Listen Up! Temple University Press Podcast, Episode 4: Rachel Schreiber, author of Elaine Black Yoneda

This week in North Philly Notes, we debut the latest episode of the Temple University Press Podcast, which features host Sam Cohn interviewing author Rachel Schreiber about her book Elaine Black Yoneda, the first critical biography of this pioneering Jewish activist.

The Temple University Press Podcast is where you can hear about all the books you’ll want to read next.

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About this episode

Elaine Black Yoneda is the remarkable story of a Jewish activist who joined her incarcerated Japanese American husband and son in an American concentration camp during World War II. Author Rachel Schreiber deftly traces Yoneda’s life as she became invested in radical politics and interracial and interethnic activism. Schreiber illuminates the ways Yoneda’s work challenged dominant discourses and how she reconciled the contradictory political and social forces that shaped both her life and her family’s. Highlighting the dangers of anti-immigrant and anti-Asian xenophobia, Elaine Black Yoneda recounts an extraordinary life.

Temple University Press’s Annual Holiday Give and Get

This week in North Philly Notes, the staff at Temple University Press suggests the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to receive and read this holiday season. 

We wish everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Give: This year I’d give friends and family a subscription to the Press journal Kalfou, which publishes articles on racial and ethnic studies and social justice that are especially relevant these days. For example, recent articles addressed racialized juvenile incarceration, the role of murals as “monument[s] to blackness,” the ethnic and social makeup of “essential” workers during the pandemic, and the global racial and gender health inequalities exacerbated by COVID-19. 

Get:  At this point my bookshelves and devices are full of books I haven’t gotten to yet, which is what’s held me back from buying the 800+-page The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois, by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers. But if someone were to give it to me, it would go at the top of my long to-be-read list.

Karen Baker, Associate Director and Financial Manager

Give: I would give Real Philly History, Real Fast, by Jim Murphy, because my son-in-law is very interested in exploring Philadelphia and this book would be a great guide for him.

Get: I would like to receive Will, by Will Smith, because he is a Philly guy and I think his story would be very interesting.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Give: Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic’s edited collection Critical Race Theory, our doorstopper reader on the subject. There is so much fear and misunderstanding associated with teaching critical race theory (CRT) in our schools that it has become the flashpoint in the culture. This massive volume with over 800 pages and a large array of voices and topics provides much understanding of what CRT is and what it is not.  

Get: I hope to get Bryant Terry’s Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora. It’s my kind of cookbook with not only recipes and beautiful art, but history, poetry, and a musical playlist curated by the author!! 

Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

Give: We have a bounty of attractive and engrossing trade titles this year, but I’m going with Barksdale Maynard’s Artists of Wyeth Country. This project has personal resonance for me in part because I spent a lot of time in the Brandywine Valley as a kid, and I have very fond memories of it—visiting our close family friends who live there, and taking many long walks through what I now know is Wyeth country. Maynard’s book embraces this locale just as the Wyeth family and their local artistic kin have for generations. It’s a unique project, part family biography and part tour guide, and I know so many people who have a special affinity for these artists, their work, and this place. It’s a pretty perfect gift. 

Get: The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. This book promises to upend core understandings about the past, who we are, and how we arrived at this civilizational point. I’ll read it in hopes it can also upend some of our darker conventional wisdom about the apparently rather dismal present and future. Fingers crossed. Rest in peace, David Graeber.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor

Give: The Evolution of a Cricket Fan, by Samir Chopra. I don’t know much about cricket, but this isn’t just a book about the game—it’s about tracing your growth and change and sense of belonging through your relationship with sports fandom. 

Get: Intimacies: A Novel, by Katie Kitamura. Maybe it’s just professional interest, but I’ve been intrigued lately by books that break conventional storytelling structures and grammars. Hopefully, it will leave me more open-minded and helpful when my authors need help delivering their message in unconventional ways.

Shaun Vigil, Editor

Give: Rachel Schreiber’s Elaine Black Yoneda offers a deeply researched and narratively engaging view into Elaine Black Yoneda’s singular life. On a personal note, it was the first title I signed since joining the Press, which makes it all the more special to see in print!

Get: After another long year, what I’m asking after is a book that can allow me the space to pop in and out of it any time I need a good laugh. While I’ve ready many of its entries over the years, John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise: An Almanac of Complete World Knowledge Compiled with Instructive Annotation and Arranged in Useful Order hasn’t ever found its way to my bookshelf. I’m hoping that this holiday season changes that.

Will Forrest, Editorial Assistant and Rights and Contracts Manager
Give: The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia, edited by Andrea Canepari and Judith Goode. I may be biased as an Italian living in the Philadelphia area, but this is a beautiful and fascinating book on an important part of the city’s cultural heritage.

Get: A few years ago a new edition of Life? Or Theatre?, a gorgeous and incredibly powerful artwork/memoir/proto-graphic novel was published. Charlotte Solomon was a brilliant German Jewish artist who lived a fascinating life, witnessed firsthand the rise of the Nazis, and was ultimately killed in the Holocaust. It’s one of the most incredible literary works I’ve ever read and I’d love to have this new edition with newly discovered paintings and new essays.

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

Gave: I already gave Ray Didinger’s Finished Business to a family member at Thanksgiving. He is a forever Philadelphia sports fan—the range of essays are perfect for him.

Get: I am hoping to get Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. All the Light We Cannot See is one of my all-time favorite books.

Ashley Petrucci, Senior Production Editor

Give: Stephen Feldman’s Pack the Court! because it’s very relevant to our current political climate and provides information as to why court packing might or might not happen.

Get: I have several books borrowed from the public library through Libby that I plan to read, including For Whom the Bell TollsAmericanah, and 1Q84 that I hope to get time to read!

Annie Johnson, Assistant Director for Open Publishing Initiatives and Scholarly Communications

Give: The Battles of Germantown, by David. W. Young. Although Young’s focus is on one particular neighborhood in Philadelphia, the lessons he has drawn from his own experience are applicable to public historians everywhere.

Get: The Filing Cabinet: A Vertical History of Information by Craig Robinson, which argues that filing is a distinct mode of information labor that emerged at the turn of the twentieth century and became critical to the development of corporate capitalism.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Give: Walking in Cities, edited by Evrick Brown and Timothy Shortell, may be a good book to inspire readers to see the urban world around them anew.

Get: I’m keen to read Solid Ivory, filmmaker James Ivory’s memoir, edited by Peter Cameron.

Is “American concentration camp” an oxymoron?

This week in North Philly Notes, Rachel Schreiber writes about the legacy of the pioneering Jewish activist and subject of her new book, Elaine Black Yoneda.

In June of 2019 Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez set off a firestorm when she described Fort Sill army base in Oklahoma as a “concentration camp,” while decrying the Trump administration’s use of that site to detain children crossing into the U.S. from the southern border. It was not the first time Fort Sill had been used this way — the Obama administration had used the site for the same purpose in 2014. Earlier, in the last century, over 700 Japanese Americans were incarcerated at Fort Sill after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In response to Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the term, Representative Liz Cheney tweeted, “6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. You demean their memory and disgrace yourself with comments like this.”

            The usage of “concentration camp” has been disputed since the end of World War II, when its meaning became overdetermined by the Nazi camps in Europe. When I tell people that I have written a biography of a Jewish woman, named Elaine Black Yoneda, who spent time in a concentration camp in California, they often express surprise. In the U.S., we like to believe concentration camps belong to a distant, fascist, and genocidal regime. Elaine’s story, more than simply producing dissonance, pointedly crystallizes the hypocrisy of the U.S. claim for the need to exclude and incarcerate a population of U.S. citizens based on a racialized designation, at the very same time as fighting a European war to oppose an analogous system of classification. Elaine was married to a Japanese American man, Karl Yoneda, and at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, their son Tommy was three years old. When Elaine learned that Tommy would be incarcerated at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, she insisted on going with him. (Karl had arrived at Manzanar a few days prior. He had been led to believe that he would have paid work there, but upon his arrival, quickly realized that he was a prisoner.)

            Cheney prefaced her comments on Twitter to Ocasio-Cortez by saying, “Please @AOC do us all a favor and spend just a few minutes learning some actual history.” But it seems to be Cheney who requires the history lesson. In his essay, “Words Do Matter A note on the Inappropriate Terminology and the Incarceration of the Japanese Americans,historian Roger Daniels demonstrates that, during World War II, various high level public figures used the term “concentration camp” to describe sites of Japanese American incarceration. (Daniels further explains that “internment” is a legal term that is not appropriate to the history of Japanese American incarceration, as a country cannot intern its own citizens.) Yet after the Allied Forces’ liberation of the camps in Europe and their full horror was revealed, there was a shift in favor of euphemisms including “evacuation” or “relocation” centers, and “internment camps.” (See Andrea Pitzer’s One Long Night for more on this.) Even today, most people speak of the “internment” of Japanese Americans during the war (and indeed, it is the accepted usage in the New York Times articles cited here).

            Scholars now distinguish between Nazi concentration camps and death camps – the former could include forced labor camps, for example, while the latter had one purpose. Pitzer defines them as spaces that “house civilians rather than combatants” or prisoners, and most often are established by state policy. And yet, not all concentration camps are alike. Even in a 1942 interview, Elaine Yoneda insisted that “we couldn’t equate [Manzanar] to the Hitler camps and their ovens; they weren’t anything like that.” Indeed, Elaine held an optimistic view of life at Manzanar, writing cheerful letters to friends describing her jobs and her social life there. Meanwhile, the privations were real, and her son’s health deteriorated significantly while there. But it wasn’t until internecine political divisions within the camp resulted in a full-scale violent revolt, Elaine and Tommy’s lives were threatened, and Karl had left to enlist in the U.S. Army that she insisted on returning to San Francisco with her son.

            After the war, Elaine and Karl participated in the effort to designate the site of the Manzanar Relocation Center a memorial. In 1971, the California State Department of Parks and Recreation agreed to post a plaque at the site. The Committee proposed the following language:

In the early part of World War II, 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry were interned in relocation centers by Executive Order 9066, issued on February 19, 1942.

Manzanar, the first of ten such concentration camps, was bounded by barbed wire and guard towers, confining 10,000 persons, the majority being American citizens.

May the injustices of humiliation suffered here as a result of hysteria, racism, and economic exploitation never emerge again.

The officials from the State Department objected to the use of “racism” and “concentration camp,” but eventually the Committee succeeded in obtaining approval. It is notable, however, that “internment” and “relocation” are also included.

            The plaque invokes the theme “never again,” a phrase commonly used in relation to Holocaust remembrance. Unfortunately, though we repeat that phrase often, it seems that “history repeats itself” is the more true statement. The U.S. history of blaming a racialized other in moments of crisis is longstanding and continues today, as evidenced in myriad ways, from the treatment of those crossing our southern border in search of safety and security, to anti-Asian violence during the pandemic. At the time that Ocasio-Cortez denounced Trump’s use of Fort Sill, over 200 people gathered to protest at the base, among them Japanese Americans who had themselves been incarcerated there, as well as Indigenous Americans who were there to remember and honor the Chiricahua Apache were held at Fort Sill in the nineteenth century. Elaine Yoneda spent eight months at Manzanar in 1942. She was one among the estimated 127,000 Americans who spent a portion of the war in concentration camps in the U.S. The unconstitutional and illegal violation of all of their civil rights serves to remind us of the dangers of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy, and our imperative to be ever vigilant to recognize and oppose such xenophobia.

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