It begins with a knock on the door from the FBI. Two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a silent invasion permeated the United States, targeting Japanese American citizens as enemy aliens.

On February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was passed, uprooting nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes into internment camps. We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration, written by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura, with artwork by Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki, chronicles the bold exploits of three intrepid Japanese Americans who challenged the constitutionality of the executive order during their internment.

This epic story begins with a montage of three incidents: An ominous rapping on the door of twenty-two-year-old Jim Akutsu, a civil engineering student living with his parents in Seattle, disrupts their peaceful evening. FBI agents are on the move to round up Japanese Americans into relocation camps. High school graduate Hiroshi Kashiwagi, nineteen, gets pulled over by a cop for staying out past curfew one night in central California. Upon closer inspection, the cop labels him a “Jap spy.” Twenty-one-year-old Mitsuye “Mitzi” Endo, a typist for a state agency in California, receives a letter one day threatening dismissal from her job on the grounds of purported affiliations with the Japanese community and thus, holding allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. This interconnected trio of stories sets the stage for the harrowing events in the Pacific Northwest impacting Japanese Americans subjected to the camps without due process. There they will be tested for their loyalty to the US government.

Meticulously researched and intricately narrated, each story unfolds from the point of view of the internees as well as the US government officials. At Camp Minidoka, Akutsu refuses the draft to serve in the army, for he believes the so-called loyalty questionnaire from the Selective Service to be a ploy to incriminate himself. Signing this oath of allegiance would equate to confessing to a nonexistent allegiance to Japan even though he was already a natural-born American citizen. Kashiwagi refuses to sign the loyalty oath altogether while in Tule Lake, testing the limits of his rights as an American. In Topaz, Mitzi Endo foregoes an opportunity to leave the camp in a strategic move to serve as a witness in a lawsuit against the US government for having imprisoned people based solely on race. Through defiant acts in the form of draft resistance, hunger strikes, and prosecuting lawsuits, the trio stood their ground to uphold their unalienable rights as American citizens.

The narrative flow of each character’s experiences unfolds fluidly, juxtaposing Sasaki’s abstracted and expressionist style of Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s story alongside Ishikawa’s more solidly rendered character designs of Jim Akutsu and Mitzi Endo. Historical documents contextualize the plot with startling and compelling authenticity. Typewritten memos to war relocation authorities, racial profiling signs, front page newspaper headlines, reenactments of speeches and discussions amongst US government officials—these visual details merge seamlessly to create a historical account of the socio-political milieu on the US home front during World War II.

On the eightieth anniversary of Executive Order 9066, We Hereby Refuse adds a critical chapter to the annals of US history and complements all library collections. This graphic novel tackles themes of racism, assimilation, survival, and resilience, centering on the lived experiences of Japanese Americans and their tenacious stand to test the integrity of the American justice system. Theirs is a story that deserves to be told and retold for future generations lest history repeats itself.

We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration
By Frank Abe, Tamiko Nimura,  ,
Art by Ross Ishikawa, Matt Sasaki,
Chin Music Press Inc., 2021
ISBN: 9781634059763

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Japanese-American,  Character Representation: Japanese-American,

  • Jerry

    | He/Him Information Strategist, San Francisco Public Library

    Reviewer

    By day, Jerry Dear, APALA member and Information Strategist at the San Francisco Public Library tackles research questions in the Periodicals department. He also teaches in the Library Information Technology department at City College of San Francisco. By night, he serves the Asian American community and ventures into the vibrant literary arts and graphic novel scene. In whatever time remains, he indulges in comics, anime, manga, and Asian American literature and film.

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