Documentary film on Poston's babies

Stories of Japanese American women’s struggles to raise children in the World War II desert prison give importance to preservation efforts.
By Christine McFadden

Pacific Citizen Correspondent
April 20, 2012

     As a child, Marlene Shigekawa did not know the true nature of her birthplace.
“When I was younger, I would ask where I was born, and my mom would say, ‘Poston,’” said Shigekawa. “But it was like some mysterious place."
     Her mother, Misako, gave birth to two children while incarcerated in Poston, the largest of the WWII Japanese American camps near Parker, Ariz. Separated by three sites each 1-3 miles apart, Poston once incarcerated over 18,000.
     “Other friends could point to the hospital where they were born,” she said. “Poston was like some mystery in Arizona.”

 At Poston camp 1 (left), Misako Shigekawa had two children Marlene (baby on lap) and brother Gerald

      Now Shigekawa spends time trying to find connections at Poston.   A Poston Community Alliance board member, Shigekawa is producing a documentary on Poston’s mothers and babies focused on the perspective of women who gave birth and raised children in camp.
     “Specifically, mothers and babies from Poston are significant because they represent the very transition of a generation and it meant that the internment ‘stamp’ was indelibly being left on two generations instead of just one,” said Daryl Brown, another Poston Community Alliance board member. His mother was born in Camp 1.

Kodomo no tame ni
     The subject of the Poston documentary is a unique one, born from personal experiences.
     Shigekawa and Dr. Ruth Okimoto, a Poston Community Alliance board member who spent three years in Camp 3 as a child, came up with the idea together.
     “We talked about how we couldn’t imagine how it was to have raised a child and also give birth [in camp],” said Shigekawa.
What kept everyone together in camp? What provided hope?
     Many Japanese Americans adopted the expression Kodomo no tame ni or “For the sake of the children” while incarcerated during WWII, especially the mothers in the camps.
 Now Marlene (right, center), with her daughter Quincy Godin and Misako, is producing a new documentary about mothers raising children in camp

      Misako, now 103, who was five months pregnant with a baby boy when she was uprooted from her home and forced into Poston, will be featured in the documentary.
Misako gave birth in Poston Camp 1.
     “She told me how when she got off the train, she was so thirsty,” said Shigekawa about her mother. “My father gave her water, but it was full of mud because they had just begun to transfer water from the Colorado River.”
     Another time a milk truck, crucial to mothers raising young children, was hijacked.
Not only was it difficult to give birth and raise children in camp due to adverse climate and health conditions, but there was little to no privacy as well.
     “She told me of another woman who was giving birth, and there were no curtains,” said Shigekawa.
     While trying to maintain a sense of normalcy, Poston mothers faced additional stress in the face of “this oppressive environment, being in prison, and being violated in terms of not having civil rights,” she added.
     Dianne Kiyomoto, also a Poston Community Alliance board member, has been providing historical information for the film. There was a stark contrast between how Parker residents perceived the quality of life in the camp and what JAs experienced, she said.
     “Having the documentary made will help to dispel the rumors of the ‘pampered’ living conditions thought by some,” said Kiyomoto.
     So far, three mothers have been found to include in the documentary. The filmmakers are searching for additional mothers or (now grown) babies of Poston. Production has just begun with a target completion date of June 2013.
     The film is directed by Joe Fox and James Nubile, who previously directed the documentary “Passing Poston: An American Story” in 2008. Shigekawa hopes that the film’s “universal theme” will help to “shed light on the camp experience,” through film festivals and public television.
     “The whole internment experience occupies far too small a piece of our educational curriculum in America, and efforts like this documentary and other initiatives at the Poston Community Alliance are working to create historical infrastructure so that the generation of my children and grandchildren will benefit from the knowledge surrounding this important piece of our country’s past,” said Brown.

Bringing Back the Barrack
     Preservationists are also working to enhance Poston’s historical infrastructure by returning an original barrack to Camp 1. The site currently contains a monument and adobe classrooms built by the JAs in the camp. An original auditorium, which was previously standing, was vandalized and burnt down.
     Okimoto spearheaded the Poston Restoration Project that set aside 80 acres of reservation land for restoration. A National Park Service grant was successfully acquired in 2011 for preservation efforts.
     A few years ago, a local resident donated an original barrack. The two-tiered roofed barrack, which belonged to Virginia Ramsey, is considered a historic structure. While some former barracks were remodeled to look like homes, Ramsey used the structure mostly for storage and kept it close to its original state.  
     The Alliance is hoping to return the barrack to Camp 1 with future plans to build a visitor’s center and a museum.
     The barrack is located in the town of Parker, Arizona, about 15 miles away, so moving has proven to be a difficult task. Required by the National Park Service to hire a consultant to help develop a moving plan, the barrack first needs to be physically stabilized before the move can begin.
     An additional $10,000 is needed to stabilize the barrack.  “It’s one step in a larger effort to begin developing a master plan for a whole site,” Shigekawa said. The site has been recommended to be a National Historic Landmark and is currently awaiting approval from the Secretary of the Interior.
     The deadline for raising the funds to return the barrack to Poston is May 15 due to the grant’s constraints.
     “We hope that the families are interested in our project and want to help us to ensure that future generations will be able to see the ‘remaining’ structures of Poston that were constructed by the hands and labor of their Japanese ancestors,” said Kiyomoto. “We cannot let this important evidence of the camps be neglected and destroyed by erosion and time.”

Poston Mothers and Children
      The Poston Community Alliance is searching for former internees who were mothers during their time of incarceration at Poston and also their children to participate in this new documentary film.

Contact: Marlene Shigekawa, producer, marshige@comcast.net.

Save Poston's barrack
To help move the original barrack back to Poston Camp 1, please send tax-deductible donations to: 
Marlene Shigekawa, Treasurer
Poston Community Alliance
956 Hawthorne Dr.
Lafayette, CA 94549

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