Honolulu Magazine reporter Jayna Omaye, whose nisei grandfather had been a soldier with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II, won the highly competitive City and Regional Magazine Association Award for Multiplatform Storytelling. Her team’s Dec. 31, 2019, cross-media set of online, photographic and print stories, entitled “SOLDIERING ON” and gathered under the introductory article, “17 Nisei Veterans Share Stories of the Lives They Built in Hawai‘i after World War II” , was published to critical acclaim. Omaye’s series featured vivid portraiture shot by Aaron Yoshino, from an original idea from Honolulu Magazine editor Christi Young, in a range of moving articles and photo galleries highlighting those veterans’ memories and current lives.
When Young first suggested “SOLDIERING ON” to Omaye, it was because a high-school project had gotten the latter to interview her own grandfather (“Bumpa”) about his memories of the European theater of World War II. The editor then realized that while many past news stories had featured Nisei vets’ battlefield achievements, personal, post-war accounts of their lives were relatively rare in the press. Young advised Omaye to tackle the series in that way. “Instead of focusing on their distinguished service, we wanted to get to know them as people and find out what life after war was like,” Omaye reveals in the background story framing the multiple articles that summarize her interviews .
Photographer Yoshino reflects in a video interview for the project that while he had spent his whole life learning about AJA veteran history through stories of the 442nd RCT in their well-known brave combat, after the war narrative, these celebrated heroes seemed to have disappeared in most media accounts:
“…(T)here’s this huge gap; it’s almost like they ceased to exist after 1945,” he admits in the clip . So to catch up with the men’s lives, Omaye and Yoshino spent 40 hours interviewing and photographing the former soldiers, now largely in their 90s — with a few incapacitated or in nursing homes. The team from the magazine spent five months supporting this research with videographic, audio-interview and editing work.
Nisei interviewees included Harold Afuso, George Ariyoshi, Kenji Ego, Yoshiaki Fujitani, Shinye Gima, Royce Higa, Asa Higuchi, Hidenobu Hiyane, Henry Ishida, Ben Kaito, Fujio Matsuda, Ike Muraoka, Curtis Noborikawa, Richard Nomura, Tatsuo Omiya, Clinton Shiraishi and Herbert Yanamura.
The CRMA Multiplatform Storytelling awards typically honor big-league regional publishers across the U.S. for web stories that use at least two media (in the case of “SOLDIERING ON”: print writing, photography, audio interviews and videos). Omaye says in a press email that her team had been competing with media firms from larger cities, including Chicago Magazine and Baltimore Magazine, but that “the judges described the nisei story as ‘masterful and moving,’” thanking her Honolulu Magazine coworkers for their collaborative efforts. The awards were based on both important news value and originality, demonstrating that the story of nisei veterans still stimulates powerful responses not only in the islands but on the U.S. continent.
Eighteen-year-old Okinawan American filmmaker from Portland, Kaiya Laguardia Yonamine, earned a Prudential Spirit of Community Award this spring for her 30-minute documentary on local Uchinanchu resistance to the environmentally destructive building of a seaside U.S. military base in Henoko, Okinawa. Granted by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, this recognition identifies the student as one of two winners to represent Oregon.
On May 4, Yonamine was among 100 middle- and high-school students selected across the country to participate in the program’s virtual gala, hosted by actor-producer Kristen Bell. During that time the nation’s top volunteers interacted with each other online in a three-day, interactive get-together. The first-ever streamed national recognition commemoration of the 25-year award — in lieu of the conventional, all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C. which was canceled due to COVID-19 — allowed winners to engage with each other in virtual project-sharing sessions, learn about advocacy and service by video-phoning past honorees, and “meet” with program executives and administrators.
Yonamine designated the $2,500 part of the award to go to local coronavirus responses in her state (winners had to choose a non-profit to receive part of their prize) and also personally collected a $1,000 scholarship and an engraved silver medallion acknowledging her as one of Oregon’s leading youth volunteers, according to Prudential Financial. The program celebrates “the determination of young people to respond to the challenges of the moment,” said CEO and chairman of Prudential Financial, Charles Lowrey.
Yonamine’s award honored the writing, reporting, producing and mediamaking work she performed in making the short non-fiction film, “Our Island’s Treasure” (“Watashi-tachi no Shima no Takara”). She interviewed dozens of Okinawan elders, “kayaktivist” ocean-going demonstrators, World War II survivors, the local governor and other community members protesting the controversial building of a U.S. Marine Air Corps station in Oura Bay of Okinawa’s Henoko region, according to Katu2 News, which reports that the young filmmaker hopes to attend University of California, Berkeley, in the fall.
At the start of her film, Yonamine asks her American high-school peers, “What do you know about Henoko?” Even the most “woke” of them such as aspiring social-justice activists, reveal that they had never heard of this key issue to many Okinawans. This ignorance of modern U.S. youth about their country’s global impact on the ecosystems of other regions in the world inspired Yonamine to push herself to film what was going on her ancestors’ land. She and her mother Moe, who is from Okinawa, made and sold thousands of cookies and paper cranes to pay for the shin-nisei student’s filmmaking trip to Henoko, “to support their elders and document this 22-year struggle to protect the island and our oceans,” according to the UH Mänoa Center for Okinawan Studies blog.
Last June, Yonamine virtually presented her documentary to commemorate “Irei No Hi” (Okinawan Memorial Day) at Jikoen Hongwanji via a live videoconferencing talk with the Honolulu community. Since then, “Our Island’s Treasure,” now available to watch for free online, has been viewed over 10,500 times globally, bringing attention to the militarization of Indigenous Okinawan land, and earning praise for the writer-director by prominent U.S. youth-media outlets such as Teen Vogue . We look forward to seeing more of this promising mediamaker’s work!