This month Cinema Asian America on XFINITY On Demand features Akira Boch’s powerful short documentary “From 9066 to 9/11,” a historical examination of civil liberties and race. Drawing linkages between the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII (done under the presidential Executive Order 9066), and the detentions of Arab and Muslim Americans after 9/11, the film offers a new comparative consideration of how the US has responded domestically to conflicts it is drawn into and how history too often, is repeated.
Why was it important for you to make the historical linkages between the experiences of Japanese Americans during WWII and Arab and Muslim Americans after 9/11? The project was produced by the Japanese American National Museum; can you comment on how it was a critical part of the Museum’s mission?
After the attacks of September 11, there was an instant public backlash against Arab Americans and Muslims. Anyone who looked like the “enemy” became suspect. The same thing happened to Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the parallels were obvious. Unfortunately, the backlash against Japanese Americans during World War II resulted in the mass incarceration of 120,000 innocent people. It became the mission of many Japanese American individuals and community groups, including the Japanese American National Museum, to use our community’s history in order to protect the rights of our Arab American and Muslim brothers and sisters. As we all know, if we forget our history, we may find ourselves repeating it.
In the years immediately after 9/11 we saw much solidarity and joint activism between the Asian American and Muslim and Arab American communities. Ten years after 9/11, have these alliances developed further, or become less relevant?
From what I’ve seen at political, community, and even religious events over the past ten years, I feel that the bonds between Asian American and Muslim and Arab American community groups have solidified. People have realized that there is power in numbers, and that we will always be stronger as partners rather than separate entities. There may be differences between the groups, but we can rally around the common interests of civil rights and the need to be fully accepted in this country. The relationship between Asian Americans and Muslim and Arab Americans may have begun as an unlikely friendship, but has become an alliance that no longer needs explanation.
Political activism in the US is continually changing in terms of where people engage with ideas, and how. The university campus, which was so critical to activism in the 60s and 70s, is arguably a much more de-politicized place today, and we see community organizations and institutions in many ways leading the way. Where do you see the locus of engaged political activism today?
Your question raises more questions for me. If we can’t identify an obvious locus of engaged political activism, does that mean that we lack direction? What will it take to get people to become politically involved? There are countless organizations and institutions out there pushing their political/cultural/social agendas and working in solidarity with each other. Regardless of whether or not they are achieving their goals, they are providing people with something that I believe is essential to life, which is a strong sense of community. And great things can happen when we become a part of something larger than our selves.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently in post-production on an independent feature that I wrote and directed called “The Crumbles.” We’re planning to start screening it at film festivals in 2012. While there is nothing overtly political about the movie, you’ll see that my worldview remains firmly intact!