Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Portrait: Karlene Koketsu

Karlene (Kaoru Nakanishi) Koketsu was seven years old and living in the Sawtelle neighborhood of West Los Angeles when President Roosevelt declared war on Japan. Along with her parents, Karl and Taka Nakanishi, and her younger siblings Teruko and Dennis, her family left their home in April, 1942. They were gathered at the Japanese School at 2110 Corinth Ave, Los Angeles, and placed on a bus which took her family to the Manzanar Relocation Camp 230 miles away in California's Owens Valley.

Photo by Andy Frazer

Overall, Karlene told me that many children had positive memories of being in internment. Her family remained together at Manzanar, and many children had experiences they could not get in the city: all of the neighborhoods were safe, there were lots of children to socialize with, and most children were allowed to stay out late.

One day in 1943, Karlene was waiting for school to begin with her friends Eiko Edna Nagata and Sumiko (last name unknown). Photographer Ansel Adams was in the camp visiting photographer Toyo Miyatake. Ansel saw Karlene and her friends and asked them to pose for a photograph. This photograph (below) is available in the National Archives under the title School Children, Manzanar Relocation Center, California (LOT 10479-5, no. 6).

Sumiko. (L), Karlene Koketsu (M),Eiko Edna Nagata (R), Photo by Ansel Adams, Library of Congress.
Karlene's family left Manzanar in June, 1945. They temporarily stayed in Gunnison, Utah before returning by train to West Los Angeles in February, 1946. During resettlement, her family lived with many other Japanese-American families at the same Japanese school were they were gathered to be bussed to camp at the beginning of the War.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Portrait: Kiyo Sato

"FBI agents, three of them came to our house. One was in my little bedroom and he checked under the bed and between the mattresses and all the drawers and he found my diary. And I was just totally embarrassed. I just wanted to run in there and grab it away from him. And then I knew that if I did something rash we would get in more trouble so I just sat there, and grit my teeth, and I just hoped that he would find it boring and put it away, but he didn’t. He just kept reading it and reading it, while I was just sitting there humiliated and embarrassed."
- Kiyo's interview with Face-to-Face.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

In July of 2011 I had the opportunity to photograph someone who was a huge inspiration for this project. After I first got the idea for this portrait project, I spent almost one year thinking about it, but never getting started with it. One morning I was listening to the Forum radio show on San Francisco's KQED public radio station. They were interviewing a lady from Sacramento named Kiyo Sato. Kiyo is former internee of the Poston internment camp.She was discussing her book Kiyo's Story, which described her life growing up on a strawberry farm in Sacramento, CA before the WWII. After Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Roosevelt in 1942, Kiyo was forced to drop out of Sacramento Junior College. She and her family were forced to leave their farm in Sacramento, move to temporary housing at the Pinedale Assembly Center, and were eventually incarcerated at the Poston Interment Camp in Arizona.

After listening to the radio broadcast of her interview, I realized it was time to make the move from just thinking about this portrait project, to getting started meeting and photographing former internees. I had always considered Kiyo's radio interview the real impetus to get this project moving. In June, 2011, the Japanese-American Museum of San Jose told me that Kiyo was coming to San Jose to give a reading from her book. Eva Yamamoto put me touch with Kiyo, and I arranged to meet her before she returned to Sacramento.

Kiyo's Story provides an amazing look into the Japanese-American experience before, during and after the forcible incarceration of over 100,000 Americans during WWII. Kevn Starr, author of California: A History described it as ",,, a magnificent memoir, fully worthy of being compared to Farewell to Manzanar.” You can buy your own copy from The Manzanar Store.

Since Kiyo is a well-respected author, there is already a lot of great audio and video and transcribed material about her on the internet. For this reason, I did not conduct my own interview when I met her to take her portrait. Instead, I'll include links to the other resources about Kiyo available on the internet.

  • You can listen to the entire interview with Kiyo on KQED's Forum show hosted by Dave Iverson.
  • The Face-to-Face organization has audio recordings and transcripts of interviews with Kiyo describing her memories after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the FBI investigation into her family.
  • Casey Ikeda conducted an interview Kiyo as part of the Dreams Finally Realized Project that collects stories of Japanese-Americans who were unable to complete their college educations due to the forced evacuations of Executive Order 9066.
  • Kiyo spoke to the California Writer's Club about the process of writing the original version of her book, originally published as Dandelion Through the Crack.
  • The Rosemont Patch has an article about Kiyo, as well an a video interview

Monday, July 4, 2011

Portrait: Molly Kitajima

After I photographed Fran Ellis in 2010, Fran introduced me to Molly Kitajima. Fran and Molly are both on the Board of Directors of the Tule Lake Committee, which supports preservation of the site of the Tule Lake Internment Camp, and also organizes pilgrimages to Tule Lake in northeastern California. Not only was Molly active in supporting the movement for redress and reparations, but Molly was the first person I met who was incarcerated in Canada. Very few Americans are aware that Canada (and also Cuba) also conducted large-scale incarceration of people of Japanese descent during the war.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)
Molly is a native of the Surrey and Delta region in British Columbia. During WWII, Molly's family was sent to the Winnipeg Assembly Center, and were eventually moved to a large sugar beet farm in Middle Church, Manitoba for the duration of the war. When I photographed Molly she was 86 years old and teaching Taiko drumming

It was a pleasure to meet Molly because she is full of energy and has a wonderful memory of growing up and being interned in Canada. This was one of the longest interviews I've conducted so far.
  • Molly describes her life living on a farm in British Columbia before WWII. They had one of the first farmhouses to have piped-in water and electricity. She also talks about how her mom and dad came immigrated to Canada (LISTEN).
  • The year before WWII, her father returned to Japan. When he saw that Japan was preparing for war against the U.S., he tried to warn everyone that Japan was no match for the U.S. After they threatened to imprison him, he fled to Canada. He later learned that his ship was the last ship to be allowed to leave the country before Japan attacked the U.S. (LISTEN)
  • Molly describes her siblings (LISTEN).
  • Her dad returned from Japan and warned everyone that Japan was planning to attack the United States. Molly remembers attending a meeting of the Japanese-Canadian League when they heard the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. (LISTEN)
  • After December 7, 1941 the officials began confiscating Japanese-American's fishing boats and cameras. Her dad continued warning everyone that they would all be interned, so he was promptly arrested. Her relatives from Vancouver Island were incarcerated first. They were sent to an assembly center at the Hastings Park race track in Vancouver. Molly recalls her memories of the people at Hastings Park living in the filthy stables. (LISTEN)
  • Japanese-Canadians from Vancouver Island were evacuated first. The young men were immediately sent to road camps. The wives and children were temporarily left in Molly's village. Since many of these wives didn't even speak English, Molly and her siblings would visit them and help them buy groceries and helped tend to women who were pregnant (LISTEN)
  • Her dad tried to get the local authorities to promise not to incarcerate the Japanese-Canadians. He was arrested after refusing to stop telling everyone to sell their possessions because they were going to lose them when the government order them to evacuate (LISTEN)
  • Molly and her brothers did paperwork for J.C.C.A before the evacuation. They wanted to help the people in the village get the best arrangements when they would be interned (LISTEN)
  • One of Molly's neighbors refused to be evacuated with her husband because she was having a relationship with another man. Molly's brother was able to arrange for the woman to be evacuated with her boyfriend, and the woman was forever grateful to him (LISTEN)
  • Before Molly's family was evacuated, her mom slaughtered all of the chickens on their farm, cooked them, and prepared hundreds of chicken box lunches. When they were on the evacuation train to Manitoba, her mom would give the box lunches to their friends who were in the road camps along the way. (LISTEN)
  • Molly talks about her memories of the evacuation train ride over the Canadian Rockies. At Jasper Station, the RCMP guard wanted to take Molly's family to a great apple pie bakery in the station. But his superiors forbid him from letting Molly's family leave the train. (LISTEN)
  • She recalls her memories of the Winnipeg Assembly Center; including the tightly-packed cots, and a limited number of toilets and baths (LISTEN)
  • Molly's family was sent to a large commercial farm, instead of the more common road camps. Many of these farms would arrange for multiple Japanese-Canadian families to be packaged together to create a more productive labor force. Many of these families were not happy about being forced to live with each other (LISTEN)
  • Molly talks about the living and working conditions for the interned Japanese-Canadian farm hands (LISTEN)
  • On the farm, they had an out house that was separate from the main house. During the winter they had to tie a line between the house and the out house to prevent getting lost in a blizzard while walking to the out house. (LISTEN)
  • Her family worked very hard to finish harvesting all of the sugar beets before the arrival of winter in mid-October (LISTEN)
  • After working on the sugar beet farm during internment, Molly talks about her empathy for Cesar Chavez and the farm workers in California (LISTEN)
  • Molly's family requested to be sent to a working farm because they had heard many bad stories about the conditions on the road camps. But the conditions on the farms were so bad that they regretted not being sent to a road camp like most of the Japanese-Canadian internees (LISTEN)
  • While living on the farm in Middle Church, Manitoba, her younger brother was killed by a drunk driver while he was pulling his wagon to get water for the family. The driver of the car was the wife on an R.C.M.P and was never charged in her brother's death (LISTEN)
  • Japanese-American men serving in the Military Intelligence School in Fort Savage, Minnesota, would take the train up to Winnipeg to meet the women in the Japanese-American community. Molly talks about the arrangement between Winnipeg and Fort Savage, as well as the story about how she met her husband (LISTEN)
  • During the war Molly's dad was doing some research for the government, so he traveled across Canada while the family had to remain on the sugar beet farm (LISTEN)
  • After Molly's family was released from internment at the sugar beet farm, they decided to settle in Winnipeg (LISTEN)
  • Molly discusses her memories of hiring discrimination against Japanese-Canadians in Winnipeg (LISTEN)
  • After Molly's family moved to California, she was very vocal in the Movement for Redress. Once the U.S. government formally apologized the Japanese-Americans, Molly went back to Canada to help start the Movement for Redress in Canada. The Canadian legislation passed, and the Japanese-Canadian citizens received their reparations before the Americans received their reparations (LISTEN)
  • Molly's nephew was asked in second-grade where he was born. He truthfully told the teacher he was born in the Tanforan Race Track in San Mateo, CA. The teacher sent a note to the parents accusing the boy of lying in school. Molly went to visit the teacher and was shocked the learn that even the school teachers had never heard that the race track had been used as a Japanese-American assembly center (LISTEN)
  • During World War II, Cuba also interned people of Japanese descent. Molly tells the story of how she was asked to go to Cuba to act as an interpreter for many Japanese-Cubans who only spoke Japanese, and were applying to the Cuban government for reparations (LISTEN)

You can also read the TRANSCRIPT of the above interviews. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Portrait: Jack Matsuoka

Last week I photographed Jack Matsuoka at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. I briefly met Jack last October at the grand opening of the JAMsj where he was signing copies of his book Poston Camp II: Block 211. Jack was a professional newspaper cartoonist and caricaturist. His book is a wonderful retelling of his memories of living in the Poston internment camp, and told through his great illustrations. Although I have very little skill at drawing and painting, I've always enjoyed the process of drawing and reading editorial cartoons in the newspapers, so I knew that some day I would have to photograph Jack's portrait.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

Jack was a teenager when Executive Order 9066 forced his family to leave their home in Watsonville, CA and report to the Salinas Assembly Center. Like most of the Japanese-Americans from the Watsonville area, his family was eventually interned in the Poston Relocation Center in Arizona, where he began creating the illustrations that would eventually lead to his book. After WWII, Jack attended art school, then got drafted into the U.S. Army. Since he had some familiarity with the Japanese language, he was sent to language school, then stationed back in Japan where he worked in intelligence. After his stint the Army, Jack lived in Japan and worked for various major newspapers as a cartoonist. I was surprised to learn that Jack spent many years as a sports cartoonist for Japan Times and various Japanese sports magazines. Apparently sports cartooning was very popular in Japan. He also published his first books of cartoons Rice-Paddy Daddy. He is a member of the National Cartoonist Society.

After I had time to record some audio interviews with Jack, I asked him to autograph my copy of his book. In addition to his autograph, he also draw the following caricature of me photographing him.

(Caricature by Jack Matsuoka)

After we finished taking photographs, Jack told me more about his memories of internment and his how he became a cartoonist. He remembers when the Japanese-American students had to leave school after the beginning of the war, and he remembers the Watsonville school teachers telling them that they will be back in a few months (LISTEN). His family had to sell off their property, and his mom had to abandon the mid-wife clinic that she was working on building in Watsonville (LISTEN). His family was first sent to the Salinas Assembly Center, which was actually the Salinas County Fairgrounds. He told me about the latrines, and how his family were considered "city folk" (LISTEN). After the long train journey to the Poston War Relocation Center (LISTEN), he said there were many sports programs for the children (LISTEN). He also remembers how the children would collect live rattlesnakes and keep them in cages next to the barracks (LISTEN). One time he was coming down with a fever, so one of the older Japanese ladies took a live carp, slit its throat and told Jack to drink it's blood. Jack quickly recovered from the fever, but for the next year his doctor told him there was something strange about his blood (LISTEN).

Jack's career as a cartoonist took him from Poston, Arizona, to Japan, and back to the United States. Soon after he began attending the Cleveland School of Fine Arts, he was immediately drafted into the Army, where he ended up in the M.I.S., and was then assigned to Japan (LISTEN). While in Japan he was the only bi-lingual cartoonist for some major newspapers, where he specialized in sports cartooning (LISTEN).

For more information about Jack's career, I also found the following interesting articles:

You can also read the TRANSCRIPT of the above interviews. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Caricature by Jack Matsuoka

Last weekend I photographed celebrated cartoonist, and former resident of Poston interment camp, Jack Matsuoka, I asked Jack to sign my copy of his book Poston Camp II, Block 211. He generously draw this caricature of me photographing him.

Drawing by Jack Matsuoka

I plan to have Jack's photograph processed and uploaded, along with some audio interviews of his memories of Poston, within the next two weeks.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Portrait: George Ishikawa

"My father said to me, 'You are an American. And if you have to serve, you are an American. That is where you belong. If it does come to war, I expect you'll serve under this country".  --George Ishikawa

George and his new wife were driving from Mountain View back to their home in San Mateo, CA when they heard on the radio that they would have to pack up all their belongings and report to the Santa Anita Assembly Center. Like most people from the San Jose area, they were eventually sent to the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center in Wyoming. When the U.S. began including incarcerated Japanese-Americans in the Selective Service Program in 1943, many men in the internment camps objected on the grounds that they were being asked to serve in the military while their families were incarcerated and had been denied their constitutional rights. George Ishikawa was the first person I met who had taken a role in the draft resistance movement within the internment camps.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

Like most interned draft resisters, he promised to report for duty if his family were given their freedom. Many other young men had talked about resisting the draft, but most of them changed eventually their minds. George was one of the first to stick with his decision. He was one of eighty-five Heart Mountain men who were later imprisoned for resisting the draft.

During his trial, George made the following eloquent comment that was used in the front page of Eric Muller's book, "Free To Die For Their Country: The Story of Japanese-American Draft Resisters in WWII":

"We may lose the verdict,
but the verdict shall be man-made;
and with the passing of Time,
eternal truth and right will come to light.
That is my firm belief."

-- George Ishikawa, in a Wyoming county jail, May 1944

When I photographed George just before Christmas 2010, he talked about his memories of leaving their home in San Mateo; a riot in the Santa Anita Assembly Center; and his involvement as one of the earliest draft resisters at Heart Mountain.
  • Before the outbreak of WWII, George recalls his dad telling him to always remember that he was an American, and he should be prepared to fight for America if necessary (LISTEN).
  • His family was driving home one Sunday night in 1942 when the heard the announcement on the radio about Executive Order 9066 (LISTEN), Once his family realized they would have to leave their home, they were given very little time to prepare for the evacuation (LISTEN), Unlike some Japanese-Americans, his family was not fortunate enough to find someone to take care of their possessions while they were in the internment camps (LISTEN)
  • George's family was sent to the Santa Anita Assembly Center. He discusses the train ride to Santa Anita (LISTEN), and his arrival at Santa Anita (LISTEN). He also recalled a serious work protest at Santa Anita that started after the guards began confiscating people's personal possessions (LISTEN).
  • After being interned at Santa Anita, George's family was incarcerated in Heart Mountain, Wyoming. He describes the train ride to Heart Mountain (LISTEN) and their arrival at Heart Mountain (LISTEN).
  • George played a major role in the well-documented draft resistance movement within Heart Mountain. Initially, men didn't know what to think about being drafted. Many were offended at being classified as "enemy alien". There were also rumors that the U.S. Army was assembling Japanese-American men into a suicide battalion. Ultimately, most men felt a responsibility to their families, so they remained quiet about it (LISTEN).  George discusses the confusion over the "loyalty question", his interpretation of his responsibility to defend the United States, and the first few people to stand up and demand their Constitutional rights in exchange for defending the country (LISTEN)Once the draft was instituted, many men in Heart Mountain passively resisted it. But once they were threatened with imprisonment, most of them backed down and enlisted (LISTEN).  George tried to express his reasoning by writing a letter to one of the early leaders of the draft resistance within Heart Mountain. His letter unexpectedly appeared in the camp newsletter, the Heart Mountain Sentinel*. His letter was later picked up by a reporter named James Omura, who published it in the Denver Japanese-American newspaper called the Rocky Shimpo (LISTEN), 
  • People outside of Heart Mountain never received news about what was going on inside of camp. The Rocky Shimpo newspaper began publishing some of that news, but after publishing George's letter, there were ordered to stop reporting news from inside the camp (LISTEN)           

You can also read the TRANSCRIPT of the above interviews. 

After our meeting, I had planned to meet with George again and continue our interview. George had a lot to tell me about his trial and the series of prisons where he was incarcerated. Sadly, I learned that George had passed away before I could meet with him a second time.

"You say, Democracy, that's what we are fighting for... Are we not supposed to be enjoying those sacred blessings and privileges as free citizens before we are to enter the armed forces? We are fighting to restore the rights and dignity of citizenship that is properly due a citizen regardless of his race or color"  -- George Ishikawa

I also found this interesting article about draft resistance in the Wall Street Journal which mentions George Ishikawa. And this photograph from an article from the San Francisco Chronicle featuring a meeting between George and his fellow Heart Mountain friend Takashi Hoshizaki after 58 years.

* I'm still searching through all of the Heart Mountain Sentinel newsletters on the great Densho website. When I find George's letter, I'll post it here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Portrait: Tom Nishikawa

Tom Nishikawa was one year-old when his family moved to Hollister to purchase a farm. A few weeks later, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declared war against Japan. This prevented Tom's family from completing the purchase of the farm. Five months later President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, and Tom's family was ordered to report to the Salinas Assembly Center. They were then incarcerated in the Poston Camp 1 in Arizona. Tom told me that Poston was divided into a family section, and a bachelors' section. Since Tom was a young boy looking for excitement, he would spend time in the bachelors' section, where the men taught him how to make an insect net and chase bugs.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)

Tom was only five years old when his family was released from Poston in 1945. They temporarily lived in the San Jose Buddist Church Betsuin, and Hunter's Point (South San Francisco) before settling in Gilroy, CA. Tom has some wonderful memories that he shared with me. Here are some audio interviews with Tom Nishikawa:

  • Tom describes how he would hang out in the bachelors' section of camp where the bachelors taught him how to collect insects. (LISTEN).
  • When Tom's dad was a cook at Poston, he would bring home rice that had burned against the pan. This is now sold as a treat called koge gohan  (LISTEN).
  • Tom talks about the art of Gaman, and how his dad would carve tiny, intricate birds from wood, which he collected from old produce boxes.  (LISTEN).
You can also read the TRANSCRIPT of the above interviews.