Sumi Asaba, Seattle 1942

In this guest post, Densho intern Alaria Sacco reflects on the photograph of a young girl with her kitten taken in April 1942, shortly before the child and her family were incarcerated for the duration of World War II. On this 74th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Alaria reminds us of the fact that many innocent lives are adversely impacted when reactionary fear and racism win out over compassion and concern for civil liberties. 

The primary collection I have been digitizing is an assortment of photographs and documents that Densho received back in September courtesy of Pauline Miyata and Mark Sakagami. With most of the collection’s content being prior to 1945, the photos provide us with a window into the pre-war life of a Japanese American family in the Pacific Northwest. Photos in this collection include strawberry fields where some of the family worked, and many images of schoolmates and family members. There is one photo in particular from this collection that really pulled me in and spoke to me. It’s a photo of a little girl—named Sumi (Pauline) Asaba, according to the handwritten caption—and a kitten standing together outside, taken in Seattle sometime in April 1942.  

Visually, there is something about this image that is just so innocent and engaging; her outfit mimics the color and markings of the kitten’s fur, and you can see the sweetness in the girl’s face. This is such a stark contrast compared to what was to come later for Sumi and her family. In August 1942, the family was relocated to the Minidoka concentration camp in Idaho. This photo serves to truly personalize this subject that we so rarely learn about in our education: in a time of war and fear following Pearl Harbor, the United States government incarcerated innocent people, like Sumi and her family, simply because of their ancestry. This is something that remains highly relevant in our world today. Fear must not lead us into the mentality that everyone of the same race or religion is our enemy. We must not use fear to justify harm against innocent people.

Alaria Sacco is an East Coast transplant from North Carolina currently living in Tacoma, Washington and working as a digitization intern at Densho. With a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies from Appalachian State University, she is interested in collections care and conservation within museums; she is also a prospective student for the Museology Graduate program at the University of Washington. When not at one of her two jobs, Alaria enjoys cooking with her boyfriend, having heart-to-hearts with her cat, and sniffing very old books.

Do you have materials related to WWII incarceration?

If your family or community organization has documents related to the Japanese American experience before, during, and after World War II, please consider loaning them to Densho for digital preservation. We seek materials including artwork, scrapbooks, letters, diaries, government documents, audio/visual recordings, newspapers, and magazines. Each item will be scanned and made available online through our Digital Repository. This grants access to students, teachers, researchers, scholars, professionals, and the general public. After creating high quality digital copies for preservation purposes and for web/online access, we return the materials to individuals, families, or organizations. We also provide them with a complete set of digital files for their own use. To find out more about loaning materials, please contact Caitlin Oiye, Photo and Document Collections Manager at

    • 08/12/2015 at 2:08

    This is timely both because of our nation’s fear-based response to the millions of refugees teeming out of war-torn Middle East and North African countries as well as increased suspicion of Muslims worldwide. Whenever we close ranks and imprison or reject others based on the behavior of some of those ‘others,’ we lose sight of our shared humanity and are all diminished. It’s a very poignant photo. Thanks for posting.

    • 23/12/2015 at 3:05

    What a sweet photograph, and very timely. I am hoping that civil liberties are more than just a luxury, and cannot/will not be cast aside in favor of all the old dividing lines of race and religion as soon as we experience (perceive?) some threat. These are precisely the times when we need to stick to our principles and not lose site of our shared humanity. Lovely post.

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