As one of Densho’s 2019 artists-in-residence, Mari Shibuya recently completed a mural that visualizes the histories of three Pacific Northwest Japanese American families. In this guest blog post, she reflects on her artistic process, what she learned about what it means to be Japanese American, and why this history remains so important today.
As we witness everyday reminders that “Never Again” is right now, it’s become clear that stories of Japanese American WWII incarceration matter today more than ever. Last year we launched an artist-in-residence program that allowed us to collaborate with some amazing artists to spread that message far and wide. We continued that program in 2019, and we’re excited to share a look at the incredible work this year’s artists have created.
The Colorado River “Relocation Center”—more commonly referred to as Poston—was located in the Arizona desert a few miles from the California border. The largest and most populous of the War Relocation Authority (WRA) administered concentration camps (with the exception of post-segregation Tule Lake) with a peak population of nearly 18,000, Poston was unique among WRA camps in a number of ways.
Like you, we are the children and grandchildren of Japanese Americans who experienced the humiliation and degradation of WWII incarceration. Like you, our families have faced “disadvantage and prejudice,” and worked hard to carve out a life for us in a country that frequently tells us we do not belong here.
Unlike you, we have learned from our shared history.
The “Central Utah Relocation Center”—more popularly known as Topaz—was located at a dusty site in the Sevier Desert and had one of the most urban and most homogeneous populations of the camps, with nearly its entire inmate population coming from the San Francisco Bay Area. Topaz is perhaps best known as the site of the fatal shooting of an inmate by an overzealous camp sentry in April 1943 and for its art school, which included a faculty roster of notable Issei and Nisei artists. It was also the site of significant protest against the “loyalty questionnaire” in the spring of 1943 and of a variety of labor disputes.
Guest post by Eric Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Cambridge University Press recently published Roger W. Lotchin’s Japanese American Relocation in World War II: A Reconsideration. The book’s goal is to correct what the author characterizes as several ubiquitous and mistaken findings in the literature on the removal and confinement of people of Japanese ancestry in World War II (hereinafter “Japanese removal”). The most important of the findings that Lotchin seeks to “correct” is that racism was a key cause of the removal, though ample historical evidence attests that indeed it was.
On August 12, the second season of AMC’s The Terror drops, set against the backdrop of the World War II removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans. (Full disclosure: Densho aided background researchers for the show.) While The Terror is arguably the highest profile TV depiction of this experience — at least in the U.S. — there have been a surprising number of series episodes and made-for-TV movies that have explored the topic, to various degrees of success.
Located in Southern Idaho, Minidoka concentration camp opened on August 10, 1942 and held some 13,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. The incarcerees — most of whom hailed from Washington and Oregon — were accustomed to relatively mild climates and struggled to adapt to Minidoka’s extreme temperatures and relentless dust storms. They also endured lesser-known travails. Read on for untold stories of life at Minidoka.
Earlier this month, about 325 people gathered in southeast Idaho for the 17th annual Minidoka Pilgrimage. Over the course of four days, pilgrims learned about the history and legacy of Minidoka through educational programming, tours of the former incarceration site, the invaluable stories of camp survivors, and a lot of intergenerational dialogue and community building.
The Japanese American Citizens League is considering a resolution that proponents say would help heal a decades-old wound. The conflict stems from the disastrous “loyalty questionnaire” administered by the US Government to Nikkei citizens and immigrants being held in WWII concentration camps. Based on their responses to two questions, some 12,000 incarcerees were further penalized by the US Government and ostracized by members of their community. The resolution contends that “this stigma of ‘disloyalty’ and being branded as ‘no-no’s’ persists to the present day,” and that a formal apology from the JACL would help the community heal.
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