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Santa Monica College's “Heart Mountain” Revisits Japanese Internment

Frank Gruber for City Council





Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pico Business Improvement District
7th Annual Pico Festival
Sunday, October 28th

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

October 26, 2012 -- “The war started on a Sunday and I went to school on Monday,” said Noboru Kamibayashi. “When I came home, my father was gone because they had taken him to the local jail.”

A few months later, Kamibayashi and his family were told they would have to move from their home in Washington state to the arid east California desert -- to a place called Manzanar.

Kamibayashi was 11 years old when his family moved.

It was April 1942 and only months earlier, the Japanese Air Force had devastated Pearl Harbor, killing thousands of American soldiers and bringing the U.S. into World War II.

Kamibayashi is one of several former internees who will be speaking at the November 4 performance of “Heart Mountain,” a play written by Bruce Smith, SMC public information officer and award-winning playwright.

Smith interviewed Kamibayashi -- along with several others -- while writing “Heart Mountain,” a dramatic play about the life a family living in an internment camp by the same name.

Heart Mountain “became a center for a draft resistance movement,” said Smith, whose play revolves around a fictional family torn apart by being forced between to choose sides in the conflict.

During the war, Japanese-Americans were given a questionnaire, Smith said. Two questions were of particular importance.

One asked if internees would swear allegiance to the U.S.; the other asked them to denounce any allegiance to the Empire of Japan. Those who answered “yes” to both could be drafted into the U.S. Armed Services.

Those who answered “no” to both were sent to Tule Lake internment camp, reserved for traitors, Smith said.

Kamibayashi was too young to get the questionnaire, but his parents answered “no” to both questions and he followed them to Lake Tule.

“We just rolled with the punches. There wasn't much else we could do at the time,” he said.

Smith interviewed several internees for his story.

“I wanted to get as much of an authentic feel of a camp as I could,” he said. “I even stole some of the anecdotes.”

He recounted a story one of his subjects had told him about how her mother couldn't get her new shoes when she had outgrown her old ones. Internees were subject to strict rationing and her mother had spent their ration coupons on a coat, Smith said.

Her mother took the girl's old shoes and cut off the heels, so that they would fit her better, Smith said.

Kamibayashi -- who still returns to the site where Manzanar stood -- said that he's happy to talk about his experience.

“Even now, there are people who haven't heard of the internment,” he said. But he thinks talking about it helps bring awareness.

Sometimes, talking isn't enough, he said. He said that he tells his grandchildren about his experience, but there is a disconnect.

“I don't think they fully understand. They don't know what confinement is like,” he said.

Smith's “Heart Mountain” will run from November 2 to 11 in the SMC Theatre Arts Studio Stage on the main campus at 1900 Pico Blvd.

The panel discussion will be held at 4:30 p.m. after the 2 p.m. performance on November 4.

Show times for “Heart Mountain” are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. An additional 2 p.m. matinee is added for November 10.

Tickets are $10 in advance and $13 at the door, with a service charge, and can be purchased by calling (310) 434-4319 or by going to Parking is free on Friday evenings and weekends.

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