moment in your life where you will always say, 'Where was I? What happened to me that day? What happened to me? This is when my life changed. This is when I woke up to certain things.' So, here we are. Take as much in as you can.”
RS
It's interesting to see what Margaret was taking in and conveying in those letters because ... and the reason why I ask about why you choose certain letters, or if her letters were consistent, or if these were just the ones that you chose is because she's almost like ... she's quite a romantic soul, like in how she describes everything, almost like an Anne of Green Gables type of girl, right? But, I see how that echoes how you structured the film, that trying to see what it was like to be on sides, if there was such a thing? It's that middle ground. PIA And it's also the relationships because the way that she writes to her father is very, very different from the way that she writes or that she talks about her mother, which is also different from the way that she writes to her brother. And so, it's all about the familial dynamics of those different relationships that gets portrayed and I think part of that, maybe, forced gaiety is because she's trying to present to her dad who get her this job. Even though she realized her mom would not approve of this or that and that's about the gender politics of the time that she lived in. She was already doing something that was quite advanced or risqué for the time that she lived in. So, she must have felt quite independent. And at the same time then her brother's over fighting the war and she's worried about him and how this war will affect him and slowly, slowly, slowly she starts realizing ... what is she doing there? What is she there to do? The letter that slayed me was the one where she's - she didn't even write it in the letter, you saw it's on the margin on the outside of the envelope, written beyond – she says, “This is not a concentration camp. The concentration camps are in Eastern Canada.” She was so determined to convince herself that she wasn't part of an oppressive system and I think that's true for most people that are involved in a really oppressive historical event. They want to be sure that they're not the one that's doing something that's oppressive.
01:15:02.000
01:15:02.000
PM
I mean, it's kind of classic. Like when they used to have death by firing squad, they would line up twenty soldiers and they would tell all the soldiers one of the guns has a blank in it – and this is classic war strategy – so that every soldier could believe that they were not the person that killed ... every soldier could feel safe. “I am not killing this person because it's probably my gun that has the blank in it.” And I think we think we just have to break out of that kind of thinking and take on the personal responsibility. Yup, I'm so grateful, I'm so grateful that Margaret is there and I think it's just so miraculous that Rebecca
Simonetti
, my film student, could lead me to Margaret and then that she had left all this stuff and the librarians had it. And the whole way that the guy archived the stuff at the library changed because of my film, because he had been basically cleaning it all up and I was like, “No, no, no, no, no ... all the stains and coffee cups and tears and crunched up paper ... that's what makes it real. That texture is what gives it life. Do not take that away from it.”
RS
Another thing that was, over and over again, that was catching my attention was – and we talked about a little bit, about ironies of democracy and citizenship, about concentration camps, but it came up in specific ways in the film in terms of the Nisei generation - this idea of repatriation and also the need to prove loyalty. So, I wanted to get your comment on that because it came up quite a few times.
PM
Well, this is the tragedy of ... what is loyalty? What are these big words: freedom, democracy? What does is that funny saying? “Love is a verb.” It's like, if you can't put this into action, then as a word it's just hollow. And I think the tragedy for a lot of Japanese Americans was because of question twenty-eight in that roundup thing that they did in the camps, whole families were completely, completely divided. “Are you a loyal citizen? Are you or have you ever been?” So that young men were signed up to join the army while their parents were being put in camps, which is just crazy. I mean, if you think about it, it's just crazy. It's like all your family property has just been taken away, your parents have been hauled off to camps, everybody with once suitcase full of whatever they wanted to bring and that's it, and everything else is left behind. And then, you're being asked, “Do you want to join the army?” So, it was very, very, very split. And a lot of young guys did join the army and they were part of the 442 nd Battalion, which is the most famous military battalion ever in military history. I don't know how many dozens and dozens of purple hearts ... because they had nothing to lose. They would take on any mission. Absolutely fearlessly. But, on the other side of that split were the “No-No Boys” and the history of the “No-No Boys” was they answered “No” to those two questions, question twenty-seven and question twenty-eight. And so, there was enforced repatriation back to a country that they had never lived in, that they didn't belong to, that they didn't have passports for, and for their parents who were Issei – first generation – who didn't have US passports, who had just technically, legally, answered the question correctly, they were then rendered “Stateless Persons”. They didn't belong to any country, which is just so crazy and it's one of those things, that again, makes my blood boil right now because ... with the crazy election that just took place and all this hot-headed talk about immigration and deportation and camps and a “Muslim Registry” ... it's just crazy that people can be so prejudiced and that they can whip up prejudice, basically to benefit really dark things that they're not talking about.
01:20:30.000
01:20:30.000
PM
Against one group or another. I mean, the reason that I wanted to do this was because I'm really devoted to making sure that it never happens again. That's why I want to go out and do this curriculum and go out and talk to more kids and talk to more people and talk to more teachers because I can't ... I just cannot let history repeat itself in that way. It's too atrocious. I feel like I've gotten away from what you were trying to ask me, but once I start thinking about that my blood starts boiling and I have trouble focusing back on some of the detail.
RS
That's totally fair.
PM
I see that orange-headed monster ... sighs.
RS
Staying on the ...
PM
We were talking about repatriation. So, how did repatriation happen? Okay, so one of the things that's interesting about the history of Tashme, the camp that's closest to Vancouver, is that it was the camp for Canada that was for the people that were going to be repatriated. So, all the people from other camps who failed to comply or answered the wrong way or weren't ready to do their work time were sent to Tashme as a holding camp before they were going to be repatriated. Which is why Margaret could say something like, “These are not the concentration camps,” she was like, “This is just a way station and then they're going to get repatriated. The concentration ... ” You know, it's like, well ... we're talking about some really little fussy details there. If you put people in a camp against their will illegally ... I don't know.
RS
One thing that I find interesting that has come up numerous times in the project, just listening to various people speak as a student researchers – especially Japanese Canadians speak – is it's interesting to think about the situations that people were forced into, but this theme of maintaining “politeness” comes up over and over again. “But, they're so polite.”
PM
At the very end of the film in the last chapter, I ask Trudy
Yoshida
, who is one of the Japanese Canadian activists that I interviewed, I said, “Trudy, why didn't you fight back?” And it's one of the only times – there's only two times in whole film where you actually hear the documentary interview exchange – there's another one where I say, “Yup.” And many people were like, “Why aren't you cutting that out?” and I'm like, “Because I want people to understand that this was a conversation, it wasn't a script.” And Trudy says, “This is the nature of Japanese people.” And now from having lived in Japan, I can say, too, “Yes, this is the nature,” I mean, obviously there's many, many different people, many, many different behaviours and attitudes, but the Japanese society is held together by a sense of shaming and doing the right thing for the group, not being an individual, not standing out, it's kind of the opposite of North American society where the first thing you're supposed to do is individuate and strive to succeed and ... no. You're supposed to take care of the group at all costs. So, that quietness and that respect is just the way that you're supposed to be and it would never occur to Japanese people to fight back.
01:25:09.000
01:25:09.000
PM
The few people that do fight back are considered so weird. I think that's why my Japanese family considers me so weird. They're like, “Oh, you're so litigious, you're so shove-y about this, why do you have a chip on your shoulder?” And I'm like, “How can you not want to know these stories?” and they're like, “Well, it's over.” And I'm like, “No, it's not over. It's running through our bloodstream. It's running through the landscape. And worse, it's happening again.” When these stories don't get told, they happen again. It's like the first generation is just really brave and stoic, the second generation is really ashamed and unable to talk, by the third generation you get people who are really curious and trying to uncover, and then by the fourth generation they don't care again. And then it has to repeat all over again. We cannot let this happen. We have words like that in Japanese, like “Issei” is first generation, “Nisei, Sansei.”
RS
It's interesting to think about, then, people's perspectives and opinions when apologies and redress and reconciliation came up in government. Remaining on this theme of supposed democracy that the government was supposed to have – both in Canada and the States, but especially in Canada there's a difference. I guess that's just another thing that I was curious about - your opinions, your experiences, or observations – this era of apology and also the monetary symbolism that came forth.
PM
Again ... words are good. But, it's half of the baby step. And if you look at the whole history of reparations, it's like, “Okay, so they've put it into words and then every year they debated in congress, 'Do we have enough money to actually pay people this completely negligible amount of money to pay each person?' and every year they'd say, 'Oh, we don't really have it in the budget.'” Well, they did that because politically every year half of the remaining people died. So, the number of people that they had to pay back was completely negligible after stealing billions of dollars of land and houses and boats here in Canada. I mean, Japanese people took the west coast of this continent and turned it from desert into the richest farm land there is. With their bare hands. And because Japanese people are the best gardeners. Hands down. And, you know, then the war came along and these two California businessmen were like, “Whoa. Whoa, this is a really good opportunity.” and they wrote the first draft for Executive Order 9066. Two California businessmen. The internment times is the second largest land grab after Columbus sailed over in 1492, I think, is the rhyme. You know, it's ridiculous. And as far as apologies go or reconciliation here, I look at what's happened in Canada or Australia, it's like, “Great, great.” It's good that you can get the words out of your mouth, that you're apologizing. But here, after two hundred years of genocide, you're going to have to do a lot more than apologize. And how you're going to go about that ... you're going to actually have to engage. You have to look at your own shadow, you can't just say, “Oh, I'm really, really sorry I want to help out.” You actually have to go into your own shadow and clean that up. There's no amount of money that you could ever pay for the lost lives and the lost property and the lost ... the destruction of families. Here's a positive beautiful story about this very thing. Every year there's a pilgrimage. It's called a “Tule Lake Pilgrimage”. Tule Lake was the largest camp in the US.
01:30:01.000
01:30:01.000
PM
So, I went on the Tule Lake Pilgrimage a long time ago and we did a lot of work bringing families back together. And I was working with this one group, which was just such a delight because it was a person-that-I-know's grandpa – but, there was three boys in that family and the two other boys were “No-No Boys” and he had joined the army. And so, at that moment - when he made that decision as a very, very young man, he went in one direction, he went to Europe, and his two brothers were repatriated back to Japan with his parents who he never saw again, and his brothers didn't come back from Japan – so, this moment when got all these different people together there at Tule Lake, plus the grandkids, the grandkids were the key ingredient because they were curious and they wanted to know, was the first time the brothers had ever been able to meet up again or cry or share their different perspectives or understand what happened and this guy who was a friend-of-mine's grandfather, who had basically been silent his whole life because he lost everything in making this decision to prove his loyalty, he lost everything, he lost his family ... didn't stop talking for four days. He was an older guy, but he knew that this was the last moment that he had. And it would be midnight and it would be like, “He's still talking. Okay, we've got to make another pot of tea.” It was just so incredible. And so, that's one of the first things that I say to my students, “Okay, you have a film camera in your hand, you have a film camera in your hand, you've learned how to turn it on, you've learned how to record, go and interview your grandmother. Even if she says she doesn't have any stories for you and she doesn't want to be interviewed, just leave the microphone on. This is your first assignment. This is your first duty, is to understand the continuity of your own family's history. It's required to be any kind of storyteller. Even if you don't turn out to be a filmmaker, you need to know these stories for yourself.” So, if I can help make those connections for people or I can spark those connections, then that's what it's all about. That's what it's all about for me. Being able to bring different generations of the same family back together sigh, it's just such a relief.
RS
A lot of the commentary you're making is bringing in a lot of my questions full circle, because one of the things I was quite engaged with was the dismantling of family identity, whether it was from this loyalty questionnaire, through the numbers that were applied to people, or just the stripping, right? But, it also reminds me of when I first met you and you were talking about yourself as a person and how you – I can't quite remember if you termed it “bridge” or “corridor” – but, maybe you can comment a little bit on that sort of sense of purpose and why you feel you are in this position of a “bridge” or a “corridor”.
PM
You know, there's well known tactics for breaking people down and breaking people's spirit ... and it's actually really horrific because I think they've only gotten worse. I mean, the quote-unquote “terms of engagement of war” during the First World War and the Second World War were so civilized compared to what we're dealing with now. But, definitely taking away somebody's name, reducing them to a number, strip searching people ... you go to prison and the first thing you have to do is not only take off all your clothes, but then you have to be hosed down with what looks like insecticide, which is like, “Wow, this is like shooting mace at my skin.”
01:35:25.000
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It's all about trying to humiliate people and harming people's families in front of them. Sighs. Just recently at the water protectors at the Dakota Access Pipeline the fact that they brought out dogs, it's just so shocking it's like, “Whoa, I thought we officially ended that in 1960.” Like, come on. And then they're strip searching people for nothing when they bring them in or shooting water cannons at them in twenty-degree weather. You're trying to kill people here because you think that they're disposable. I think, for those of us that live between different factions, you know, whether that's ... if you're person to get a university education in your family and say your parents didn't even learn to speak the language of the country that you now live in, so you always had to be the interpreter for them ... what that does to you, how it moves you ... yes, of course, beyond them, too, often times, what they sacrifice their lives for is so that you could have that security of that independence – but, it also means that in one way you never can go back, or you never feel fully like you belong or you're never trusted by your community of origin. And yet, for myself, I'm always called upon to be the spokesperson in a difficult situation because I know those people, I speak their language, I can get them to listen in a way that, maybe, somebody else who I'm representing cannot. And that's an incredible power and once you have that power, once you understand that you're one of the interpreters or one of the translators, I think it becomes your responsibility to constantly try to bring the world together in that way. That's probably why I was talking to you about “hapa” before because I think that's really what “hapa” is about. I think that's what hybridity is about. It's about being able to bridge those different things. I don't think I'm alone in feeling like, often from my point of view, I'm a bridge that's being burned at both ends. And it's so painful because you're a combination of these things, so, of course, you love both of them – but, the fact that they could hate each other is just so strange. It's so strange to have to live that. I think, in the film I talk at one point about - it's between a picture of my mom on the left side and my grandmother on the right side – but, I'm talking about my weird philosophy that I developed as a kid. It's “being in the corridor” and when you're “in the corridor”, which is amazing - I mean, I've travelled all over the world and I speak multiple languages and I speak comfortably to almost anybody and I've done hundreds of different jobs, just the vastest range ... so, I love my life, I love the amazing tapestry, richness of my life and I love the fact that I'm welcomed into any room. I can walk into any room – but, because I'm not “of one room” most of my life is spent “in the corridor”. That's how I came up with this phrase. Most of my life is about “being in the corridor” between the rooms.
01:40:12.000
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It's great, it's great that I can go to any party. It's great that I can talk to anybody. And sometimes it's totally exhausting and I just want to curl up and pull a blanket over my head and not talk to anybody. But, it also is very ... it has this weird price tag of extreme loneliness because it's pretty arduous work and there's very few people that can travel the same path. Although, you recognize people as you fly by them. There's people that you know, “That person just gets it. I don't have to explain anything.” Which is cool. But, that kind of identity is ... how do we forge our identities? And that's changed a lot as communication has changed. And there's a short video that's online that I really, really love called The Empathic Civilization. It's a condensed anime version of a lecture that was given at the Royal Society of Arts in London by Jeremy Rifkin and it's about the overlap of understanding of how empathy works and the idea of the ever-widening group that we belong to and people's consciousness of that. When we were early hominids, where it was only your family group and not the people on the other side of the hill, and it moved to people that are of the same grouping as you, and then those groups got bigger and bigger and bigger and what he's talking about now is because of our communication systems we really have to develop a sense of the fact that we're connected to everybody. Everybody on the whole planet. And not just people, our tenderness, our kindness for the biosphere has to include all of that or we're going to destroy it. We can't be antagonistic towards other people based on their identity because it's too fragile of a system to do that. But, I love how all these different things of history and neuroscience and MRI imagery, and Buddhism and the study of interconnectedness, and that they're all kind of flying together in this beautiful layer cake where everything is matching up. The whole attachment theory, which is how bonds develop between mother and children and how that influences people and the work of intergenerational trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. And it's just fascinating how clear all the maps are pointing us in the same direction.
RS
Before I move on to my last own-observation-question-comment on the film, I wanted to give you an opportunity to talk a little bit about the ways in which your family is injected into the film.
PM
An earlier version I did of the film, I showed to a friend of mine whose family are German Jews, who did an extraordinary film that I love so much. And she was really funny. Her feedback was, “You have to put more of yourself into the film.” And I said, “Why, I just hate that. Who cares, I don't want myself ... I'm trying to make an objective film.” Sirens outside Pia's building ring. And she's like, “Forget it. You have to commit to being the narrative thread of the film. You are the single thing that connects all these things together. So, put more of yourself in the film.” Sirens fade.
01:44:47.000
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So, then I went back and the sections that you've just brought up are the ones that I put in. I tried to figure out, “Okay, where can I do this without harming my structure here.” Pia asks Rebeca to comment on her detailed impressions of the film for Pia's curriculum purposes. The two decide to chat about it after the oral history is complete.
PM
So, what was your question there that I ... 36
RS
I just wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about the moments in which yourself, and also your family are brought into the film. You mentioned at one point you have - it was your mother and grandmother in the film - and I just wanted to open the stage to you to talk about what that was like, putting your family into the film and your own story into the film, despite not wanting to at the beginning.
PM
Well, I mean I did this because I want to find out what happened to my family. But, I know what has happened to me, so I'm not that interested in what's happened to me. And I also feel like ... my friend Wendy
Oberlander
, who I was just telling you about who made this other incredibly beautiful film about her mother and a trip that they took back to Germany, which is unbelievable...she gave me these wartime photos of the PNE and so, yet again, I was like, “Wow, Vancouver is so deeply embedded in this history and it's so shameful and it's really not seen the light of day in a way that it needs to be.” I mean, sure there's that tiny little garden there. That's another ridiculous story that did end up in the film because I thought, “The absurdity of these coincidences is just too much.” You know, there's that tiny little garden that's on the grass of the PNE to commemorate the fact that's where they housed the family, while the men were out building the camps and that they were going to be interned in. I think some liberal guilt-ridden white ladies would go down to the PNE ... there was a mesh wire fence around it and they would try to throw food over the fence because it was cold, it was winter, people were hungry and they felt badly. But, you know, part of me ... I just don't understand why people allow these things to happen in the first place. Like, “No. NO! You can't do this. These people have done nothing wrong. No, you can't steal their homes. No, you can't steal their houses. You can't steal their boats.” Laughs and sighs. But, yes when Wendy gave me those photographs I was like, “Hmm ... Okay. Yet again, I've got to just keep on looking right here in front of me.” And then I was riding the bus late one night and I don't know how it came up at all, but I started talking to the woman next to me in the bus - this is how absurd my life is at certain times - and it turned out that she was the landscape architect for PNE Memorial Garden, but her license to practice landscape architecture had been taken away for making that garden because the mayor at the time was just so mad.
01:50:38.000
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I mean, and this is way after the internment times, this is even way later that this racism and prejudice is still going on. Took this one individual and smashed their life and smashed their career. And the irony there, of course, was that Wendy's mom – the person that she made the film about – is one of the most famous landscape architects of Vancouver. She wasn't the person on the bus, that's totally different, but there it occurred again. It's like this pattern reoccurring and reoccurring. She's the one that designed Robson Square and was trying to “bring the green” to the middle of the city over lander. Anyway, those kinds of coincidences that happen over and over again, I feel like they're there. Those patterns are there for us to see if we just really keep looking more deeply. So, because of certain things like that, that's why I decided, “Okay, I have to bring myself more into the film.” And then, I know it's rather complicated, but in the credits I also tried to show, in the structure, the whole different chain of people that had connected me to other people because I just found it so miraculous that all the sudden there were all these stories, that I would never have access to those people, but other people that lead me to those people. Which ... I just find that incredible. How connected everyone's story is.
RS
Found that a lot doing oral histories for this project laughs, for sure.
PM
It's beautiful. It's very beautiful, you realize, “Oh, right.” And the more one person speaks out, the more it provides space for other people to speak out.
RS
Especially for those who haven't at all. I find it interesting that you mentioned the PNE ...
PM
Oh! And you mentioned this before ... I remember you mentioned this, you said that you think the reason a lot of people are speaking out, a lot of Japanese Canadians are speaking out now is because they're afraid of what's going on and the attack on Muslim people now. And I just wanted to note that it was really, really interesting that another one of my feelings of gratitude, my debts of loyalty to the Jewish activists, was ... one of the things that I did know when I was in high school about the internment times was that in the US when people got out of internment camps, the first people to offer them jobs were always Jewish people. And it just blows me away. It's like, “Right.” Guess what? Those people understood. They had been through it themselves. They were like, “Here. You need a job? Here. Come here, we'll give you a job. Move your family here, we'll take care of you.” And so, it obviously makes extreme sense that quiet Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians would finally have the strength to speak out now that they see that yet again, it's the fourth generation. It's the fourth generation. This is a pattern. This is a cyclical pattern, that it's happening again to another group.
RS
I wasn't going to ... I was actually going to mention it after the interview, but now that you've brought it up ... I find it so compelling when you were talking about your companionship with your friend in high school because this is something that has come up in the oral histories as well, especially in Toronto – is that the same thing happened in Canada. So many of the Japanese Canadians that left the coast and went out east found employment in Toronto and the only community that was openly employing Japanese Canadians after were Jewish Canadians. So, I think you're so very right.
01:55:18.000
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Another thing that I found out that I thought was really, really odd was that there's more children of Holocaust survivors in Vancouver than in any other city in Canada. And you think, “Wait a second, there's way more Jewish people in Montréal or Quebec.” But, there's more children of Holocaust survivors here because of the Kinder Transport. A lot of kids who were orphans got sent to Vancouver. And it's just a really astonishing fact. When somebody told me that I was just shocked and I was like, “Oh, that's why also the way that Jewish culture is so hidden here.” It's like the combination of the British colonial mindset and the fact that these were the children of Holocaust survivors, so they were the people that had been cut off. Like myself, who were searching for their own history. Whereas, maybe, the parents or the intact families ended up in places like Montréal where it's okay to be more Jewish and ... no, in Vancouver it's like “No, we're going to drench you in Englishness.” Anyway laughs.
RS
A while ago you mentioned the PNE. One of the major observations that's probably tied to my own personal interest is these sites of memory. The PNE being one of them, which comes up in your film. But, I was also curious about this outside of the film because in speaking with you last time I was here, you talked about different times that these charged places affected you. One that I found interesting was when you actually went back to that house in North Van. So, maybe if you could just comment on what that was like for you, to go back to your grandfather and your grandmother's home?
PM
That was very easy to put in the film because the whole idea of home and what makes something home is so intrinsic to this story. It's ... where do you belong? Where is home? What's your culture? What's your identity? All of those things again. Also, the film that I made twenty-five years ago is called More Home Sum it's all about ... I'm going to try to travel around the world and I'm going to ask people all over the world what the word “home” meant to them. And got a hundred different answers and then made a film about that. So, of course, I had to go talk about that house, that home. But, it was very interesting when we went because I was so terribly excited to be in the same space that my mother had been in as a child. Just to experience the space. You know, to breathe in the same room that my mother had been in as a child. For me, it was absolutely thrilling because, I think, if you lose a parent when you're really young in some ways you spend your life searching for that person again. So, any trace of that person becomes sacred in a way. This was just terribly exciting. And then she had been there when she was so young, too. It was very exciting. So, I was just completely in this dreamlike trance-state wandering around from room to room, not waiting to be ushered into anything, just kind of trying to absorb every fragment of presence in the room and when we left, afterwards, my friend said, “Did you hear what the people were saying?” and I said, “Oh no, I didn't hear anything I was just in my own extraordinary ... happy. In this bubble of happiness.” And he said, “Wow, they were terrified.” And I said, “Well, what do you mean they were terrified? What were they saying?” and he said that they must have apologized to me ten, twelve times and tell me what year they bought the house and who they bought it from and where they came from and what their background was, and I was like, “Huh, why?” And he looked at me and he laughed, because I was so not thinking about what he was thinking about. And he said, “I think they were afraid that you were going to try to repossess your grandfather's home.” And I was like, “Gosh, that wouldn't even occur to me.” I was just so happy that it still existed and that I could go through it. I mean, another one of my grandfather's homes – I think I told you – the one that was in Oregon, which was the home that he was proudest of because he had designed it himself and had an architect build it, it was like the big deal of his success – when they went back after the war to try and find that home, somebody else had realized what a valuable home it was and how unique it was and whatever else ... they had moved the home. I don't even understand how you do this! You dig up the house or you take it apart board by board? I do not understand. The home itself wasn't there. It was gone. Forget about being able to reclaim your possessions. Their house was gone.
02:01:01.000
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RS
A He had designed it, but he had also put the physical work into that home, right? So, for you, going back to the house in North Van, it was a very personal experience, it was exciting, it was positive in a way for you – but, at the same time there was this other dialogue happening that ...
PM
That I was unaware of. I was unaware of. This tremendous guilt that was spilling out on my friend. Thank goodness my friend was there to mop it up because I was completely oblivious. I was just so thrilled about making this connection, and yet, the people that lived there were so besieged in guilt. And this is the tragedy of white guilt. It's like, “Wow, you're going to sink in your own white guilt. You're going to be completely useless. You're not going to be able to affect change.” You have to be able to commit to doing your part in cleaning up your part and get over any guilt of what has happened in the past so that we can make the future better.
RS
And see beyond your own worries.
PM
Right! And just see how connected we all are. It's not mine, it's not yours, it's everybody's. We live on unseated Coast Salish territory. The fact that I think that “I own this house” – technically I have a deed for this house – but, the whole country belongs to the aboriginal people who we have completely neglected and mistreated. I loved my friend's Lawrence Paul's show out at the Museum of Anthropology, which was out for about six months but it just closed recently and the book just won The Book of the Year Award for the city ... one of the things that he did to let people know about his show was he started this campaign that's called “Rename BC”. It's like, “Yeah, of course!”
RS
I think connection to place comes up in – whether it's home or camp, whatever it might be – they are very interesting ways in which that connection to place come up. And one of the ways that you brought to my attention this connection were the benches that you have here in your home. So, maybe you can tell me a little bit about some of the items that you have that come from this experience of, I guess, a general loss, but then also the experiences afterward.
PM
Well, these benches are from Tashme and they were made – I mean, they're very utilitarian, crude benches – they were made for the school kids there. When I went out and filmed at Tashme, I went up to Tashme on several different occasions- but, one of the times that I went the big red barn, which is the only building that was there during internment that's still there, all the other buildings are moved or destroyed, so that's the one building that you can recognize from photos ... and then in the downstairs of it, there's a side storage room with all this stuff in it kind of crammed in there and these benches were in there.
02:05:01.000
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So, I filmed them in there and there's some other things that I filmed, too. I filmed a medical cot that's also in the film, but they're kind of just molding away in this room and I talked to the person there, “Is there ever going to be a memorial site here? Are you saving these things because there's going to be a memorial site?” and she was like, “I don't know. We don't even really have any photographs of anything and I don't know who would run it or who would come to it or how we would raise money for it.” And so, I have another friend who does mushroom picking and for some reason, part of his route, he has to go by Hope, so he was phoning me again – he has a truck – he was phoning me and he was like, “I'm on my way to hope” or “I'm coming back from Hope” and “Is there anything you want me to pick up for you?” And I was like, “You know, I'm wondering if you could pick up these benches that are in the basement because I want to do an installation of the piece.” And I did do an installation at The Reach gallery, but I also wanted to do an installation to be able to send out to museums and stuff. So, I wanted to do it where it's projected in a room, but you know, it's long. That's why it's problematic for a lot of places. They're like, “It's too long to be an installation.” But, I wanted there to be a bench, so you can sit down. The same way it was in The Reach gallery, which was a beautiful museum bench. So, as soon as I saw the way it was installed in The Reach gallery, I realized, Gasp I have to go get the benches that are in Hope because nobody's using them and this would be perfect.” And then if I set it up with the actual bench that was made there it's like this living piece of history that you're sitting on. You may notice or you may not notice, but for me that just ups the level of authenticity a whole lot. It makes it like you are part of the history. You know, I love interactive things like that. So, I got a hold of the guy that was at the community centre, he was like, “Oh, wow! That sounds great, sure you can borrow them for as long as you like.” I was like, “Well, I'll try to get them back to you within a year or two, but I don't know how long it will take. But, if you ever want them, if the memorial centre ever gets built, obviously, that's the first place I want them to go.” So, I would love to make sure they're part of anything that goes out for Landscapes of Injustice, because I feel like those physical things - that's why I also wanted to ask you about which newspaper articles, which documents – because I think if you put that in a kids' hands, where they're like, “Oh, this is the thing that changed history. Just this thing right here,” that they won't be able to forget, you know? I mean, I think that's why it's so important to keep going out and telling these stories. I was so upset when the German government stopped funding the people ... there used to be Holocaust survivors who would go to schools and just tell their stories, just sit with the kids for an afternoon. And then, all the sudden, they decided, “We've had enough of this. We've done enough of this. We're not going to fund this anymore.” And I was just so upset. I'm like, “Okay, you just have to start it up over again.” So, yes please take a picture of the benches. Please figure out how to incorporate them so that they can be used for Landscapes of Injustice and, of course, I've been meaning to photograph them and write it up to be able to send a proposal for doing installations at museums as well, which is like ... my life is divided in this weird way between this high art world and then this completely populace educational ... I'll go and give a talk in a yoga studio or in a community centre or I was working over at the Native Friendship Centre with the kids that don't have any parents. Making films.
02:09:41.000
02:09:41.000
RS
That was actually my next question. In the grand scheme of trying to learn about your life through this ... I think it would be nice to hear about your life journey with education. I think that's something that's very important to you and it comes across in most of your stories and it just came up now – but you spoke to me a little bit about that the last time we met and I'd like to hear a little bit about your involvement with education and your passion there.
PM
I was extraordinarily lucky to go to an amazing school in New York City. And I really feel like that school saved my life because my mom died when I was four, and then after my mom died, for two years I lived in three different place because my dad could not take care of me and so I was all over the place sigh. Living with the different people ... and, I mean, I got to spend time with my grandma, which was great, I spent over a year over a year in Hawaii with my auntie, which was great – but, it's pretty hard when you're that little to not have a home and not have a sense of who your family is. Then I came back and my dad, doing completely the right thing for me, enrolled me in this extremely experimental school in the first year that it started, which was for alternative education run by this crazy wonderful man, who's now passed on. They just sent me the “Fifty Yearbook.” It's fifty years since the first grade and it's now one of the most famous schools in the world. Definitely one of the most famous schools in the United States because every idea about what education is supposed to be like was broken there. Of course, now, it's basically been destroyed by its own success because it was so crazy and rambunctious when I went there and now it's been so successful that the only people that can afford to go there are children of the richest artists in New York or children of the richest political people. So, it's gone from being this crazy eccentric school to being the uber prep school because, basically, within these very small classes everybody ends up going to ivy league schools. The wonderful thing about that school is there's no grades, the teachers are basically your friends, they start you on every major subject in third grade, so by the time you reach ninth grade you're finished all high school requirements. We took all our SATs and our achievement tests in ninth and tenth grade and we all aced all of them. They sent the testing people from Princeton, New Jersey from our school because they thought somehow the teachers were helping us cheat because they were like, “How can entire grade get eight hundred perfect scores on their biology tests? That's impossible.” And I was like, “Well, you haven't met our biology teacher ... he's awesome!” He was awesome. Really great, really great guy. He was an aids activist, well he wasn't actually an activist, he was just an astonishing teacher, like many of the other astonishing teachers that were there. I just got a note from my second and third grade teacher, who's still my friend. And we loved her so much in second grade that we marched together – organized by me laughs – we marched all together to the principal's office and said, “We love Coco, we're taking her to third grade!” So, we had her for second and third grade. That was the school where the principal would respond to a troop of fifteen second graders saying, “No, we're bringing our teacher with us!” So, it was a pretty great school. I guess the drawback of going to that school and having that much freedom from when I was very, very young was I thought that that was the way the world was and boy ... it was really harsh. I went to Harvard and I was disappointed because I was like, “Wow, this isn't very progressive” laughs. “Wow, people aren't trying to change the world.” It was really an exceptional education – but, because of that education and because of the safety I felt to explore ideas and concepts and follow my ideals, I've taught. I started teaching ... I was “helper teacher” when I was in high school and then I taught when I was in college and I've taught off and on forever since then, but often in situations where there's not a good education.
02:15:03.000
02:15:03.000
PM
So, often I think of teaching as my addiction or my hobby because I'll have to have a high-paying part-time job to pay for the fact that I am a teacher. But, I've taught for thirty-five, forty years and I've taught mostly film, but pretty much everything in every different situation like community centres and colleges and high schools and elementary schools and I've done camps for elders and activists and street workers and homeless kids. I just think it's just really important for people to have a voice and to know how to use their voice and to feel confident about telling their stories because I think once you have the power and that feeling of self-worth and that your story matters, it's pretty much one of the strongest things that you can do for another human being and it's also a really clear way, to me, that you can change the world. You can make progress. So, I love being a teacher – but, it's kind of rough because I don't often abide by the politics that are required in a lot of academic settings. I was a professor for a long time because my friend started the department. So, I helped him start this department at Parsons in New York City, we started the Master's in Design and Technology. But then when I left New York after 9-11, or because of 9-11 because I wanted to raise my son here, I haven't really been a professor since then. I think I did one semester where I taught at SFU because a friend of mine who taught at SFU was going on sabbatical, so they pulled me in at the last moment because, pretty much, everybody here knows that I could teach but I'm older than most of the teachers and there's a lot, a lot of politics that I ... and often people want me to design the curriculum ... I'd much rather be with the students. I don't want to be an administrator. I don't care that it pays more. I want to be with kids hearings their stories. I think I told you this one ... I only had fragments of the film, but I showed the fragments of the film when I was working on it at Powell Street Festival and it was a terrible screening. Oh my God. They couldn't figure out how to turn off the lights, so you couldn't even really see the screen, the audio ... it was just the most disgusting screening of all time. Of any of my films, ever, anywhere. And I've done seven films. It was just horrendous – but, I still loved the screening because it was at Powell Street there was, I think, five older people that have been at Tashme. That were at the screening. So, after this film was over there was this fantastic conversation, which I wish I had recorded. I didn't have recording equipment on me. But, “Hey, remember the piano player, oh man he was really cute, I wonder what happened to him!” and “Hey, remember ... where were you? Who's your older brother?” It was fantastic. And then the person who was most outspoken in that conversation was right at the front. This little old granny. Tiny, tiny person. I mean, really ... four-feet-something. And afterwards I went over to her and I said, “Wow, so glad you're here. This is why I do this work. I don't even know if I'll be able to give this to my aunties but I give it to you. I'm just so happy.” And she said, “Yeah, my grandson told me I had to be there. He told me you have to be there. I can't be there, but you'd better be there!” and I said, “Oh, that's great! Who's your grandson?” And her grandson, who I later interviewed for something else, which was great, was one of my film students. This person said, “My grandson's been bugging me for the last two years about having me tell him the stories. And comes in ... he's really bossy with this video camera and just sitting me down.” And I was like, “Who's your grandson?” and she told me his name and I was like, “Fantastic. He was one of my students.” And I was like, “Yes, yes, yes. It works. It works.” It's slow. Sometimes, you don't ever see the returns. Sometimes you don't know the ripple effect, but it works. If you connect to somebody in that way, it just deepens the relations.
02:20:04.000
02:20:04.000
RS
That's that serendipitous interconnectivity you were talking about, hey? It's a small world. And also the intergenerational work, too. It's really interesting. One other thing, which we can come back to it another time when we're more organized, but one thing you showed me last time we met was the photo album, family photo album. We can take a break and bring it out, try to get organized and maybe talk about it? Or, you can comment on it ... it might be more useful to talk about it in hand, but that's up to you. That was just something that was really captivating. To look at the actual photos. Like you said, you're obsessed with photos, especially those teeny-tiny ones.
PM
I love those teeny-tiny ones with the little scalloped edges. I mean, they're just so cute.
RS
Like stamps!
PM
They are like stamps and they're so precious and they're so faded, you can hardly see what's in them. But then now with digital technology, it's amazing how you can bring back these ghost photographs that are hardly there. It's fantastic. Another thing that I think is really interesting about History and Memory, which is my friend's film, Rea Tajiri – and one of her stories is in my film, too ... she didn't write it for me she wrote it to somebody else, about his film, and then he sent it to me and I was like, Gasp “Can you ask Rea if I can use that?” And I tried for two years to her recorded so it was her voice because it was her story. She wouldn't do it. It was really interesting because she's made four or five films about internment – but, I think she's just like, “I've done it, I've done it, I've done it so much. I don't want to talk about it anymore.” Anyway, so then I had a friend of mine who's Muslim record it and it's perfect. It's perfect. It's like, “Right, we're just connecting the dots, here.” The story that's at the very end that's about paying reparations and she says, “You know, even though we never really fully got to have my mom, at the very end of her life she could say, 'I, too, was in an internment camp.'.” So, words are important. Actions are more important, but words are a way in. But, images, photographs, are a very, very direct way in. I mean, they're just so quick-ins. Like, “Whoa, who's that?! Oh my goodness, she looks exactly like you!”
RS
I remember, vividly, the skiing photographs. Some in Vancouver, some in Japan.
PM
They were big, big skiers.
RS
I guess that's one sort of ...
PM
I think my grandfather basically started Grouse Mountain.
RS
Yeah! I was going to say I asked you earlier about parts of everyday life that were, perhaps, lost in Vancouver when moving and all that other stuff had to happen, or did happen - but, that was one way into seeing what it was like. The skiing and also just trying to start a trend. It's just so ... I don't know. It's just so interesting to see what was actually going on.
PM
I mean, I think my grandfather's story is quite exceptional because he was from a really fancy family in Japan, but it was a really big family and the parents died. It's kind of like a fairytale, it's so funny. And his older brother was a rapscallion-gambler and so this older brother, one of the oldest brothers, had basically gambled away the family fortune. And so, in Japan the honour of your family name is more important than any material possession that you could ever have. It's critical because it goes down in history. You could be long dead, but if you family name has been stained, you're put in the bad books somewhere. So, the remaining loyal servant to the family basically rounded up all the kids – actually, it's even sadder ... all the boys besides the horrible-gambling-older-brother – one morning. With nothing. With not even two suitcases. With nothing. With the clothes on their bodies. Took them down to the port and said, “Your older brother is going to destroy the family name because he's already hawked all of the things in the house and the house is going to have to be sold.”
02:25:02.000
02:25:02.000
PM
“So, we want you to be saved. We don't want you to be destroyed in this way” and bought them all tickets, put them on this ocean liner and shipped them over to San Francisco. So, my grandfather arrived in San Francisco as an orphan at the turn of the century, when he was eight or something. And then, here's what's even crazier, they didn't stick together. They all split up, which is crazy. My grandfather is such an incredibly industrious guy, he just work, work, work, work, work, work, work, work ... basically made a lot of money. I mean, a lot of money. Then he brought somebody over from Japan to marry whose family then had a store in Seattle, the “Hamada” store, which is right across from the Panama Hotel, which is where they stored a lot of stuff in the basement, which also has beautiful archival photographs that she got from people's family albums and then had a restoration photographer blow them up. It's really gorgeous, those photographs. And there's a little cutaway window in the floor in the tea shop, which shows the Japanese bathhouse, which used to be in the basement and also where they stored a lot of stuff, trying to salvage it for families. He worked, worked, worked, worked, worked and then he was so worried about preserving things for his children that he tried to have these different houses so that he could hold on to something, i.e. land, that couldn't be taken away from him – whoops! That didn't work. He made all his kids be multilingual. He was obsessed with them going to ivy league schools. Obsessed. One of the last things that he did before he shipped my auntie and my mom off to Japan to help them, save them during the war, he split up the family three different ways he old had kids left because his wife had died - he was like, “If I split up the family three different ways, somebody will survive. The name will survive. Somebody will survive.” So, he sent my mom and my auntie back to Japan during the war, so that they were kids living in Japan getting bombed in a country that wasn't theirs with Japanese faces and US passports. And the other thing he did was not only did they have to speak multiple languages, but they had to be really good athletes. So, it was like if they weren't studying they were learning how to ski better laughs. And none of that worked. He basically couldn't manage to save anything. So, I often talk about the internalized racism of trauma, I think that the message went out to the next generation, his children ... that there's no way to be safe. And so, I mean, there's a lot of people that explain it a lot of different ways, but Japanese Americans and Japanese Canadians have the highest out-marriage rate of any community, any ethnicity that's ever been documented, ever been studied. And I believe that's because they had already tried everything else, they were already model citizens in every single way. I mean, my grandpa was a big donor to the community centre and the-this and the-that, and so what else left was there? It's like, “Okay, disguise yourself. Make sure nobody can ever identify you by your face. If you marry a white person, you can erase your own features.” Other people have explained it other ways because of the breakup of Japantown, for example. Everybody scattered and you were lucky if even there was another Japanese family living anywhere near you, so of course, you were not going to ... but, I don't know. I just ... there's just so many kinds of cultural erasure. I think you were talking about it before, with the numbers and the stripping and the ... the humiliation. It's about humiliating people out of their history. Silencing people.
02:29:48.000
02:29:48.000
RS
It is so amazing to find those bits of history, though. Where you can see, this might of have been just a Tuesday and, “We're skiing on Grouse Mountain,” which at that time, wasn't the Grouse Mountain that it is now. The hip place to go, right? So, it's interesting ... the, I don't want to say simple, but the more detailed bits of everyday life. To see them in photos like that. PIA Another thing that I thought was really funny that I found out from my auntie, who's now go on, she said, “Oh yeah, when grandpa was working with the logging company there was no Lion's Gate Bridge. He took the ferry to work every morning.” There used to be a little ferry from North Van into the False Creek area, where the mills were. There were mills and barrel factories there. And so, he would go across by a little boat. There was no bridge. And I look like at the Lion's Gate Bridge and I'm like, “It's this venerable thing.” No. No. Within my grandpa's lifetime that wasn't there. When I've done other oral histories with people in Vancouver, because I did this other peace project a long time ago, and I was talking to his one woman and she was talking about Mount Pleasant and she said, “Oh yeah, our milk used to be delivered by cart, by horse cart. We'd hear the horse and we'd go out and we'd get our milk. There weren't any roads. Nothing was paved, it was just grass.” And I was like, “What? Your milk came on a milk cart, driven by a horse and the street was grass? Broadway was grass?”
RS
Are there any other interesting snapshots of history that you've learned through this process of looking into your family, or just into other Japanese American or Japanese Canadian history?
PM
Well, I love hearing other people's stories. A friend of mine, Sherry Sakamoto, her dad was a fisherman in Steveston and all the fisherman got all their boats taken away and she and her brother have just given back their dad's boat to the museum there, so it'll be one of the boats that's preserved. You know, you just realize how people deeply love this place. No matter how much you shove them around, they'll still love this place. The reason why other people know Sherry's name is because twenty-five years ago when they made Pacific Spirit Park out there, they had a competition for naming it in the Globe and Mail and Sherry named it Pacific Spirit Park. She was the one that came up with the name. And so, if you go up to Pacific Spirit Park, one of the trails is called the Sherry Sakamoto trail. I think, if you really, really love something, it belongs to you. All this “blah-biddy-blah” about legal, technical, signed documents ... no, if you love it, if you take care of it, it belongs to you. So, that's why I find the whole reparations and reconciliation process so ... I mean, yes, I'm grateful, but I as I say that I'm heaving a big sigh because I feel like, Well, there's so much work to be done and a gesture of bowing or a gesture of language is so, so, so not enough. We just have such an enormous debt of gratitude to these people that have taken care of this beautiful place for us for so long. I love the way geography has changed. That's the other thing.
RS
Laughs I'm so glad I was able to tell you about it!
PM
No, it's so funny because Jess Hallenbeck, a friend of mine who is in geography out at UBC was the first person who had explained this to me because she was over here helping me, actually, with the titles for the film - she's a video editor as well - she saw the book, she still has it, I called her on it the other day, too, I was like, “Jess, when are you returning that book?” ... Dorothea Lange's autobiography, which was on my shelf. She goes, “Dorothea Lange's one of my heroes.” I said, “You can borrow the book if you read it, then return it.” Well, she's had it for several years. And I'll get it back from her one of these days, because I know where it is.
02:35:06.000
02:35:06.000
PM
But, being able to bring forward the stories of my heroes, also, was just also such a great joy. Being able to bring forward Miné Okubo's story that I didn't know about. And you know who turned me on to Miné Okubo's story is my white, half-sister who was a civil rights lawyer for a long time. She was like, “Have you ever read this book?” I was like, “What book?” She sent it to me and I was like, “Wow!” Or, Dorothea Lange was just such a pioneer. Or, my grandmother who hardly anybody knows because she was behind the scenes. These are the women who hold the world together. They're the glue that makes real radical social change happen. And their names aren't known. They don't run for office. They're too busy cooking dinner and raising children and patching people's busted skulls sigh. A really good friend of mine was over here the other day and she's a street nurse in the Downtown Eastside. It was right after the election, I had a Potluck for the Peace to raise money to make sure the Site C Dam doesn't go through and I was like, “What do we do? How do we do this work?” And she was so sweet, she's such a frontline worker. She said, “Pia, you're making dinner for people. That's the best thing you could possible do!” and I was like, “No, I like making dinner, it's so much fun.” She goes, “And yeah, and when you like it, that's even better. Stay with what you love. That's the point. Do what you love, but do it even more. We need it even more.”
RS
That reminds me of one question, not question, but maybe talking point for you. Throughout this whole process, when I started the interview I talked about how in many different ways this personal and both professional web that goes along with this journey of your film and also of your life, which also got me thinking about your own purpose and what I've observed as you've been talking to me. One thing that comes up over and over again is bringing together Japanese American and Japanese Canadian experiences and narratives and, perhaps, stories that have been lost. And so, before we take a short break and we can take out the photos and just take a breather, I wanted to see if you had anything that you wanted to say about that. About bringing those two experiences together with you in that corridor, as you've mentioned. And also, if there was anything else that you wanted to share with somebody listening to this interview, or somebody introduced to what this project is talking about, if there's anything you could say to the wider audience, what would that be? Those are two big questions, but maybe starting with why you want to bring Japanese American and Japanese Canadian experiences together is maybe a good place to start.
PM
I think the 49th parallel, like many other national boundaries, is so arbitrary. I actually think – I wrote an essay about this, which is in Adbusters – I really think the whole idea of the nation-state is over. It's just ... we're more connected. We're bigger than that now. And so, it's an antique idea whose time has passed. The US and Canada ... they have such a funny relationship to each other. It's so absurd. They copy each other in the worst ways. They don't copy each other in the good ways, they copy each other in the bad ways and then they blame each other. Canadians are always like, “Such a bad big brother-bully lives downstairs.” And it's like, “No. No, no, no, no.” Canadians have just as many crimes and sins going on it's just that they're quieter, they don't talk about them. So, I think that's one of the things, again, has made me so thrilled about Standing Rock, but even about all these different movements that have been going on for the past few years. Starting in Egypt, starting with the Arab Spring. Because of the interconnectivity, because of people's ability to communicate on a person-to-person level, that kind of political stupidity is just ... you can shine the light of day on it. You can open up the box and get there to be a more equitable world or you can at least bring people's attention to it. And it's really about seizing the narrative, it's about being able to change the narrative, which is why I really like teaching people how to make films and articulate their ideas in words and images. So, if I have anything to people – and I'm sorry I'm so long-winded in the way that I say it, but – I just really want people, everyone, to realize the worth of their own story and to go out and start connecting their stories to their parents, their grandparents, their ancestors, so they can contextualize how their story fits into much, much bigger stories. And then they can realize how everything is connected and make those changes. It also just gives you so much more of a personal sense of belonging ... and happiness. Continuity. It's like the continuity of your ancestors. These are people to talk to.
RS
Long pause. Alright smiles and nods. Do you want to take a break?
PM
Sure!
RS
Alright, I'll pause it. But, thank you. Thank you.
02:41:54.000

Metadata

Title

Pia Massie, interviewed by Rebeca Salas, 05 December 2016

Abstract

After knowing so little about her Japanese Canadian and American heritage for much of her life, Pia shares her long, arduous, and often serendipitous journey of self-discovery. A large part of this journey involves the creative process of her film Just Beyond Hope. The film features women’s internment stories, Tashme internment camp, and personal and legal evidence of wartime injustice. The filming process of Just Beyond Hope involves heavy personal and technical research, which Pia details. Pia also gives her opinions regarding intergenerational experiences, plus what she has discovered about her family history from Japan and North Vancouver, British Columbia. She shares her life experiences as an educator, activist, artist, and avid storyteller, which all relate to a sense of just belonging, identity, and community. Much of Pia’s interview (and her film-making) revolves around place and the intimate ties and responsibility people have to it.

Credits

Interviewer: Rebeca Salas
Interviewee: Pia Massie
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Kitsilano, Vancouver, BC.
Keywords: Film; Just Beyond Hope; Tashme ; Women; North Vancouver ; New York; Family; Japanese American; Japanese Canadian; Internment; Activist; Interconnectivity; Hapa; Stories; Education; Intergenerational Trauma; Rocky Shimpo; 1933-2016

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.