No No Girl

By Chamiya Carnathan

On March 5th, 2023, Penelope Morris, XiaoYi Luo, and I, alongside Ms Sally Schwartz, went to the DC Independent Film Forum (DCIFF) which featured No No Girl for its closing night. Directed by Paul Daisuke Goodman, the film was about a Japanese American family who buried a secret in their backyard garden eighty years ago, on the eve of war and incarceration. Three generations later, a clue was discovered which unearthed the trauma and truth of their historic past. 

No No Girl is a story narrated by generations of Japanese Americans who are still suffering from their relatives’ internment during World War II. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were evicted from their houses and were transferred to barracks in isolated camps distributed across the United States by executive order. Several families, including the fictional one shown in No No Girl, did not want to leave behind beloved belongings that were too large or otherwise impractical to transport, so they buried them. After the war, Japanese American families would return to their homes to find them ransacked, destroyed, and vandalized as they faced racism and hate from white Americans. Sometimes, their belongings were outright stolen and they would have to start again and move on. No No Girl explored three generations of Japanese Americans who discovered the existence of family heirlooms in a home that is no longer theirs. In this film, we explored identity and family; nationality and pride as we watch the characters ask themselves: if it’s yours, is it really stealing?

Before the movie started, we had the opportunity to speak with Mika Dyo, the actress who played the main character in the film. Mika Dyo told us that she related to the movie because as a Japanese American, the internment camps impacted her family generations after the war, whether it was directly or indirectly. 

I asked her the question “Why is the film called No No Girl?” She responded by saying that the film was named after the No-No Boys, a group of boys who answered “no” to questions 27 and 28 on a loyalty questionnaire given to Japanese Americans during the war. Question number 27 asked if they were willing to serve on combat duty wherever ordered and asked everyone else if they would be willing to serve in other ways, such as serving in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Question number 28 asked “Will you swear to abide by the laws of the United States and take no action which would in any way interfere with the war effort of the United States?” The No-No Boys were castigated by both the Japanese Americans and the general public because they were seen as disloyal traitors to the United States. However, the group was embraced by younger activists in the 1970s who were looking for those who resisted mass incarceration. 

The movie explored topics that I had never learned in my history classes. The history books taught me about the internment camps but I had never learned about the generations of Japanese Americans who were still being affected by the events during WWII. This movie showed the bigotry, the racism, the exploitation of Japanese American families, and the generational trauma that followed in the aftermath of World War II. This is the kind of information that our #Stop Asian Hate Project believes should be included in DC’s new social studies standards so that future DC students will gain a much deeper understanding of Asian American history.

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