Yeiko Mizobe So was born in Fukuoka on December 4, 1867 to samurai Nobuhara Mizobe and his wife Ino. She and her three siblings grew up in a fairly privileged household and received private tutoring in the Japanese language and cultural arts. She was married to Isojiro So in March 1888, but became a widow just six months later when her husband died of a brief illness. Despite her rather prim and proper origins, she’d spend the rest of her life upending traditional gender norms and fighting for the independence and empowerment of women.
Mia Yamamoto was, in her own words, “born doing time” in Poston in September 1943, and spent the first years of her life confined in an isolated prison camp in the Arizona desert. Her father, the first Asian American graduate of Loyola Law School, “went around the camp telling people that they couldn’t do this to us—that he had read the Constitution and you couldn’t just throw people in jail because of their race,” Mia later said. “Of course, he was wrong.”
Y’all killed it this Day of Remembrance. We were so moved to see all the DOR posts, pictures, and family stories you shared on social media. This is the work we do every day and it brings so much joy to see the creative and passionate ways you all carry the story too.
And, as it turns out, how we remember often inspires how we show up as advocates for justice today. Given our current political climate, it’s essential we keep the history of WWII incarceration alive and visible and we are so grateful to everyone committed to doing that work alongside us.
This guest post is adapted from a speech delivered by Stanley N. Shikuma at the 2019 Day of Remembrance Taiko Fundraiser organized by the Minidoka Pilgrimage Planning Committee and co-sponsored by Seattle University.
Back in April 2017, I was asked to speak on what my Japanese American identity means to me, and how that informs my values of social justice, particularly in relation to my being “third generation” (Sansei). This was shortly after the second attempt at a Muslim Ban was blocked by the courts but before the third attempt succeeded and prior to the “zero tolerance” policy adopted by the Justice Department that precipitated the crisis of family separation, mass imprisonment of children, and denial of lawful asylum claims at the southern border. Sadly, my updated response seems even more relevant given these events.
Following the forced exile from the West Coast under Executive Order 9066, many incarcerated Japanese Americans turned to art as a way to cope with their harsh prison environment. Stripped of the routines that had filled their pre-war lives, inmates picked up creative hobbies to while away the idle hours of confinement, and painting and drawing soon became popular pastimes.
Densho is first and foremost a history organization but as we have gotten more vocal about today’s political climate, we’ve become more acutely aware of the fact that art can help us get our messages out to a wider audience. That’s why we were thrilled to launch a new Artists-in-Residence program in 2018.
In the latest in a long string of attacks on immigration, this week Trump declared he would issue an executive order ending birthright citizenship. Established by the 14th amendment in order to grant citizenship to freed slaves, the idea that all people born in the United States are U.S. citizens, regardless of race or where their parents came from, has long been upheld by the courts and the Constitution. But this is not the first time white supremacists have tried to restrict the rights of citizenship along racial lines.
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- A new book claims WWII incarceration wasn’t about racism. It’s wrong.
- 10 TV Shows That Depicted Japanese American Incarceration, For Better or For Worse
- 10 Little Known Facts of Life at Minidoka
- Photo Essay: Minidoka National Historic Site Unveils New Visitor Center
- after camp
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