If there’s one true thing about studying history, it’s that there’s always more to learn. Less (in)famous than sites like Manzanar and Tule Lake, Rohwer was one of two WRA concentration camps located in Arkansas, where inmates were exposed to the unique climate and racial politics of the South, and had regular interactions with Nisei soldiers training at nearby military facilities. This year’s Rohwer Pilgrimage will take place this weekend, and Densho Content Director Brian Niiya has collected ten little-known facts about the former incarceration site to get ready. Keep reading to learn more — and look for Brian at the pilgrimage to ask your own questions!
We’re pleased to introduce the two artists who will receive 2019 Densho Artists Initiative funding! Out of a wide selection of gifted artists and their powerful proposals, Brynn Saito and Mari Shibuya submitted ideas that we felt had the greatest potential to provoke important dialogues about trauma, healing, and the legacy of Japanese American WWII incarceration as it relates to contemporary injustices. We are also pleased to share that we were able to give several additional artists smaller grants, and we’ll be sharing their work throughout the year. Follow Densho on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates on these projects and for opportunities to engage.
Setsuko Matsunaga Nishi was born in Los Angeles on October 17, 1921, the second of four children—and oldest of three sisters—of Hatsu and Tahei Matsunaga. She grew up in a very musical family, and dreamed of becoming a concert pianist in her early years. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at the University of Southern California as a music major. But with the onset of World War II, and growing pressure to oust Japanese Americans from the West Coast, Setsuko was unable to pursue a career in music and instead set down a very different path.
Patsy Takemoto Mink was born in Pā`ia, Maui, on December 6, 1927, to Nisei parents Suematsu and Mitama Takemoto. Like many Japanese Americans growing up in Hawai`i at that time, she was raised on a sugar plantation. However, as the Sansei daughter of a land surveyor allotted a private cottage, company car, and two acres of land, her experiences were very different from her mostly Nisei peers in the overcrowded and heavily segregated plantation camps—differences she began to see clearly once she started attending school. As a young girl, she would accompany her father to local election rallies, sparking an early interest in politics.
There’s a tendency during women’s history month to focus our celebrations on the women who accomplished great things as activists, artists, and thinkers. And indeed these women should be celebrated! But there’s also something to looking back at the lives of everyday women and the unique challenges they faced as they navigated racism, misogyny, and other social barriers just to simply be. Peggie Nishimura Bain’s life was interrupted by WWII incarceration, but it was also profoundly shaped by toxic masculinity and structural racism before and after the war. Here we draw from photos and oral histories in our digital archives to give you a look into that life.
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.
- 10 Little-Known Stories About Rohwer Concentration Camp
- Introducing Densho’s 2019 Artists Initiative Recipients
- Setsuko Matsunaga Nishi: Creating Community and Building Bridges After WWII Incarceration
- Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority and Ahead of Her Time
- Surviving Racism, Toxic Masculinity, and Some Gruesome Medical Ordeals
- book review
- camp life
- current events
- Densho statement
- film review
- hidden histories
- In memoriam
- open letter
- oral history
- Pacific Northwest
- photo essay
- popular culture