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.