Highlighting May Namba’s impact on the world, a documentary film will examine her WWII incarceration, resilience and community service.
The film (title pending) will be a documentary short, approximately 30 minutes in duration. The format will chronicle May’s life from high school graduation to the present in a visually striking experience. Interwoven throughout will be the overarching narratives of Japanese Americans during WWII. These experiences include discrimination, mass incarceration and resilience. Other themes in the film include love and family, community service, social justice and the mentorship of younger generations.
May Namba has made an impact on so many lives. She’s known to many as an “Auntie” or their “Mother” away from home. May gives her time to others constantly, from large endeavors like serving on the board of three different non-profit organizations and smaller gifts such as handmade blankets to the homeless.
In some ways, May’s story parallels that of my own grandmother, Kiyomi Momohara. They were both young when they were incarcerated at Minidoka and that experience changed their lives forever. Although my own grandmother justifiably does not wish to discuss her experiences, May is willing to give us all insight into life at Minidoka and its wake. Her graciousness, generosity and volunteerism combined with her quick wit and charismatic personality makes her an effective leader and mentor.
May’s life encompasses some of most important events in our country’s history. In 1942, shortly after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, May was forced to resign from her job as a clerk in the Seattle School District because of her Japanese Ancestry. War hysteria gripped our country. Parents at the school believed that May and her peers might poison the students in loyalty to Japan.
Shortly after loosing her job, May was incarcerated at the Minidoka Relocation Center, in Hunt Idaho. During WWII, 120,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated at various camps throughout the US. Although May only stayed at Minidoka for a few years, others were held for up to five.
Eventually, our government realized that the incarcerees were not a national security threat and began allowing individuals sponsored work release. May found a job as a nanny and housekeeper in Spokane, Washington, however, she found the racism unbearable. So, she left her job and returned to Minidoka, undoubtedly, one of the few to gain her freedom and then return to Minidoka.
Also during this time, May met her future husband, Tom Namba. Tom was also incarcerated at Minidoka, however volunteered for the US Army. He was sent to the European Theater in the 442nd Regiment and served abroad for several years. During that time, May received a work release with the Boy Scouts of America where she was a secretary for the Chicago office and after the war moved back to Seattle with Tom and started a family. May and Tom had five boys! And now she is a Grandmother to 9 as well.
May became a member of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) in the 1980’s and a spokesperson for the group of Seattle clerks who where forced to resign. She and others demanded a formal apology and redress from the US government for the unjust incarceration.
In 1983, a bi-partisan Congressional Commission investigated the WWII incarceration and produced a report titled Personal Justice Denied. The commission found that the federal government had succumbed to war-hysteria, and official letters of apology and redress checks were mailed to living individuals who were sent to the camps. May was among them.
Later on, May’s volunteerism took a new turn after the attacks on September 11, 2001. She spoke out in support of those with Muslim or Arab backgrounds who were being discriminated against for their heritage. She used her own experience of injustice to discuss how negative stereotypes impact us all.
For several decades, May has visited K-12 classrooms to share her story with children. She strongly believes we can learn from her experiences so that future generations do not make the same mistake.
Minidoka is now a National Historic Site, which means it is part of the National Park System. May was instrumental in uniting the National Park Service and the Japanese American Community to in public meetings to discuss planning for the site and a visitors’ center. May also co-chaired the first many Minidoka Pilgrimages in 2003 and is still on the Pilgrimage Committee and Friends of Minidoka board today.
Where does the funding go?
Editing/Consulting, Travel, Labor, Equipment Rental, Purchase of Historic Footage, Rewards, and Kickstarter Fees
The inspiration board is a virtual gallery of those who are inspiring creation of this film. See photos of the contributors of $25 or more.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
The biggest challenges to making this film are time and distance. Making even a short film requires an immense amount of time, but I am proficient in video editing software, especially FinalCutPro. I’ve carved out quite a bit of time to spend with May and her family this summer, but distance is a concern.
Because this project is important to me personally and as an artist, I’ve made changes in my academic career to allow more time to dedicate to my studio. With a less ridged academic schedule, I will be able to travel to May more and devote more time to focusing on her story. It’s one that I strongly believe May’s story should be seen by a wider community.
I’m not one to turn down funding! However, http://kickstarter.com does require that I meet my fundraising goal or I will not receive any of the pledged funds. So, the more people who use the kickstarter option, the better. But, if that is not possible, email me and we can work out the details of a check. firstname.lastname@example.org This movie is being made! And I do need to pay for it.
I'll be able to pay myself while working on the film. Since this film was definitely being made, I didn't want to set my fundraising goal too high and not reach full funding! Kickstarter is an all or nothing venture. Also, now that the goal has been reached, I will have some room for unexpected expenses. I've already realized that I have to go back to Boise to interview someone, so the extra funding is very welcome.
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