After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Americans of Japanese ancestry were subjected to racial hatred, distrust, and incarceration.
Today, in the aftermath of 9/11, Arab and Muslim Americans have the same fears. Rob Mikuriya explores what it's like to be American with "the face of the enemy."
Face to Face: Stories From the Aftermath of Infamy was produced in 2002.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Rob Mikuriya
Why did you choose to juxtapose the stories of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 in your documentary? Why is this an important and relevant comparison?
Our guiding principle for this project centered around the old saying: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I felt that the juxtaposition of these two events would help people gain more understanding, tolerance, and compassion for the people and issues involved, so that what happened before will never happen again.
You say that Face to Face explores what it means to be an American "with the face of the enemy." Were you motivated to tell this story because of discrimination you or your family members have experienced?
I am a third-generation Japanese-American or "sansei." The forced incarceration of Japanese-Americans during WWII was a big part of my family's history so I have always been looking for a context in which to explore, illuminate and gain insight into what happened. As my perspective cleared following the horrifying and tragic events of 9/11, I realized that a strong connection was developing between what happened to my parents and other Japanese Americans in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and what was happening to Arab and Muslim Americans today. Face to Face was a way to place both of these traumatic events into a context that was meaningful and engaging and that would impinge on as wide an audience as possible.
Did you approach this documentary expecting to find similarities in the stories you were told? And, if so, we're you surprised by any of what you heard?
I definitely expected to find similarities, but I never thought they'd have so much in common. If you read some of the accounts without reference to age or time period, you could almost substitute the stories from the 1940s with those from today. It was also a very gratifying experience for me to get back in touch with my family's history and find out more about the Japanese American experience back in the early 1940s. And it was illuminating for me to hear the experiences of Muslim/Arab/South Asian Americans today as it helped put what happened to my parents into a modern context.
Face to Face pulls listeners along in such an interesting way because there's no narrator to guide us, and we don't even know who's talking at first. Why did you choose to make the program this way?
Since the stories are so similar in subject and tone, we decided to let them play by themselves and let the listener figure out which group was talking and which event was being discussed. It does become obvious rather quickly who is speaking, but the point we were trying to make is that these two situations are very similar, yet they occurred 60 years apart. Also since there was just the slimmest of dramatic threads running through the linear narrative, I felt that the "mystery" presented by the unadorned voices would help draw the listener into the stories.
What does the Face to Face website add to the experience of this project that the documentary alone doesn't provide?
I felt that the emotional power of the personal stories could be combined with the interactive power of the Internet to create a new kind of media experience. One in which the user has the ability to explore those aspects of the material which are most interesting to him or her, creating their own unique narrative experience each and every time they visit the site. I like to think of the Face to Face website as an "interactive documentary."
Now that the U.S. is at war with Iraq do you feel that Face to Face offers any additional relevancy?
The specter of war in the Middle East only increases the public's uneasiness and mistrust of people who have the face of the enemy. And if there is another terrorist attack on our country, the antipathy, prejudice and hatred will escalate to unseen proportions without regard to the constitutional rights that all Americans possess. Right now, it is imperative that the issues presented by Face to Face be communicated to and discussed by as many people in as many situations and venues as possible.