Seventy-five years ago on February 19th, 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066. My grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, kin and family friends as well as 120,000 west coast Japanese were deemed “enemy aliens” and incarcerated. Of those 120,000, this included babies, the elderly, the infirm.
The crowd in San Jose was larger than I had ever seen at previous Day of Remembrance events. 2017 and a new populist president, with rumors of a call for a Muslim registries, harkens back to the ugly racism of the past. Former congressman, the Honorable Mike Honda, gave a great talk touching on the past US history of unjust laws against immigrants starting with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. These series of acts made it nearly impossible for an immigrant to become a citizen via the Naturalization Act. The sadistically named Alien Friends Act of 1798 allowed the president to imprison and deport non-citizens who were deemed dangerous or who were from a hostile nation (Alien Enemy Act of 1798). The Sedition Act of 1798 criminalized making false statements that were critical of the federal government. Not to mention the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Immigration Act of 1924, which affected my grandparents. Laws during the early to mid 20th century disallowed my grandparents from purchasing property or becoming citizens until after WWII. Fast forward to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 which states that the president — and all future presidents — can order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield. According to the ACLU in 2012, “The breadth of the NDAA’s worldwide detention authority violates the Constitution and international law because it is not limited to people captured in an actual armed conflict, as required by the laws of war. Under the Bush administration, similar claims of worldwide detention authority were used to hold even a U.S. citizen captured on U.S. soil in military custody, and many in Congress assert that the NDAA should be used in the same way.“
Listening to the speakers, remembering all the stories I have heard from my research from my own family members on their experiences with immigration, prejudice, exclusion, incarceration, injustice, assimilation and post-trauma, it made me reflect on that day about all my resources of where I get my “fuel” in making art and writing. I went on a twitter terror listing all the resources of where stories have been documented from former incarcerated Japanese Americans, Canadians and South Americans. I listed resources to learn about the concentration camps, photography archives, and the National Archives database of those incarcerated. I implored people to say names out loud, especially those who are no longer with us, like I did in my installation With Liberty and Justice for Some. I felt then, as I do now, that is important to say their name in the 21st Century air. But now, I feel their names should be shouted out for the world to hear and remembered. I was emotional on this 75th Anniversary, thinking of my late mom and how the experience affected her entire life. I thought about the hardships of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles that they endured. I thought about the stories of those men killed in camps by sentries, the stories Chuck told me of Japanese people being nasty to Japanese people in Tule Lake, the heartbreaking photographs of Dorothea Lange, Toyo Miyatake and Russell Lee.
I think about the stories told to me by numerous others about their own families throughout the years and continuing during my art career. I looked at photographs from my past visits to Manzanar, Gila, and seeing the Heart Mountain barrack at the Japanese American National Museum and the objects associated with the sites. When I first visited Gila River camp where mom and her family were incarcerated, I took photos of myself (pregnant with my eldest son) next to a cactus that I thought looked like one in a photo of my Jichan in 1945 on a picnic outside camp.
I looked closely at small black rocks arranged just so with a small scrubby pine in front of the support beams of a long gone barack and wondered if my mother and grandparents admired this person’s small Japanese styled garden. Could this have been their garden? Did my mom walk the path I walked that day?
When I first visited Manzanar, I found a small, broken tea cup and wondered who’s lips touched this cup? I held the broken cup in my hand and imagined tea being drunk from this cup. Did my uncle’s family hold this cup? Did my art muse/friend Christine’s family members drink form this cup? On my last visit during the Manzanar Pilgrimage, I found two smooth glass pieces obviously from old bottles and wondered if the previous thoughts.
On my 2007 visit to the Japanese National Museum in Los Angeles, upon first seeing the relocated barrack from Heart Mountain where my dad’s family were incarcerated, I was overcome with emotion. The physical presence in proximity to the barrack felt like a powerful force emanating from this object and it was overwhelming.
Attending the Day of Remembrance of the 75th Anniversary of EO9066 was another emotional day for me. I mourn for my ancestors and all the others who had to experience this injustice. I am still mindful and grateful for their existence on this earth at one time and how they shaped my identity and artistic voice. Okage sama de: We are who are because of those who came before us. I am more determined than ever to honor them and fight against injustice.
I've had a long practice of documenting, writing down stories I had heard from family, friends, acquaintances, and even from patients I would meet in my workplace. These glimpses back into pieces of personal history were always interesting to me. I revere the stories I heard from family and relatives about family history, immigration, folk tales, WWII incarceration, struggles, triumphs, and even the banal events that transpired in the past giving me a window to ancestors I can no longer talk to. My writings in journals and notebooks about past injustices are an aspect that fuels my art work.
In 2013, I took a writing workshop for Japanese American writers. The group, led by poet and USF Rhetoric Professor Brian Komei Dempster, were documenting and publishing stories collected from internees from the WWII American concentration camps. The workshop I took was opened up to the third generation, Sansei, to gather their stories they may have gotten from their parents (Nisei, second generation) and grandparents (Issei, first generation, who are all pretty much gone now). This was the first time I put a documented personal story into a form which was like a book story, not just for my own journals. The result was my story called The Wound. It tells the story I remembered, in great detail, of when my mom first told me about the Japanese American incarceration camps. It was difficult to do, painful in some ways reliving my late mom's pain once again, but it was satisfying to tell the story of her telling me, a young child at the time, of the event. I found writing, like art making, quite satisfying indeed.
Since then, I took a fiction writing workshop through the University of Iowa's The Writing University, which is run by the Iowa Writer's Workshop and am currently taking another writing course through Stanford's Continuing Education department. There are a few short snippets of stories I wrote during the Iowa workshop and more recently with the Stanford course that I think are fairly acceptable. I wrote a poem, for an assignment a few weeks back and then later changed it so it moved outside of the parameters of the assignment. But I kept the first stanza and a half because I liked it. I read it at a open mic portion of a poetry reading, Perspectives from Camp, at the Japanese American Museum San Jose. I think I got a pretty good reception and had people tell me how much they liked it. The poem is called Bachan's Gifts. It started as a seed of an idea from the child sized silk kimonos my Bachan smuggled in from Japan. Apparently, sailing over the sea in the early 1900's, you could not bring silk. She sewed the silk and the silk kimonos into a thick futon blanket and brought them here. I think she took them to the camps with them stored carefully. But I am not sure....the Danielsons stored many of their objects for them while in camp. Jichan and Bachan worked for their apricot ranch in Suisun.
So, I am starting a writing blog/page portion of my website of my short stories and poems since it is like art making for me---another personal creative voice.
See "Written Work"
I have a file of stories and old pictures which is in a folder called "Fuel." These a growing collection of stories and images that fuel my art. They have passed on to me from my parents, grandparents, family friends, and events that I have experienced or witnessed myself. These are true events about immigration, incarceration, injustice, prejudice, trauma, family and culture. When making the larger work with soot, I would burn copies of some images and stories as if it would imbed itself into the marks. While in graduate school, a professor familiar with my art and art making process asked me if I thought my writing was also part of my art oeuvre. I have digested this thought for five years. Lately, I have begun to write more and expand on the stories collected ....and find that the art fuels my writing just as the writing fuels my art: A symbiotic creative relationship.
(Image above is me making "offerings" of copies of images, stories and names of grandparents written in kanji on paper to the fire sooting the metal for the piece Gaman from 2006. When I was quite young and attended Buddhist funerals, we would place ground incense offerings and pray. I asked my mom if the dead would hear our prayers for them. She said the smoke from the incense would rise up and carry the message to them.)
On August 9th, 2014, 18 year old Mike Brown was shot 6 times by a Ferguson, MO police officer named Darren Wilson. Witnesses to the shooting say the unarmed Mike Brown had his hands up while Wilson continued to shoot. Public outcry erupted in Ferguson, which did not have any murders thus far this year in their city until the murder of Mike Brown. From VOX: An independent, preliminary autopsy found Wilson shot Brown at least six times from the front, and two of the bullets struck Brown on the head. One of the bullets appears to have hit the top of Brown's head. "This one here looks like his head was bent downward," Dr. Michael Baden, who conducted the autopsy on behalf of Brown's family, said "It can be because he's giving up, or because he's charging forward at the officer." The news of yet another young, unarmed black man being killed by police (or faux police) made me angry.
In the days that followed, protests erupted. The mayor of Ferguson and governor of Missouri did nothing to calm the unrest, in fact their statements only enraged people more. In this small town midwestern town outside of St. Louis, Ferguson's fully militarized police force came decked out in gear that alarmed even recent Iraq and Afghanistan war vets. Armored vehicles typically used to protect US military forces from IEDs were trotted out, with guns pointed at the protesters, US American citizens. Martial law and curfews were enacted in Ferguson. Evening images from Ferguson via Twitter were seemingly the only reliable, unfiltered real-time sources of the police brutality. Teargas canisters and wooden bullets were shot at the crowd. I read accounts, watched uploaded videos, and was sickened by the injustice I was watching unfold. As the police violence became worse, major news media outlets could no longer ignore the brutality. Ferguson police arrested reporters, confiscated news media cameras, and shot teargas canisters at them apparently suspending first amendment rights altogether. On the evening of August 18th, unable to sleep, I watched horrified at the police marching side-by-side in line like a scene from the Battle of Waterloo with their guns pointed at the unarmed crowd of American citizens. The people of Gaza, being annihilated by Israel with US supplied arms, sent their support to the people of Ferguson. Protests and marches in NYC, LA, SF, Seattle and other major cities have been happening across the country, pretty much ignored by main stream media (MSM) outlets.
Almost a month later, Darren Wilson is still not charged nor in custody. The Ferguson and St. Louis police force have raised money for his defense, along with the KKK, and are protecting his whereabouts. Justice for Mike Brown doesn't seem to be high on the priority list from anyone in authority from the POTUS on down. Nothing but lip service.
In response to the unjust murder of Mike Brown and the chants from the crowds when protesting of "Hands Up, Don't Shoot!" I made the above image to reflect my own unease. I thought of our flag upside-down, a symbol of the country in distress, overlapped with hands up in surrender for an image to represent the injustices that are on the rise.