Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Cats is Coming!

The Cats of Mirikitani, that is. The film will be shown at the Minidoka Civil Liberties Symposium June 24 and 25, 2010 in Twin Falls, Idaho. Its director and producer, Linda Hattendorf, will attend to participate in a panel discussion of art in and about Japanese-American Internment Camps.

Linda met the artist Jimmy Mirikitani while he living on the streets of New York City, where he drew cats, Hiroshima in flames, and scenes from the Tule Lake Internment Camp. When she found him coughing in the dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center, Linda brought Jimmy into her small apartment. She helped him apply for Social Security benefits, find an apartment, reconnect with the sister he had not seen since they were sent to different internment camps, and continue to create his art. Jimmy Mirikitani's artwork has since been exhibited at the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle and other locations around the country.

I saw The Cats of Mirikitani last fall and could not stop thinking about it. As a child I heard my mother's story of her friend teaching at the Tule Lake Camp. As an adult I visited the sites of camps in Arizona and Idaho. As a caring person I am embarrassed by the institutionalized racism that allowed American citizens to be interned.

I contacted Linda Hattendorf and told her I was working to bring her film and Jimmy's artwork to Idaho.

Boise poet, photographer, and publisher, Betty K. Rodgers, saw my first blog post about the Cats of Mirikitani and put me in touch with Dr. Robert Sims, Professor of History, Emeritus at Boise State University. When I met Bob for coffee on a morning just before Christmas, he had already visited his young granddaughters, read them a morning story, and walked one to her school bus. Bob had watched The Cats of Mirikitani the weekend before and joined me in wanting to bring The Cats to Idaho.

Bob Sims has researched and written about Japanese Americans in Idaho and, in retirement, is working on a book about the Minidoka Camp north of Twin Falls. This is where Jimmy Mirikitani's sister was sent over sixty years ago. The camp is now a National Historic Site, where the Friends of Minidoka and the National Park Service preserve the history of the internment experience. Former internees and their families return to Minidoka each year on a pilgrimage to remember their three-year incarceration during World War II.

The Minidoka Civil Liberties Symposium is held each year in conjunction with the pilgrimage. Bob has been part of the symposiums from the start and is often a featured speaker. Past symposiums have examined the role of journalism in times of crisis and presidential powers in wartime. Bob was tickled to tell me that this year's event would examine connections between art and civil liberties and focus on art in and about the interment camps.

Encouraged by my visit with Bob, I contacted Wendy Janssen, Superintendent of Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument and the Minidoka National Historic Site. Before coming to Idaho, Wendy worked to preserve African American history at several national parks. She agreed that the film would be a valuable addition to the symposium and promised funding to bring it and Linda Hattendorf to Idaho. Unfortunately, arranging an art show is more complex; Idaho must wait to see Jimmy Mirikitani's artwork.

Earlier this spring, I was delighted to invite Linda and The Cats of Mirikitani to the Minidoka Civil Liberties Symposium. Linda will be able to squeeze a trip to Idaho into a summer filled with teaching and film work. She reports that Jimmy Mirikitani, now 91, is doing well despite a recent trip to the emergency room after a fall.

My To Do list:
Bring The Cats of Mirikitani to Boise? Check.
Bring Jimmy Mirikitani's artwork to Boise? Still on my list.

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