Jeff Aiello, picked up a a motion picture camera for the first time at Yosemite High School in 1985 and has remained behind one ever since.
On Thursday, Feb. 22, his latest project will premiere on ValleyPBS (Channel 18), “Silent Sacrifice: The Story of Japanese American Incarceration in California’s San Joaquin Valley and Beyond.”
Silent Sacrifice is a two-hour feature documentary produced by ValleyPBS and written and directed by Aiello. It details one of America’s darkest chapters in history.
After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942 and three months later, nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most legal U.S. citizens, were forced to leave their homes, schools, businesses and lives and relocate to military-controlled camps.
According to Aiello, Japan had a long history of successful violent force, which they had demonstrated on China and Russia before they blind-sided America with the Pearl Harbor attack, unfortunately after the bombing, panic took hold and Japanese Americans and immigrants were subject to one of the largest violation of civil liberties in the nation’s history.
“I want future generations to really understand what happened - why fear and war hysteria were stronger than justice at the time,” Aiello said.
The story is told through first-hand accounts, never before seen archival footage (thanks to the hard work of Aiello’s wife Jill), recreation scenes shot in historic Kingsburg and the journey of a couple, Saburo and Marion Masada of Fresno, as they travel to the relocation camp they were once imprisoned in.
While making the film Aiello interviewed interment camp prisoners, now in their 80s and 90s, in the Valley and beyond. He was moved by the fact that despite the horror and loss they endured everyone shared a since of hope for the future.
“They lost everything, and yet no one harbored ill will, before and after incarceration they loved America. When they sat down with me their hope was to share their story with future generations so an atrocity like this would not happen again,” Aiello explained .
The San Joaquin Valley was home to four sites that played a role in the imprisonment of Japanese Americans. Fresno Fairgrounds, Pinedale, Tulare Fairgrounds and Merced Fairgrounds were the locations of Assembly Centers which were weigh stations for prisoners as they awaited assignment to a more permanent camp. One of Aiello’s goals for making the documentary was to help local citizens not take the history of their area for granted.
“When you go to the Fresno Fairgrounds, or Walmart in Pinedale you are standing on history, they are home to generations of pain and suffering and it’s important to go and visit the excellent memorials. They are amazing educational opportunities.”
The project is almost two years in the making, and filming began last year. With the help of grants from the National Parks Service, donors like Sun-Maid Growers, the Nisei Farmers League, R.A. Sano Farms, Ito Packing and contributions from individuals, ValleyPBS secured funding for one of it’s biggest productions yet.
Aiello was honored to be apart of the project and shared what he felt was the most important thing he learned during the making of it.
“Our history is never truly behind us but it will light the path we walk in tomorrow.”
“Silent Sacrifice: The Story of Japanese American Incarceration in California’s San Joaquin Valley and Beyond,” will premiere on ValleyPBS, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. and there will be a live encore broadcast with special guests on March 5 at 7 p.m..