:: Hinan // Evacuation ::
I didn’t learn anything about the Japanese Internment Camps growing up – not in school, not from anyone. Only as an adult in college did I begin to learn about this tragic and embarrassing part of our history. My mother immigrated to Japan with my father [they met in Japan], in 1971 a mere 4 years after the Loving decision that allowed mixed races marriages.
When I was a child, I think my mom, while moving through her own assimilation, wanted me to feel as “American” and comfortable as possible. She did speak Japanese to me, and for sure there were cultural points and customs that were engrained into me. But I didn’t have to go to Japanese Language School, and even though it sometimes went against her better judgment she let me do many typical “American” things.
With the election of Trump, like many, I believe our nation is once again confronting, resisting and reasserting white racist and colonial ideals. With the “Muslim Ban” and families being separated and kids being put in cages, it’s not hard for the mind to begin to re-visit Internment camps and the Holocaust [also part of my heritage as my father is Jewish. His relatives fled Eastern Europe long before WWII, but were certainly aware of persecution and prejudice].
My father in law also happened to be stationed at a camp – I believe in Arizona – when he was a younger man. Sadly he passed away before I got to ask him any real questions, but I remember him talking about the innovation of the internees and how he kept in touch with many of them. Apparently he was one of the only staff/white men invited to some of the camp reunions/get-togethers.
I decided to really start to research Internment – just looking at Executive Order 9066 and all the Civilian Orders that followed gave me chills. I also soon discovered that there were relocation collection points near my house. That I knew these places and could superimpose in my mind the lines of people waiting to be “evacuated” at these locales. Also for a minute let’s consider that word choice. It feels like a literal whitewash of events. The Japanese were not being saved from a disaster, nor willingly leaving to escape eminent danger… but if you are fighting a war against a country for putting certain people in camps, you can’t outwardly admit you are doing the same thing on your soil, right?
Japanese Americans were incarcerated based on local population concentrations and regional politics. More than 110,000 Japanese Americans in the mainland U.S., who mostly lived on the West Coast, were forced into interior camps. However, in Hawaii, where 150,000-plus Japanese Americans composed over one-third of the population, only 1,200 to 1,800 were also interned. The internment is considered to have resulted more from racism than from any security risk posed by Japanese Americans. Those who were as little as 1/16 Japanese and orphaned infants with "one drop of Japanese blood" were placed in internment camps.
The idea that someone who was 1/16 Japanese could and would be interned, hit home. If 9066 were executed today, my mother [who is a naturalized citizen], myself, my daughter – we would all have to go into a camp. Also the continued usage of “one drop” rules in this country seems appalling, but amazingly not at all far-fetched. Even now. With the “Muslim Ban”, and the current atrocities occurring at the border it saddens me that we are ignoring our past and that we are simply repeating it.
The work I’m making revolves around actual documentation from the camps as well as documentation of racist reactions and signage from businesses that had to close for “evacuation” and the signs and maps posted and use to collect residents. In my hope of trying to highlight and process the events, I’ve been struck by how camp residents kept up a sense of normalcy, celebrating harvest festivals, Obon Odori, boy scout parades and the like. I see these acts as resistance and resilience. The ability to attempt to honor traditions and keep life in the camps mirroring what life would have been like out of the camps fills me both with heartache and incredible respect.
In the show:
* A reproduction of a Western Defense poster “Instructions to all persons of JAPANESE ancestry”, large scale, with the word JAPANESE embroidered – in an act of “impossible mending” using a Sashiko stitch. Sashiko is a traditional Japanese Embroidery technique, often used in Boro, which is the mending clothing with small scraps of fabric.
* 108 gold leaf small stone lanterns/pagodas.
108 is a significant number in Japanese culture. In the New Year a bell is rung 108 times. The Buddhist prayer beads or Ojuzu have 108 beads on them. In Buddhism, according to Bhante Gunaratana, this number is reached by multiplying the senses smell, touch, taste, hearing, sight, and consciousness by whether they are painful, pleasant or neutral, and then again by whether these are internally generated or externally occurring, and yet again by past, present and future, finally we get 108 feelings. 6 × 3 × 2 × 3 = 108.
The pagoda/lantern is not only a decorative item, but is sometimes also thought of as a reliquary. In essence this is a big reliquary to those who were interned.
I gold leafed the small lanterns/pagodas in hoping to invoke the same tradition as the gold leafed Buddhas that are scattered around Japan, or the “Golden Pavillion” Kinkakuji in Kyoto [which is a sparkling wonder of beauty in person]. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinkaku-ji
* Queens of the harvest – 3 watercolor paintings
I discovered 3 photographs of women who were declared Queens of their respective camps during a Harvest Festival. One crown even states “Queen of Manzanar”. The women are dressed in fashion of the time, their hair coiffed in Western Styles, seemingly happy and carefree. The juxtaposition of reality and these images is jarring. I mounted these to wood and used a beautiful Japanese paper on the sides.
*Christmas time in the camp – 2 watercolor paintings
In my research I found holiday cards that the Interned sent to friends and family members. I guess in many ways the desire to have life “go on” as normal is human nature. I also found 2 images of boys and girls dressed with Santa Hats. Young children squinting into the sun. I placed origami paper cut outs of the barracks they were living in behind them.
*25 Tea Cups – Tea Ceremony is called Chanoyu, Sado or simply
So there were 25 camps total – many were temporary or short term camps that people were placed in until they reached their final camp destination. In thinking about how to keep things “normal” I realized that Ocha – tea – is such a part of daily life for Japanese. I discovered there are 23 basic tea bowl shapes which almost aligned with the number of camps. I made 25 tiny tea bowls out of white paper clay. Leaving them white as if to act as a ghostly reminder. Each tea bowl has the name, open dates, and number of internees written in gold on its face. These will live on a long shelf. Each bowl placed on it’s own mini pedestal of wood slices. The wood harkens back to Japanese aesthetics, the wood in Shoji Screens, or in beams placed around the Tokonoma – the alcoves in traditional homes that are home to special objects and/or Ikebana arrangements. They are a place for reflection and pause.
*a series of racist images -
There are quite a few photographs of people with signs that say “Japs Not Welcome Here”, or messages painted on walls “Japs you Rats”, or signs on Japanese run buildings the iconic “I am American” or “Evacuation Sale”. Taking these images and painting them – in black in white, in traditional photographic ratios – was a very moving experience. Both awful – how would I have acted in confronting a sign like that, and in beauty – watercolor acts in mysterious and seductive ways.
I painted as many images as I could find and then slowly and carefully cut out the letters. As if simply removing them might be helpful. To continue the idea of impossibly mending I drew and printed paper that looks like another traditional Sashiko pattern – a wave Seigaiha – pattern. It traditionally is a symbol or peace or riches – both provided by a calm sea. The paintings are floated above the pattern – printed in red – so that hopefully the absence of the horrible phrases is emphasized and peace takes over.
I have kept all the letters I cut out and want to place them somewhere with all these images and perhaps a pagoda or 2.
*1/16 Juuroko bun no ichi
because someone who was only 1/16 Japanese could be interned I wanted to explore what that looked like visually. Taking a crane – a common Japanese symbol of resilience and long life – in a Kamon or crest shape, I divided it up into 16ths. The first 1/16 in red, the rest in gold progressing until the entire image 16/16 is in red. Each segment is divided by a running stitch.
When I was a child – I danced in Obon Odori at the Buddhist temple in the Sawtelle neighborhood of West Los Angeles. I loved it. There were weeks of rehearsals and then we’d dress in Yukatas and dance. The interned held Obon Odori’s and the images are so moving. Some people wear kimonos, others wear street clothes, or made elaborate costumes from cereal boxes and anything they could get their hands on. The quiet act of continuing traditions is so very moving to me. I decided to create an installation of dancers and the Yagura that is the centerpiece/stage of Obon. My version is a mash up of several images from several camps that I discovered.
*the 3 pieces that started this whole series
I made 3 pieces when I started this journey – they also centered on Obon, and Harvest Festival imagery I found from 3 camps. As is my usual way there are layers of paper and painted objects suspended by pins hovering over the surface. The barracks in these pieces are cut out in the background, the wood grain of the mounting board showing through. I also placed shelves in these works and small colorful pagoda/lanterns are placed on the shelf – again referencing reliquary.
This set of drawings isn’t complete yet – it’s the last bit I’m really working on. But starting with the Oakland Fox Theatre – there was a Collection center in the same building around the corner – which is now ironically the Oakland School for the Arts. Another collection center down town in Oakland is kitty corner to the Oakland Museum. There are photos of everyone’s luggage piled high on the grounds that now house the Museum itself. There was also a center in Berkeley at the church on Channing that I used to walk by when I was student. In fact they had a thrift store in their basement that was open irregularly and I went to. I’m working on drawings that overlap and show these places, the orders that were given to the Japanese to meet there on what day and time, and maps of the “evacuation” areas… Civilian Order No. 19, 28, 27, etc. I’m working on the places that I’ve actually been to. IF I get to it I might do the SF, Richmond or Hayward center as well. But it might just be these 3? Not sure yet. These are going to be “collaged” directly onto the wall w/ overlapping and repeating elements [to allude to lines of people and the fact that these notices would have appeared in multiple places in the community]
Bibliography // Internment Research
Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of Japanese American Internment
Linda Gordon and Gary Y. Okihiro
The Buddha in the Attic
Midnight in Broad Daylight: A Japanese American Family Caught Between Two Worlds
Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
Farewell to Manzanar
Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
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